Attempting to heal my inner child as the daughter of an alcoholic
I don’t ever recall a time that my dad didn’t drink and I didn’t fear him. But he can’t have always been the man he became otherwise my mum would never have married him, can he?
I always remember having a sense of fear around my dad. He wasn’t the one of those kind jolly dads who would make you feel warm and loved. He ruled the house with terror. He was Irish and angry. No matter what we did as children we could never please him, our best was never enough.
The domestic violence happened at home, behind closed doors where no one could see. Generally after he had been drinking, an argument would ensue and we could hear from our room my mum being hit. Sometimes we would go and sit on the stairs and wait for it to finish, paralysed by fear.
Behind closed doors
It was something that was never spoken about outside of the home, and we were not encouraged to speak about it. So I held onto this secret and it tore me up inside. If we were out at an event and my dad would drink to excess, he’d become louder and more belligerent and I would see people staring at him and then at us. I always thought they blamed me, as my dad used to say we drove him to drink. It is only many years later that I look back and realise their looks were of sympathy and not of malice.
His mood could turn on a sixpence and we never knew how he would be when he came home from the pub, but one thing we always knew for certain was that he would play his records at full volume and shout obscenities up the stairs. He had no regard for the fact we were asleep and he had no care for who he upset.
My dad was a great cook and his love of cooking made mealtimes uncomfortable. You were not allowed to criticise or complain about a meal or leave behind any food on your plate. Still to this day am I unable to leave food on my plate.
I have a distinct memory of one particular Christmas: all of us sat down for dinner, my mum complaining that the turkey was dry and my dad, in a drunken rage flipping the table and screaming at my mum. Leaving me, all decked out in my new Christmas Day outfit, with four turkey dinners on my lap. We lived in fear for the rest of that Christmas, desperate to keep the peace and avoid upsetting him again.
I always thought they blamed me
My mum and dad would go for months without speaking. You picked your side and you stuck with it. It is only now I realise how cruel it was to do that to a child, the love and nurture that I should have experienced was kept from me. This has left an impact on the relationships I’ve had in later life.
Holidays were bad enough in the UK when we would be dragged to pubs to sit there and watch him drink. I recall on one holiday in Wales the humiliation of him in the restaurant, falling over and being rude to waiters, people looking over and staring. Just sitting there and wanting the ground to open up and take me away. It got worse when we started going abroad. We went to Malta one year and somehow a boarding pass was lost.
My dad started shouting profanities at the young woman at the gate when she said we couldn’t all board the plane, and the next thing we were surrounded by the Maltese police with their guns out. I was twelve. I wanted to die.
‘Don’t forget to go to mass‘.
Holidays went from bad to worse, my dad constantly drinking, the domestic violence towards not only my mum but to my sister and me, didn’t let up. If he was angered, he would lash out for no reason, he’d find any excuse. By the time I was 14 he had taken voluntary redundancy so money was no object and he could now drink full time in fact he made a career out of it.
On one memorable holiday, he was drinking a bottle of vodka a day. He ended up violently ill and was rushed in to hospital the day after we landed in an ambulance. It was touch and go. My mum shouted at 7.30am on the Sunday morning whilst getting into the ambulance with him, ‘Don’t forget to go to mass‘. My mum was a devout catholic and how she held onto her faith after all she went through is anyone’s guess. I went to mass that morning and I am not proud to say it, but I prayed that my dad died.
He didn’t die. Although he had a slow recovery he was diagnosed with pancreatitis and he became a bitter, nastier man. For a short while the drinking stopped life carried on but it wasn’t a happy household. It started with the odd half, the odd pint, then snowballed and the drinking started again.
I moved away from home when I was 18 and went to live in Jersey to get away. I was heartbroken to leave my mum but I had to escape for my own sanity.
We weren’t alone having to deal with him.
When I was twenty my beloved mum was diagnosed with leukaemia and I came home to live, she was only in hospital for about eight weeks until she passed away. It will forever be one of the most difficult things in my life I have ever had to go through and to this day I am not over it, but the reason being was my dad. He didn’t take the news well like any husband, but instead of pulling together as a family his drinking got worse again, he would turn up at the hospital drunk.
He would act so selfishly, he would lash out. When the end came for my mum my dad didn’t tell us she wasn’t going to make it, a nurse did. My sister and I weren’t allowed in the room with my mum when she passed away. He didn’t want us there. We were never asked what we wanted, the run up to the funeral was hard but we had family come over from Ireland, we felt supported. We weren’t alone having to deal with him. But eventually everyone leaves and has to go home back to their lives. And I had to go home to him.
He showed us no pity, comfort or warmth.
Two weeks after my mum’s death my dad threw my sister and I out, he came home drunk one evening, and started carrying on like he had done when we were children. But this time my mum wasn’t there to protect us. I told him a lot of home truths that night, things he obviously wasn’t prepared to hear. He told me I was the cause of my mum’s death, that it was because she pined for me after I left home. He threw us out of the house the next day.
My uncle attempted to reason with him, tried to make him see that we had lost our mother. But he showed us no pity, comfort or warmth. His answer was that he had lost his wife and our loss what not the same.
I still felt like a child every time I visited him
I didn’t speak to my dad for many years after that. We would go through an okay patch and then his drinking would interfere and he would upset me or disappoint me again. So to say my relationship with my father was tumultuous would-be fair comment. He got ill again when he was sixty-five, he so nearly died, but this time, I didn’t pray for him to die. I prayed for him to survive.
By this point I was married and had a daughter and strangely enough my toxic dad, was a devoted grandad to her. He was in hospital for six weeks and came out being told never to drink again. Over the next ten years he saw my daughter grow up, of course he started drinking once more, and I would like to say he mellowed but I would be lying. I still felt like a child every time I visited him, just a look or a comment from him could put me back thirty years, back to living in fear of him. Yet, he managed to show my daughter the love he could never show me, and she idolised him.
He was seventy-five when he passed away. Sadly, I found him. It became a joke that he was a creaking gate and he would outlive us all. He was a medical mystery. But the pancreatitis came back, coupled with a massive heart attack. They told me it was like a light switch being turned off, but that didn’t make the grief or pain any less.
My inner child still feels as though it was my fault.
I was a shy, nervous child and now I’m an anxious extrovert. A people pleaser who constantly worries about how other people perceive her. Worrying about what people think about me, my appearance, my home, my job, the list of my anxieties is endless. I strive for perfection. All my life I have never felt good enough. All because my dad chose drink over me, time and time and time again. To this day, I still live with the shame of my dad’s alcoholism, I feel as though I will be judged even though I would never judge someone in my position.
My inner child still feels as though it was my fault. It was my fault that he could never stop drinking. It was my fault that I wasn’t never enough to get him to stop.
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