Forgiving my alcoholic father

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Charlie Ryder’s father, Patrick, was an alcoholic who battled with his addiction until he died of lung cancer when he was 72. For him and his family it was a disease that destroyed precious relationships and caused hurt and trauma to loved ones. Despite the pain, Charlie chose to forgive him; a journey that he is now walking.

Charlie’s parents and grandparents were born in rural Ireland. He recalls the historical underlying issues that were not dealt with. ‘I think there was a lot that went on in Ireland at that time, a lot of wounding, a lot of trauma. It is still a recent history and I think when my dad was in this rural area, times were quite tough. When they came over to England, there were a lot of unresolved issues that didn’t get talked about. I think there is also a drinking culture, particularly for people who did labouring work, that you would drink with the rest of your money. So I think that’s what my dad grew up with and that’s where I think the alcoholism came from.’

Growing up Patrick enjoyed cycling and playing darts. A darts trophy proudly took centre stage on the living room mantel piece. Moving to England he had happy memories of Manchester and then London where he met his wife at a dance and had three children. He would show his love to his children and grandchildren by giving them money.

He loved to entertain people with his accordion and kept an interest in what was going on in Ireland. However, Patrick was ‘suffering from a disease called alcoholism, which caused harm and trauma to his family… He was never able to articulate any of it. He hated himself, and he put that onto other people. So it was difficult because he never had counselling,’ Charlie admits.

Patrick’s denial of his addiction left his family in pain and it was hard for Charlie to start his journey of forgiveness. ‘I see, because of the work that I do in prisons, that people reach a certain stage where they say to themselves, and then to me, and then to other people, they want to change. They want to come off the drugs and come off the drink but I also see so many of them go back again. There comes a point you have to cross; it is hard to change. Dad never said any of these things about wanting to change. I remember him slapping me once because I’d said that he was an alcoholic. He had some people come round, and they were drinking. I got really angry, and I said to him, “You’re an alcoholic,’’ and he slapped me. I had to just walk out the room.’

Charlie believes his father was acutely aware of the hurt he caused the family. ‘I think there was an ingrained culture and such a deep sense of hate of himself that he got into a depression and I think that his drinking was that hate. At the end he did have a sense of what he put himself through but he was not able to articulate it, or ever be in a space where he was able to be honest about it. There was such dishonesty in the arguments and the lies. We went through ups and downs just after he died, because he had taken out a loan of £10,000.

He had been paying it back and actually that last month that he died, he paid off that money. So in some ways that shows that he did care.’

Charlie and his family attended Al-Anon family group meetings which provide support for family members of alcoholics. He said that these meetings Charlie Ryder ‘gave me a place where I could just be honest with people and they understood. We could just share experiences, and it helped me to understand that it was an illness; a disease. Listening to other people put me on a journey of forgiveness.’

This journey helped Charlie to rebuild his relationship with his dad. ‘Alcoholism contributed to his lying, self-pity, selfishness and by forgiving him I came to realise that I would be a much happier person and it would help me to break this cycle so that I wouldn’t become an alcoholic.’

Al-Anon helped break the culture of denial, and by admitting there was a problem they were able to move forward to an ongoing journey of forgiving his dad.

‘Forgiveness has allowed us to move on and share the love we had for him. In his last few weeks he was in a lot of pain as he had lung cancer but he reached out and let us hold his hand. In these moments we got to share love with our dad. I feel that it is an assumption that if you say it is forgiven then it’s all dealt with. At the funeral I deliberately said that for me this was an ongoing journey. I said there will be flashbacks and things that need to be worked through. It is important that we talk about that. There will be new things that come up and new things that we learn.’

Charlie-Ryder-1At the funeral, Charlie recalls, he felt anxious about his mother giving a eulogy and addressing his father’s addiction. ‘I’m glad she did get up and speak, because my uncle didn’t really want her to talk. In the morning I had to be really firm with him, and say “actually she is going to talk, and I don’t care what you think.” There is a fear that exists; a fear of shame and not wanting to talk about the alcoholism. It was important because she cared for him and had been with him for all those years.’

Continuing his journey, Charlie is having singing lessons and working with musicians to make a song about his father and the alcoholism that consumed him. ‘One of the things I want to do is have guitar lessons because I think with things like alcoholism conversations can happen when you do things like musical poetry.’

For Charlie it is clear that forgiveness is a journey, one that can inspire others to follow a similar path.

by Laura Noble

Categories: Forgiveness