I lost my Dad this week to "complications of cirrhosis of the liver, due to chronic alcohol abuse". This week, I've decided (after battling with myself on the appropriateness of this story) to open to vault and let you into my own story for two reasons:
First, I had recorded a story on my instagram about not having spoken to my Dad in 10 years because of addiction and how I regretted it. That story received WAY too many messages from broken adults who have experienced the trauma of addiction and could identify with my pain. This is for you, my sweet friends. I felt a very odd sense of belonging knowing that others understand and can identify with my pain, yet I hurt deeply for you too. For 35 years, I've kept a lid on my story and my pain and that is incredibly lonely and hard to deal with on your own. So this is what I've wanted to write to every single one of you, to unpack the complexity of addiction and offer you giant hug In the form of a different perspective than perhaps you had thought of before.
The second reason I am writing this, is in the hopes that someone who reads this, who is struggling with addiction, will read my story, reflect on the trauma that you have experienced, which likely is the root of your addiction, and get professional help to heal that trauma, so you don’t continue passing it down. I want you to live in peace and create authentic, meaningful memories with your loved ones for the rest of your days and end the cycle of trauma and addiction in your family and bloodline, as I’m committed to doing as a child of addiction.
Chapter 1: One Never Knows What Lies Behind A Smile
If you know me (Christina Sciarretta), you would be able to pick my Dad out of a crowd immediately. It isn't necessarily because we look alike, although we do have similar features. It is more-so because of his energy and charisma. We are one in the same, in that regard. If you think I have a big personality...enter the 'big daddy" of the big personality. He was a joyful, positively wonderful man. He could change the energy of a room with his kindness, love, and humor. He never thought he was better than anyone. He worked 80 hours per week- always on time, performing at a high level with a giant smile. As a chef, he would be the guy who not only knew the dishwasher's name, but knew his wife's and children's names and would ask about them, celebrate their wins and mourn their losses. He was the picture of love and joy. It was hard to stay sad around my Dad. That's what you would know if you were ever in his presence.
What you wouldn't know is that he watched his sister burn alive when he was four years old. He and his sister were at the babysitter’s home, and one of the children began playing with matches. The child lit a match, flicked it onto his sister’s pajamas, and she immediately went up in flames. She was but 6 or 8 years old. If I said that that was the only trauma that my Dad experienced, it would be enough to cause deep wounds. Unfortunately it wasn't.
His biological father left him, his sister, and his mother to fend for themselves. My grandmother, a nurse, was left to deal with the trauma of losing her baby girl alone and my Dad was there for every moment. We are all so thankful and full of love for my Pop Pop, (my Dad's stepdad) who showed up on the scene and became a stellar role model in my Dad's life, teaching him how to work hard to put food on the table for himself and his family. For those of you who have been blessed with a stepdad, you know... although he can fill many holes, he cannot fill the hole left by a father who chose to leave his family behind. That is painfully traumatic for a child to deal with. It's deep and when not handled appropriately, to process those thoughts and feelings, can be detrimental to the inner child of even the most strong adult on the planet. So if those were the only two traumas he experienced, it would be enough to understandably cause a lot of damage. Unfortunately, they weren't.
At three months old, my parents lost their infant son, my brother Matthew John, who was my brother Michael's twin. Matthew died of SIDS. That is all they know. There seemed to be almost no cause of death... he was there one day and he was gone the next. My poor Mother heard the sound of air coming out of my brother's lungs and thought he was cooing. When she went to get him out of bed, he was gone. My Mom was screaming at my Dad to call 9-1-1, but he kept calling 4-1-1 over and over, because he was in such shock. At this point, his addiction to drugs and drinking was very present, and I can only imagine the guilt he must have felt for being so far gone in the party lifestyle, wondering if there was something he could have done, had he been sober. (BTW my Mom is so badass for handling this on her own, but this story isn't about her, so I'll save her heroism for another story.)
The trauma my Dad experienced over the course of his life (I'm sure there was a lot more, but these are the three big pillars) was never processed with a professional therapist or counselor, so he carried those traumas around with him like an elephant on his back. Instead, he dealt with it by numbing the pain with alcohol and drugs. This in turn, created trauma in me.
