My name is Suzannah and I’m the adult child of an alcoholic. My dad died from alcohol related illness and complications, alone in hospital, when I was 26. He was just 50 years old.
I was born in 1973 and can only remember snippets of my sober dad. That man feels like a stranger to me now, which makes me feel sad.
What I CAN remember about my sober dad is that he was quiet and hardworking. He loved crossword puzzles and growing vegetables. He was funny too, and liked to make people laugh.
When he drank, he changed. I remember my mum describing him as a Jekyll and Hyde character; I’d say that was accurate.
Alcoholics are very good at hiding their illness and for most of my childhood he was a functioning alcoholic. He worked hard in his day job (although I do remember my mum phoning in sick for him a few times, because he was too hungover to go in) and he also did gardening jobs for older people around the village we lived in. He went to the pub for ‘one or two’ pints most evenings.
Everyone else saw my dad as the joker; the guy always up for a laugh. The man who deserved to drink his beer. He worked hard and had 4 children to support.
But I saw a different character.
I saw the monster.
He often became angry and aggressive when he drank and would suddenly become very animated, almost like a thunderbolt of anger hit him, which made him immediately react. He’d jump up and start ranting about something or other.
He’d like to hold a ‘weapon’ which usually came in the form of a pick axe handle. There were lots of holes in our walls where he’d punched though in a fit of anger.
I found it hard to be a child in this environment and I’d often take over the role of being a mini mum to my younger siblings, especially when we were left at home alone because both mum and dad had gone to the pub.
Mum found it hard to keep encouraging him not to drink and I think that life felt more exciting for them both when they drank.
They had me when they were quite young, so found the pub an escape from the mundane of parenting, bills and other responsibilities. They turned into party people and would invite people (often strangers) back to our home when the pubs closed. I remember not being able to sleep because of the thumping noise of music. I’d put my hands over my ears and just lay in bed crying because I was so tired.
Unsurprisingly, we didn’t have much money because booze is expensive. Dad used to break into the electric meters to get money out for food and more alcohol.
He scared me. I’d seen horror films from a young age and had watched The Shining. My dad chased after me in a nightmare one night, and he was Jack Nicholson’s character in the snowy maze. I woke up in a cold sweat, terrified.
It feels weird saying it now because he’s my dad and he’s dead, but I did actually feel like I hated him at the time, especially as I started becoming more aware of his drinking. I wanted my mum to leave him. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t stop, for us. As an adult, I understand why he drank and forgive him. I miss not having a dad to share my adult life with.
Needless to say the impact on my brothers and I has been huge. I think we’ve all used alcohol as an emotional crutch at times.
I’ve struggled with my feelings about my childhood and still do. The pain never goes away but as I’m growing older and learning more about self-development; I feel more aware of my impact in the world and I want to be able to help children who live with an alcoholic parent understand that they too are important. They are valued and they have a voice.
I’ve gone on to marry and have my own children. I’ve started my own business and live a happy life by the sea.
For the most part, I manage my anxiety pretty well but I do need to keep my mental health in check; the residue from a difficult childhood is still present, but I see it as a strength, not a weakness.