Feeling empty after death of alcoholic father

Old 01-16-2012, 03:00 AM
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Feeling empty after death of alcoholic father

Hey all. I've read threads in this community before and found them so helpful, but I've never posted before.

I found out on Saturday night that my father died suddenly last week. The time-lag on my finding out about it is due to the fact that I live and work in France, and my mother couldn't get ahold of me until about a day and a half after he died. I don't know what the official cause of death was--he apparently died in his bed, very possibly (I hope) in his sleep--but whatever it may have been, his almost 40 years of drug and alcohol abuse can't have helped. This past year was the longest continuous period during which he had been sober.

I don't know how to feel. Sometime in my late teens (I'm 22 now) I realized I had to let go of the tremendous anger I had always had for him--for hurting me and our family, for making my life financially and emotionally unstable with his irresponsible actions, for guilting the family into enabling his addiction (which I now see was entirely their choice). No amount of anger or withholding of affection could ever make him change his behavior, and I was the only one my attitude was hurting. So, slowly, I stopped carrying around the anger that had lived in my heart for so long.

When I decided at the age of 13 to stop obeying the visitation schedule laid out in my parents' divorce decree (because I could no longer bear to watch his continued drinking, which everyone except my mother refused to believe was even happening), his mother and sisters, who are otherwise the most loving and supportive family I could ask for, made it clear that if he was continuing to drink, it was because of my hurtful and selfish decision to stop seeing him: "You do realize that by doing this, you're just putting more pressure on him to drink?" Intellectually I have always known that this was bunk, but the niggling "what if?" that always lingered at the back of my mind has come creeping to the forefront: would my father have died, alone in his room in a halfway house, if I had bitten the bullet and continued seeing him regularly?

Encounters with him often hurt so much, I would be depressed for weeks afterwards--either because he was drunk, or because, sober, I could see the sad, frightened, disappointed man his addiction had made him into. He was an utterly broken person, and it hurt intensely to know that, even if he never took another drink, he regarded his life as effectively over. Due to his erratic behavior and treatment of myself and my brothers, I am unable to trust anyone or anything to act as they have promised to or should; I am anxious sometimes to the point of paranoia; I cannot ask for help, even when I need it, because I assume beforehand that it won't be forthcoming. I have an unhealthy need for confirmation and approval, especially from authority figures and romantic partners, that can make me seem craven and/or just obnoxiously insecure.

Life with him wasn't always like this--before his addiction raged truly out of control (though it was always there), he was witty, extremely intelligent, the owner of a successful business and an affectionate if slightly eccentric father. (I know he was never a very good husband to my mother, however--unfaithful, unpredictable and distant.) He taught me to love weird movies and classic rock; he shared my love of sour foods; he understood the fights I'd have with my mother; he was the first person to show me that I didn't necessarily need or want to be just like everyone else, and in fact it was sometimes better not to be. He was thus, at the same time, a positive and a profoundly destructive influence on my life.

With his death, I feel mostly just...lost. I am relieved, honestly relieved, that he no longer has to struggle with the horrible combination of addiction, depression and self-doubt that plagued his whole adult life. Far more selfishly--and these are the feelings I'm afraid of--I am relieved that I no longer have to wait for the next phone call telling me what the crisis is now: a DUI, another drunken fall resulting in a concussion, more jobs or housing lost because of another bender.

I cried unconsolably for about three hours after hearing of his death, and now I can't cry at all. The loss of a parent is meant to be one of the most traumatic experiences we can go through, but the hysterical grief I know I should feel just isn't forthcoming. I just feel hollow. There's a huge hole where everything--good and bad--that I associated with him used to be. I find myself thinking about my ambitions for the future, my job, coming back from France to visit my hometown, and my brain comes back with, "well, it doesn't matter now. Dad's dead." But the screaming and tearing of my hair that I expected to experience when this moment came haven't happened. I'm afraid that I'm an unnatural daughter, or some sort of sociopath. MY FATHER IS DEAD. Shouldn't I be in a ball on the floor?

