Tipping the bottle

Andrew Atkins

Author’s note:

My dad was an alcoholic. He died in November. I’ve always experienced a maelstrom of emotions. This isn’t easy to write about, to share, to read. But by sharing the trauma and pain I’ve felt, I hope you can learn something — not about me, but yourselves. 

Part one: Tipping the Bottle

I think I was five when I first realized something was wrong.

It was morning, and there were leaves on the trees. Golden sunlight poured into the backyard. It was brisk, and the grass drank in the morning dew. 

I was sitting on the swing on the playground my dad had built for my sister and me. My feet carved a little divot into the gravel. I heaved a sigh.

“My parents are never going to get a divorce.” 

Who was I trying to convince? 

These little flashbulb memories are all I have from some of my early years. Moments of hyper-specific lucidity interspersed into otherwise gray unawareness. 

Most memories that stuck with me happened in tandem with the explosions of tension. I remember my dad punching a hole in the wall, and my sister sitting next to my mom on the bed. They were crying together. 

I remember my dad trying to pull my mom down the stairs. He wanted to show her something. He was drunk. My sister was behind my mom, trying to pull her away. They were screaming. 

“Andrew, go to your room!” my sister shouted at me, trying to wave me away. 

“Let me go!” my mom screamed at my dad.

To be honest, I was blessed. When my mom couldn’t be there — she worked two jobs — my sister stepped in to protect me.

From my dad. 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism highlights that in 2015, about 27 percent of people 18 or older said they binge drank in the previous month. A 2017 article from the Washington Post highlights a study from JAMA Psychiatry that says one in eight Americans is an alcoholic, and that alcoholism rose 49 percent in the 2000s. 

The thing about these numbers is there’s no definitive line when a person’s hobby becomes a habit becomes a dependence. For my dad, which was the last bottle that tipped the scales from party to problem?

I don’t know. 

One day, my dad hit my sister with a toolbox. My mom left work, drove home and moved us to my grandma’s house in a matter of hours.

My sister and I slept in a fold-out couch on the second floor of my grandma’s house. My mom and grandma shared a bed across the second-floor landing. 

We were a mess. We would be for years. 

Next time: Exploring the emotions of losing a parent before you’ve lost them.

Andrew Atkins is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].