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Posts Tagged ‘Alcoholism’

My Dad disappeared

For about a year

When I was seventeen.

The last I saw him,

We left him

Passed out drunk

On the living room couch.

Relatives came and got

My Mom, sisters and me

Leaving Dad

Who wouldn’t quit drinking

Who wouldn’t accept help.

I thought

I might ever see him again.

 *

Later

He returned to our lives

A changed man.

He sobered up

Got back his old job

Built back his old life.

*

But twenty years later

After he died

I realized

I never knew what happened

When he disappeared.

When he was on the edge

Of killing himself

With the drink.

Rumor had it

That he worked

The wheat harvest

Something he had done

In college.

Wheat Harvest

*

I started to write

The story of what I thought

Might have happened.

I realized

The piece I was missing

Was what it would be like

To work on

The wheat harvest.

*

I said to a friend

“Someday…

Someday,

If I ever want to

Really explore

My Dad’s story.

I might just have to

Work the wheat harvest.

My friend Pat

Listened quietly.

 *

Later he said

“You’ve talked about

working the wheat harvest

three or four times.

I just want to mention

Someday – if you want

To work the wheat harvest.

I have relatives in Oklahoma

Who do that each year.”

*

I did what I do

When hit with

The unexpected.

I sat there

Numbly,

Quietly.

And then said

“Thanks for telling me.”

Talk about upping the ante

On a spiritual quest

To walk in

My Dad’s shoes.

My friend had

Certainly done that.

Now I was left

To put it all out there,

Or leave it as “someday.”

*

I finally called Pat

And asked if he would

Do me a favor.

Check with his relatives

To see if I might

Join their harvest crew

For the summer.

*

Meanwhile,

I tried to figure out

If this was

Completely nuts.

Quit my job,

Go off and work

On a harvest crew

To find out about

My Dad’s story.

I checked it out

With Scott – a good friend

Who was really grounded.

He’d give me a solid answer,

Besides, he was

An accountant.

Logical, linear.

I later realized

I was secretly hoping

He’d tell me

“This idea is crazy”

So I could give up

The whole thing.

Instead he said

“Makes a lot of sense

I think you ought to do it!

It will be part of

Your healing.”

Major gulp!

*

Two months later,

I was living in a trailer

In Lone Wolf Oklahoma

With six high school farm kids

Learning to drive a huge truck

Used to haul grain.

And following

My Dad’s story.

*

Bunk trailers and work pickups

Cara - the grain truck I drove on harvest

It was the adventure

Of a lifetime.

We followed the wheat

As it ripened.

Living like nomads.

It was a world

I had never seen before.

Living in an old house trailer

In one place for two weeks

Then moving,

Trailers, trucks, combines

A caravan

To the next farm

As the wheat ripened

From Oklahoma

To North Dakota.

Combines and tractors

*

Combines dumping grain on trucks

I learned many things.

I grew up in the city

But had the heart of a country boy.

I love driving a tractor

Or a wheat combine.

I don’t do well on little sleep.

Living in a trailer,

Farm boys are not

Particularly neat

When Momma’s not there

To clean out the tub.

When pulling wheat from

A plugged up combine

The dust really itches,

When it gets down your neck.

 *

And special things happened.

    I got to visit the filmsite

From Dances With Wolves.

We saw Mount Rushmore,

Me at Dances With Wolves filmsite

My first pic of Mount Rushmore

Both affected me deeply.

All in all

It was a magical summer.

*

It gave me the truth

About what I believe

Happened to my Dad.

How he had

A spiritual awakening

And realized

He had to return

To clean up his past.

I finished the story

I wanted to tell.

I wrote it as a novel.

It will be called

“Nothing Left To Lose.”

 *

But as I look back

What Pat said

When the idea

First came up

Turned out to be the truth.

He had said

“Dan, you think you’re going

On the wheat harvest,

To learn about your Dad.

I think this trip

Will be about you.

You will learn about

Yourself.

Heal yourself.

Claim your own power.”

*

He was right!

I often look back

On the wheat harvest experience

As a turning point in my life.

When I claimed the truth

Dan the writer

Of my path

Not to follow the business world

   Of my Dad and my friends,

But to claim my birthright

As a writer

Dan the writer

A teller of stories.

And a country boy.

I am completely convinced

I did the right thing

In going on harvest

To walk in Dad’s shoes.

Because I found – myself.

********************

Photo Credits:

Photos by Dan L. Hays Copyright – all rights reserved.

“The Wheat Harvest” the slowlane @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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I vowed to myself

“I will never be

Like my Dad was

Toward me.

