It absolutely has to change, it cannot stay the same. This dark silence our family has built over three decades of shame and secrets is suffocating all of us – too many years of sacrificing real conversations in order to avoid the truth of addiction. It needs to be blown apart, we need to let the light in.
I started writing when I was very young – I’ve kept all of the old journals. I didn’t know then it was my way of breaking the silence. So tonight, I wrote you a letter – this is my first step. Towards talking about everything everyone in our family is terrified to speak about- to hold value in accountability.
It’s almost Father’s Day, and I can’t call you because you left your phone at home when you were taken to the alcohol detox and rehab facility. And I wanted to be so fucking angry at you for that.
To break our long-standing pattern of keeping quiet about core family issues, I wanted to write about all of my hurt, about how fucking mad I am at you for putting us through two weeks of detox and hallucinations and a-fib panics in the ICU two years ago without a single fucking follow-up conversation to be had, even after your open-heart surgery, even after you were dead on the table for four minutes, heart stopped by delirium tremens. No apology, no hugs or tears or let’s gut this baggage right here and now in a space of love and vulnerability. Everything back to the kind of normal that is a ticking fucking time-bomb. And how could you fucking relapse? And how could you put me through this again?
But then I remembered the sand pits in the Mojave Desert. I remembered being 6 years old on a tiny pink dirt bike and falling, over and over again, and how you would wait for me to get up, helping me kickstart my bike half a dozen times in a handful of hours, through so many weekends spent camping. Even during races, where your friends would speed by hootin’ and waving, you would take me along knowing, expecting that I would slow you down, falling many times in the sandpits – and that you would help me get back up, and gradually teach me to start the bike myself, to pick it up on my own.
Eventually I learned to pull on my moto boots without sulking dramatically to the ground feigning exhaustion and could get ready without you putting my hair in a ponytail and telling me to look up at the sky while you tied my helmet chinstraps. But only after you did it for me, patiently, often laughing, sometimes sighing, countless times.
And I remembered how you called me three years ago and told me you would always be my safety net – and that I should take the fucking world on with my dreams, because you would be there to catch me. Wherever I wanted to travel, if I needed to get myself on a plane home, you would be at the airport waiting for me. That’s why you have worked so hard, so you could catch us.
I remembered you telling me 12 years before that it was time for mom to go to rehab for a long time, and you wished it wasn’t true, but you didn’t know what else to do. And you diligently taking us to visit her, and trying to make things normal after our visits using lunch and movies. And when you couldn’t take it anymore, after she had relapsed for the dozenth time and nothing was working, and rehab couldn’t fix her – you left.
You left me with her when she was at her worst- she fell apart completely and I wasn’t even old enough to drive Mary to school. I was so angry at you for so many years. I was terrible sometimes, I would yell, I rebelled against you. How could you leave me alone to bear that?- I screamed. I told you I hated you. And I remembered you were exhausted, but you loved me anyway.
And that time I was underage and crashed the car early one morning when you had already moved out – and you were incredibly upset with me-let’s be direct, you called me a little bitch- but you took me to the courthouse and sat next to me through the ruling. And you picked me up in the early mornings from mom’s house and drove me to Burbank for my summer job working for your best friend just so we had that little bit of time together. And you taught me how to change motorcycle oil and spark plugs, and picked me up from the YMCA and soccer practice, and dragged me to school to go through my locker in 8th grade when I lied to you about my science grades, and you laid the hammer down to get my C to an A in a few weeks, telling me I deserve better- I deserve to do the best I can.
And you told me I could love anyone of any gender, and dye my hair any color and get piercings and have terrible taste in music, but just don’t get caught up in drugs (and I listened). I remembered hikes and bike rides and that you instilled this passion for the outdoors in me. This is the new dichotomy in which I have learned to love you.
I am trying to sit in empathy, to understand the degree of fear and pain, guilt and shame that you have felt and feel. I am trying to understand the anxiety associated with hiding your own substance abuse for a lifetime. And to admire how brave it is to take a long leave from work when you hold a prominent role. I see you as a complete, complex person. I no longer hold you on a pedestal. It’s for the best — there is reward in the messy stuff. You want to hold it all together, you want to be the contrast to all of the irresponsibility, rampant emotions and aggression – the insanity of our home with mom. You want to make up for it- to create security, to hold us and keep us safe – to never let us see you in pain. But just as mom doesn’t have to be broken for me, you don’t have to hide from me. I love you in your entirety. And after all of this remembering I’m not mad, I’m scared. I’m so scared of losing you.
My best friend told me that we all have dark rooms inside of us, full of our hurt, our emptiness, full of whatever we are avoiding. And that we are gifted opportunities in life to find the window in the room and pull back the drapes, to let the light in. And we have to keep returning to that room, finding the drapes have fallen shut and bravely pull them open again, knowing full well we may return to that scary place not long after to find it dark again — and the real hero of this story isn’t the one who returns to a well-lit room. It’s the one who has the courage to return to the dark, pull back the drapes, and let the light in. You’re my hero for trying the first time- there is no shame in returning to the room a second time.
You can pull the drapes back again- you’re the strongest man I know.
And I’ll be here, waiting patiently, to help you back up until you can do it on your own.
(Even then, I’m here to catch you if you need it.)