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!

Author's Bio: 

Dan Hays is the author of "Freedom's Just Another Word, a hopeful and inspirational memoir about his struggles to overcome the effects of growing up with a violent alcoholic. Dan also presents hopeful radio messages in his broadcasts "Minute to Freedom." On his roundtable radio show "Dialogues With Dignity," Dan discusses topics of depth and substance.