In 2017 we lost our Dad to decompensated liver failure and multiple organ failure as a result of excessive drinking, a fancy term that was listed on his death certificate for Alcoholism. I hate that term “Alcoholism”. Perhaps it’s because of the stigma associated with it, or the lack of understanding from society. Perhaps it’s because of all the “he did it to himself” comments. Perhaps it’s because I have had to justify that addiction and alcoholism is a genuine illness and if you dig a little deeper there is usually a reason a person resorts to drinking themselves into oblivion. My Dad would tell me that he drank to forget. He drank to numb the overwhelming anxiety, PTSD and depression. He drank to numb those feelings. He drank because society taught him that it was weak to discuss your mental health. He drank because of the stigma associated with mental health. He died from a mental illness and alcoholism was a consequence of that. The worst thing about all of this is that no one outside his immediate family would have known just how bad he was, because he put on such a spectacular façade. You really do not know what goes on behind closed doors!
That stigma also played havoc on my grieving process, as I always felt as though I had to defend him from the stereotype and explain to people that it was absolutely no different to someone smoking, overeating, or eating the wrong foods. Our actions have consequences, sadly alcohol changes the chemistry in our brain and causes us to act out of character.
Our Dad was an amazing man, he was our hero and our life mentor. We were close despite the drinking. I never ever doubted the love he had for his family because he would tell us every day that he loved us. He was the most sensitive and emotional man I have ever known, the kind of person you would catch welling up at the news or being overwhelmed with love and pride for his daughters and Grand Daughters. In fact, I said in his eulogy at his funeral that “having a soft heart in a cruel world is a courage not a weakness”. Why am I telling you this? Because of the stigma attached to an alcoholic, and there is an unfair stereotype placed upon addiction. The lack of understanding and support for this type of illness is unfair, especially considering alcohol is so widely accessible and accepted. Cigarettes rightly so are covered by a screen with scare mongering images of burnt out lungs. Whilst alcohol is advertised and promoted. Did you know alcohol is one of a few substances that your body becomes physically dependant on? That means if your body is dependent on alcohol, and you stop drinking abruptly it will kill you. The surgeon who tried tirelessly to save my Dad in intensive care described alcohol as a toxic poison that is killing people daily. Yet we accept it and stigmatise those who abuse its euphoric side effects.
A death from mental illness is always more complicated in my opinion. I am not undermining other deaths, but there is an overwhelming amount of guilt that is placed upon the loved ones. I would often be comforted by words of reassurance that all death leaves behind a sense of guilt, and I am not denying that it does not. But there was genuinely a feeling of guilt that was placed upon my shoulders. Why didn’t I get him to hospital sooner? Why didn’t I do more to help? I should have forced him to get help. But the reality is when you’ve been in that situation countless amounts of times you just assume that everything will be fine. He will sleep it off, he will be fine in the morning. Well he wasn’t and it took just 30 hours upon admission to hospital for us to be switching off his ventilator.
So, what have I taken from this trauma other than my own anxiety and PTSD? I have changed for the better! I was determined for something positive to come from his death. I made a conscious effort to think deeper and become more open minded. I’ve become spiritual. I forgive and forget easily. I am more conscious of mental health and discuss it more openly. I co-founded WarriorKind® on these principles that I learnt from my Dads death. I created WarriorKind to ensure that people (Warriors) have a safe space to discuss their mental health and to empower and inspire one another with their achievements and success stories. Even in death my Dad has continued to inspire me. I hope one day the stigma associated with mental health will dissipate and that we can feel confident to discuss it openly without fear of being judged or stigmatised. I have anxiety, OCD and PTSD, but I am a strong minded, independent & determined woman and my mental illness will never define me, it will only empower me. I will continue to advocate the importance of speaking openly and inspiring others to do the same.
I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it feels to know that my Dad’s death has created a legacy that is WarriorKind® which is helping people daily accept and embrace their mental health. I am truly inspired by all the experiences shared, and you will all play a part in motivating us to contribute more towards providing accessible support for our Warriors and advocating the importance of normalising healthy conversations around mental health.
Peace and love to you all
Sarah Drage Co-Founder & Director of WarriorKind®