My dad was an alcoholic - confusion and solitude had become a familiar and sad place.
|My dad was an alcoholic --- confusion, isolation and solitude had become familiar and sad places. It was a time of a family crisis for me. We had become the family that was "messed up."
My parents were both musicians. Dad played the trumpet and mom played the piano. Music was always in our home and I loved that. They knew all the big-time jazz bands and talked about them endlessly along with all the great songs of their time – the 30’s and 40’s. There were stories about the times my dad could have played for a big band. Those opportunities always seemed to slip thru his fingers. Drinking played a big role in his life and I’m sure this was the major reason for that happening. People with any type of addiction seem to be victimized in that way. I always felt so bad for him…composing and playing music was his passion. I have saved boxes of the songs he wrote during those years.
Alcoholism is a disease…so they say. This makes sense because when my dad was sober he was the greatest guy in the world. He was an optimist, always looking at the world as if the glass was half-full. But when he was drinking…it was definitely an empty glass. You could say he was like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Drinking transformed this kind, smart guy into an irrational, foolish, angry and often times raving drunk. You never knew just when this transformation would take place so it left you “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
There is a disagreement within me about the explanation of this being a disease. If you have a disease or are hurt and bleeding – you go for help. It’s easy to see you NEED help. However, with an alcoholic they are generally very slow to see the problem that alcohol is causing. I agree with the statement that alcoholism is a “progressive disease.” At some point, alcohol will overtake every area of their lives. The alcoholic may lose their job, their spouse or their home. No one can know the amount of chaos the alcoholic will have to suffer before there is surrender and help is welcomed.
It is estimated that well over 8 million kids under 18 years old live with at least one alcoholic parent. That is a lot of craziness! There are a lot of children who are living in the story I’m telling here.
If you check the text book symptoms for children of alcoholics you will see that they suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness, loneliness, guilt and abandonment. I can identify with all of those feelings.
All fingers are pointing to the alcoholic, as they should. The weird thing was - I blamed my mother. Why? Well, I thought if she just wouldn’t argue and would go along with my dad and not make waves – everything would be ok. I hated the arguments. She was Italian, so that just wasn’t in the cards. And to this day I cannot understand one big thing: I always was trying to protect my dad. I think I was actually embarrassed for him too.
But that is where I began to develop my idea of enabling. At the time, it seemed like that was the safest path to follow. Keep the alcoholic happy. Peace at ANY price.
My mom suffered from epilepsy and had petite mall seizures every day and often had grand mall seizures which were very debilitating for her and scary for all of us. She did take medication and it helped, but the petite mall seizures continued her entire life. Grand mall seizures eventually stopped. And if that wasn’t enough, she also suffered from migraines her entire life.
She once told me she thought the migraines and possibly the epilepsy were caused from her mother dragging her around by her hair as a way of disciplining her. I could hardly see my sweet Italian grandma doing this. But people from the “old country” had very different ideas about how to deal with a rebellious child.
I loved my parents and I really knew they loved me – but, during the first 10 years of my life, alcoholism had completely taken over our lives. So, instead of life flourishing - everything was dying. Relationships, finances and every emotional area were affected. They say alcoholism is a disease and it affects everyone close to the alcoholic. It’s a family disease as well and it’s difficult for family members to recognize that because they are in the middle of the chaos.
The worst of it was the utter shame that was attached to our family. We weren’t like other families. Maybe it was because of the constant arguments or the attempted suicides. Everyone in our neighborhood knew about all the craziness going on in our house. Police cars or ambulances on the weekend were a common sight.
My parents’ would have friends come over and then the drinking party would start. Somebody would do or say something that turned laughter into sadness. An argument would inevitably come up and the circus would begin. The end result could mean a black eye for someone.
One particular argument sticks out in my mind. I was probably about 8 years old. My mom
yelled at my dad over some disagreement they were having and she ended up throwing a mayonnaise bottle at him that knocked him to the floor. (She was a very spirited Italian.) To everyone’s surprise and horror he ended up with a huge gash in his forehead – bleeding profusely prompting a call for an ambulance. Well, needless to say, that broke up the party. But, the interesting part is that no one could see the bizarre behavior for what it was…craziness!
Arguments over money, or the lack of it, were always a problem. I worried about money all the time. Could we pay the rent? No money for groceries? They always had money to go to the tavern and spend all night there. But what was I going to do about it? I was only a little girl. It was an emotional roller coaster.