I apologize for the obscene length of this post, but I feel as if it's the only place I can go right now. My friends, boyfriend and co-workers have been outstandingly supportive and affectionate, but I feel like I can't talk to any of them about this, since none (to my knowledge) have an alcoholic parent. I'm afraid they would think I was nuts, or a monster. So, thank you so much for reading if you've gotten this far.
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Old 01-16-2012, 06:56 AM
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That sounds familiar -- I felt only relief when my Dad died, a bit over a year ago. I also find that it's pointless to talk to relatives or my Dad's friends -- they simply do not understand what it was like to be his kid. "Oh, that's just the way he was," is how one of my aunts put it the other day, regarding his rages. Everyone loved my Dad -- they saw the smart, witty, fun side of him, not the side we got at home.

That nonsense about "you're just putting more pressure on him to drink" is a common misconception, among people who just do not get it. They think it's possible to "drive someone to drink," when in fact, that's just an excuse. You did not take a bottle and pour it down your father's throat, any more than I did with mine.

Now that they're gone, though, we have a lot of wreckage to deal with. This is going to take awhile....

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Old 01-16-2012, 06:59 AM
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Dear Calendula, Welcome to the SR family, I am so glad you are here!

So sorry about your dad, I really can understand how you feel, my mom has been an alcoholic for over 40 of my 49 years, she has been in the ICU twice in the last 18 months with drinking related heart issues. I just didn't really care whether she lived or died, she has drained me emotionally by all her years of mean, self-absorbed behavior.

You come in here whenever you need to, write as much as you need to feel better, I promise I will read and reply.

This is a great place to vent or talk, get a hug or a shoulder.

There is nothing abnormal about your thinking or how you feel, you will not be judged here.

I will say a prayer for you and your dad, I hope you know you did not cause him to drink and you could not stop his drinking, those were his choices alone, he is a grown man and did as he wished,

Please accept a big hug from me, you will be in my thoughts and prayers.

Best of luck to you,

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Old 01-16-2012, 07:54 AM
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Thank you so much, Bill and tromboneliness. It is a relief in all this confusion to know that there are people for whom feelings like mine don't necessarily need explanations or excuses. My best to you both.
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Old 01-16-2012, 07:59 AM
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Dear Calendula,

I am sorry for your loss.

Thank you for sharing your story. I loss my alcoholic father in August 2010 and felt many of the emotions that you are experiencing.

I personally found that when he passed I needed to first grieve for the father that I was never going to have and then I got around to grieving the father that I got. It was a long road for me and I'm sure the process is unique for each individual.

My father drank until his dementia got so bad that he could no longer take care of himself. There was nothing that I could have done to make him stop drinking. I basically found that I had to protect myself from him during my adult life.

When he died I was relieved. In addition to dementia he had emphysema. It is so difficult to watch a person not be able to breath. He had absolutely no money saved so he died in a Medicaid covered nursing home. Not the most pleasant place. He was only 71.

I still struggle with wondering why some people find recovery and others don't.

Please be gentle with yourself and keep coming back.


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Old 01-16-2012, 10:04 AM
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I'm so sorry this has happened at such a young age for you, we do understand. But it is never easy at any age. My alcoholic Dad died in his 80's after being incarcerated briefly and sober for 3 years, he was in late stages of Alzheimer's. I too felt immense relief. I did many years of grieving for the Dad I never had so it wasn't a shock. Let yourself grieve how you need. If you don't cry that is fine. Don't expect any "normal" reactions and don't punish yourself if you feel you are coming up short. Let it play out however it does.

I'm glad you now understand that your relatives couldn't have any more wrong with their blame on you and his drinking. There is no reason you could have supplied that would be the fault of his drinking.

