It is interesting to think back at it all now as an adult child of an alcoholic and someone that has come out the other side and let me reassure you that there is another side.
The main things I can remember about my dad’s drinking was that I was probably around 8 years old and I began to understand that dad didn’t really play a big part in our lives, when I say “our lives” I mean my mum and my older sister’s life. My younger sister came along 9 years later so she had a very different view of my dad and ultimately a different life.
My older sister and I would help my mum around the house a lot, mum had 2 or 3 jobs plus being a mum to my sister and I. At the time I just remember feeling angry because I didn’t want to be responsible and I didn’t want to have to do chores, I wanted to be out with my friends and have fun. The jobs and helping out just seemed to be all the time, or at least that is how I remember it, but my mum needed our help because dad wasn’t around much. The positive I can take from it all is that I learnt a lot of valuable skills that have helped me in my life now.
Living in an alcoholic home is what was normal to me, I didn’t know any different. My dad had ups and downs and sometimes he managed to kick the habit without any help from Alcoholics Anonymous or the doctor. The other times he didn’t do so well, he would spend a lot of his time sat in his car in the driveway, listening to the radio and drinking. I found it so embarrassing and people would ask what he was doing, my friends that lived nearby would say “why does your dad always sit in his car”, and as a child that was humiliating but I kept his secret and never said anything about the drinking. It is interesting how you learn to be creative with the truth, you have to learn to keep it a secret and to not tell other people because ultimately we were afraid.
My dad was aggressive when he drank, he would chase us around the kitchen table and we used to stand in a certain place so we kept enough distance between us and him. We weren’t always quick enough and he would hit us round the head or legs. Dad would always get really angry and then calm down and talk and then get angry again. His behaviour was so unpredictable you never knew what mood he would be in or how he was going to react. This in turn had a negative impact on me growing up because I became quite anxious, but I didn’t know that was what it was. I have to admit it wasn’t until a few years ago I realised I had anxiety, obviously I knew a little bit about how I felt but I didn’t label it.
The household was like dad at times, like Jekyll and Hyde, one minute he was really nice and the next minute not so much. The house could be like that too but of course that was connected to his mood a lot of the time. As an adult child of an alcoholic I can reflect back now and see the damage that was done but I am not totally convinced I appreciate just how much and how bad it was.
I don’t know why my dad started the drinking and I will never know now because sadly he passed away 2 months to the day before my 21st birthday, my younger sister was 11 years old. Dad was riddled with alcoholism and his body just couldn’t survive it anymore. He had been sectioned a few times and I remember him experiencing quite bad hallucinations, I remember him not recognising his own children (my older sister and I) when we were leaving the house to go and stay with my grandparents, I was so scared.
My dad was also quite abusive and he would touch our bodies, he once locked the lounge door and made us watch a pornographic movie and other times he would say he wanted to check on our development and make us take our clothes off. It sounds awful now as I write this but that is the reality of it, it may be hard to hear for some because it may sound horrific and disturbing but to me I don’t know any different. As an adult I can absolutely see that it was completely inappropriate but I am not sure I totally see the scale of it.
We did have the social services involved at various times but as is quite normal in an alcoholic home you don’t discuss anything, so we kept his secret and the drinking continued and we continued to live in fear of him. Unfortunately the damage of alcoholism is wide spread, it affects the money in the family – a lot of the time my dad would spend the mortgage money on drink and so that put a massive pressure on my mum to find it in time for the bank to make their withdrawal. It affects the atmosphere, it affects the relationships, the trust and so much more.
Now I am older I have learnt more about alcoholism and I decided to attend a local Al-Anon meeting a few years ago and I have to say it changed my life. I felt like a fraud attending because I was no longer living with an alcoholic and surely I shouldn’t go because that was for people that are in that situation now. I experienced this years and years ago so I felt attending so many years later was a bit of a waste of time, how wrong I was. I felt so accepted when I went there and this was the turning point in my life, I felt totally understood and I felt like there were others like me, that I am “not mad”. The relief I felt was immense and something I am forever grateful for.
My biggest learning from this experience has been that alcoholism affects not just the drinker but everyone they are connected to, particularly the immediate family. In order for us as a family to cope with the situation we had to develop our own coping strategies. I learnt to be on hyper alert so I could prepare for the unknown, I became obsessed with being in control of everything so it would limit damage and reduce problems, I did spend a lot of time on my own, I wanted to fix the problems, I blamed myself and I learnt I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions.
I was very good at getting angry and being brutally honest but as an adult I have learnt that isn’t the way and that I need to address this. It is still something I find very hard to do because it makes me vulnerable and it isn’t natural to me to do but with years of therapy and support things have turned around and I am able to say when I feel hurt or upset rather than just tell someone they annoyed me and not how it made me feel. It is tough because in my mind I felt it made me weak and that wasn’t something I could afford to be in an alcoholic home if I wanted to survive.
I was a scared child with no voice, no one listened to me. I had to do as I was told and I had no one to help me, to explain what was going on, to really understand where I was coming from.
I spoke to someone recently and she said “of all the people I treat, people that are children of alcoholics or had some connection to alcoholism are the most damaged”. I had to learn ways to cope and as a child they were perfect or at least helped me at the time, but as an adult they no longer serve me in a positive way so I have had to and continue to learn how to find new ways of being.
There is hope, but it is a long journey and one that can’t be rushed.