Being the kid in this drama, I was totally helpless to change anything. And once again, the family problems were hanging out there for all the neighbors to see. Shame and helplessness were my constant companions. Normally, shame comes from our own behavior. But, in this case it was a by-product of the humiliation caused by someone else’s behavior. Little did I know or understand what devastating effects this would cause in my life.
When we feel guilty it’s because of something we did, but when we feel shame it’s more about who we are as a person. It’s a wound that can be carried throughout our lives. In my case, it led to looking for acceptance and being a people pleaser.
I remember when I was about four or five years old, my dad had locked himself in the bathroom. My mom was calling his name and woke me up. “Bill, Bill, Bill…open the door,” she called. No reply. Then begging and crying again she called “Bill, Bill…please, open the door.” No answer…then a frantic call to the police. The only thing I remember after that was seeing my dad being taken out of the house on a stretcher. He had slit his wrist.
Immense sadness began to take hold of me then.
During part of my dad’s earlier drinking years, my mother drank heavily too. We had some neighbor ladies that she became friends with. They spent a lot of their daytime hours drinking together. Many times, when I got home from school, I would find my mom passed out – either on the floor or the couch. What a sight to behold. So, no housework done, no meals cooked. It’s bad enough to have one parent drinking…but with both of them drinking, it was disaster beyond words.
I could never invite any friends over because I never knew what to expect when I got home. Besides, the house was a mess….I hated that. If I was ever in a place where I could invite someone over, I cleaned the house myself.
At that point in my life - shame, sadness and loneliness were my constant companions. Each school day I got up and threw a simple breakfast of toast and cocoa together, put on a not-so-neat dress (No one wore pants then) and then off to school I went. Generally my dresses had ties that were partially pulled loose and of course they were all cotton and generally wrinkled - no permanent press. Did I think I looked like an orphan? Yes! But the worst part…I felt like an orphan.
School was difficult because I was would lay awake in my room late at night trying to keep my parents from killing each other. Late night battles were a constant scene. So I would stay awake when it was a night of drinking, listening to all the voices and afraid of what would happen. Yes, fear was a familiar and constant companion.
Somehow, I thought I was the gatekeeper - listening for a crisis to develop or escalate and I would intervene. My job was to come between them, cry and beg for them to calm down. That usually worked, even if one of them was threatening to commit suicide. So the nightly rituals continued.
I didn’t know that I was not responsible for correcting the situation. That is sad, because I never was able to really experience a childhood. I very clearly remember dreading coming home from school because I was coming home to…well, that’s the dilemma – what would I be coming home to face?
I had become a prisoner of my own making, believing all the lies that were living in my head that filled me with negative emotions spilling out into my life. Living a good life was reserved for other people.
My brother stayed in his room upstairs and never got involved. I never could understand that, but obviously he just couldn’t deal with it. Years later, I found out that he used to dig his feet into his mattress during all those loud arguments and over time had dug holes completely through his mattress. He never said anything to anyone. He carried his pain in complete isolation. He too was being completely robbed of his childhood. We all deal with our pain in different ways.
I dreamed of what a “normal” family would be like and imagined myself in that family. What would that feel like? Oh, I longed for that dream to come true! I spent a lot of my time imagining that family and what they would look like: no alcohol in the refrigerator, no beer bottles lying around, no drunken battles, parents that were happy, a home that was cared for and appreciated and most of all PEACE. Not a fake peace, where chaos is just covered up, but something tangible and real.
Praying for my dad to stop drinking began to be a daily experience. I was sure that God needed to know what was going on with my dad. He was such a nice guy when he was sober. He was smart and creative. I cried and cried and begged God to help him get sober. Who else could help? Who cared? Who could I turn to?
Then, a sense of peace began to enter into my life. I thought maybe I was just getting better at coping with all the craziness. But, for the first time in my life I was actually feeling a sense of hope. I looked forward to my times in prayer.
One day, shortly after I turned ten years old, my dad called for help from Alcoholics Anonymous. How that happened I don’t really know. But what I do know is that I was ecstatic. I saw my prayers answered.
He did stop drinking and started on his journey of healing. Both of my parents became heavily involved in helping others. It was an amazing transformation to behold.
Now our weekend evenings were spent with my parents’ new friends. Everyone had such a great attitude. They were all helping each other in their recovery.
But for me…my journey with prayer had taken hold of me which brings me to the next part of this story.
More and more, my thoughts turned to God. Is He a man, is He a spirit? Can He hear me? I knew He could because I had seen answers to my prayers. But I wondered how I could reach out and communicate with Him.