As you work through your feelings you might want to read the "stickies" posted above if you haven't already. Saying a prayer for you.
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Old 01-16-2012, 12:49 PM
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Thank you for sharing. I can imagine that you would have all kinds of feelings after the death of your father. I sometimes wonder what it will feel like when my alcoholic father dies. I don't know how I will react. I would think it would be with some indifference, some pain at what I never had, some disappointment that I never had a relationship with him..I don't really know. I hope you can find some peace. I know that there is nothing you could have done to stop his destroying of his life. I'm glad to hear that you have some good memories of him. Take care.
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Old 01-22-2012, 04:46 PM
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I feel your pain

My dad died last week. Im 28 eldest of 3. I came looking here for something. When I read your original post I was completely floored. It's as if you wrote through me. Everything you wrote would have been exactly what I was/would have almost word for word. The family, how he was before, then now, how he regarded his life as over. It truley resonates with my situation. I'm not sure how this makes me feel however. I think we need to feel special and unique, Especially in hardship. Unfortunately it seems alcoholism is anything but special or unusual.
As I'm writing this I'm not sure I should post I can tell that I'm not going to say anything positive or constructive. But to be honest my brain is a puddle at the moment. A stupid phrase that I remember from holidaying in Laos springs to mind 'Same Same but different' pretty must sums up why I felt I should post. But anyway, I hope it helps you to know your not the only one. If it doesn't I apologise in advance however I doubt you very much care about what I have to say at the moment .
I do however wish you the most sincere feeling that I hope you manage to recover from you loss and, that when do, you go forward in life with a new found zest and belief that there is alot to live for and make best of your obvious intelligence.
Best regards Carl
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Old 01-22-2012, 05:05 PM
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Hello Carl, and pleased to "meet" you

I am sorry to hear that your father passed away. As you noted in your post many of us feel much the same emotions when it comes to our parents and their alchoholism.

Originally Posted by Carlpedler View Post
...I'm not sure I should post I can tell that I'm not going to say anything positive or constructive. But to be honest my brain is a puddle at the moment. ....
No worries. This forum is a "stress free" zone, so there are no expectations on what you write. We all came here to overcome all that "stuff" that we have been carrying around since childhood. When you say your brain is a puddle, I know the feeling. That's a good description of what I went through when my folks passed away.

Originally Posted by Carlpedler View Post
... I doubt you very much care about what I have to say at the moment .....
I can't answer for anybody else, but _I_ care. Your experience in dealing with your family can help me better deal with my own issues. That is how this "recovery" thing works. We each share what helps us overcome these hardships so that we can learn from each other and apply other's ideas to our own needs.

Thanks for taking the time to post. Welcome to SoberRecovery.

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Old 01-22-2012, 05:06 PM
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(((Carlpleder))) - Welcome to SR, though I'm sorry for what brought you here. I'm only an ACOA by marriage (my dad married an ACOA who was married to an alcoholic before my dad, so step-siblings are also ACOA's). I've found the people on this forum are truly incredible, though. I don't know what it's like to lose a parent who was addicted, but these people do.

Having an A (addict/alcoholic) in the family is like being a part of a club that no one wants to belong too. The good news is, you're not alone, and people her "get" how you feel.

Hugs and prayers,

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Old 01-22-2012, 07:08 PM
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Carl, so sorry about your dad, I wish I had some words of comfort that would help, please know you and your family will be in my thoughts.

Please come back and let us know how you are doing.

I will say a prayer for all of you,

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Old 01-22-2012, 11:06 PM
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What you are feeling is absolutely normal. Are you a sociopath? No. Are you a terrible person for not grieving the way you perceive a daughter should grieve for her father? No.

That hole you describe was the place that all the anger, pain, insecurity, regrets, memories, doubts, and mixed feelings went to. When your dad was around, there was something in the hole, even if it was a mess - imperfect flesh - a square peg in a round hole. Now that he's gone, you feel that hole has caved. It's the scab that is ripped to reveal an open wound, but you're used to the pain, and now you don't even feel it.

