I dreamt of my father last night, he passed away in 2002 as I was finishing nursing school. In my dream he is sitting in the music room of my childhood home, my golden retriever Ruby who has passed was also there, with my son’s current dog Ivy, I let the dogs outside. They stand beneath a tree that has a waterfall and allow the water to pour over their heads. It is a surreal dream rich with symbolism. Dogs are creatures of unconditional love; a waterfall is symbolic of letting go….
My father was a complex man. He was a musician, a master carpenter, a Marine and an amateur farmer; we had a pony, chickens and as my Aunt would tell it a pig- but somehow I don’t remember the pig.
So why did my Father visit me? My Father was also an alcoholic; it is a devastating disease that affects every aspect of the person with the addiction- physically, emotionally and spiritually. It also affects the entire family unit. It is been proven to be a genetic disease, one passed down from generation to generation. Alcoholism has invaded my family once again. I am not ashamed of this, to me it is a disease, not unlike diabetes or cancer, would you blame the person who developed these? But alcoholism and addiction in general has a social stigma attached to it, it is believed the person who suffers with the affliction has a choice, and that when they drink or they use it is because they made a choice. They do not have a choice about the presence of their disease; it exists because of a complex biochemical/genetic matrix within their body. The only choice they have is how to live with it. In diabetes we know sugar and complex carbohydrates trigger increased blood sugars so regulating the disease has become more manageable. In alcoholism and addiction the triggers are not so easily identified, based often in hidden emotions- those of shame, past hurts, traumatic experiences that trigger the need for relief that alcohol once so easily provided.
So where do I fit into this? As a child I was powerless to my father’s choices. The fall out of his drinking often left me wounded. Later in life, as he lay in his bed, I rubbed his back and forgiveness found me, I realized he was just a man who had lived his life as best he could with the tools he had, he was as broken and wounded as anyone. More importantly I knew he loved me, despite the fallout of his alcoholism, he truly loved his children even if he couldn’t always show it. I found forgiveness and it set me free from the burden of the childhood wounds that I had dragged through my adult life with me.
Now, again, as alcoholism reappears, it saddens me, and I cannot make choices for my loved one, I cannot walk their walk any more than I could with my father. But I can walk beside them, I can love them, support them, offer counsel if asked. I can forgive myself for not being able to do more, and realize that trusting the Divine is more important now than ever. And I pray- a lot!
Alcoholism/Addiction is a call for healing, all the wounded parts of us, it is an opportunity to grow and explore the darkness so we can one day embrace more light. And when the sadness consumes me I will remember the image of the dogs beneath the waterfall and allow thoughts of unconditional love and letting go to fill my heart.