“Jake’s” dad was an alcoholic. They didn’t call it that while he was growing up, but everyone knew. Especially in the summer when the windows were open and the whole neighborhood could hear yelling and screaming coming from the house.
“Jake’s” mom was the stabilizing influence. She knew how to get out of the way when her husband was on a tear, and she would calmly tell the kids to “go to grandmas” when it started to get too bad.
“Jake” was the oldest boy, though, and, unbeknownst to his mother, felt he should be the family protector. Even in grade school, he would try to distract his dad when fighting looked like it was about to erupt. Later, he did other things to distract dad such as get drunk, sell drugs and get arrested.
“Jake’s” dad got sober when “Jake” was in his early teens, but by then, “Jake” was well on his way. He felt protective toward his mom and angry at his dad. Despite the changes in the family, he locked into this pattern. He used the anger at his dad as a reason to drink and use drugs until he didn’t care and no longer needed a reason. He continued to drink and use drugs until he began to turn into the person he thought he hated.
Angry at the world, arrested frequently for fighting, unable to have a real relationship with a woman, “Jake” walked unhappily into his first rehab at the court’s “suggestion.” Resistive and unwilling to change, he said, “See, treatment doesn’t work.” Several years later and in significantly worse shape, “Jake” decided on his own to go to detox and try Alcoholics Anonymous.
It was there “Jake” finally learned to forgive. He learned he had the same disease as his father and that he couldn’t have protected his mom no matter how hard he tried. In later years, his mom told him she never wanted or expected him to protect her and that she knew it was her job to protect him. “Jake” learned not only to forgive his dad but forgive himself. He would tell you it took a long time, but that he “joined the human race.”
He credits his wife for teaching him about gentleness and understanding, his three boys for teaching him about patience, perseverance and love and AA for his sobriety upon which it all depends.
• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor in McHenry County.