Courtesy of Jessica Tholmer
jessica tholmer
June 14, 2018 2:15 pm

I think about alcohol a lot. Not in a planning-my-next-fancy-cocktail kind of way, but in a bigger sense. I think about how alcohol affects us, about how I like the taste of it. I ponder how it can ruin lives. Alcohol affects everything — your weight, your clarity, your sleep cycle, your sense of self. I think about this stuff every day.

Throughout my 20s, I started to envy people who had the confidence to drink with fervor and passion — without fearing the repercussions, without needing to acknowledge that their family history means “having a good time” with pals can turn into something much scarier and life-threatening in the future. When you are the daughter of an alcoholic parent (in my case, it’s one alcoholic parent and lots of alcoholic relatives), it’s pretty much all you can think about.

I didn’t drink until I was older, after I’d already turned 21. I didn’t party in high school or try alcohol at a young age, save for the one time during my senior year of high school when I had a sip of raspberry vodka at a friend’s house (it didn’t taste good, I didn’t want much, and it didn’t make me feel cool or brave or fun). I spent the majority of college not drinking alcohol because I didn’t think I could have a sip of anything without becoming an alcoholic.

Kids of alcoholic parents can relate. I know some who still don’t drink to this day, or keep it to one beer, or to one crazy night a year. The thought of becoming like our parents is too scary.

My dad has been an alcoholic for my whole life, and for much of his whole life.

I don’t know enough to say when he started to drink, but I do know he is 70 years old and has been an alcoholic for the almost 31 years I’ve existed. Loving him means I’ve had to learn a lot: We didn’t’t talk for most of my life, and it was mostly because of his alcoholism. Because he and my mother were not together. Because he lived in another state. And because he never tried to reach out to us — or very, very rarely tried to reach out to us. I had absolutely no interest in talking to my father because I didn’t want my heart to be broken by him over and over again. I wasn’t interested in broken or empty promises about his sobriety, so I just didn’t have a dad. That was it.

But when I was 24, he had been sober for the longest stretch of time in his life that I’ve ever been aware of. We tentatively started to build a relationship. It was simple at first — unemotional, surprisingly. And then it evolved into what I’d always imagined it felt like to have a dad you can talk to on the phone. It felt nice. I liked talking to him. He’s a funny man. A good man, even. Just a really troubled one, but he had worked hard to fight his demons. Sober for eight years, teaching AA classes, offering support to those who were in the same boat he’d been.

Courtesy of Jessica Tholmer

My dad is cool.

He was a Black Panther. He connects me to the side of myself that I have always identified with — my Black side. Where my olive skin tone, passion for equality, and good hair comes from. I knew that alcoholism is a disease and I had long ago stopped judging him for it. That was easier to do now that he was sober. 

But on my 29th birthday, just two years ago, I found out that he had started to drink again. It felt sort of inevitable, but I was upset. He had gone so long and made it so far, but being an alcoholic is very hard. To rely on something for so much of your life, only to never, ever pick it up again is a feat — a difficult and, honestly, incredible feat, if you can manage it.

So many people do achieve this kind of sobriety, and one of my favorite things to do is read Twitter threads by people who have stopped drinking or are celebrating a sobriety “birthday.” People are so supportive and encouraging. I think the most beautiful part of humanity lies within that kind of support. The support from one addict to another, from one person who who struggles with mental illness to another. My dad suffers from both. He has bipolar disorder and is an alcoholic., and I know that none of this is easy for him.

I love him regardless of his alcoholism, but it’s not easy to maintain a relationship with him.

He tries. All the time. He’ll maintain periods of sobriety and I’ll feel hopeful. Then he’ll crash again. Since he resumed drinking, he hasn’t been able to stay sober for more than two months at a time. Every few weeks, I get a call that he is in the hospital, and he’s started to be honest with me about that. My dad turned 70 last year and somehow his body continues to fight against all that he has put it through.

Father’s Day is hard for a lot of people because so many of us have difficult relationships with our fathers, or no relationships with our fathers, or our fathers have passed away. For me, Father’s Day used to be a day to get angry on the internet and feel bad for myself because I didn’t have a dad. Now, it’s better. It’s sadder, in a way, but it’s better. My dad is trying, all the time, like the majority of addicts. To me, that means a whole lot. He has kids who love him, even if it was hard between us in the past. I love him. I am always rooting for him. I have also had to make peace with his illness.

His alcoholism is not his fault, and it’s not mine either. Addiction is devastating. If you need help or think you have a problem, please reach out.

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