A Father's Story

A Father’s Story, Anon

To the best of my knowledge I do not have a family tradition of alcoholism or addictive behaviour, although my family could hardly be described as close or large. My mothers parents were Irish immigrants, and had two daughters, but only my mother married and bore me and my sister. My grandfather died from war injuries when I was very young. Growing up I spent a lot of time with my mothers sister and her mother, my grandmother. My sister (two years younger than me) and I were never close and we rarely communicate to this day and live at opposite ends of the country. My sister had three children and they have no communication with me or my family.

My father had an older brother and sister and growing up we had very little to do with any of them.

My point is that while I say that I don’t believe there is alcoholism or addictive behaviour in my family, I don’t really know. Certainly my father suffered terribly from depression and anxiety throughout his life and my mother expended an enormous amount of energy covering this.

I left NZ at the earliest possible opportunity after graduating and obtaining a professional qualification and travelled around the world working in London, Bermuda, New York and Papua New Guinea before holidaying for 6 months in America, Canada and Mexico.

I returned to NZ and got married to a wonderful woman and we have now been married over 30 years, a testament to the patience and tolerance that each of us has developed through some very tough and challenging times.

After a couple of years of marriage we produced first a boy and then a girl which was our objective and we thought that the rest of life would go swimmingly.

Our son had everything bestowed on him that an eldest child could possibly have and progressed well through a private school environment doing well academically, socially and generally in most aspects of life. He was gifted musically and achieved the highest possible honours in a school where music was held in very high regard. He was also a prefect and was popular with his fellow students, and was definitely part of the “in” crowd. He was a year younger than most his peers but as parents we chose the accelerated path instead of holding back for the year.

Our son commenced university as a 17 year old and his academic prowess got him into Vet School having barely turned 18. In terms of career he had only ever wanted to be a rural vet so again life seemed to be going swimmingly as he had worked on a prestigious horse stud and been earmarked by the owner of that stud as the next big thing for horse surgery.

Year one in Vet school went and the grades were straight A’s, year two saw a significant drop in grades, year three further significant deterioration to the extent that he had to attend summer school to re – sit papers and come the beginning of year four all hell broke loose.

He had descended into a fog of alcohol and drugs and was suffering extreme paranoia when following a bizarre telephone conversation we dropped everything and went to Palmerston North to see for ourselves what was happening. It is barely an exaggeration to say he didn’t know what planet he was on and clearly was in no state to attend university so we bundled him back to Auckland where we believed we could get the necessary, and urgent, help required in order to get him back to university to continue his vet course.

We obtained that help , and part of the prognosis was that one of us had to live with our son in Palmerston North, another part was that he had to cease his drugging and a third part was that he should have a glass of wine at night with us. Needless to say he hated those arrangements as much as we did, especially as we now had a fractured family (the survival of the marriage was under real threat) and a daughter effectively largely abandoned in Auckland going through her very formative final years at school.

My background is in project management and I had throughout my career in various senior positions sorted out numerous complex issues for clients and my sons decline into alcohol and drugs was simply another challenge that I would address on a project basis and overcome such that he could return to university and complete his degree. Thereafter I wasn’t too worried where life took him, as my belief was that having attained a degree he would always have something solid to underpin whatever he did and wherever he went.

As part of this project approach to fixing our son’s problems my wife and I attended Tough Love where we learned about putting in place boundaries such that if they were crossed then consequences followed. For me this was pretty straightforward and something that I readily identified with, it was after what I had been doing all of my working life.

The funny thing was that no matter what boundaries were put in place they had virtually no impact as the drinking and drugging just continued, indeed probably got worse. We even put a boundary that was if we found anymore marijuana in our holiday home then son’s 21st would be cancelled and believe it or not the next thing we found another stash of marijuana, and the 21st was cancelled. You might have thought that would have some impact, but quite the reverse. Clearly Tough Love wasn’t working.

My wife and I then went to Community Alcohol and Drug Service (CADS) and were fortunate enough to be invited to do their 12 week programme and at the conclusion of that it was suggested that we should think about attending Al Anon Family Groups. My attitude was that we had tried everything else and none of those things had worked so there was nothing to lose to go to another place to learn how to control our sons rampant drinking and drugging so off to Al Anon we went.

About the same time as we commenced our Al Anon journey our son decided (after some pressure from us ) to attend detox in the city and thereafter was admitted into rehab. We attended some very raw Family Group sessions at the rehab facility with our son and then just over midway through the scheduled time at rehab we got the call to pick him up as he had been released. The sight of him sitting outside the rehab facility with his bag was one of the saddest sights I have ever seen.

He immediately returned to his drinking and drugging mates down in Palmerston North and at that time it dawned on me how totally and utterly powerless I was over my son’s life. His life was his business and nothing whatsoever to do with me. My life was my business and part of my business was to keep out of his.

This was the beginning of my recovery, and I honestly believe that my son started doing his very best, despite his addictions and anxiety, to clean up his act and try to start living a productive life.

Al Anon taught me a number of things, primarily that my son’s addiction was a disease and not something that he chose and also that I could love my son at the same time as not loving his behaviour. This was a very difficult concept for me to grasp and to me the person and their behaviour were one and the same, also I was unashamedly a control freak and saw things very much as black or white, and nothing in between.

Primarily I learned that I didn’t cause my son’s problems, I couldn’t control them (as much as I had tried over the years) and I couldn’t cure them (again as much as I had tried). For me this was a revelation, it released me to live my life and let him live his.

My son eventually obtained qualifications in various areas (he even returned to vet school to try and complete his vet degree but discovered that his passion to be a vet had long gone) and he has for the most part played a productive role of the workforce, and he has chosen to do that far away from where I live. Whenever I have shared my story at the local rehab facility and other places, I have regularly been asked if my son is in recovery I have always responded that I don’t know, it isn’t my business.

Just recently my son has hit his rock bottom and while I offered all of the support I could I did not try to rescue him as I once would have done, and more importantly I did not experience the anxiety that I once would have done. He is now in two twelve step programmes and although it is early times he seems to have accepted that this is the key to his future wellbeing. He has fought his addiction, depression, anxiety and paranoia for nearly half of his life and finally he has made the choice to seek recovery. There was no input from me, I made my decision to seek my recovery nearly ten years ago and right now it is a new, and to be honest uplifting, experience to have three members of a four member family in twelve step programmes.

Long may it continue, but I have learnt to live in the moment taking one day at a time and not to take anything for granted and especially not to future trip.