To start my story, I would like to say I love my father very much and I am proud to be his daughter. He has taught me so many lessons. He has taught me to be bold, vulnerable, honest, and how to show and receive grace.
We were a family of four living in east Texas. We never had a lot but had more than we needed and never went without. It was just Me, My Sister, Mom, and Dad. From the outside we looked like a normal average happy family, but behind closed doors we were hurting. My dad was battling his addiction trying to provide for our family. My mom was working and going back to school and my sister who is 5 years older had to grow up to quickly and looked after me, shielding me from as much hurt as possible, until she could not any longer. A memory I wish I could erase changed our life forever. I am not sure how old I was, but I was young. My sister and I were enjoying hot dogs from sonic and watching tv in our parents’ room (They had the most comfortable bed and we loved being in there). Then we heard our parents start to argue in the living room. My dad was very drunk, and my mom was fed up. Before we knew what was happening my dad was strangling my mom on the couch and I was screaming for him to stop. My sister immediately pulled me back into our parents’ bedroom, locked the door, and called the police. This is the first time I am openly telling this story and it is painful, but healing is painful. After that night everything changed. My dad went in and out of rehab, we spent more time with our grandparents (which I will always cherish), and my mom became a nurse. It is strange to look back on and my memories are faint because I was so young, but I grew a relationship with my dad while he was in rehab, our family found church, and eventually my dad became sober. His sobriety lasted for 5 or so years and it was the golden time of my childhood. It was time that felt like our family healed, gained new friends, and grew together. In those 5 years my dad help start an outreach program called “Overcomers Outreach”. It was a program that brought fellow addicts together and helped lead them to God. This was amazing and although I thought our family was healed, it was not, especially me. I should have been proud of my dad, but I was jealous and resentful. I was angry that something surrounding addiction still took so much of my dad’s time away from me and away from our family. It seemed like our family was always put second, even though I do not believe that now, it grew my resentment towards him then. It was not until his funeral that I understood the importance of “Overcomers Outreach”, but I will get more into that later.
It was my 8th or 9th grade year when the recession hit in 2008 and my family was hit hard by it. My dad worked in the oil industry and unfortunately was laid off right after we had purchased a new house. Our family had to give up a lot things we were not used to and for the first time I had to tell my friends “no I cannot afford that”. (I realize how privileged this sounds and I am grateful for this life lesson) However, this really ate at my dad. He always wanted to provide for our family and the biggest way he saw he could do this, was financially. The shame of not being able to do this for 2 years was to much for him to take and he picked up the bottle once again.
I felt the brunt of his addiction fully, my Senior year of high school. My mom and dad got a divorce that year and ironically decided to do so, on Parents night at our football game. I walked on the field with just my mom that night. My sister had moved out of the house by this point and my mom was a night nurse at a nursing home. This left me alone with my dad often. He was working again, and his job would sometimes keep him away from home for weeks and months at a time. When he came home, he would drink. He would drink to ease the stress, drink away the shame, drink away the divorce. It was a vicious cycle. There were many nights I had to hide his keys, lock myself in my bedroom, listen to him yell at me for hours through the door until 3am, set my alarm an hour early so I could wake him in the morning, and then go to school and act like I was fine and that everything was normal. The advantage of living in a small town is community. Everyone knows you and your story, and you know theirs. The disadvantage happens when they do not care, when they feel uncomfortable, when they allow fear of this disease and stigma overcome them, and when they make us hide and be quiet. I was pretty “popular” in high school. My teachers liked me, I got good grades, I was in marching band, speech and debate, a leader on our dance team, and had many friends. From the outside it would seem I was happy, healthy, and content with my life but, what was actually happening was a girl battling depression, an eating disorder, and anxiety. I felt like I did not have an outlet at the time or anyone to confide in who would understand. I would pray for help but was not seeing help being provided. I eventually confided in 2 of my best friends. It was a lot for them to take in and they were very encouraging. However, they thought I should speak to someone older and with more life experience. So without me knowing, they went to our high school guidance counselor. I was called to the office and assumed it was to talk about college plans. Instead, my guidance counselor was there to talk about what was going on at home. I opened up and was vulnerable and was not met with empathy or guidance. I was told to stop burdening my friends and that everyone has problem of their own they are dealing with… I was told I might be better off separating myself from my dad, to forget him, to set boundaries. This kind of Hate towards my dad without knowing him, without knowing the depth of the whole situation could have been very damaging. This stigma that the addict is a villain, who puts drugs before, does not care about, and who is a screw up. NEEDS TO STOP. What I wish I could say to that counselor now is this,
My feelings matter. My story matters. What I went through/am going through matters. That does not mean I am alone in these feelings or pain, that I think my life is any harder than the next persons, or that I believe people should take on my burdens before their own or even take them on. Being able to openly express and communicate is all I wanted and needed, and by you trying to silence me and make me feel ashamed and hide these feelings is not right. Boundaries are important but I will set them for myself. My dad does not deserve to be left alone to fight this disease. My dad does not deserve to be forgotten.
