Last week, we took our daughter to college to start her freshman year, but that’s not what this post is about. Not really. It’s about something much bigger than our sadness swirled with excitement. But for context, here’s what happened when we dropped her off.
The drive from Denver to Minnesota was uneventful. I don’t think my daughter noticed how much I stared at her sitting behind me through my sunglasses using the rearview mirror. I don’t think she understood why I got so upset with our son, who was loud, waking her when she fell asleep on one of her other brother’s shoulders. With the exception of my wife, Sheri, I don’t think any of them understood how hard it was for me to keep pushing forward knowing every mile we covered increased the distance that would ultimately reside between me and my beloved first-born child.
There were tense moments on the trip. Arranging all the furniture for my daughter and her roommate in the tiny room. Figuring out how to loft the bed, then rearranging again. Sheri wanted to help her unpack, she wanted to do it herself, and neither of them were wrong for their desires.
She was pulling away, while we were grasping to keep our grip.
There were moments on the trip I’ll never forget. A loud dinner the night before we left Minnesota, with sometimes all six of us talking at once, and so much laughter. A couple of trips to Target to make sure we got her room just right. So many of our friends from when we lived in Minnesota, almost 20 years prior, giving our daughter their phone numbers in case she ever needed them for anything. Watching her hug her oldest brother – the one we call her “twin” based on their almost telepathic relationship despite the two years that separate them. Whispering in her ear, through my sobs, that I was so proud of her – not just her accomplishments or her goals, but the person she is – as I hugged her goodbye. And the impact it must have had on our three boys to watch me cry hard as we drove away from her dorm. They’ve all seen me cry lots of times before, but not like that. I don’t think they knew what to make of it, but it was an impactful memory they’ll not soon forget, either.
Leaving our daughter behind and heading for home was so hard. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about something much bigger. It’s about what didn’t happen.
I didn’t drink alcohol on this trip. Neither did my wife. Our sobriety had a huge impact on our newly adult daughter in a number of ways.
First, in the tense moments, there was no alcoholic brain present to add to the tension. I didn’t get irrational. I didn’t grab a beer when we needed to go back to target. I didn’t take sides when mother and daughter disagreed about unpacking. I didn’t say a word when we moved all the furniture for the fourth time.
Second, I didn’t use alcohol to celebrate with friends and family at dinners out. We didn’t meet people for a drink, we met for an ice cream cone. Even as our daughter transitioned into life on her own for the very first time, she was still looking to us for cues about adulthood. Nowhere in the message did she receive information about the necessity of alcohol to live a full, adult life.
Third, I didn’t make the gruelling right of passage worse by trying to medicate away my pain. A child leaving home is supposed to be a sad experience. Drowning the sadness in alcohol is simply an unnatural, warped attempt to skirt around the tattered edges of the human condition. It has nothing to do with addiction. It is all about refusing to feel all the feelings, and it is unhealthy. And my daughter never received that unhealthy message from us.
She hasn’t learned to use alcohol to celebrate or to medicate. I have no misperception about her commitment to sobriety. I fully expect her to drink in college. I’m just hopeful that it won’t become the focus of her college experience like alcohol became for me.
That’s what this post is about. It’s not about my daughter or my family or what we did last week. It’s not even about my daughter’s relationship with alcohol as she crosses the threshold into adulthood. It’s about giving them a chance, all of them. It’s about changing the place alcohol holds on our societal priority list. It’s about de-emphasizing the crutch, and teaching them to stand on their own. It’s about them refusing to develop a reliance on a poison that can morph so easily into a life-sucking dependence. It’s about not showing them the shortcut, because the long way is so much more rewarding.
It’s about ending the lie, right here and right now, without selling the deceitful promise of alcohol to another eager generation.
And it’s about you, and the example you set. Your kids might already be grown, and maybe you feel like you’ve missed your chance to influence. Maybe you don’t have kids, so it doesn’t feel like your problem. Or perhaps your kids are still young, so you think you’ve got time to get your life in order before they’ll start to notice.
Just like this post isn’t about me and my family, and our little trip to Minnesota, it isn’t about you and yours, either. It’s about caring about the message we send into the vast abyss even though we don’t think we can have an impact. I’m here to tell you, when we do the right thing, others notice whether they admit it or not.
It’s about a movement. It’s about crushing the stigma and ending the normalization of alcohol as the answer regardless of the question. It’s about teaching those around us, not in easily dismissable words, but in the behavior we bring to our remaining time on earth, that we don’t need to drink a lie in order to face the truth. It’s about reframing sobriety – not as a burden, but as an enlightened blessing. It’s about breaking the cycle, and bringing the pain alcoholism thrusts on tens of millions of families to an end.
It’s about the soberevolution.
I miss my daughter so much already, and I teared-up a couple of times while writing this. There’s so much I forgot to tell her. I just ran out of time. I’m not sure how 18 years wasn’t enough, but I needed more. I made mistakes, and I left out important details. I’ll stay as close as technology will let me with almost a thousand miles between us. I’ll keep trying. I have regrets. I bask in my own imperfection. But one thing’s for sure. She doesn’t have to try life on her own with a misplaced affinity for alcohol. She deserves to know the truth. And she does.
But this isn’t about my daughter. They all deserve to know.
If you are ready to accept the truth, and could use some help getting over the hump to permanent sobriety, please join us in SHOUT Sobriety. We are a group of high-functioning alcoholics in early recovery and on a mission to change the conversation. For more information, or to enroll in our program, please click the button below.
If you’d like to learn more about how I fell victim to alcoholism, scratched and clawed my way to permanent sobriety and recovered my alcoholic marriage, please get an advance copy of our new book, soberevolution, to be published on September 23rd.