A true story about the life of a father and his daughter as they journey through denial, lies and pain. A story about how the power of love keeps them strong through moments of weakness and fear.
For many years I had a powerful relationship with what I thought was the healthy enjoyment of alcohol. I would find pleasure in the odd bottle of wine each week, thinking that it was a normal part of life. After I retired on June 7, 2007 I began to gradually increase this so called healthy enjoyment, until this habit developed into the need for a bottle of wine per day. When a bottle of wine wasn’t giving me the same satisfaction as in previous months, I simply added a half pint of vodka to the mood altering mix….”there that’s better”, I would think to myself…no harm done. On some days, when I really wanted to find fulfillment, I would have two bottles of wine, and a little vodka.
Friends and family members began to tell me that I was drinking too much. I simply responded by stating that I was only drinking a bottle or so of wine each week. I would think to myself that they believed me, and I carried on with my habit. I carried on in denial of what was really happening to my life…in denial of how my behaviour was affecting my life and the lives of caring members of my family. No matter what I was telling myself, and no matter what I was telling my family with lies of denial…they knew the truth.
I was living a lifestyle that was slowly killing me mentally, physically, and spiritually.
On one occasion I was visiting my daughter Michelle, and when she went out with friends I stayed in her apartment and spent the day drinking alcohol. Her words… words that she wrote to me as to how that particular day, and many prior days, were affecting her life, speak of a pain that a father should never inflict upon his child:
(Saturday Jan. 26, 2013)
“Dad, because I care about you, I have to tell you this…
You probably don’t remember our phone conversation yesterday. I was at the movies when I decided to call you. It didn’t take long to realize that you had drank quite a bit of alcohol. As we spoke you suddenly stopped talking half way through a sentence, and you were silent. There was a long pause, and then you sounded as if you were crying. I kept saying ‘Hello? Dad? Dad?’… you weren’t answering. It seemed as if you were trying to talk but you couldn’t. I panicked and asked if you were ok, and you were still struggling to talk. At this point a thousand things went through my mind. I thought that I was losing you! My friends watched me the whole time and they said that my face turned very red, my eyes started to water and I had an extreme panic look on my face. I was about to drop everything and drive home.
Eventually you spoke, but to this day I still don’t know what happened. I thought to myself that I was not going to have a Dad for much longer.
Everyday I feared for that dreaded phone call.
It is very noticeable that you are not taking care of yourself. You are making your family worry… especially me! I’m not sure what is going on, or why you are doing these things, but I wish I could help. You are behaving as if you do not care about your life. You’ve even mentioned to me quite a few times that you are ready to die. You are losing your mind!
Despite all these things l care about you, and that’s why I am so angry.
When I think about my future you are sometimes not in those thoughts.
Don’t you want to watch me graduate? Meet my future husband? Walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, and be there when my first child is born. Don’t you want to watch your sons Anthony and Mark succeed and make a difference in this world? I hope that you do! However, you need to make a lot of changes in your life…NOW! You have two very caring women in your life (me and Mom). We will help you find happiness.
I use to think very highly of you and I enjoyed your company…not any more! You used to be the most intelligent person I knew. I could ask you any question and you would know the answer. Not any longer!
When friends ask me how you are, I tell them that you and I are not close anymore. Your behaviour angers me very much, and I do not enjoy your company.
I love you, Dad, and I want to help you. I need you to make some changes because I do not want to know what it will be like to live my life without my Dad.”
You have just read an extremely emotional cry from my daughter, pleading with me to change my behaviour…to change my life. Any sane person would have immediately been affected to such a degree that an attempt to change would have begun immediately. My lifestyle was not only slowly killing me, but it was tearing away at the heart and soul of my closest loved ones. Yes, any sane person would seek help and begin following a path to healing. Well, obviously alcohol had rendered me somewhat insane, for I did not start to change my lifestyle. I continued on the same path of destruction.
(August 17, 2013)
Life in mysterious fashion can often offer us blessings in the most unexpected fashion.
Several months after my visit with Michelle, I was driving down Highway 101 when I began to feel dizzy. The next thing I remember is waking up in the ditch on the opposite side of the road with paramedics and R.C.M.P. attempting to open the doors of my car. I had lost consciousness, which led to what could have been a very serious car accident.
I was brought by ambulance to the Yarmouth Regional Hospital where doctors performed a number of tests. After receiving a CT scan, it was revealed that I had fractured a vertebra in my lower back. However, what was more revealing was that I had suffered a seizure, and that I had a tumour the size of a small apple centered between the right and left frontal lobe of my brain.
When Michelle learned about my accident she was once again overcome with fear and anxiety as she grieved over my continued suffering.
“I instantly thought that you were probably drinking and driving when you had your car accident.
I went to visit you at the hospital, where I learned about your brain tumour. Intense emotions hit me…I couldn’t stop crying! I went to find your doctor and told him about your alcohol abuse. You were still denying it and making jokes…even asking the nurses for a bottle of wine.
