Addiction: The elephant in the room
My dad was an alcoholic, I knew that from a very early age. My mom had sat me down and told me this but I’m not sure I fully understood really. I definitely did understand that people looked at my dad in a funny way when he would drop me at the school gates and the hot feeling of embarrassment day after day.
Or when you’re out as a teenager with your boyfriend and you see your dad swigging White Lightning in the middle of the street, staggering about, and the shame of explaining that that’s why he’s never met your dad.
Shame was a word I would definitely use to describe having an alcoholic in the family, but it’s more than that – it’s a secret shame. Everyone knows that there’s an alcoholic but no one mentions it. It’s the biggest elephant in the room, but it’s not discussed. Tolerated, but not discussed.
We couldn’t discuss it
Dad’s drinking cost us such a lot, so much so we ended up briefly homeless when I was about 11. Those were tough times. My dad’s alcoholism seemed to tear through our family. It cut me and my mom off from other family members too ashamed to associate with us. It lost us possessions and money, caused endless fights and arguments, but that’s just the way it was apparently. All this hurt and upheaval, and we couldn’t discuss it really. Only me and mom could.
Three times my dad went to rehab and three times he went back to drinking, each one a bitter disappointment to me and mom, hopes pinned high on this being ‘the one where he finally did it’. I saw him collapse at home when he was sober from rehab and fit. He hit his head in the kitchen: I was the only one there – mom was working. My brother and I called the ambulance – it was terrifying. His body couldn’t stand the withdrawal – he had been drinking so long his body couldn’t actually cope without alcohol.
I wish I had known about charities and organisations
As an adult I now understand the psychology of addiction and can appreciate and empathise with the reasons people turn to alcohol, but as a child all you have is confusion and fear. Confusion that your caregiver isn’t the safe person you expect them to be, and fear because they’re unpredictable and scary and you aren’t sure what is going to happen.
As a teenager you understand more of what is going on but actually, with all the changes adolescence brings all you really have is a whole lot of anger which you direct at the alcoholic person to try to deal with the hurt.
I sadly lost my dad when I was aged 21. I dearly wish that I could have had more knowledge about addiction and been able to help him more. I wish I had known about charities and organisations that can offer support to those with addiction and their families like I do now. But deep down I know that for a majority of my dad’s condition I was a child or young person. I know now that it’s incredibly hard and also inappropriate for someone of that age to carry the burden alone of helping an adult to overcome addiction.
I love my dad and I always will. He had many wonderful qualities, he was incredibly clever, he was gentle and he was so talented at many creative pursuits like woodwork, baking and writing. He loved music, animals and nature and he had a thirst for knowledge which he instilled in me too.
He loved music, animals and nature
I saw these beautiful qualities in the fleeting times he was sober but sadly, his addiction meant these admirable qualities got pushed aside and an obnoxious joker with a vicious tongue took the place of my gentle dad.
Addiction should not be a secret, in my experience, almost everyone with an addiction has underlying mental health issues or trauma and they need help. Please speak out to someone you trust if you are worried about addiction with someone you love or yourself. Everyone deserves the chance to break free from addiction and live their best life.