First of all, how I knew to turn to Him is a mystery, because my parents were not church goers - leading me to believe that God intervened in my life in a huge way.
My mother was baptized Catholic – like a good Italian should. And since I had been baptized Catholic too, I decided to go to mass – alone. A few simple instructions prepared me for the first Sunday:
• how to make the sign of the cross after dipping my fingertip in holy water ( I always thought it was holy),
• kneeling before entering the pew,
• kneeling before being seated to recite a prayer,
• how to hold my rosary and pray
The church was beautiful… so holy. Statues of the saints lined both long walls, as if to welcome you into God’s house…the official holy greeters. Stained glass windows filled the church with color. This was a sanctuary – a safe place, secure from the world outside. I loved being there.
After I was seated in the pew, I saw it!! THE CROSS! Who was this man? He was like the saints, with their angelic appearance, but He had a sad expression on His rugged face. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, studying Him, wondering. I had experienced so much sadness in my life; I wanted to understand that expression. He wasn’t alive, He had been crucified, but He was alive…I knew that in my heart. His spirit was very much alive. I sensed He was speaking to me, but how could that even be possible.
Through this still, small voice that seemed to be talking to me, I sensed there was something important to know, almost as if He was trying to reach out to me – to speak, but no words came. And I thought I saw tears in His eyes.
He seemed to be grieving. Was He grieving for me? For the world?
At the altar of the church, small red candles flickered. From somewhere that seemed far off, angelic voices rang out and I was sure these were the voices of the saints. The smell of incense filled the air and two altar boys, dressed in white robes, were reverently attending to their duties. The priest, who was orchestrating this drama, went dutifully through each ritual while I strained to understand his words (Latin), hoping to hear something familiar.
Even though I didn’t understand, it didn’t matter. Something important was happening here. I was in a place where people came together to worship God and confess their sins with humility. The comfort I had been looking for was somehow becoming real. It was incredulous….is it actually possible to have someone comfort you…that you can’t even see?
Soon I learned when to stand, sit, kneel and pray. And every Sunday, it was the same. I liked that. Even though I didn’t understand the ritual, I loved the feeling of being there.
I was trying to answer the questions that were dancing around in my heart about what the church believes and then confusion began. I was told the man on the cross was God’s son, Jesus. And then they said that He died for MY sins. What did I ever do? I was a good person…but underneath it all, I knew they were right. How did I know that?
There were stories about the END. God would punish those who deserved it and the world would come to an end. I wasn’t sure what order these events were in, but I was sure they were real. I was a sinner I was told and needed to repent. But I wasn’t sure what that meant. I could be forgiven, but didn’t know how. So I just prayed that “the end” wouldn’t come before I grew up.
After all, I at least wanted to know who I would marry, how many children I would have and what my family would look like. Would I be happy, successful?
At this point in my life, my faith was simple, uncomplicated. God was in Heaven, sitting ethereally on a large white throne surrounded with billowing white clouds, but He was not a person, or was He? He was in charge of everything and I was to honor Him (and I DID).
My needs were simple. Prayers centered on simple things – sunshine for picnics, a new bike. Then I would promise to be good if He would just get me out of some situation (I always promised I would never do it again.)
Many years have passed since my childhood days, and the still, small voice that seemed to talk to me, fell silent over the years. I stopped asking questions and my life was comfortable. Maybe I thought I didn’t need Him any longer.
I always thought I was close to God. Being a member of a local church for almost twenty years, I had been actively involved as a Sunday school teacher and superintendent, speaker and trainer. There was rarely a class or seminar that I missed. The ideas that attracted me to this church was that they didn’t talk about the sin in people’s lives. Rather, they talked a lot about how inherently good people were. There didn’t seem to be a lot of black and white – but a lot of “gray.” It definitely was a “feel good” church.
However, a lot of personal change was taking place. My attention was focused on me and my view of Jesus Christ was that He was a great teacher, healer and way-shower; but I had no personal relationship with Him.
It was only in a time of crisis that the questions began again and I thought there was no clue or reason why I had to be feeling this new kind of pain. I was a good person...wasn’t I? But life had betrayed me, I thought. The life I had once counted on and trusted had let me down, again. Even though it was always my desire to have a joy-filled life, it always seemed to elude me.
Something had to be wrong and I demanded an explanation. I thought I had done everything right.
Tearfully, I asked Him why. Why me, when I had served Him so faithfully all these years. The answer struck me – forcefully, painfully, and His words came to me in a flash. His truth was inside them. I heard Him say, “But what have you done for Me?” And of course it really wasn’t a question, but an answer. Rather, a revelation.
