28 years ago, 12/18/1988, my father lost his battle with alcoholism when he took his own life at the age of 49, leaving behind a loving wife of 18 years, a 16 year old daughter, and a 12 year old son.
A brilliant man who deeply hurt and struggled with life after the death of his mother when he was 12.
He was a soldier in the Army at the age of 19.
He earned his Bachelor Degree from Florida Presbyterian College.
He owned and was the CEO of Bieder, Inc. in Clearwater, Florida, where he developed and marketed condominiums during the booming real estate market in the 70s.
He took his life after decades of battling binge drinking alcoholism, and I miss him every day.
He would have been 79 next April. I don't know if he would have lived that long if he hadn't killed himself because he didn't take care of his body very well, smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day and had a high-stress career, BUT I would have like to have found out. I never got to see him past the age of 49. An age I am quickly approaching, and I fear that I am going to lose touch with my memories of him after passing that milestone.
My father was an alcoholic who drank to numb his pain. He had a very difficult childhood that he never recovered from, and self medicating was his downfall. He wanted to end his struggle with addiction, but on his own terms, which was a recipe for disaster.
His suicide was brutal. We had made the decision to "cut him off" after repeated attempts to get him to treatment and his avid refusal to do so. He had been on his last "binge" for approximately 1.5 years (normal binges were 4-5 days with 2 to 5 in between). He called me on a Friday and asked me to pick him up the next day so he could look for a new place to live (he was living in a motel at the time) and that he was going to get help and repair his shattered life. He told me that he loved me and how proud he was of me. About 5 minutes later, he called and said to change the day to Sunday, it would work better for him.
When I arrived at his motel room Sunday morning (28 years ago, exactly, 12/18/1988), I found him dead on his couch from self inflicted cuts to his wrists. There was blood everywhere. I was 16 at the time and it took me many, many years to recover from this (in fact, I probably still haven't and never completely will). There was no note. There was no indication that he was suicidal (reflecting on it many years later, of course he was). I was left feeling as though he set me up to find this brutal scene out of some sort of sadistic revenge for abandoning him, and the guilt plagued me for years. I now know, as a 44 year old woman, that this scenario that played in my young, still developing mind for many years, was most likely not true, and it was his disease that got the better of him. He was extremely depressed and suffering traumatically from this disease, and he simply came to the conclusion that it was the only way out for him. Although part of me wants to believe that it was a cry for help and he didn't actually intend to die from the attempt - that he simply wanted me to find him that way as a desperate plea for allowing him back into my life (the diseased mind not only manipulates others but the inflicted as well) - the logical part of me knows that his brain was critically injured from such abusive drinking for such a prolonged period of time and he wasn't thinking rationally - he hadn't for years - and that he didn't actually set me up to find him; it probably didn't occur to him who would find him. I believe in my heart that if he knew what it actually did to my mind and soul, and the PTSD that has plagued me ever since, he would never have done that. He loved me too much for that, and would never want to cause one single day of pain in my life, let alone decades.
I didn't talk about his suicide for many years. I am embarrassed to say that I was embarrassed that I had a parent that committed suicide. Like it would reflect upon me; like I was a bad daughter or something and people would not be able to look at me or treat me the same after finding out. I didn't want to present myself as having a 'victim reality'. I also didn't speak of his alcoholism, as I was always afraid that people would assume that, I too, must suffer the same affliction as there is a known genetic factor in addictive diseases. Additionally, I had a very chaotic childhood filled with ups and downs, being disappointed more that not, and being forced to "hide" my dad's disease. I now know that the only way to heal and to continue to heal (it will be a lifelong effort), is to talk openly about addiction and suicide and hope to reach at least one person on my journey through life; be present and make them aware that there IS hope, there IS help, there are judgement free zones FULL of people dedicated to healing the mind, body, and spirit of someone suffering so immensely from this horrible disease; no matter the drug(s) of choice, past behaviors or choices and past recovery attempts that may have failed. There is a way out, and there are people that love you that will hold your hand through your journey called recovery - you may have burned some bridges, but certainly not all of them. But if you have, you WILL find someone (possibly in a recovery program) that will grab your hand and never let go - because YOU and YOUR life MATTER! And can be wonderful, and you CAN feel joy and hope again.
If you have a loved one that is suffering from addiction disease, BE PRESENT, BE PERSISTENT, UTILIZE COMMUNITY ASSISTANCE and PRIVATE NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS to help direct them on the winding road to healing themselves as a WHOLE. It won't be easy; it'll be ugly and brutal at times. But compared to the option of losing them and living with the "what if's" for the rest of your life, EVERY step of the way will be worth it.
My dad never got to see me in my prom dress, graduate from high school or nursing school, walk me down the aisle, be present for my six children or my brothers three children, and to feel the joy of grandparenthood. He didn't get to grow old with my mom, and left her alone and missing him desperately for the remainder of her journey through life. Addiction robbed him of all of this and robbed us of him.
In my line of work, I screen very ill patients for suicidal ideation and intention and provide intervention if needed. These are not people with addictive diseases (for mostly all cases I deal with), but I still feel like I am making a difference in people's lives when I am able to identify someone with suicidal ideation and possible intent and connect them with the resources they need to begin to heal their soul. My advice? Become familiar with the signs of suicidal tendencies and familiarize yourself with the resources in your area. You may just save a life.
His children. Boating. Watching my brother play little league baseball. Tropical storms (I'm quirky that way too - must have gotten that from him). Going to Tampa Bay Buccaneer Football games (season ticket holder), especially when they won. His Alfa Ramero. The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers and Jim Croche. My mom flirting with him. Watching me swim like a fish and teaching me how to "dive properly." Watching me play in the band. Taking me on dad/daughter dates to the movies and Pizza Hut (always following a binge). A well-manicured lawn and trimmed palm trees. Watching "man stuff" on t.v. with my brother.
His smell, his voice, his constant pursuit of perfection and his reluctant acceptance of not reaching it - as long as he could teach me a lesson from it he would be at least complacent about it - it taught me to not necessarily try to be perfect, but to be GOOD to every one and thing around me, and that would be sufficient. Him tickling me. The way he would valiantly kill spiders and roaches for me. His love of music, which I am grateful to have had passed on to me. His love of Big Mac's.
I think something that is really gnawing at me currently, and is the reason he is on my mind so heavy this year, is that my second son (20 years old) looks EXACTLY like him and even has the same personality (especially the stubborn pride) and unfortunately the addictive tendencies. I have talked to him about his predisposition to addiction for years, and I know he "gets it" but that just isn't enough in my eyes...and now he lives 1500 miles away, is about to join the Army to be an Airborne Combat Medic, and I am truly worried about him - how he will deal emotionally with the things he sees and experiences. I feel a true loss of control in this situation, but there is nothing to intervene on yet. I just have a 'feeling'. Ok, I veered off the point, but, where I am actually going with this, is, I may miss my father very, very much; and have for 28 years, but I see him in my sons and my brother every time I look at them or talk to them - and for that, I am truly grateful. It makes the sting of missing him an little more bearable.