I just won’t!”

I wanted to have

Nothing to do with him.

His path

Was not mine.

*

Then one day

I read a poem.

*

A poem I had written

When I was

Fourteen years old.

*

The poem read:

A fiery, bubbling demon

Against the sky.

The huge volcano.

Lava pouring from its lip,

Like angry words hastily spoken.

It seems to be making fun

Of someone below it.

Or trying to shame a person

For doing a wrong.”

I was astonished

At how early

I had realized

My Dad’s

Venomous tongue.

I said to my mentor,

“See, that poem

Is about my Dad.”

*

His simple response

Is tattooed on my heart.

He quietly replied:

“Is it?”

*

I was stunned

As the truth

Of his words

Clutched my soul.

I had become

      Just like my Dad

*

My Dad at age 19

Me at age 19

My words had

Been harmful

To many people.

I constantly

Had to make up for

The damage I had done

With my sharp tongue.

*

It gave me a task –

To uncork

My own volcano.

Find out

What fueled

Such deep anger.

It became

My commitment.

My life’s goal.

*

It was critical

That I do so.

Imperative

That I solve this problem.

I was watching my Dad

As his health suffered:

Heart attack,

Open heart surgery,

Colostomy,

Not following doctor’s orders,

Overweight, still smoking

And just

Sitting on the anger.

I was watching my Dad

Commit slow suicide

By stuffing

His own anger.

He had sobered up

But the past was the past

And he wanted no part

Of figuring it out.

He would not deal with it

Or even admit

How angry he still was.

*

So he sat on white knuckles

And it was killing him.

My Dad at age 43

I knew my Dad

Would die early.

I knew that I

Would die early too

If I didn’t do

Something drastic.

That’s why my task

Was so necessary.

To not be like

My angry Dad.

*

It led to

A lot of hard work –

Uncovering abuse,

Healing wounds

Releasing anger –

But without hurting anyone.

First, do no harm.

I became

A completely

Different person.

Calm, alive,

Safe for other people.

The venom purged

The volcano disappeared.

*

Then years later

I had a flash of awareness.

Had my Dad

Not sobered up

He would have died

Many years

Before he did.

It was a paradox.

Even while sitting

All that anger

He helped many people.

After I delivered the eulogy

At his funeral.

One man said to me

“Your Dad

Saved my life.”

I knew from his look

He meant it literally.

*

Then I put

All the pieces together.

My Dad –

Who abused me

When he was drunk,

Illuminated my path

To healing

By his example

By his journey of recovery.

And in that way,

I want to be

Just like my Dad.

Me at age 58 at a high school reunion, after a night of dancing!

*******************

Last Saturday night I read a new poem at an open mic event.  The next morning I got up and wrote three new poems.  “I Just Won’t” is one of those poems.  I will read it this Saturday night at the open mic event!

Photo Credits:

Don Swanson via Wikimedia. Creative Commons via Wikimedia.

Pictures of Dan and his Dad, Copyright Dan Hays. All rights reserved.

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In the fall of 1990, I had a vision – I wanted to write novels of hope. I had taken a 19th Century American literature course, and the teacher had said, “in 19th century American novels, you expected a happy outcome.  In 20th century novels, you typically expect a negative or unhappy outcome.”  I didn’t like that trend, and wanted to do something different.

The movie Dances With Wolves had just come out, and it really sparked something in me.  I realized that I wanted to explore a time in my Dad’s life I knew little about.

In 1967, when I was 17, we were living in Oklahoma City when my Dad’s drinking hit bottom. My aunt and uncle came and picked up my Mom, my 3 sisters and myself, taking us back to Fort Worth to live with my maternal grandmother. Dad disappeared for a while, then later returned to Fort Worth, somehow changed.  He sobered up and got into recovery, and reclaimed the world he had lost.  I never knew what had happened to him during the time he was gone, other than a vague comment my Mom made about him going and working on the wheat harvest, which he had done in high school.  I never thought I would see him again, and later wondered what his life had been like during the time while he was gone.

He died before it ever occurred to me to ask him about it.  I began working on how to tell that story, and after I wrote the first two chapters, I suddenly realized – if I explored this thread fully, I had – a novel of hope!  It was a tremendously empowering moment.

In the spring of 1991, I quit my job, went up to Oklahoma and worked on the wheat harvest, to try and imagine what my Dad’s life was like after we left, and what might have happened to him.  How I got there is a story of its own: Dances With Wolves Filmsite.

