I had recently started secondary school at a local girl’s grammar in south east London and my dad had been made redundant. I think my dad had been made redundant before and so I believe this is what triggered his depression and excessive drinking, although now speaking to members of my family who have known dad since he was a young man, it is clear he has always been a heavy drinker.
I remember waking up to go to school and not knowing whether dad would be asleep drunk in the kitchen or okay in bed. This became a regular occurrence with dad staying up most nights drinking, playing loud music, doing ridiculous jobs like cutting up wood for the fire with a chain saw when he was drunk and basically keeping the family awake. One evening he was standing on the work surface changing a light bulb drunk and he fell off and cracked his head open and we had to call an ambulance. Somehow for a time he managed to hold down a job, but by the time I was about 17 he gave up working to take what was I guess, early retirement, at the age of about 56. This was a bad idea as it meant he was now at home every day and as he has few hobbies, other than drinking, he began to drink pretty- much 24 hours a day. I would wake up and find him drinking in the morning. I would open cupboards and find bottles of wine or cans of gin and tonic hidden in boots or behind things.
I grew up very quickly as dad’s alcoholism was a family secret. My mum didn’t share the problem with the wider family or her friends and my eldest brother who is 6 years my senior moved away to university at the age of 18 and stayed away for 5 years because why would he want to return to family life the way it was? My other older brother, 4 years my senior, was old enough to take himself away from the family home and spend most of his time with his friends because why would he too want to be at home? I was too young to be able to be this independent though and my mum leant on me a lot for support because no one else knew about dad’s drinking, although our wider family had their suspicions.
Looking back I think I spent my teenage years as quite an anxious youth. I was too embarrassed to bring my friends back to my house but I was lucky, I had a good circle of friends and one good friend in particular whose house I would go to sleepovers for etc. Looking back now I wish I had spoken to teachers at school or my friends and their parents as I know they would have been able to help, and it would have been therapeutic for me to have shared my worries with other people who I was confident talking to.
At 18 I wrote a letter to 2 of my aunties and told them about dad’s drinking which certainly helped as now the wider family were able to support us. I entered a relationship with someone 7 years my senior, looking for that father figure and someone to look after me because my father hadn’t been there to do that. Out of my family I think I have tried to help dad and be pro-active because I realise that he is ill, that he does not choose to be an alcoholic. I have been to AlAnon; counselling for family members of alcoholics. I have taken him to the doctors, found AA groups in the local area for him to go to, but as much as I try to help him and as frustrated as I get because he doesn’t get help, I have realised he is the only one who can choose to help himself.
I am now 30 and wow, so much has happened in my life – and most hugely positive! Don’t get me wrong, there have been times in my life where I have felt very low. Lonely, angry and depressed, frustrated that MY dad is an alcoholic. Like most people I have things about me which I don’t like.
Addictive traits I have inherited like OCD with tidiness or the amount I eat. Over reacting when changes happen that I have not expected or have no control over. Excessively self-critical. Things, since reading the effects of living with an alcoholic parent on the Nacoa website, I realise are a result of growing up with an alcoholic parent.
However, I am beginning to learn they are part of me and that there is a reason that I am the way I am and actually I am a pretty good, kind, successful person who has a lot to be proud of and who has achieved a great deal when perhaps my life could have turned out the opposite.
I am in a healthy relationship with the most amazing man, 2 years senior and I have never been happier. It took me until the end of my twenties to find myself I think, because for so long I had put others first. I was brave and bold and realised who I was, what I wanted in life and that for so long my father’s alcoholism had carved my life and determined my life choices.
Towards the end of my twenties I realised that I wasn’t happy with a lot in my life – my relationship and my job and that both these things had really happened because of my dad’s drinking. However, I also recognised that it wasn’t healthy or necessarily right to blame my unhappiness in my life on my dad and that in the end I am now an adult and am the only one in control of my life and the one who can make a change.
As well as a healthy and loving relationship and a great home, I now have a career which I love. I teach music in schools and have my own children’s yoga company. I have grown to be so driven and ambitious so that I don’t have a life full of unhappiness and anxiety that I had when I was a teenager. I have completed an Ironman 70.3 and recently the London marathon! I have a good circle of friends and although my dad is still an alcoholic, and this still does impact my life, I have accepted that this is the way it is and I have to make the most of the family relationships that I do have and that there are people who are far worse off than me. I feel lucky and thankful most days that I have been brave and learnt to make changes and look after myself so that I can be a happy person.