Addiction Awareness Scholarship Campaign 2020 Round 2 – It’s Either the Bottle, or me

Name: Michaella

It’s Either the Bottle, or me

Michaella Reilly

It’s Either the Bottle, or me

I was born into a family that had it all- we had money, two cats, a white picket fence, and a four-person family. Two kids- a boy and a girl- my parents were happily married, and I never had to worry about anything. By the time I was ten, I had heard the word alcohol thrown around a few times, but I had no idea the impact that word was going to have on my life in the next ten years. I had no idea the power that word had over my own father- that he would choose that word over his picture-perfect family any day if he was given the opportunity.

I was about fifteen when I found out that my father was a recovering alcoholic. Around this time, I saw my friends experimenting with alcohol, and my mom always warning me to stay away, “it can ruin your life, be careful.” I had heard those words so many times but I never saw alcohol ruining my friends lives. If anything, I saw them having a great time- because that’s what the media puts into our heads at an age as young as fifteen. We need to have alcohol to have a good time, right? It was around this time that I challenged my mom. I started asking questions but got no answers; it was also around this time that I lost my grandmother who happened to be my best friend.

I will never forget that day for many reasons. Obviously, because it was my first real encounter with death- but also because my mom’s brother showed up at the hospital- drunk. It resulted in a fight, and a conversation later that night that I had no idea was going to turn into my future. My mom told me that my dad was a recovering alcoholic; he had been sober for 16 years at that point; and that my uncle was a heroin addict and alcoholic. This was news to me because I had no idea that addiction even ran in my family.

It was right around this time that my parents started having issues- my mom had lost her job and she was the income for the family. My dad had to go back to work for the first time in sixteen years, and my mom was working three part-time jobs. Life as I knew it was drastically different. One night after my dad got home from work, I saw he was carrying a case of Michelob Ultra- a beer. He didn’t know that my mom told me about his recovery, but I was shocked. Within a year from this day, he was drinking every night.

It took my dad one year to reverse sixteen years of work. Sixteen years of sobriety were gone, and now he couldn’t stop. None of us in the house saw any end in sight. I began looking into colleges, and my major was based around figuring out my dad- psychology. I knew there was more to it than just picking up a bottle and becoming infatuated with that feeling. No one wakes up and says, “I think I’m going to become an addict. I think I’m going to ruin my own life, family, and body for a drug”. I knew there had to be some underlying reason, and I was ready to devote my life to studying the mind of an addict.

Over the next 4 years, my father became what I read about in textbooks. He was the picture-perfect alcoholic. He lost his job, got sued for negligence, denied that he had a problem, began having affairs, and allowed himself to become so narcissistic he lost every single person around him- and he didn’t care because at least he had his bottle. My mom filed for divorce, and since he had nowhere and no one else to go to, he stayed in the house with us. As I grew older, I began speaking up about the issue and this infuriated him. It infuriated him so much that one night when we were arguing, he pulled out a gun on me and my mom.

My father that I grew up with for twenty-one years had a gun pointed at my face, drunk. The same father that vowed to love and protect me for as long as a I live. The same father that used to take me on scooter rides to get hot dogs and ice cream. The same father who promised me he would never hurt me- had a gun pointed at me. I remember running away so fast and calling the police in absolute terror. My dad was arrested and taken into a psychiatric facility that night. My mom, brother and I were granted an emergency PFA (protection from abuse) by the courts of Pennsylvania because he was deemed mentally unstable. It was that night that I lost my father forever.

In all reality, I had lost the father I knew five years prior when he picked up the bottle again, but on the night of January 2- the night he had a gun pointed at my face- I knew that my father was no longer in there. I knew that the grip alcohol had on him was so much stronger than anything I could say or do to change his ways. I think knowing that is what hurt me the most. I gave my father the choice between the bottle or me; and he chose the bottle.

Even after this night, I devoted my life to figuring out my dad. I went on to finish my bachelor’s degree in 3 years rather than 4. I am now continuing my education as a double major in community college for biotechnology and chemistry. With these degrees I hope to work in the neuroscience field to understand the chemistry behind addiction. I feel that addiction is understudied and not viewed as an illness, but rather a choice.

In today’s world, everyone out there knows someone who has become a victim of addiction- that speaks volumes. Anyone you walk up will likely have a story about a loss or fight that was a result of addiction. The media portrays addiction as a shameful thing. Someone that is a lost cause. However, I think that if instead of shaming, we researched and uplifted these individuals to see a better future for themselves- prove to them that they are not alone in this lifelong battle- we could all make a difference.

I lost my father to a drink- and I am not an anomaly in this world. Millions of people lose their loved ones to addiction every single day- whether it be physically or mentally, they are gone. I understand now why my mom told me, “it can ruin your life, be careful”, but because of the trauma I went through, and those words she said to me a million times over, I went into a career where I can say, “it did ruin your life in that moment, but together we are going to work to fix it”.