The Blessings of Sobriety

To Austin’s faithful readers, a quick heads-up.  This week’s blog has been written by me, his oldest daughter, Kate.  Usually, Dad forwards his latest post to me.  I edit it for him and post it to his blog.  However, when I read his draft for this week, I realized that the blessings he and our family have received since he stopped drinking might be best illuminated by an interested, third party.  Dad has a hard time “tootin’ his own horn”.  So, I’ll do it for him.  My wish in writing this post is that you will see the miracle God worked in our family through my father and his recovery and that you will want it for yourself.

Dad’s Active Days

We had addiction all around us.  I knew my grandfather had a drinking problem.  My grandmother would make him get rid of all his alcohol and he would hide it in the greyhound pens behind their house.  I knew my uncle was an alcoholic.  I never saw him eat much.  He mostly drank.  I saw my Dad drunk at family parties and there was the time my parents had to stay over a friend’s house on New Year’s Eve because my Dad backed the car between two trees and it got stuck.  But Dad didn’t really drink much in the house.  He hid it from us.

But I now can see that the behaviors were there.  Dad was always stressed.  He owned his own business with my uncle which created alot of tension.  But his stress went way beyond that.  He was volatile.  His anger would explode.  He would rage.  Then, moments later, he would be fine and he would act like nothing happened.   I would get so upset and angry.  I couldn’t understand how he could pretend that nothing happened when minutes before he was screaming at me or my brother or my sister. The fights could be over the silliest of things.  I remember fighting over homework.  I would make the mistake of asking for help.  Dad would show me what to do.  I would say that wasn’t how we were supposed to do it.  We’d get into a fight.  I do it his way and then redo it on the bus going to school the next morning.   A few minutes after I’d finish my work his way, he’d be asking me if I wanted icecream.  I’d be fuming inside and he’d be laughing.  I’ve since wondered if he was drunk at those times.  I have no way of knowing for certain, but his behavior was so erratic that I suspect he was.

My house was filled with either rage or silence.    Sometimes it felt like a tomb.  Other times it felt like a war zone.  No one talked about how they felt or talked through problems or really shared stories.  My Dad was very distant and unpredictable.  And toward the end, he started missing things.  For example, he missed the dinner when I received a varsity letter for cheerleading.  He was out drinking with his buddies.  I’d actually forgotten about it until my Mom brought it up years later.  I don’t remember all that much of my childhood.  Things here and there.  I think it’s because I was always on edge.  I hated being home because I couldn’t predict what was going to happen and I hated being away from home because I was afraid something would happen.

I knew things weren’t great between my parents.  There was a coldness and separateness that seemed to hang between them.  I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until one day, the summer before Dad got sober, Dad arrived home falling-over drunk.  He stumbled onto the deck, saw me and begged me not to tell Mom.  He said she would leave him if she saw him.  I don’t think I told her, but I really don’t remember.

The Early Years

Dad stopped drinking the beginning of my sophmore year in college.  I was away from home and so you would think it wouldn’t have affected me, but it did.   While Dad didn’t change all that much for quite a while, he did make some changes.  He was out of the house more than before going to meetings.  He was still incredibly angry, but I don’t remember him raging as much.  As he made little changes, situations that played out in the family didn’t go exactly as they had in the past.  I no longer needed to play the role I had played for nineteen years.  My world fell apart.  Alcoholism is a family disease.  It impacts everyone.  When Dad stopped drinking, I discovered I had no idea who I was.  I had lived my life for my family, to play my role in the dance.  I couldn’t even tell you what my favorite color was.  I ended up taking a leave of absence the spring of my senior year of college.  I finished the next fall, but I needed the break.

I actually give Dad a lot credit for persevering.  We didn’t make it easy for him.  I suspect it would have been easy for him to come up with an excuse for picking up again.  The whole family was so angry with him that it took years before the walls started coming down between us.  My brother took a break from the family for a little bit.  I moved out to Arizona.  My sister went away to college early.  I’ve come to realize that Dad truly hit his bottom when he asked for help and got sober.  I believe his love for his family outweighed his love of alcohol.  And I believe it was that love for his family that helped him persevere until he finally got the first three steps.  Just like it took Dad about 4 years before he surrendered to the program, it probably took us about the same amount time before we were open to accepting him.

26 Years Later

If you told me twenty-six years ago that I would be telling people that my parents were the two people I most admired, I would have laughed.  But it’s true.  My parents are my greatest role models.  I could go on about both of them, but I won’t since this piece is about my father.

Since my Dad took his last drink, so much as changed.  My father has control over his temper.  He allows other people to have opinions that differ from his.  He is peaceful and comfortable with himself.  He is wise and he is gracious.

My father is incredibly busy giving service.  He helps his children and his grandchildren.  He is active in Alcoholics Anonymous.  He is a Deacon for the Lutheran Church and provides weekly church services at a local nursing home.  He also serves as a chaplain and mentor at the County’s DWI facility.  He hosts the Alpha program at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and he helps run a support group for former inmates.

My father is a living example of love.  He taught me that love is a verb.  If you love someone, you show it through your actions.  He demonstrates daily the principle that family members support each other, teach each other, and serve each other.  He has learned to have relationships with his family that are healthy and not co-dependent.  He is present in his relationships which is very different from what I remember as a kid.

I was talking the other day to my daughter and said something about how my Dad was very loud and would get into arguments with his brothers often.  My daughter said, “Who?  Pop?  That’s not Pop.  Pop’s not loud.”  To me, it speaks volumes that my children know a very different person as a grandfather than I knew as a dad.

When I think about God and how He has his hand in each of our lives, I often think of Him as a master sculptor.  We are the stones that he chips and chisels on working to create the masterpiece He sees us becoming.   When I look at my Dad’s life, I see a person who has learned to trust in his maker and the masterpiece the Father is creating is amazing!

I thank Heavenly Father every day for answering my Dad’s prayer to become sober and for walking with him throughout his transformation.  I know my Dad’s recovery was not easy for him and that he struggled at times, but I am grateful that he kept at it, that he learned to have faith in God.  As a result, the whole family has benefited from the work he has done for himself.

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