The book I wrote in 1993 was my best guess as to what happened.  It was entitled Nothing Left To Lose.  It was a novel,  written from a very loving and generative perspective.  But how did I get to that loving place in describing a man who had been violent toward me when I was a teenager?  I later realized that I needed to flesh out the back story.  I will do so in several books, beginning with my first published memoir, Freedom’s Just Another Word, about the time around his death and my healing process.  The reason I never published this novel will be the topic of the second book I will publish – Healing The Writer; writing that book freed my creativity!

I now plan to publish Nothing Left To Lose, the novel about my Dad written from a loving and healed perspective.

The novel begins like this:

Chapter 1
Eyes downcast, he trudged along, conscious of the uneven surface along the shoulder of the highway, stumbling occasionally on chunks of gravel or small pebbles. He looked up periodically at the cars speeding past, as if to keep his bearings. His face was lined and weary and his entire body ached. He was wearing a worn brown corduroy jacket, a wrinkled plaid flannel shirt, dark blue polyester pants, white socks and cordovan loafers.

It was about 5 pm and the sun had just set. Night was approaching rapidly and the chill of February in 1967 was harshened by a brisk wind which picked up in gusts as he walked. He tried to walk faster, his hands deep in his pockets, but had to step carefully so not to turn an ankle on the uneven surface beside the roadbed. His vision was limited by the flash of oncoming headlights.

He had been told there was a boarding house in town where he could get a room for the night, and he plodded on, the directions vaguely held in a corner of his consciousness.

“We’re sorry,” they’d said at the detox center, “but all we can do is provide you a place for 5 days. We just help people dry out. Then we have to give the bed to someone else.” They had directed him to the boarding house, wished him well, given him back his clothes and money, and sent him on his way.

His feet hurt, his whole body ached, he craved a drink but knew that he must make the most of this chance. There was another pain, too, an emotional void when he thought of all he had left behind, all he had lost. He wondered where they were now, but he knew he could do nothing for them. Yet he longed for their voices, for any source of warmth and comfort to relieve this coldness, and the blackness in his soul.
——————————–

Sitting and looking out the big picture window at the front of Miss White’s Boarding House, Peter Sanders watched the occasional car pass, and a few blocks away he could see the busier traffic on the main street. Busy, he thought, for our town. Cornell, Oklahoma wasn’t exactly New York, he chuckled to himself, but it was rush hour here, with cars heading home to supper.

At the corner of the main road where it intersected his street, he saw a figure hesitate, look at street signs, and uncertainly begin to walk toward him. Another drunk out of the center, he thought to himself, betting that the man was headed here. This was where they mostly came when they had nowhere else to go.

Peter got up, stepped to the door of the kitchen, cracked it open. “Miss Vera,” he called.

“Yes, Peter?” she replied.

“I think we got a visitor coming in.”

“Alright. Send him through to me.” Miss Vera stepped wearily into the living room. She had seen so many come through her doors that the novelty of it had long since worn off.

Peter sat in one of the overstuffed chairs in the living room, extending his feet toward the large space heater in the corner. Miss Vera went back into the kitchen. The man opened the door.

Ben Hays, my Dad, in 1971.

“Step in and warm up, stranger,” Peter called. He stepped quickly and gratefully over in front of the space heater, holding his hands out over it, shivering slightly. Peter studied him. He was about six feet tall, slender yet sturdy, with dark circles under the eyes, sunken cheeks. He had dark brown hair, cut short, rumpled and uncombed, and his clothes weren’t heavy enough for February. The clothes looked of good quality, but were tired from overuse. His hands looked soft. There were no calluses or marks, so he was probably not a laborer. His shoulders slumped wearily, hands twitched, and he had an almost nauseous look on his face. Peter imagined him to be a businessman gone to seed – gone down far and fast, too. Peter knew the look – he’d had it himself recently enough.

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“I Capture The Writing Vision.” An author realizes that there are several books that need to be written to fully explain the healing novel he wrote about his father.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo credit:

“God is a farmer” h.koppdelaney @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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“Conversations Live” with Cyrus Webb – I joined Cyrus on Tuesday, October 5th, as part of his series “Should Love Ever Hurt.”  It’s a series of interviews discussing abuse as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The show is now archived, and you can listen at any time you’d like!

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“Why Is This Fantastic News So Scary?”

An author receives a personal phone call from a publisher, who is excited about publishing a book he has written. The author is not thrilled, as would be expected. He is terrified, and doesn’t know why.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo Credit:

“In Written Memories”  Mutasim Billah @flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

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For many years, I would have told you that yes, there was drinking in my house while I was growing up, but I got out just fine, and it didn’t really affect me.  Then when I was in my early ‘30s, I started to see signs that such was not the case.

