- Friends & Family
Submitted by: Nadine Herring
This is an interview conducted with my daughter Taja. In this interview Taja will be sharing how her father’s recovery, and to a lesser extent her aunt and uncle’s experiences with addiction and recovery, have affected her life and shaped her views.
This will be the first time we have ever discussed her father’s addiction and recovery in depth like this, and I have to tell you how proud I was listening to my daughter talk openly, honestly and with a lot of pride. I found out some things I never knew before and am so grateful with T for sharing her story because people suffering from addiction need to know how they are affecting their children and their voices need to be heard!
How long has your loved one been on their recovery journey? Are you in recovery?
My dad has been sober for 16 years this November. I am not in recovery.
What is the biggest positive change you have seen in their life since then?
The biggest change I have seen in my dad’s life is him going back to school and actually becoming a counselor for other people; I think that’s pretty cool. My dad has always been pretty cool, it’s just when he was in his addiction I didn’t get to see him as much, so now that he’s been sober for so long our relationship is a lot better. It’s like before when he was addicted, I didn’t see him as much and it kind of felt very distant and now that he’s here, our relationship is a lot better. He’s definitely more like a father and around whenever I need him.
What led to their need for recovery (from substance abuse or some other issue)? Your need for recovery from their disease?
I didn’t know how bad his addiction was because my mom kept it from me, which I appreciate. Um, I don’t think it actually hit me how bad it was until he actually went to rehab, and I saw him in rehab and it kind of hit me like this is a real issue.
At first, you know I went to those Al-A-Teen meetings…I went to one and read the book that my mom gave me, but honestly, family helped more than anything because you guys were really supportive. Even though I missed my father when he wasn’t around, I still you know had my parents. Mom was around to talk to, and he was still there somewhat, so I never really felt like I had to go to therapy or anything because my parents were pretty much my therapy. The meeting did help, but I think knowing that my dad was at least trying to get better helped; it wasn’t like he didn’t want to get help so I think that made it a little bit easier.
Follow up question: When you say family, who do you mean?
My mom, grandma, grandpa, cousins…because it wasn’t just dad. I learned about my aunt, I learned about my uncle, I saw my cousins’ struggle with it. If anything, it helped me because it made me not want to go anywhere near alcohol or drugs or anything. Even now, I’m 25, I still don’t. I go out every now and then but I don’t want to touch that stuff because I saw firsthand what it does and I think if you don’t see it, you don’t realize how bad it is. Since I saw it up close and personal and it was just not good.
Additional follow up question: What about Noni? (Paternal grandmother)
Noni really helped; just the way she talks about things. Even when I was growing up I didn’t know how bad Noni’s struggle was with addiction. My dad told me about that and I could see how it affected him and it made me look at Noni differently. Just seeing how much she’s grown, she’s been sober forever at this point (33 years), so she was really helpful and she made me understand that it’s not my dad, it’s not my uncle or my aunt, it’s the disease. Once you see these people sober you realize it’s not them, it’s the disease.
What was the turning point for them and your understanding of what this was?
I don’t know personally, but like I said, seeing him in rehab, was a big deal for me because it was like “okay he’s actually trying to get better.” I didn’t know how bad it was, but however bad it was it was like, “okay he’s going to try and get clean.” For my other family members, I remember when my cousin got alcohol poisoning, that scared me. I remember seeing some of my other family members struggle with their addictions…seeing some of my cousins hospitalized for that…seeing my aunt working and trying to take care of the family…seeing them try to pick up the pieces helped.
The turning point for my dad (as far as I knew) was rehab because I didn’t know how bad it was. I thought it was just dad drinks a lot and he’s not super responsible, but I didn’t know about drug use or anything. I just thought he wasn’t being responsible enough and that’s why my mom kept him away, which I understand.
What is one important truth you’ve learned through the process?
To be honest, I guess. Me and Dad have had plenty of conversations and he always talks to me in the car (we have some of our best talks there) and we’ve had a lot of heart to hearts which is why I think we’re so close now.
