Into the Woods: My Comeback from Alcoholism and Depression

Child running into the woods aloneEditor’s note: This story contains potentially triggering statements about childhood emotional abuse, parental alcoholism, suicidal ideation, and self-harm.

Alone and scared, I think, “Why is Daddy acting funny? Why does he use those bad words and scream at Momma? He just turned the kitchen table over—why? Why does he always drink that smelly stuff in a bottle? It’s late and he’s not home—when we are asleep, will he come in and scream at Momma again?”

The evil of one man’s intentions live on through the physiological wiring in his children. The moment a child can’t live as a child due to extreme stress and tension is when the rules of the game change for the worse. A child living in a hostile environment isn’t free to think and act as a child; instead, he is forced to be constantly alert, on edge, and serious all the time. “No playing” means you have to grow up quickly.

The hatred I felt for this monster called my father never truly went away. There was no physical abuse, but the emotional toll that he created lives on. For 18 years, life was confusing.  For me, those were 18 years of depression, anxiety, and a damaged sense of self. I became highly introverted, as the shame of having a father who hated his family was more than I could carry. Seeing other children at school with loving fathers crushed me, as I longed for that as well. Coming home from school to see him drunk on the couch was wounding to me as a boy. It’s a sadness that can’t be conveyed in words.

Days in the woods became my only escape—it didn’t matter if it was 20 degrees or 100. I found peace in nature, away from the environment of stress. I spent many, many days in the woods, just me and our family dog. The quiet and peace was a welcome solace; a small babbling brook or wind brisling through the pine trees was my therapy. I was safe out there; I’d rather face a snake or coyote out there than come home and confront a tyrant. I can recount numerous times of running into the woods as I saw him coming home, not knowing what explosion may come my way (or my mom’s) without warning.

At 10 years old, I tried the poison known as alcohol. My dad had taught me how to pour beer from a keg without it foaming (I was tasked with getting his beer often), and I was curious about how this stuff would make me feel. “Like father, like son,” so the saying goes. It rang true for me as well. My initial curiosity became a 25-year battle with alcohol. By 15, I had found a new friend that would help me cope in social situations. Being “the awkward guy” was torture on me; the high school years were pure hell. I tried my best to adapt to being what I thought was a normal teen. Around my peers, I couldn’t function without booze. I tried to be “normal.” I failed.

From my teens to my early 20s, I pondered suicide often. I was alone and isolated in my room most nights, and a ritual of self-harm and drinking became my world. After many failed relationships with girlfriends, a DUI, and many lost jobs, I felt life was pointless. Every day was a challenge just to exist; I would open my eyes first thing in the morning and just exhale with the disappointment of being alive another day. This darkness would follow me for many more years.

The biggest thing that helped me manage or stop suicidal thoughts was an attitude shift. By focusing my thoughts on my family that I’d leave behind and how they would deal with the loss was a huge deterrent to even think of killing myself. I also used a few techniques that helped me to manage the depression that would trigger the suicidal thoughts. I learned to watch for a change in emotions, breathing, rapid thoughts, increased negativity/sadness, etc. Ultimately, it came down to my emotions and thoughts, and learning to control them before they controlled me.

Am I cured now? No. Do I still have suicidal thoughts? No, but I still battle with the anxiety and depression that was set in motion all those years ago. Some days are good, and some are bad. Like a warrior, I press on.

Tony Regan keeps a blog at tonysreviews.com, where he hopes to help others who need it.

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  • grant

    grant

    August 20th, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    I guess not all of us have the same start now,do we?I suffered in childhood thanks to my parents warring all the time.things like that and what the writer here have described can be a detriment,more intense for some than others.I am sorry to hear about what the writer has been through and I sure hope he is able to completely cure himself of the alcoholism and the emotional abuse he has been through,much as I hope I do too.

  • Sierra

    Sierra

    August 21st, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    No matter how strong we appear to be on the outside the things that happen to us as children can always come back and haunt us far into adulthood. I am glad that you can somehow find a way to cope with this as it sounds as if you had to endure quite a bit. You are very lucky that you have tapped into that reserve strength that you have. I wish the same for everyone.

