All my life I thought it was my fault that you abandoned me; I thought that you just didn’t love me enough to be there for me.
I recently saw my alcoholic father for the first time in years. The last time I was in the height of my own addiction; at least then my trusted crutch was at hand—alcohol—to numb some of the pain. Seeing my father is like opening an old wound, again-and-again. While five years of recovery has helped, the pain has yet to completely dissipate. Today, in recovery, what I am left with is the stark reality of his absence in my life, due to addiction. This is a letter to my father, on how his disease has affected me, and how I was lucky to get out when I did.
It breaks my heart to write this letter—to tell you how you have hurt me and how I wish I you’d been the father I deserved. You see, finding my voice is part of my healing, whether you’re listening or not. I think addiction probably shut down your senses a long time ago, but I can’t be sure.
For years, I blamed you for your behavior. I used to hate you. Now, I hate what addiction has done to you—to us—and to what our relationship could’ve been.
I often wondered what life would’ve been like without this disease ravaging your life. I daydreamed for many years about growing up in America: high-school, American sports, a cute American accent, and life-long friendships formed in kindergarten. I dreamed of having a loving, supportive, influential, gentleman of a father. A man to make a little girl look at him in awe—a man to call Daddy.
I wasn’t destined for that life.
My dream was cut short by your disease. Your behavior made growing up with you untenable. You were too unpredictable, too threatening and too violent. A precarious, threatening environment isn’t a healthy setting for a child to grow up in.
Surely you can appreciate that?
I was removed from my American life because of your disease. I grew up 3,000 miles away. The vast ocean just served as a reminder of the wedge—addiction—that was between us. All my life I thought it was my fault that you abandoned me; I thought that you just didn’t love me enough to be there for me. I longed to be reunited with you.
They say you should be careful what you wish for: I remember visiting you as a teenager. Summers with you were nearly as painful as your absence. We bickered, fought, argued, and ignored each other. You palmed me off on others because you couldn’t handle me—I was "too much."
As a woman, I often wonder if you considered that what you couldn’t handle were the years of unresolved feelings of abandonment, hurt, and anger? A young girl who was deeply troubled by the behaviors of your disease.
You continued as you always did: drinking and being the ladies’ man. Relationships were never your strong point. You treated women with the same contempt as your father—women weren’t equals, they were toys that you could intimidate and boss around. That behavior made me hate you even more—I spent time with you utterly enraged. This simply added fuel to the fire of contempt and hatred I felt toward you.
Even though I found our summers together difficult, each time I flew back to the UK was like losing you all over again. I’d hit a dark depression; I’d feel torn between my reignited American identity, and the reality of life in the UK without you.
There were no tools to process these emotions. Underneath all the anger, I just hurt. For years I hurt. I grieved you all my life, even though you were still there.
Communication in between visits was always sporadic and strained. I saw you were trying to be involved, in your own way. But I was always hungry for more. It was never enough; I was insatiable. I was trying to fill that hole of abandonment. I didn’t know that I couldn’t.
Then I discovered your trusted friend—addiction—and it all made sense. Alcohol and drugs would never leave me, like you did. I understood the allure, I saw how they filled that chasm inside me that screamed for your love. They made it all okay, they soothed me. I didn’t need you anymore, I made my own replacement.
As I grew into a woman, and became lost in my own addiction, we grew further apart. I poured drugs and alcohol over the hurt, grief, and sense of abandonment. Numbness washed out the pain. I repeated your behaviors; I had many unsuitable relationships and would treat people with the same contempt that you did. After all, I had a deeply ingrained belief that no relationship would ever last: a man would always leave—like you did.
I have suffered greatly because of your addiction. I suffered until I understood that you have a disease—the same disease that I suffer from. I understand that, until you get recovery, you will never have any insight into the impact of your behavior: of how you have thoroughly failed me as a father. It breaks my heart to write these words, but it is a fact. You have been absent the majority of my life, and today you are still using—you don’t see that you have a problem. Losing your marriage and children wasn’t enough to make you change.
Each time I visit you—despite having the insight that I do—I still turn into that little girl that your disease abandoned all those years ago. She still longs for you. I have to give her the love that you were never capable of giving her. I soothe her and I care for her—I am the parent. That is why it has taken so long to visit—I wasn’t strong enough, without alcohol. I needed the solid foundation of five years of recovery to see you. I needed to do the work, to understand.
Seeing you again was heartbreaking. You’re old. This disease has ravaged you. Your family doesn’t want to know you, and you live all alone in your house of disrepair that hasn’t been cleaned for some time. I feel like I have already lost you. I think I probably lost you when I was four years old.
I wonder if I’ll ever stop grieving you. Addiction is like dementia—the long goodbye.
But there is lightness in my darkness.
I am one of the lucky ones and found recovery. I didn’t need to spend my entire life devastated by addiction, like you. I have a chance to be a good mother, if I am so blessed. I have insight into my disease and I have cleaned up my mistakes. I work hard today to show family they are important to me. I am reliable and I show up for my life.
You may think you’re too old, but recovery is always possible; we just need to have had enough. Sometimes we never do—only you know that.
In spite of all of this, I still love you. I don’t want this letter to hurt you—I may not even send it—this is a letter for me, for my healing, and for my recovery.