That night you were transferred to the QEII in Halifax. I drove to Halifax and waited for your arrival. It was 1 am or later when you finally arrived”
I was driven by ambulance to the QEII Hospital in Halifax where a team of neurosurgeons, doctors and nurses, lead by Dr. Simon Walling, performed major brain surgery. After approximately a twenty hour operation, 99% of the tumour was removed.
My experience at the QEII was another emotional time for Michelle and my family…a time of fear and distress that no father wants his children to experience.
Michelle spent everyday with me. One day she spent 20 hours in a waiting room while I was having my surgery. It is times like these that Michelle shows the courage and compassion that helps me to know that she is a magnificent gift to me and to the world.
“I went to the QEII early so that I could see you before your operation. Soon after my arrival the nurses came to get you. I waited in the ICU waiting room… sat there feeling so lost, frustrated and alone… I couldn’t hold back my tears!
I was receiving endless phone calls and messages from friends and family. Some friends offered to come wait with me…I declined. The only person I wanted to be around was my Mom.
Mom arrived and we anxiously waited all day/evening/night/morning.
I was told that the surgery was going to take approximately 12 hours, so after 12 hours I asked a nurse for an update. Shortly after a doctor arrived and told me it was going to be another 4 hours. After 4 hours, the doctor came back to tell me it would still be another couple of hours. Finally at around 4am, Dr. Walling and his assistant came to talk to me… the surgery was over… I cried from relief.” (Read “Operative Report” at the end of this article)
Michelle spoke with Dr. Walling and then she came to see me in the ICU.
“I felt scared as I was walking towards the ICU. When I saw you for the first time after your surgery it was worse than I had ever imagined. You had a large bandage covering the cut on top of your head from ear to ear, half your hair was shaved, you had a breathing tube down your throat that you kept struggling with, and your face was very swollen. At one point your hands were strapped to the side of the bed so that you couldn’t pull the tube out of your mouth. You were almost un-recognizable. I started to cry like I’ve never cried before!
No matter how tough it was to see you in that state I refused to leave. The only time I left was when the nurse told me I had to because they had to force you to move. It is not something they recommend family members should see because in her words, ‘It’s not pretty’. So I left the room and sat on the floor in the entrance.
The next several days were the worse days of my life. I remember on one particular day I sat with you for hours. We barely spoke because you were in and out of consciousness (sleep) and totally confused. You were even hallucinating. You said that everything inside and outside of the hospital was moving… swaying up and down. I just sat there and watched over you. I did not want to leave your side as I wondered if you were going to ever function normally again.”
Day by day I slowly began to recover. I spent time each day chatting with other patients. We would often speak about our families, as well as other experiences as we journeyed through life. It was during one of these conversations that I unexpectedly admitted for the first time, “I have a drinking problem”. As I uttered those words, I warm feeling of relief flowed through my body…it felt great. Where those words came from and why I expressed them at that moment, I do not know. The greatest feeling came over me when I uttered those same words to Michelle, and saw an instant smile of hope and relief almost magically appear on her face.
Somehow I knew that I had accepted the fact that I had an alcohol problem, and I knew that I was going to make positive changes in my life. Michelle, my family and I had suffered long enough! I had been living a life filled with feelings of guilt, unknown anger, unworthiness and fear. I used alcohol to kill the emotional pain that I was experiencing. I had allowed these emotions to develop into a personal crisis…a family crisis.
(September 7, 2013)
Shortly after leaving the hospital I began to notice that my physical and mental health was rapidly improving. For whatever reason, my desire to consume alcohol miraculously vanished. When I am offered a drink it is easy for me to politely decline. I experience much more enjoyment socializing in a sober state of mind, than I ever did while under the influence of alcohol. When I leave these gatherings I feel great both physically and mentally. I wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and energetic…looking forward to the upcoming day. I am now motivated to continue to make positive changes in my life. I am proud of my new behaviour!
My brain tumour experience is turning into an incredible gift…a life changing blessing!
I now know that something negative entered my life and changed within me the day I was introduced to alcohol…it gave me nothing but falsehoods. It enabled me to make bad decisions…it weakened my motivation …it removed my ability to find true courage and peace of mind. It was slowly destroying my physical body, mind and spirit.
All the things I needed support from alcohol to do, such as socializing, are so much more enjoyable while experiencing a natural high. I realize today how much better life can be without the use of alcohol. My moments of insanity have been replaced with joy and love. I have learned that true feelings of love and courage are not found in a bottle of alcohol
Thank you Michelle for remaining by my side and for sharing your courage, your compassion and your love.
(Saturday Dec.14, 2013)
“Now I KNOW you will be here! When my friends ask me about you, I have nothing but great things to say. You take much better care of yourself and you are now motivated to do something with your life. You are so much happier! I am extremely proud of what you have overcome! What is even greater…I HAVE A DAD AGAIN!!!”
Baie Sainte-Marie (Spirit of the Bay)
(Music composed and performed by Mark Nelson Meuse)