  • Oliver

    Oliver

    August 21st, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    It seems that you have done so much of this healing on your own, but I worry that if there is ever that one big trigger in your life, could there be that one thing that could send you back to those emotions. Do you feel like you have truly dealt with your emotions or have you buried them just to move on? I hope for the best for you because i know what a difficult journey all of this experience must have been for you and how writing can not only be cathartic but how sharing can also bring up pain all over gaain.

  • Tony

    Tony

    August 21st, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    Grant/Sierra,

    Thank you both for the kind words. Re-reading my words and having flashbacks to my childhood almost brings tears to my eyes now as I can see myself then as a child and how lonely I was. I was painfully lonely and lost, just wanting peace, love and support. That pain inside never really goes away, those childhood years are so critical to our lives and development.

  • Paula

    Paula

    August 22nd, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    Dear Tony,

    I, too, suffered through the alcoholism of my father during my childhood and teens. I felt the ‘otherness’ and longed for a normal family life it seemed that my friends enjoyed.

    Like you, I have dealt with suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and generally not performing to my potential in school, work and life in general.

    I have continued to be victimized by abusive relationships in love and even by my own siblings.

    I am happy to say that I have forgiven my mother and father for their shortcomings as parents, realizing that they did the best they could and they were products of their own difficult circumstances in childhood. It does help that when sober, my father was a kind, loving man. He is now deceased, but the greatest gift was his sobriety the last ten years of his life. The best years of my life, he shared in caring for my young children and delighted in having family get-togethers with all his children and grandchildren surrounding him.

    I still deal with depression, but feel nothing but love and forgiveness toward my father. He had to be suffering terribly to drink himself into oblivion on a daily basis. I truly grieve and miss his presence.

    Try to find it in your heart to forgive your father. Look into his past and try to understand why he was driven to hurt himself and you. Not easy, but well worth the effort! I wish you peace.

  • Katherine

    Katherine

    August 23rd, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    I believe we suffer with depression because of life. We don’t know what is going to happen tommorrow. Learning coping skills helps sometimes. We have to deal with our problems or they will never go away. Having emotions is normal. I hope this helps

  • Tony

    Tony

    August 23rd, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    Paula,

    Thank you for your kind words. I thought I had forgiven my father for those years but sometimes it wells up in me and I’ve found I haven’t. He did have a hard upbringing and that’s how my sisters have learned to forgive him. I however took the brunt of his aggression head on. I was the one with the target on me, why I don’t know. Today he is living a different life as my mother passed away about 5 years ago. My younges sister passed away 2 years after my mother (at age 30) and those 2 events ‘opened’ his eyes. I do feel some compasssion for him as I know he is living a private hell inside.

  • Antonette Brown

    Antonette Brown

    November 3rd, 2014 at 7:05 AM

    I don’t even no where to began and I’m sure we all feel as though we could write a book..for me a grew up with an alcoholic mother. My dad and her seperated when I was only 2 she was preganant with my my sis. She had my 2 little brothers along the way and didn’t stay with there fathers was in several abusive relationships. So being the oldest I was forced to care for my siblings in all ways a mother should! While my mom lived her life drinking with friends bringing strang people home to eat all are food!! We were all finnally seperated and by social services and taken to live with family members. Ok shortening story today my mom is sober 3yrs after a very long bingeand almost dieing!she lives with no liver is in lots of pain! I also had my share of alcohollism and put my two youngest daughters though much with them watch as me and there father wouls fight and be redicalious! I lost my 12 yr old daughter 5 yrs ago and 3 months ago I lost my eldest to a DWI accident…I am beside myself at this moment with pain and grief but have some how by the grace of god and my little angel been able to take it one day at a time and stay sober for my other children AJ 8yrs and Kyanna 11, they all have the same father but be seperated yrs ago while I was carring my son. So today I just pray that is is another day strong cause I yet have a great strugle head of me in recovery and selfwill power and being able to deal with the losses of my 2 daughters! Thanks for allowing me to share! God bless all of you also with the strength we need to walk the red road!

  • R J.

    R J.

    June 25th, 2016 at 9:22 AM

    The chaos and dysfunction that exist for children living in families where alcoholism is a constant battle for one of the parents is impossible to imagine unless you have lived through it. Thank you for your candid sharing of what it was like for you and how you coped with the ugliness you were forced to endure.

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