Down the rabbit hole

Anonymous teacher reflects on the effects of his family's alcohol and drug abuse on his life

Photo by Eden Millan

For confidentiality, the source is referred to as John Doe.

Despite having an alcoholic father and a sister addicted to drugs, teacher John Doe has not only stopped the cycle of addiction by not using substances, but has tried to help his family get out of it.   

According to Doe, his father was a functioning alcoholic who was affected by leaving his family in Russia, including his mother, during World War II. Despite becoming successful in Russia with a job and education, the United States did not feel like home to him.  

“He had a certain longing to go back to his own country. He missed the culture and the family connections that might still be there. I think all of that was sort of aided by his drinking in a sense,” Doe said. “He was a classic example of a guy trying to escape, knowing that he could never really fully escape but trying to escape through alcohol.”

In spite of Doe’s friends and sister using substances, he decided not to use them because of the respect he had for his dad.

“I didn’t want to disappoint him, and I was afraid of him. He looked at me and said, ‘If you come home high, I’m going to skin you.’ When he said that to me, I fully understood what he meant,” Doe said. “I didn’t want to face that, so I avoided [substances] constantly my whole young adult life and through my early adult life. I just didn’t want to get involved with facing him.”

Doe looked up to and respected his father.

“When we’re younger, we want to look up to people. We consider them heros, like your parents,” Doe said. “With some families, the parents struggle, and it’s difficult for them to get through life, so they’re not so heroic in certain ways.  was my hero.”

Doe’s mother did not use any substances but was sick with heart problems. She had surgery when she was a kid but had never fully recovered. The whole family had difficulties with Doe’s mother’s health, especially Doe’s father.

“My dad was doing the best he could with a sick wife, who was sick to the point where she really needed attention. She functioned at home, but she had a really bad memory. She couldn’t remember anything short term, so we were all challenged by that,” Doe said.

As a kid, Doe remembers wanting a “normal family.”

“You see others with this nice ‘mom dad’ structure, with their stability and function related to support. Everybody had some sort of constant source of calm, no high anxiety, no high stress situations. That’s what you want as a kid, so you miss that, and it definitely affects how you operate,” Doe said.

According to Doe, he was focused on his sports in high school, but his sister did not have that, so drug use became her focus.

“She’s suffered a lot, and she’s a hardcore drug addict. She had difficulties early on, even [as a] pre-teen. She was kicked out of a couple high schools and spent a little time in jail. I mean she had difficulties,” Doe said. “Our family was not functioning as you would have hoped.”

Doe’s sister starting smoking cigarettes at age 13, which led to marijuana use and many other different types of drugs, including PCP. According to Doe, his sister was suffering, and she wanted her mother’s help, but his mother was having issues of her own.

“My mom nurtured my sister some, but not quite to the degree that she would have liked or that my sister necessarily needed, so my sister rebelled,” Doe said. “She was an angry kid but a really bright girl. She just chose a path to go down that was not beneficial to her, and it certainly did hurt our family as well.”

Doe believes that his sister was a different person when she was on drugs, which lead her to not trust him.

“When the drug is in control, that person you’re talking to isn’t who you think they are, it’s the drug you’re talking to and their need for the drug. There’s lots of lying and complete lack of communication,” Doe said.

Doe’s sister passed her high school proficiency test, but she had a group of friends that did not have many goals or achievements in their lives, so she fell in with them.

“She is one of the most interesting people you can talk to in some ways because she doesn’t make any excuses. She knows what caused her life to go the way it went, although I think she has some harbor resentment, but she’ll never tell you that,” Doe said.

He believes that his sister began using drugs because of the anger she felt from how things were going at home. He believes that she felt as if he had more advantages than  his sister in terms of sports and school functions.

“I was basically seeking attention to try to cover up the hurt I was feeling, and thankfully I was a good enough athlete to where I could get some positive feedback,” Doe said. “For her, the only feedback she got was letting people know how mad she was, and unfortunately that meant destroying herself. People took notice of her view of life and how unhappy she was with how things were.”

Doe tried to help his sister realize the consequences of using substances through articles. Also, he had posters about love, hope, health and family support to show her that they can help her.

“I had posters hanging all around the house, so when she came home, it was sort of like an intervention. It wasn’t a physical face to face conversation. It was more like an environmental change,” Doe said. “I think she needed to feel as if we were supporting her to the point where we wanted to get her help.”

The family tried to help out Doe’s sister, but his father had “hit the end of his rope.”

“He was getting ready to kick her out of the house, but my mom was pleading with him not to do that. My mom was heartbroken over the whole thing. It was a really hard time,” Doe said. “I thought these posters would somehow awaken her and let her know that our love was constant and it wasn’t going to go away. We’re not going to quit.”

Doe advises people who are undergoing a similar situation he once went through to have a positive attitude and believe that things are going to get better in the future.  

“I think kids have to say, ‘I believe that my future is what I make it, and the way I choose to do things today will definitely have a role in how it unfolds. I’m going to choose to not destroy myself and choose to take small steps everyday toward doing things the right way even though they’re hard. When I come home, I’ll try to be forgiving of my parents, yet not let them get me trapped into a lifestyle they’re obviously stuck in,’” Doe said.

Doe’s family members influenced him to be the person he is now in many ways.   

“I think I’m a stronger person from the things that happened. I think I’m more introspective because people have hardships, and you can’t gloss over that. You have to give people credit for where they’ve been and what they’ve gone through,” Doe said. “That will always stick with me, to try to think twice about anybody and not be judgemental.”

Doe’s family situation was “unusual and tragic” because now he does not have the relationship with his sister that he wished for. In spite of it all, he believes that everything happens for a reason.

“I stand up here in these classes everyday, and I think about why I ended up here. I believe in God, and I believe that there is a certain destiny for all of us. I think God has control over that, and a person’s job is to understand that and do the best they can,” Doe said. “I think, ‘Why did all this happen?’ It must have happened so I can share this with kids. I think God has put me in this position to help people, and this gave me a perspective that maybe I can help them see their way through problems. I can use what I’ve been through to enlighten somebody with it.”