My father, Brian, was sober for almost a month in 2009. We got close. He even showed up to help me demolish the shithole fixer-upper I’d just bought (photo above and below). Together, we 1 filled a huge dumpster with plaster, lath, bricks, and wood. We swapped war stories and laughed and puzzled at how amazing it is that folks like us can want so desperately to change, yet when faced with a choice, strong as we are, we almost always default to what’s killing us.
“I feel amazing, but how long can I really keep this up?” he said.
I’d been sober for years. “Don’t worry about the future. Focus on the day you’re in, and you’ll be OK” I said.
In a week, he relapsed.
Two years later, with a newborn sleeping in my lap, I got the call that my dad was dead.
Some days, especially holidays, 2 are emotional Miracle Grow. If we’re doing well, things feel magical. Meanwhile, some of us can barely stand up under the weight of our own disappointments, insecurities and fears. How have we still not managed to lose weight? 3 How can our lives be so fucked up when everyone else’s is so great? How could we ever possibly repair the damage we’ve already done? We’re trapped in regret. We’re suffocating ourselves with stories and by comparing ourselves to the idealized, fictitious bullshit we make up for other people.
Because changing the channel seems so much easier than focusing on today, easier than making choices to create the life we want today, we self-medicate, and we convince ourselves that it’s just not the right time to (fill in the blank).
“Maybe after things settle down and I have more free time,” we think.
Spoiler alert: It’s this time next year, and nothing has changed.
The most important and most limited resource we have is time, and once it’s up, it’s up. Today is the day to carve out time to spend with the people we love, or doing the things we love. Not tomorrow – today.
But first, so we can enjoy those moments with a quiet mind and healthy body, we need to carve out time to get well, to practice making stronger choices, and to practice forgiving ourselves when we slip. Not tomorrow – today.
Because he couldn’t forgive himself, when my dad slipped, he never got back up.
I am my father’s daughter. Addiction, compulsion, unforgiving perfectionism – I’ve got it all. I’ve also got years of practice making stronger choices, getting progressively more honest with myself, and learning to forgive when to hold a grudge would hurt me. Still, when Louis Armstrong came on the radio yesterday, I thought of my dad and my heart broke and my first thought was to change the channel. 4 I wanted to hide my sadness from my now three-year-old. I felt compelled to keep up the Happy Holiday Charade. Instead, I let her see what was true for me in that moment. I let her see that it’s OK to be sad, even at Christmastime. I cried – hard – and when she looked at me, confused, I said “I miss my Daddy.” And she, who only knows my dad from stories, said, “It’s OK, Mommy. You’re OK.”
And I am. Despite my defaults, my addictions and my demons, I’m totally OK. And I’m strong. And I’m healthy. And I miss my dad. And I’m sad. And that’s OK, too.
In loving memory of Brian J. Coffey
October 16, 1956 – June 29, 2011
Coffey & Dad, on a break, in 2009
- Me, Mr. Strong Coffey, my dad, and 20 other friends and family members over two whole days. ↩
- And birthdays, weekends, solstices, equinoxes, firsts of the month, Wednesdays, paydays, treatment days, court days, Alternate Side of the Street Parking days, and sicks days, winter days… ↩
- Or stop smoking, or drinking, or gambling, or bingeing… ↩
- To do something to feel different, to feel less, to feel nothing, to drink, smoke, eat, spend, fuck, cut, die. ↩