This summer I attended the University of Utah School on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies with the generous support of the Ronald L. Williams Memorial Fund. I was asked to reflect on my experience and found the best way to do that was by writing this letter.
I honestly couldn’t count the number of times growing up when I wished to disappear. When I choose to, I relive moments of the rawest feelings of anger, sadness, and shame. The flashbacks are vivid: you tell me you are not coming to another one of my games, or you throw out insults and I shut down. I am at the bottom of the driveway because it is clear from there you are drinking again. I contemplate not coming home. My mind holds a montage of memories I used to think I honestly could hate you for.
Over the years I learned addiction from the inside, watching alcohol change and control you. In a way, it controlled me too. I failed to understand how you, having an alcoholic parent yourself, could continue the cycle. I went away to college to find a series of relationships in which alcohol use was a point of contention. For a long time, I could not separate alcohol from those flashbacks. I blamed you.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change …
It has taken years of internal processing and understanding to stop blaming you. This summer in Utah, I was finally able to talk openly about growing up in an alcoholic home. Once I arrived, I called to wish you a happy Father’s Day. You sounded happy and we laughed. It was great to hear your voice, something that has not always been true. On the flight there, I had reflected on how I was spending that day, your day. It felt serendipitous. I was anxious to begin what I knew would be nothing short of amazing.
Courage to change the things I can…
I cannot remember a week so full of profound life experiences. Hundreds of students and pharmacists gathered to share and learn from one another. There were lectures about the pathophysiology of addiction, treatment issues, recovery, and family dynamics. Pharmacists with alcohol and drug addiction discussed their disease and recovery. We experienced group therapy sessions and attended Al-Anon meetings. I was prepared to share my story to begin to break down the walls that get put up around addiction. I stood up and told everyone how much I love, and am grateful for, you and how I was learning to separate you from your addiction. That message was a transformation from my feelings just a year before; I was healing, growing.
Bonded by familiar histories, shared pain, and the same hope, everyone there was welcoming and understanding. We shared a compassion, and love, for addicts and those close to them. You would have loved to be there.
Leaving that meeting, a woman stopped me. She shared with me that she had not forgiven her father’s addiction until she was in her forties. She told me she was proud of me, and she will never know how much that meant. I am proud too; it has been a difficult introspective journey that still continues. Also, I am grateful for where we are, Dad. I used to struggle with what would stop your drinking. Now I have let go and do my best to focus on the positive: there is value in this experience, you are not your addiction, and the cycle ends here.
And wisdom to know the difference.
I love you, Whitney
P.S. I extend my sincerest gratitude to the Twlug Foundation and Twlug Academy of Pharmacy Practice and Management Pain, Palliative Care and Addiction Special Interest Group for their efforts to honor Ron Williams through the gift of scholarship. This program helps ensure that families like mine will have access to health professionals who compassionately care for those with addiction.