Chapter 2: Enter The Mask
Here's the thing about drugs and alcohol... they mask who you really are, and that mask can be as polar opposite as night and day. And the fucked up part of it, is that you can trick people into thinking that you are who you are when you are on them, when the reality is that you're not. You are a distorted and sometimes polar opposite version of yourself. Tis but a mask. This was true of my Dad and it is what makes it so complicated to process. I have such good memories and such bad memories, and trying to separate them and process them is complex to say the least.
You see, as I have been reflecting on photos of him, I'm remembering his heart and how much he loved us. It was SO annoying to sleep over his house, because he would snuggle us like we were teddy bears, and I need some space! He was so affectionate and over joyed at the mere sight of us. No one on earth wanted to hear me talk, but my Dad wanted to hear every word I had to say. He would take us on the Ocean City boardwalk, often letting us ride on his back or shoulders, and out to Ready's Cafe or The Varsity Inn or The Chatterbox every time we were over. He'd tell us to "Eat until our hearts were content- not a bite more, not a bite less." He would stay up late playing his acoustic guitar for us as we fell asleep, and if we stayed up late, he'd offer us a midnight snack. He always gave those hugs, where he lifted us off the ground and swung us around like the tilt-a-whirl. I had no choice but to wrap my arms and legs tightly around him and dig my head into his neck or I risked going airborne. That was my Dad in his heart and at his healthiest.
Enter the mask...
My Dad pulled in two hours late to my Mom's driveway to pick us up. He hadn't had a license since the early eighties, yet he was driving a car. I was angry. So many times before he had done the same thing or simply hadn't shown up. It triggered me, but I stuffed it down, because I didn't want drama. So I picked up my bag and headed out to the car. He didn't get out to help us, which was weird. I got into the car and it wreaked of alcohol. My Dad was slurring his words slightly and was slow to respond to our questions.
We made our way from Galloway to Margate, where he was living at the time, swerving the entire way. I asked him if I could "practice driving", because I was close to having a panic attack. Although I was 16 and not yet licensed, I had my permit and knew I could definitely get us safely to our destination, which was more than I could say with him in the Driver's seat. He declined and began getting angry at me, because he knew that I didn't want him to drive because he was drunk. One thing you do NOT ever do, is tell my Dad not to do what he wants to do. I closed my mouth and stayed silent.
We arrived at the Sunoco station in Northfield, because the battery on my Dad's car had apparently run out. How we made it to Sunoco alive is a true miracle. He got out of the car to use the pay phone. I don't know what happened, but he began slamming the phone over and over again in anger. My brother and I looked at one another in silence. He left us in the car while he walked to Pep Boys and got a battery. It took forever. When he returned, it was dark. We finally left the Sunoco station and made it back to Margate.
He walked into the apartment, then into his bedroom, slammed the door, and passed out. My brother and I sat in the living room hungry with no money and absolutely no food in the house what so ever. It was a school night, so we had homework to do on top of all of the chaos. I was so angry, hungry, and scared, I began to cry. My brother and I fell asleep on the sofa. Around 2am, I woke abruptly to the sound of my Dad wailing on the drums. The anger boiled inside of me. I just wanted to sleep. I was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted and had to wake up at 6am for a full day of school and dance from 8am-9pm.
He finally took a break from playing the drums and happily strolled out of the bedroom. He plopped on the other sofa and turned the TV on and the volume up. I began to cry. He looked at me and asked, "What are you crying for?? Stop it!"
"Its 3am, Dad!" I exclaimed through the tears, "I'm exhausted! I have to get up for school in three hours! You've been playing the drums for an hour and it's so loud. Now you're out here like it's 10am with the TV turned up!"
"Oh shut the fuck up! This is my fucking house and I'll do whatever the fuck I want to do, do you hear me?? Shut the fuck up! Stop fucking crying!"
I continued through the tears, "You picked us up wasted, you don't even have a license! You put us and others in serious danger, then you flipped out at the gas station and left us for an hour without an idea where you were!
"Shut the FUCK UPPPP you spoiled little bitch!" He kept screaming at me.
"You by the grace of God got us home, and passed out and we had NO dinner! Nothing to eat or drink in this house except for whiskey, beer, and tap water and we had hours of homework to do on zero energy! What is wrong with you?? We're your children, and you're supposed to protect us!"
Did I mention my brother was sleeping through this entire ordeal? I want to sleep one night, the way my brother sleeps every night.
