The forgotten impact of parental alcoholism
I was six years old when my dad crept into my room and kissed me on the forehead whilst he thought I was sleeping. I’d been listening to him and my mum arguing for hours, but I held my eyes shut and slowed my breath when he came in so that I didn’t have to see him. Perhaps part of me knew he was leaving, and I didn’t want to face him.
When I came down the stairs in the morning, my mum was highly emotional. She was putting the bowls down onto the table heavily, banging the cupboard doors shut. Getting us ready and taking us to school. She didn’t tell us that dad wasn’t coming home at that point.
My mum is beautiful, gracious, and highly intelligent. She was a full scholar at Cambridge and was always reading.
I loved listening to her say the answers to TV programme quizzes – I was always amazed that she knew so much. She met my dad when she moved to Bristol to live with her brother. She got a job temping at my dad’s courier company, and the rest as they say, is history.
Two highly enigmatic people
My dad is hugely charming – his charisma could disarm almost anyone. It’s like a loaded shotgun – there’s no hiding from it.
His ability to bring a room to life has been something I’ve always admired. It’s not the truth though – inside, he’s hurting like everyone else. His charm is a mask he wears so that nobody sees him.
I don’t have any memories of my dad not drinking. Even that night he came in to kiss me on the forehead, I remember the subtle hum of whiskey on his breath.
Two highly enigmatic people in a romantic relationship, trying to find an equilibrium is always a challenge. My parents’ personalities were, and still are, very different. My mum is caring, she adored us – she is kind to her core.
She loves community and the people around her – she is passionate about society and all the challenges people face. She inspires me every day.
My father doesn’t love much – I’m not sure he loves himself enough to love the people around him. He has seven children and doesn’t see any of them regularly. Nor has he remembered my birthday for years.
He’s been married three times. I don’t think he loves himself enough to love someone else properly. His drinking has continued to escalate throughout his life. He now lives in South Africa and dropped me a WhatsApp message to let me know he was leaving the country.
Scared people would know
My mum always drank socially, and it wasn’t until my dad left the family home that her drinking started to escalate. One of my earliest memories is my mum driving me to a friend’s birthday party. We hadn’t got a present for her, and so we stopped in the Co Operative down the road to buy crayons and wrapping paper.
The shop manager stopped my mum and me. He kneeled down next to me and said that he was going to call someone to make sure mummy couldn’t drive us anywhere. My mum was so drunk a shop manager had noticed.
I can remember standing in the shop and being so scared. Scared people would know, scared we would get taken away. I loved my mum and I wanted to be with her. I wanted to make her happy so that she would stop hurting herself. Her drinking got progressively worse over time. We weren’t collected from school, our clothes weren’t clean, and we rarely had any food in the house.
Once, my mum disappeared for a couple of days leaving me and my sister in the house alone. The only food I could find were jelly cubes in the cupboard. I knew I had to pour boiling water over them, but I didn’t know that glass would explode.
I poured the boiling water over the jelly cubes in the glass bowl, which cracked and broke. The boiling water poured down my leg, leaving me with a blistering burn.
My little sister took me upstairs into a cold bath. We were so scared that mum would be in trouble for leaving us, that we didn’t tell anyone. I sat in the cold bath in agony waiting for mum to come home.
I wanted to make her happy
Financially our father had always done well, and he came from a wealthy family. He did send a good amount of maintenance to support us through school. But Mum stopped paying our school fees and we were sent to a local comprehensive school instead. She also fell behind with the mortgage payments, meaning our family home was eventually sold.
Mum’s drinking eventually meant she was admitted to rehab. My mum’s best friend, who helped to get her admitted, said that when she found my mum that day, she had bleeding gums and a cracked head where she had fallen over. She had also fallen in the bath and broken her arm. She would have died if Pip hadn’t helped her and got her into rehab that day.
We went to live with my dad and his new wife. She was awful to us and resented us being there terribly. We were desperately unhappy and just wanted to be back with mum. Mum eventually came out of treatment. We were sent back to live with her. Sadly, her sobriety has never been sustainable, and she has been in and out of treatment for the whole of my adult life.
Some people will judge this
I try to support her from a distance, without jeopardising myself or my own well-being, but this is very hard to do. At the moment we have no contact, and I’m feeling good about it.
I have no contact with my father either. Some people will judge this, but I believe all relationships you have should lift you. As children, we carry the weight of our parents because we have no choice. They are all we have. What we can’t do, is carry them for the rest of our lives.
When I reflect on what alcohol has cost me – it’s overwhelming. There are material things, like an education, a family home, stability. The biggest things are emotional things – a parent there on parents evening, someone waiting to pick you up from school.
Someone to encourage you to do your homework, to explore, to learn. Someone to make you feel safe.
Alcoholism has also cost me things such as confidence, self-esteem, the ability to see my own potential. I still have moments of feeling completely out of my depth, and like people can see through the mask I wear, and the scared child is exposed.
I don’t want to be embarrassed about my upbringing
The true impact of my parent’s alcoholism will never be known to me. But I’m incredibly proud of myself for reaching out to people, getting support, and beginning to be open about my experiences with addiction.
The shame that children feel growing up continues into adult life, and I refuse to let that be the case for me. I don’t want to be embarrassed to the core about my upbringing. It is not something that I need to carry. And I’m making changes to feel more comfortable with sharing my story.
Sometimes I let my mind drift to what my life may have been if I’d had a less unstable upbringing. I have a busy, overactive brain and love studying. I’m finally embarking on a psychology degree, and I hope to be able to support people overcoming childhood trauma in the future.
For more experience stories, go to Support & Advice.
This piece was published during Addiction Awareness Week – Taking Action on Addiction.