Disney on Ice at the Coliseum – my oldest child, our six-year-old daughter, could not have been more excited. It was February, and the arena still smelled like livestock sweat and cow poop after the National Western Stock Show was held there a month prior, but she didn’t notice. Neither did her younger brothers who were only excited because their fearless leader, Cathryn, was bouncing off the walls.
We took our seats in the second-to-the-last row of the enormous venue. My wife knew I was cheap, but she didn’t realize leaving me to buy the tickets meant she should bring binoculars so we could see the skating. When Princess Ariel (my personal favorite by the way – who knew a mermaid could lace up ice skates?) asked for a volunteer from the crowd, Cathryn leapt from her seat and screamed while jumping up and down with her hand raised high. It reminded me of Horshack from Welcome Back Kotter.
We were so far from the ice that poor Cathryn had less than a 0% chance of being chosen. The entire show would have been over before she could have made her way down to the frozen stage. But she didn’t know that. She was in heaven. As a father, that should have been a proud moment of spending very special family time and bringing joy to my children.
But it wasn’t. Our adventure at Disney on Ice was over a decade ago, but I distinctly remember wishing for the whole cursed event to hurry-up and be over so I could go home and drink. It was Sunday afternoon, and my weekend was waning. The work week would be lurching at me soon, and I needed my well-earned relaxation. Enjoying the time spent with my wife and kids in such a heightened state of enthusiasm was inconceivable to me at the time. I was begrudgingly doing my fatherly duty. Drinking would be my reward, and it couldn’t come soon enough.
I spent a lot of time encouraging my life to hurry-up so I could get to drinking time. I took great pride in my family. I was thrilled to have four adoring and impressionable kids. But the idea of being a good family man was far more important to me than the act of being a good family man ever was. There was a barrier between me and my enjoyment of the people I worked so hard to support and raise. I thought I was so normal. Dads drink. Dads deserve to zone out and drown the stresses of dad-hood. I believed that. Society still does, and it is reinforced in every corner of our culture.
Just to ensure that my misery was complete, the opposite was true as well. When I sulked in our basement and drank beer after beer while mindlessly flipping channels, I wished I was a better father and had an interest in spending time with my children. My wife would call us to Sunday dinner, and I would make an excuse for why I couldn’t join them. “I’m not feeling well. I just need to rest if I’m going to be 100% for work tomorrow.” The lie was always something along those lines, and my wife never argued because she didn’t really want my intoxicated unpredictability at the family dinner table anyway.
So instead of doing one of the most important things a father can do, gather with the whole family around the dinner table, I medicated my self-inflicted stress and regrets about not being more engaged as a father.
When I was spending time nurturing my children, I hated it. I just wanted to drink. Often, when I was drinking, I hated it. I just wanted to want to spend time with my kids.
Alcoholism isn’t required for us to get our priorities out of whack. I know a lot of people who don’t identify as addicted who keep alcohol pretty high on their priority lists. I think most of us lie to ourselves rather than admit just how important alcohol is in our lives.
This is one of the main reasons I consider my alcoholism to be such a blessing. When I imagine myself as a drinker with the ability to moderate, I shudder at the consequences. Had I been able to have two or three beers, then quit, I would still be having those two or three beers most every night. And by not getting drunk and shining a spotlight on my affliction, I would most likely have continued that behavior all the way to my grave.
To think of the things I would have missed by prioritizing my two or three drinks over my kids, my wife, untold life experiences – that scares me like nothing else. I thank God daily for making me an alcoholic. Had my situation not become unlivable, I would still be drinking today and thinking everything was fine.
A good friend reminded me recently: You don’t know what you don’t know. Not knowing how much more real my life could be without the distortion of alcohol, that thought is absolutely terrifying.
I played Monopoly with my kids a few weekends ago. Monopoly is excruciating. It takes hours to complete, and it moves at a snail’s pace. But I took great joy in my kids watching my disinterest in any properties except Boardwalk and Park Place. As they frantically purchased everything they landed on, trying to out-amass each other while building real estate empires, I waited patiently to gain those two blue properties in the corner. They cackled as they collected rent from me almost every time I rolled. When I put a hotel on each of my only two properties, their laughter turned to confusion. When they went one-by-one into bankruptcy as they arrived in my little blue corner, they weren’t laughing anymore.
This story isn’t about me bragging about my superior intellect over a bunch of adolescents still growing their little prefrontal cortexes. This story is about me spending three hours with my four kids teaching them a lesson. It wasn’t a lesson about corporate greed or the cut-throat nature of real estate. It wasn’t even about developing a better Monopoly strategy, although I’m confident none of them will ever sell me a blue property for face value again.
I taught my kids that their dad loves them more than anything else. I showed them that I was there for them with no distractions. They are priority number one, and they always will be. They know it. Maybe more importantly, I know it, too.
I thought my love of alcohol, and the amount of importance drinking had in my life, was normal. In truth, it was normal, but only because I live in a society that normalizes this behavior. Every time I chose alcohol, and my well-deserved relaxation, I simultaneously rejected something else. Often, I rejected the people I loved the most. It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t malicious. But it is undeniable.
I’m not the first to say that life is all about choices, but no one ever told me that by choosing alcohol, I was actually missing out. I’m here to deliver that message to you. It took a lot of pain and misery for me to choose to live a natural, peaceful and fully present life – for my wife, for my kids and for me. I hope you can see the blessings available in your choices.
If you are ready to choose the enlightenment of sobriety, I hope you’ll join our SHOUT Sobriety program for people who want life after alcohol. We’ll give you science-based tools and lots of support and connection to make your desired future your reality. We are a donation-based program, and ask our participants for a $25 per month recurring donation to keep this mission alive. To learn more, to donate or to enroll, please click the SHOUT Sobriety button below.