I worked for a time with a prison ministry, where we would go into Texas prison units and spend most of a weekend talking with the inmates.  Something odd happened – the inmates treated me with a certain respect and awareness that I couldn’t understand.  I realized later that they could tell I was intimately acquainted with violence.  I had that killer look.

My three sisters all married violent alcoholics.

Somehow I knew I carried a time bomb in me, but I couldn’t identify what it was.  I felt tightly wrapped, like I would explode if I ever let go.

One time I became suicidal.  I also carried around a darkness in my soul that I could not explain.

Finally it all broke through and I began attending meetings for people who had grown up around alcoholism. I started to get to the bottom of how much alcoholism had affected my life.  I was in so much pain I went to the first meeting on my birthday.  I began to remember incidents from my childhood – an escalating level of violence from my Dad.  I watched the movies “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket,” because something about them felt familiar.

By 1987, when the events in my book “Freedom’s Just Another Word” were taking place, my world was falling apart.  I had sabotaged my successful career for no reason I could explain. I had realized I was walking around with most of  the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – yet I had no traumatic event I could point to.  I had an incident where I was suicidal, and got closer than I ever had – an alarming wakeup call.

Then my Dad died.  He had been sober and in recovery for 20 years, but something still plagued him.  It was my belief he was still suffering because he was eating his anger.  He had his first heart attack when he was 44, open heart surgery at 47, a colostomy at 51, and died of a stroke at 59.  I knew if I didn’t get to the bottom of what plagued me, I was headed down the same road.

In an incredible and I believe spiritually guided sequence of events, I remembered the most violent incident with my Dad – which had happened on my birthday.  It involved guns, and violence, and imminent threats of death.  Suddenly the current events of my world began to fall into place and make sense.  Yet in a way, it was only the beginning – I knew what had happened, but now what to do about it?  Several weeks later, I had a dream.

Excerpt from Freedom’s Just Another Word:

I dreamed I was inside a house, and watching it for someone—I wasn’t sure who.  It was a long, low rambling house away from other houses, very isolated.  There was a pet tiger in the house.  The owner, an unidentified male, said the tiger wouldn’t bite, but the tiger became startled and started chewing my arm.  I would feel the size of his teeth, the strength of his jaw.  I was very scared.  The owner left, and put me in charge of the house, and of the tiger.

Suddenly, Rebecca was there, a woman I knew from ACA.  I felt like she was a stranger—like she didn’t know who I was any longer.  I invited her into the house, and she didn’t know her way around.  I showed her to the bathroom.  Suddenly I remembered that strangers startled the tiger.  Then the tiger was there and he was chewing on my arm, and I feared he wouldn’t stop until he ate me.  And then I knew—the tiger was my rage.

****************

The tiger dream disturbed me deeply, and I knew that I had a deep rage within me that would eventually destroy me.  I feared it so much that I buried it deeply and only rarely did it surface enough to confirm that it was there.  But I could tell.  It was the legacy of anger my Dad left me.  Threatening to devour all who entered—and me.  Uncontrollable.  I knew then that I was dangerous—to myself and others.

So there it was – the time bomb that had to be defused!  It was no longer about my Dad – it was about me; and it was something that was my responsibility to deal with.  Working through that anger and deep rage became my commitment over the next several years.  I got backed into a corner where my anger had to be dealt with (the topic of a future book, “The Tiger Unveiled”) and it became a life or death issue for me – there was still the specter of my Dad’s early death, and I knew it was still dangerously close for me.  I made a commitment and signed it in front of witnesses – an Anger Contract. In it I stated how I would and would not express my anger.  I committed to work on releasing that anger in safe ways, while restricting myself so that I would not hurt anyone while I was so angry.

I did so, and eventually bled off the anger, to the point where I could heal and be at peace with my Dad. I had come to realize that he had been blacked out drunk when the violence occurred, and he didn’t know any more than I did what had happened between us.  We were both harmed by the effects of the alcoholism.  It put a wall between us we never could understand in his lifetime. I wrote a short work called “A Conversation With Dad,” an imagined talk where we made peace with each other.  It worked!

Yet on the other side of the scale from the alcoholism and violence, it was a powerful symbolism for me to realize that the Dad who abused me when he was drinking was the same Dad who illuminated my path to healing and recovery by his example of perseverance in sobriety.

I feel very blessed!

 

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