You've got "Daddy issues" in a BIG way. So do I.

I make it a point not to share my own story with people, but your courageous, inspired, and psychologically relevant post intrigues me. In the spirit of cathartic revelations, I will tell you about my own experience.

My own father passed away back in 2007, so it was five years ago. He was mid fifties, I was mid twenties. A lot of the emotions I felt at the time were pushed down and seem to be making their way back up. For example, i'll be having a great day, but then i'll look out a window and take a breath, and remember my dad is dead. Like yours, mine was both a positive and a destructive force in my life. My parents got divorced when I was 5. I only remember glimpses of the early years - fishing trips - canoe rides - listening to rock and roll. Watching American Werewolf in London (the original). MTV. Funny how our life can be chono-logged by pop music charts. We used to hit the comic book stores together with my brother, and he was generous or seemed that way to us kids. On the other hand, he would disappear for whole nights, and, like most drunks, let us down and forget hiking trips and birthdays. To our mom, he was a great guy, until he would drink, and then he would get violent. Not the typical violence, if there is typical violence, but I remember him emptying out her purse once in a rage and throwing a beer bottle across the room shortly before the divorce. I'm sure there was more going on that my brother and I did not see. He could never hold down a job for long.

Afterwards, there was distance. We would stay over at his place every once and awhile and there were still trips, but he had become more adept at making excuses. Alcoholics are marked by an uncanny denial. Perhaps they lie to themselves as they lie to others - but nothing is ever their fault. Maybe they don't remember. Maybe they are weak. He would blame things on our mom, even to the point of selling stories that no one was buying. Once, he came over to pick us up, and mom wouldn't open the door. He threw our deck chair at the door and left in a rage. Another time, we were swimming at a complex pool and I splashed one of his temporary girlfriends, and she flicked a cigarette at me which burned a patch in my arm. I was about 8, and I ran away through the complex. He caught up and choked me into submission. Another time, mom came to pick us up from a visitation, and we went out to the car while they talked inside. We went back inside when she didn't come out and he had her in a strange position and was trying to put a dirty mop on her face, and down her throat. That memory is pretty fuzzy. She must have gotten some bleach or dirt in her mouth. Typing this out makes me realize how much we also make excuses about the abuse, I guess a coping mechanism, but it wasn't always like that. Those moments leave big impressions. There were a lot of good times too, but they were hesitant, fleeting moments. He tried to keep a bird for a pet, but it flew away.

One day, he stopped visiting, and we stopped going over. I was probably 10 or 11. He had moved across the country without saying bye. Every now and then we got a call, but no one was interested in speaking. We would get $25 checks, sporadically, for things like Christmas from our grandparents on his side, but never from him. No birthday gifts. Sometimes a drunken phone call. Things went on like that for awhile. Our grandparents on his side died. Alcoholics self destruct and take their relationships down with them. But to his credit, he did take care of his parents before they passed. Can't say the same about his kids, though. When I was around 22 he finally paid up on a few thousand dollars of child support from who knows when.

When I was 24 I got a call - it was him. It was a mixed phone call. I chastised him because I found out, via google, that he had been arrested for drunk driving a couple years before. I said something along the lines of "what type of grown man does that". He said that was in the past. He commented that we never send photos or update him on our lives - classic alcoholic displacement of responsibility - thin attempt to guilt trip. I told him he was never there for us. He said it takes two and that we were never there for him either. That made me angry, and I told him it was BS, which it was, but it still stings a bit. Then, he wanted our social security numbers. I immediately went on the defensive - no way was I going to let this guy ruin my own credit or participate in some identify theft plan. He said he was straightening out his affairs and was going to put us as beneficiaries to his life insurance. I told him he can do that but he wasn't going to get our socials. He got mad and said "i'll just give it all to mikey then". I was like "who the f is mikey"... he's like "one of your cousins". We had met a couple of the cousins, but were almost entirely out of the loop for that side of the family. I told him to do what he wants. He calmed down and said he loved us. I really didn't know what to make of it at the time. I gave him a lip-full i'm sure.