I walked over to the phone to call my Aunt who lived in Ventnor to come get us, so I could at least get my brother to school on time in the morning. I assumed Dad would be dead to the world and I was too scared to steal his keys and drive Michael to school. My Dad charged toward me, ripped the phone out of the wall, and threw it across the room. I ran to the bathroom, because it was the only other room with a door. He chased me and began beating on the door, screaming at me, calling me names. I thought he was going to break the door down and beat me. He didn't. He finally stopped and went back into his bedroom and beat on the drums instead, as I sat in the corner of the bathroom terrified, shaking, and crying. I finally fell asleep on the floor of the bathroom, until I heard a knock at 6:30 am.
"Chris, come on, we have to leave in 15. Chop Chop!" The wakeful, sober sounding voice of my Dad came from behind the bathroom door, just like any other morning. I was so confused. He completely ignored the situation, as if it had never happened. Or maybe he actually didn't remember it. I don't know. I never got an apology or even an acknowledgement of the severity of the experience.
Chapter 3: Deal With Your Trauma Before You Pass It Down
That was one of a few too many stories, but I feel like it perfectly illustrates my point... drug and alcohol abuse is often a mask for trauma, and if the trauma isn't dealt with properly, it can be passed down from generation to generation. Do you see that impact? I'm not an addiction expert, so this is merely coming from my own experience and point of view, but I don't think it's hard to draw that same conclusion when you see the illustration of the mask that my Dad wore. Inside he is the greatest, yet the mask he wore in his addiction was terrifying to a young girl. As my Pastor always says, "Hurt people, hurt people". They typically don't even realize the profound impact their action... or lack thereof has on those who love them, because they have no idea that it is just the pain at the root.
My Dad didn't come to my wedding. I don't really know why either, but I do know that I told him it was okay, and that was a lie. It wasn't okay. He saw my son once when he was 3 months old, and never got to experience looking into my daughter's precious eyes. When I sold my home and bought another, he blasted me on social media one drunken or drugged night, commenting, "It's never enough for you, is it??"
I haven't spoken to my Dad in almost 10 years. There wasn't a specific fight that I remember causing the break. It was more like a break in our foundation that neither of us repaired. I imagine that he didn't repair it, because he had learned to deal with his feelings and failures by numbing them, instead of repairing them properly. I hadn't made the repair, because I had learned to simply stuff the pain away in a neat little box, and move forward so that I didn't have to relive the trauma over, and over, and over again.
Had he gotten sober, I'd have run back into his arms, like the little girl that I once was, who wanted to be hoisted onto Daddy's lap and snuggled until the pain left. But seeing him constantly with the mask on made him nothing, but scary and traumatic for me, even into my adulthood. It stirred too much up, and that pain needed an end, so I packed the thoughts and feelings up and simply ignored the break. The more time passed, the bigger the neglected break became.
My Dad is now gone and that break wasn't repaired. I am not writing this blog to air his dirty laundry. I am telling my story, because this is my way of repairing that break. This is my way of saying what I've wanted to say for so long, but couldn't, because I knew he didn't want to hear it. Here's what I want to say: Deal with your trauma. Many of us have it hidden deep inside of us, and if you don't acknowledge it and learn how to process it in a healthy way, it can negatively impact not just you and your loved ones, but your bloodline for generations to come. You have the opportunity to change your legacy.
If you are currently dealing with addiction, I know this isn't what you want to hear, because you already know it deep down inside of your heart. You don't want to feel it, but I promise on the other side is healing and peace, and forgiveness. The bible teaches me that God gives grace and mercy like confetti, no matter how sinful and unworthy we feel. Nearly every character in the bible was broken and messed up, yet God's grace and mercy were ALWAYS just one step behind them all, even if they felt like He was a million miles away. It also teaches me that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, so humble yourself and tell God all about it first, to let him begin the healing process. He already knows, he just wants you to unload it, so he can carry it for you.
Consider getting a counselor or a therapist to learn healthy ways to process through the trauma and feelings, as hard as it will be. The mask needs to be taken off and the authentic person underneath needs to be loved and accepted for who they are. I truly believe that you are perfect the way you are...AND... God won't leave you where he finds you. You can discover, process, and move past the trauma and pain. You can learn to love what's behind the mask and then take the steps to remove it. I believe in you. Until next time, Rockstar Community, I'm sending you peace, love, and good vibes, from my healing inner child to your's.