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Too Much Holiday 'Cheer'

Patch columnist Christine Wolf writes about her experience with an alcoholic parent in hopes that it will help other families struggling with addiction — especially during the holidays.

If you know someone who struggles with substance abuse, you know that this time of year presents excruciating challenges for those trying to manage their addictive behaviors. According to The Pat Moore Foundation, an alcohol and drug treatment center, the period from Thanksgiving to New Year's often results in increased drug and alcohol abuse, as addicts try to ignore their condition in order to participate in family gatherings and other festivities.

I speak from firsthand knowledge. My biological father was an alcoholic.

Growing up, I preferred my happy, jovial, light-hearted father with a cocktail in his hand, playing loud music and wobbling as he carried items to the table...until I came to understand “the pattern”: inevitably, and within hours, I’d watch his buoyant personality sink into the depths of a belligerent, self-righteous, close-talking, slur-fest, often ending in tears — sometimes his, but more frequently those of the people around him — the twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes lost under his droopy lids.

I severed my relationship with him in 1991. I was 23 years old. He’d lost too many jobs, made too many excuses, been arrested too many times, and made too many accusations that others were responsible for his destructive behavior.

In the weeks before I was to be married, he called me from jail, begging me to bail him out. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life was letting go of my alcoholic father. It ended up being one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done.  I chose not to bail him out.

Days later, he called me…or I called him. I can no longer remember…

“I am about to start a brand new life with a man that I love,” I’d said.  I was terrified he’d show up to the wedding, unannounced, embarrassing himself and ruining the day for everyone.

I thanked him for bringing me into the world. And then I said goodbye.

I’d tried too many times to encourage him to get help. We all did. But the reality is, he never believed he had a problem. That, in itself, was his greatest downfall.  He died in 2010 of esophageal cancer, alone in a nursing home after three failed marriages. The only person by his side was a priest.

According to my father's Cook County, Illinois, death certificate, he had never been married and he had no children.

This is what denial looks like. This is what denial turns into. And this is why I have written about it.

If you suspect someone in your life might be struggling with addiction, you’re certainly not alone. There are so many places to turn for help.

And if you’re the one who’s struggling, believe me when I say: your loved ones spotlight your problem because they love you. Please listen to them before they feel no other choice but to say, "Goodbye."

For those struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, here are some resources to turn to:

Procrustes' Foil December 11, 2012 at 10:34 AM
Dear Christine, your story is a heartbreaking- and -all- too- familiar one. And depression often complicates holiday drinking. Saying "no" is sometimes the best response to troubled loved ones in denial. Experience truly does teach us valuable lessons.

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