At my lowest point God created a path for me. We had family friends, “The Saunders” ask if I would like to move in with them for the rest of my senior year. Wow was this a big step! This was a boundary I needed to take and create. It was not because I was in danger or because my parents were bad parents. But because my Dad, Mom, and Sister were still healing and what I needed from a family environment was not being met. They needed time and space to heal and so did I. The Saunders wanted to help me heal and became a second family and gave me community. They gave me community in their home, at church, and gave me the space for needed conversations (most the time over coffee). The appreciation I have for this family will never be fully expressed. I am truly thankful. They saved me.
The next few years after high school flew by. I went to college and found myself indulging in the party atmosphere and I started to sink into another depression. All the while my dad remarried, became sober again for about 2 years, was doing amazing things at work. I should have been happy right? But my anger and resentment crept in once again. “Why could he change for her and her family” “why was I not enough”. Soon I removed myself out of the party culture of my first college and transferred to Dallas Baptist. Dallas Baptist was a great school in a lot of ways, and I disagreed with them in many ways as well. However, they did bring me 3 amazing best friends and yet again I found community. I found community at school and at work. I felt good, I felt like I had a family again while being away from home. Then my dad became sick. He was diagnosed with Cirrhosis from alcohol. While still in Dallas I would drive back in forth between Tyler and Dallas to stay with him in the hospital. Spending that time in the hospital was difficult. It was horrible to see my dad like that. So sick, so weak, in so much pain, with shame all over his face. However, it was a big lightbulb moment for me. “Why would my dad continue to drink if he was this sick?” “Why would he put himself in this situation” “Why wont he just stop?”. The answer was some of this was out of his control. He had tried so hard. The fact is addiction is a disease. The disease wanted all of this all of the pain, hurt, and discomfort came from the disease not my dad. And for the first time I forgave my dad and decided to choose grace. Was I still angry that he was not making the right choices? Oh yeah! Was I still incredibly hurt? Yes! But I chose to love my dad while he battled this disease.
I was promoted in 2017 and moved to St. Louis! While I was in St. Louis, I saw a labor of love from my mom and sister as they took care of my dad. It was not easy. Cirrhosis is not pretty and unfortunately my dad still wanted to drink no matter the consequences. Despite my mom being divorced she took care of him every day and his mom, my Gran, who had dementia. Despite reopening painful emotional wounds, my sister took care of our dad. My admiration for my mom and my sister is hard to even describe. They taught me what it is to be selfless and what true love really looks like.
While living in St. Louis I found more community in friendships at work and outside of work who quite literally picked me up from the floor in my darkest moments. Nothing prepared me for my dad’s passing though. I knew what his condition meant but we always think our family is the exception. On august 6th on my way to work I called my mom. Something felt wrong, I can sense it in my gut. She told me my dad was worse and had been taken to the hospital. She did not know how much time we had left with him, but she told me to get there fast. I got on the earliest flight possible and met my sister at the airport. To be honest I do not remember the timing from the airport to the hospital; if we went that night or the next morning but, what I do remember is when I finally got to him. My dad turned to me and said, “I Love you”. These were the last words I ever heard my dad say, what an incredible gift. We had not lost him yet but he had lost the ability to speak. The next step was to move him to hospice.
They called the EMTs to move him from the hospital to hospice. I find it very important to mention what happened next. The EMT that had brought him to the hospital was the same that was to bring him to Hospice. He came into the room, took one look at him and said “Wow he looks a hell of a lot worse then when I brought him in here.”……….. He felt like it was okay to talk that openly and disrespectfully in front of me, my sister, and my mom because of the stigma behind this disease. He judged my dad and my family. He assumed were no longer phased by his illness, and assumed my dad put himself in the situation. He thought, why show him care, grace, or empathy? Sadly, this was not the first time I saw a healthcare worker treat my dad or our family like this. We need to change this narrative!
My dad stayed the next few days in hospice and passed away on August 10, 2017. My sister and I planned his funeral and decided we wanted the theme to be grace. A reminder that it is important to show others grace just as god shows us grace every day. If we expect grace to be shown towards us, then we should pay it forward. I honestly was worried about his funeral. I wanted it to be a celebration not a lesson to stay away from drugs and alcohol. But man did God show up in a big way to make it a celebration. He had so many friends and family show up. People from Overcomers Outreach came and asked if they could speak. They told stories of how my dad helped them through their addictions and help lead them to God. They talked about how he changed their lives and families and brought them back together. What an incredible and unexpected way it was to honor our dad. In that moment I lost all the anger, all the resentment, and just felt proud to be the daughter of Charles Deval Lewis.
This battle was not easy. It is still hard to choose to look at the good and not harbor on the bad. But I am proud of my dad and happy he is pain free and addiction free. I am happy to have gained family and a community along the way. Community is what it is all about.