About a month or two later, we got the call that he had died in a car accident. My brother and I flew up to take care of business. To this day, I can't figure out if it was an accident, or a suicide. Single vehicle crash in the middle of the afternoon. Blood alcohol level of .3 (more than three times the USA legal limit). He drove off a hill going fast, no seat belt, was partially ejected out of the vehicle while the vehicle was flipping. Made a huge mess. Not sure if he passed out from the blood alcohol level, or if he turned the radio up and decided to take a nose dive.

It turns out he did put us on the insurance, but there were alot of questions surrounding the accident. Even after the death, his siblings denied that he was an alcoholic. Had had another bird this time around, and someone agreed to take care of it. The siblings drank too, or if they didn't drink they were weird, insular, ex-urban middle class Americana. They also tried to blame stuff on our mom, but we would not hear any of that. We parted on good terms with them, but did not speak afterwards. A particularly belligerent uncle (by marriage) wanted to "help" us take care of some property up there, and by help I mean try to bill us twice a week for lawn care in the winter... we ended up lawyering up for matters of estate. Our lawyer died during the process too, so we got a senior partner at the firm to finish up the business. It was a big headache. I still have some of hi stuff... mostly junk, but some good cds, knives, pictures, things like that.

That was 5 years ago. My brother and I don't talk about it. Unlike you, I have not been able to let the anger go. His death was, in some ways, a relief, and in some ways a betrayal. I cried. I got mad. Like you, there is a sense of emptiness there still, and i'm not sure it will ever go away. On a personal level, I have to quit blaming things on him. I guess denial is a learned trait, because sometimes I will get into the line of blaming him for personal failures.

Looking back at pictures, there are raw, mixed emotions. Pleasure and pain, mostly a mix of longing for something that was never truly there and resentment, sprinkled in with mystery, guilt, and a slew of unanswered questions. I still google him every now and then. On the flip side, even though we don't keep up with that side of the family, I value my heritage and the history of that family. One time, I googled him, to find a cousin on that side of the family had died in a drunk ATV accident. The cousin was at a birthday party, maybe drinking, maybe not, got on the ATV, and flipped down the driveway somehow, bashing his brains out on the cement. Left a wife behind.

Well, I don't really know where I was going with this, except to say you're not alone, and to thank you for posting in a more coherent way than I did, because you inspired me to share my story as well. I don't really know what to do with this mixed bag of emotions that at once cuts me and desensitizes me. I can be perfectly happy, then think back on the day for things I might have forgotten to do, but by searching underneath that seemingly harmless veil of day to day memory, I uncover these feelings, waiting beneath the surface, and my smile turns to a frown. Yeah, I wish I could let these go, but I'll probably take them to the grave. Everyone has their SH*** though.

Rock on, little sister. It'll get better for you, I hope.
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Old 01-23-2012, 07:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Triplek View Post
Like yours, mine was both a positive and a destructive force in my life.
Yes. This is what nobody, but nobody outside the program, gets.

I was visiting one of my two remaining aunts the other day (of my parents' generation, there are only those two left -- the one I visited is 80-ish, but still lives independently in the suburbs, is in pretty good health, and still drives, although she doesn't drive into the city anymore).

It was a nice visit -- and I learned some family stuff I hadn't known before. But at one point, I mentioned how my Dad would yell at me/us, and how scared I was, as a kid. "Oh, that's just how he was," said my aunt. "You have to realize he didn't really mean anything -- he just got angry and yelled for a few minutes, and then everything was all right again."

Well, no, I'm sorry, Aunt E, everything was not all right again. It was bad, my childhood was unhappy, my Dad was an alkie, my mother was insane, and everything was not all right.

Almost everyone in my family is just as oblivious to what it was like growing up in my house. So they wonder why they don't see a lot of me....

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