When I was little, I lived in a big house on top of a hill with my mum, dad, big brother and two cats. There were woods and fields nearby where we had lots of fun and a big hill for tobogganing in winter.
There were lots of happy times, parties and family gatherings. We had lots of nice things. My parents argued a lot. I felt scared and would hide in my room. At least I had the cats to talk to.
I loved animals and spent lots of time in the garden collecting snails. At school, my favourite subjects were English, art and drama. I liked writing stories and poems. I didn’t really like sport. I enjoyed school but I remember feeling different from other children there. I often felt embarrassed. Sometimes I hid things or told lies.
When I was 10 my parents separated. This meant we all had to move house. It was difficult to know what you were allowed to tell other people. I remember one day my friend’s mum drove me home and saw the sold sign outside our house. She asked if we were moving. I knew we were but didn’t know what to say, so I just said ‘I don’t know’.
Me, my mum and my brother went to live in a much smaller house. Moving to a new house was like an adventure. My dad went to live in a flat in a different town. I used to go visit at the weekend. He was often late coming to pick me up so I would have to wait around and mum would get cross. His flat stunk of cigarette smoke and he wasn’t very good at cooking. He lived near a big shopping centre, we often went there together and ate at restaurants, which was fun.
I think around this time I was told my dad was an alcoholic. But since I don’t really remember seeing him drunk and everyone else drank too, it didn’t really mean much to me. Besides my mum said lots of horrible things about my dad anyway.
My mum cried a lot. She would drink lots of red wine to feel better, but this just made her cry more. She would talk to me about things I didn’t understand, I just smiled and nodded at the times I felt like I should, and when it seemed required I would give her a hug. My brother would go out a lot. I think he didn’t want to have to listen to mum.
It was some years later when I made the connection between my dad’s ‘glassy eyes’ and funny smell and alcohol. One day I found an empty bottle of vodka in the glovebox of his car. This was confusing, as I had only ever seen him drink wine or beer. Of course I didn’t tell anyone about the bottle, just kept it to myself as with everything else.
My mum continued to cry and shout. We used to argue at lot. Her rules didn’t seem to make any sense. It seemed like I was permanently being grounded.
As I got older, my dad was always happy to collect me and my friends and give us lifts home late at night. This was great, then one day my dad gave me a lift after I had been drinking in the park with my friends. Whilst in the car on the way home, dad and I were chatting away in French (I don’t think I could actually even speak much French) it dawned on me that my dad was drunk too! After this I generally arranged to sleepover at friend’s houses rather than get picked up.
It wasn’t until I was 18 that I realised it was OK to talk to friends about important things. I discovered that some of them had grown up with parents similar to mine. I started to experience feelings and get to know what I liked and didn’t like.
I am incredibly lucky. Both my parents have stopped drinking. It’s not always perfect but we are able to be much more open with each other, and I can talk to them about problems I have. Now I know I am an ok person, I am loved and am able to show love to others. Most of the time I can understand how I am feeling and can communicate with people. Sometimes I slip back into feeling numb or being unable to tell the truth. But most of the time, I like who I am and am proud of my family.