And there was nowhere to run, no denials to offer, nowhere to hide from His words as they painfully penetrated my heart – my soul!
A vision of His face lingered in my mind. It was the same rugged, sad face that had reached out to me as a child. And I thought – He tried to tell me, but I didn’t understand. Why didn’t I pursue Him then…maybe He could have helped me avoid this mess.
As I searched for truth in His words, the answer suddenly was clear. Motives. I had done all the right things for me, not Him.
Yes, it was true…many times my motives were selfish. I claimed the glory for everything I did and gave Him none. What had I done for Him? What had I done for Him? That question kept playing back to me, over and over.
The empty answer was…NOTHING. And in a gentle and loving way, He made me feel ashamed and remorseful. Not to punish, but to open my eyes to the truth, His truth. I can’t explain in words here how he made me feel loved even though he was reproving me.
He helped me understand on that day what it meant to have a repentant heart and that through faith in Him my life could be filled with happiness, joy and peace. I trusted Him because He loved me! I did however have a choice to make. I could accept His love and forgiveness or…continue on my way without acknowledging Him.
A short while later, I accepted Christ into my life while watching Christian television. An evangelist said, “God loves you.” He was pointing his finger at the television screen and it seemed he was saying it directly to me! His words actually penetrated my heart, my spirit. I understood at that moment how unloved I felt and how much I needed the salvation I had just accepted. Jesus Christ then became so real to me. He was my closest and dearest friend. He filled the empty spaces in my heart.
In a world where I felt so unaccepted, I found someone who loved me just the way I was. And what a blessing this was to me!!
No, life wasn’t instantly perfect…but I had someone to turn to, someone who would stick closer than a brother. Hope began to spring forth like a welcome springtime. Everything seemed fresh and new. At this point in my life I began a real pursuit of Him. My life would never be the same.
Now Jesus was not just a name or figurehead. He was a real, living person that somehow dwelled inside me. I began my new relationship with Him by getting up about fifteen minutes early every morning before work to talk to Him. The amazing thing that I just could not understand is that He talked back to me. No, not an audible voice…a kind of knowing deep inside me. I recognize that. That still, small, voice.
God was actually speaking to me every day. I depended on Him. I absorbed every teaching I could. The Lord told me that He was feeding me the milk of His word. And yet, there was more that He wanted me to have. I didn’t realize how much healing He had in store for me. Only He knew what I needed.
As part of my new church family, I made new friends with people who were like minded. Even though I had accepted salvation thru Christian television, I had not publicly gone forward at church to make it official. I required this of myself because I needed to announce to everyone that I loved Him and had given Him my life. The oddest thing happened the next Sunday; At the end of the service the pastor gave the altar call and when he asked for those who wanted to accept Christ to raise their hands – mysteriously my hand shot up. Now, I intended to do just that. But some force within me had taken over at that precise moment in time. I accepted Him officially on that day. It was the Holy Spirit drawing me to Him.
The next step was the water baptism. I fasted the next weekend in preparation and prepared my testimony. I wanted to share it with everyone. Needless to say, the baptism was very emotional. I was able to share some of my testimony and included just the highlights of how I came to know and trust in Him and how He had changed my life. We were only allowed a minute to share but I could have talked for an hour. The assistant pastor kept trying to get the microphone from me, but I continued until I finished all the important points. I loved sharing my story and prayed that it would touch hearts and give hope to those who desperately needed a touch from God. And it did!
One more step to take: getting filled with the Holy Spirit! They made the announcement at church that there would be a prayer time for those who wanted the infilling. Did I go? You bet.
Pastor explained what it meant to be filled and quoted
Acts 4:31: And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
I didn’t want anything less than what happened in the book of Acts. Everything God had for me, I wanted…desperately. The prayers were made, but I could feel NO difference. Nothing happened. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but I was so disappointed I could have cried. Those old feelings of being unworthy were right there to accentuate the negative. So I struggled with this for a few weeks.
My prayer to be filled with the Spirit had fallen on deaf ears. I had no evidence of speaking in tongues. However, I did feel God’s presence and I knew He was with me, so I was satisfied, but still longed for the fullness of what He had for me.
During those weeks I dove into the word with all my heart. When I got home from work each day, I went straight to my room where all my “stuff” was waiting for me. My bible, markers, notepad and tapes. I dove into the Word. Not lazily, not half-heartedly, but with such a zeal and heart for Him.
