Under the Influence

It was the scariest thing I had ever seen in my eight years of life. My uncle punched my dad in the face. I watched in shock as my dad reeled from the blow, then staggered back and landed in a heap on the couch in my uncle's apartment. He was out cold.

Suddenly my three siblings and I were being ushered into another room where my uncle tried to explain that my father was drunk and in no shape to drive us home. My uncle assured us that he was only trying to protect us and that he didn't mean to hurt my dad. He said that my father was going to be fine, although I distinctly remember my dad not looking so "fine." I didn't understand.

It was only the second time I remember hearing the word "drunk." The first time was about two years before the incident at my uncle's apartment. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought I heard voices coming from downstairs. As I made my way down to the kitchen, I could hear my parents talking. The moment they saw me, a strange silence fell on the room. I could tell something wasn't right.

My mom was sitting in a rocking chair. Her face looked different. Tears were running down her cheeks. My dad was standing by the door just looking at me. Finally, my mother asked what I was doing up at such a late hour. I was wondering the same about the two of them.

I said I wanted a piece of cheese. So, my mom gave me a slice of cheese, held me on her lap and rocked me while I ate it. My dad said something about not being allowed to drink because my mom wouldn't tolerate it anymore. And that if she thought he drank too much, he should just go out and rummage through the neighbors' trash, sucking the beer from any cans he could find. Then he walked out the door.

My mom rocked and held me for a few minutes and caressed my forehead with her hand, telling me not to worry. She said my dad was "drunk" and didn't realize what he was saying. I didn't understand it then, either.

Back in my uncle's apartment on the outskirts of Chicago, I thought about the word "drunk." Frightened and confused, I peeked around the corner to see if my dad was still lying there. My uncle's attempts to shield us from the disturbing scene came a little too late, however. Against my uncle's hopes, my dad recovered quickly and decided to drive us home. I sat in the backseat, looking out the window at cars that passed us on the highway. My dad couldn't seem to stay between the lines. There were a few times when he drove his car so close to other cars that they almost touched. It was dark, but I remember seeing a lot of other drivers staring at us. They looked angry. Some looked worried. A couple of them yelled in our direction and shook their fists. I wondered if they could tell that we had all seen something horrible earlier. I wondered if this was happening because my dad was "drunk."

My parents had already been divorced for a year by the time of the episode at my uncle's apartment. Looking back, I am amazed to realize how well my mom sheltered us from my dad's drinking during our early years. Not wanting us to be affected by an alcoholic father, she divorced my dad when she felt she could no longer hide it from us. Unfortunately, my father didn't have to live in our house for us to be affected by his alcoholism.

As an adult, I rarely think back and reflect on stories like these. It seems I have come to accept them as a regular part of my childhood. My father is still an alcoholic. Today, if I want to have a normal conversation with him, I know I have to call before noon. After that, the drinking starts, and the words begin to slur.

Sometimes when we're together, I look into his face and think I can see him wondering if he has caused me pain over the years. He will never really know the extent of the pain. There are things he's done and said that I can never forget, and I doubt he will ever remember.

But what I really wonder about are the wounds that have caused him enough pain that he would want to medicate himself with alcohol for his entire adult life. This is what pains me the most.

Experts call me the adult child of an alcoholic. They can list off personality traits common among many of us adult children or "co-victims" and discuss the codependency issues we may struggle with. I've never really paid much attention to what they say.

All I know for sure is that my father's addiction does not have to define who I am as a person. And that's because I found my identity in Christ. In my teens, when I first really learned about God, I was stunned by the kind of love Jesus had for us. He offered us forgiveness, even when we didn't deserve it. He died for us while we were not yet remorseful.

It's this type of forgiveness that I choose to give to my dad. He didn't ask for it. He doesn't deserve it. But I am giving it to him as a gift, because Jesus Christ gave it to me. And in this forgiveness and acceptance of my father, which comes directly from the heart of God, I find true healing. My prayer now is that my dad will also find it.

Background Information

Addiction Triggers
What causes the addiction cycles to begin?

Dr. Jekyll's Potion
The link between alcohol and violent behavior may be stronger than you think.

If You're an Alcoholic
Think you'll never be able to quit? There is hope.

But I've Got Reasons!
Alcoholics offer countless excuses for drinking. They simply don"t hold water.

Questions and Answers

My husband is an alcoholic. Can it be treated, and is there hope for families like mine?

Have you ever been concerned that exercising the concept of "tough love" in a marital crisis could potentially kill the marriage?

Review Frequently Asked Questions


Absentee Father
One adult child of an alcoholic shares his experience of healing and hope.

It Would Never Happen to Us
Teen drug addiction is always some other family's tragedy, until it hits home.

If you've been through a experience related to this topic, we invite you to share your story with others.
Share Your Story

Other Things to Consider

The Hungry Heart
Our souls seek satisfaction like a starving man seeks food. Regardless of race, culture or creed, we have one commonality: hungry hearts. What is it our souls hunger for? Relationship.

Where is God in the Midst of All My Troubles?
So many cry out to Him in times of need, but is God really listening? And, more important, does He care?

Life Pressures: Workaholism

Parenting Teens Drugs and Alcohol, Eating Disorders, Internet Concerns

Relationships:  Anger