A little over a year ago, with the help of my parents and friends, I was checked into a rehabilitation program for the problem I was having with drinking. At that time, I did not understand why I had to go almost daily after school to sit uncomfortably in a bare room with a handful of teenage drug addicts that appeared to be far worse off than me. I didn’t believe that I had a drinking problem and neither did my father. We ignored the fact that alcoholism climbed up his family tree like a vine, affecting his parents as well as his brother and one of his children. We ignored the fact that by age 17 I had already ended up in the hospital once and had two very lucky run-ins with the police. My father especially ignored the fact that, at age 11, he had found his drunken father dead after falling down the stairs at their home. At that point, it did not occur to us that there might be a pattern.
I needed a year in the program before I was ready to acknowledge how wrong we were. After getting to know the other teenagers, I saw that we were not very different. Outwardly, there were some obvious differences: either smoking pot twice a day for a few years had demolished their natural athletic ability or their withdrawal from a few months of intensive cocaine use had forced them to drop out of their private high school into a public school or into GED classes. Once I got to know their personalities and their issues, I found that we were similar in many ways. Together, we fought our addictions, the toughest battle I may ever have to fight. I saw myself, as well as others, mature before my eyes. Thanks to our efforts, I celebrated my year of sobriety this past week.
However, I didn’t do it by myself. Both of my parents encouraged and prodded me through the physically and mentally painful process. My father, the same one who didn’t think I had a problem, was one of my biggest catalysts. As a family, we would come into the program twice weekly to meet with either a counselor or the other families of the teenagers. At the out start of the program, he was shy and quiet. The effort he put in was enormous. His changes pushed me to adjust my way of thinking.
The program culminated in October with a graduation ceremony. My father, unsure of who would be attending the graduation ceremony, volunteered to speak. He assumed that it would be a small graduation for the few people in the adolescent program. When we arrived at the church, we were shocked to find it packed with about a thousand people. It was a ceremony for the entirety of the inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation program. There were about 100 graduates as well as their friends and family. My dad got up and gave an amazing, heartfelt and honest speech. He was able to admit, in front of hundreds of strangers, that he made huge mistakes in parenting me. He was able to truthfully say that he had acknowledged this and that his changes had helped me turn my life around.
I believe that there are few things greater than the power of change and improvement. I believe that everyone has the ability to improve, if they put in the effort. Seeing my father, who I have never seen speak publicly before, at that graduation was one of the proudest moments of my life. The effort that he put in became tangible at that moment. I was able to completely forgive him for any shortcomings in his parenting and look up to him for the major adjustments he has made.
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