I remember when he first came home (from rehab) it was kind of difficult, but now I can talk to Dad about anything; even when my mom is not around we just talk about anything. So just being honest…he admits he wasn’t there and he admits his guilt and I admit…I mean I’m not perfect, his absence did affect me but I can say he came back, which is a big deal.
Follow up question: So how did it affect you because you and I have never really talked about that?
It affected my relationships with guys. In the past I used to date guys that were emotionally absent or guys that I had to fight for their affection; I think that’s because my dad wasn’t around so I felt like that’s what I had to do. I’ve gotten a lot better and I’m in a way healthier relationship now!
In my last relationship, the guy was very…absent; he just wasn’t very giving. I know my dad is not like that but when you grow up not knowing how a guy is supposed to be… I mean I had great guys in my life like grandfathers, my uncles, I had good guys in my life but I just didn’t have that one relationship guy (dad) to be like you know this is how a guy is supposed to treat you, he’s not supposed to be a jerk. He’s not supposed to be absent, you don’t have to fight for his affection or his attention, he’s supposed to give that to you.
What are you most proud of about their life today? What is your life like after your loved one addressed his addiction?
I am proud that he’s a counselor helping other people. Even when dad first got sober, just the way he talked, it was like he could really help other people and the fact that he didn’t just go and get a job, but he also went back to school; throughout the struggles of doing that, he’s worked super hard! I always try to encourage him with school because I see how stressed out he gets and I try and tell him to just relax. He’s graduated college, he’s a counselor now; he’s saving other people’s lives and he’s really turned his life around! Even when I was younger I always knew he was a good dad, he just wasn’t around to prove it, but I am just really, really proud of him.
When I was younger I kind of struggled with feeling guilty. I don’t know…I had my mom and my other family members but I felt like something was missing I guess. I thought, “why isn’t my dad around?” and I used to blame myself but I realize that it was the addiction. I don’t know why I blamed myself; I was young and I didn’t know why he wasn’t around and I didn’t realize how bad his addiction was, I wondered, “was it my fault?”
We’ve had conversations about it and I wrote him a letter when I was younger so we’ve talked about it, and I understand now that it wasn’t my fault, it was the addiction.
What is one of your biggest struggles in his ongoing recovery? How do you overcome that?
I don’t have any struggles with my dad’s ongoing recovery.
What part of your life do you find most satisfying since he chose recovery?
That I have a way better relationship with my dad. When he first got out of rehab, I worried that it was going to be weird and it was going to be like that forever. It was very awkward; he was very scared of me and I was really uncomfortable around him and my mom had to force us to talk to each other (laughs). Now we are very close; he’s been there for all the big and little things in my life since he came back and it’s nice that we have such a great relationship now.
Is there a truth or piece of advice you have learned from your loved one in recovery? Something you have learned through that person’s process?
That people can change. A lot of people talk about their parents who weren’t there when they were growing up and they always just assume that they’re going to be like that forever. But people can change, they just have to have people who support them and they have to have outlets and resources to change. If they’re in an environment where they can’t or they’re just surrounded by people who don’t want them to change or get better, then they’re not going to get better because it’s not them, it’s the disease.
I have so many examples of this in my family. Even though I’ve lost people to addiction, I have family members who are clean, they have families, are in school or are working and they’re just trying to get by.
I’ve learned through my dad’s process of recovery to never give up and you can help other people too. His discipline and determination are amazing! The biggest thing I learned from both of my parents is how even when it is really tough (and sometimes it still is) that you never give up, and it’s really inspiring!
What would you tell a loved one that is dealing with a situation where they know a family member needs recovery but they are afraid he/she does not want it?
You can’t force someone to change because I’ve had not just loved ones but friends who know people who are struggling with addiction and they want to help, but they feel like that person is not going to change. You can show them that there’s at least someone who sees that struggle and wants to help. Just one person might be enough to make tan addicted person say “you know what? This isn’t okay, and I do need to change.”
At least let that person know if he or she wants to get help that you’ll be there to support that journey, because that person might be scared and feel like no one is be there, but at least they’ll know they have at least one person who is there to support them, go to meetings and help them stay sober. At the very least offer your help!