During the following days, I had a very unusual experience. It was about three am and I was, of course, fast asleep. But instantly, I woke up. Someone was in the room. I could feel it. I wasn’t frightened – even though I was alone. My husband was out of town and being alone wasn’t easy for me. I immediately sensed that Jesus was there, or the Holy Spirit. But, I remembered, I had not been filled with the spirit. Someone was in that room with me!
At this point I had not even opened my eyes. I fully expected to see Jesus standing at the foot of my bed. In fact, I was absolutely certain He was there…standing right there. But when I opened my eyes, I saw no one. But that presence…oh, it was so real, so sweet and so beautiful! I found myself saying “Is that you Lord?” And the air was electrified. I continued “Lord, I am yours.” And instantly, I mean instantly…a power or electric charge or force or…I can’t give it adequate words – began at the very top of my head and continued throughout my entire body – finally ending up at my toes.
It was so beautiful, so sweet and so loving. He was filling me and filling up all those dead, lifeless areas of my life. It was awesome! The glory of His presence remained with me throughout the night. I was speechless, wrecked. Yes, wrecked for Him. Now I understand the biblical verse: He is altogether lovely!
This experience gave me a lot to think about in the coming days. But, impossible as it may seem…I wanted more.
I longed to see Him…see Jesus. I mean actually see Him. See that man on the cross that seemed to be speaking to me as a little girl. I didn’t feel worthy to ask. But, surely, if He visited me in my room and filled me with His spirit it might be possible. I wasn’t even sure that I should be asking, but I asked anyway…pleaded. I needed to see Him.
About three weeks passed by and shortly before I woke up one morning…it happened! I was in that twilight hour, what they call REM stage, where the most memorable and vivid dreams occur.
In my dream, I was standing in a room inside my house and as I looked out my front window, I saw a small dot way up in the sky – but close enough for me to see it. I was aware that there was another person in the room, standing close by. As I stood, transfixed by this dot, I saw that the dot was drawing closer and larger.
I remarked to the other person in the room. “Look, that dot in the sky right over there, it’s coming closer.” Now, I didn’t recognize the person so I don’t know who it was. They shall remain nameless. But the interesting thing was, the other person said, “I don’t see anything.” I said “What? It’s right there.” But that person just shrugged and acted disinterested.
The dot kept coming closer until it was quite large and came right into my house. As unusual as all this was, it was NOT a nightmare. Quite the opposite, it was thrilling and wonderful. At this point, I didn’t know why I wasn’t frightened by all of this. The dot opened up…right before my eyes. And there He was…Him, it was Him. My eyes weren’t betraying me. He wasn’t a figment of my imagination, He was right there.
And, oh reader, He is so beautiful. He radiated light from within. No, He was the light. In fact there was so much light, He glowed. I was transfixed. He said nothing, yet He said everything. He smiled and laughed. His smile lit up the world as He radiated absolute acceptance, joy and love.
I was so satisfied, so much at peace and so excited. I had seen Him! I had seen Him!
During later days He spoke some words to me that I hurried to write down. They were too precious to keep to myself. Yet again, not an audible voice. There is a spirit voice that is more real than our audible voice. I recognize that voice.
Lift your voice and sing a melody of love to Me. Your melodies are a sweet river of harmony and sparkle with instruments of praise. Only I can give you a clear voice and a clear melody. Only when you sing in My name does this trumpeting melody form a mighty river of praise, This river flows in and out of the very heart of God. Come let us sing together, come let us sing - it’s my heart’s desire.
Now life was really getting exciting. As the days, weeks and months passed by I found new friends, got involved in classes, prayer groups and most important of all – worship.
I went to a Full Gospel Business Men's meeting a short time after I had been “filled with the spirit.” I saw Jesus… (In the spirit and don’t ask me how…it’s still a mystery how He does this). He was walking among the people during worship. He was trying to embrace some, and for others, He was washing their feet. And others He was trying to embrace - but they had no idea or sense that He was there. He just slowly walked among us, and my sense was He was so grieved people were too busy with the cares of this life to even notice or sense He was there.
Yes, we can isolate ourselves. You see it, even in the church. You see it on people’s faces.
I didn’t find Him…He found me. He was calling me…is He calling you? He wants to come into your life – today, right now. Won’t you just open your arms and heart and invite Him in. He wants to give you a new life. He loves you.
Do I think He is Prince Charming? Yes, something like that!
Faith is a miracle and I believe in His promises. His still, small voice lives in me.
Don’t let Him pass you by.