There is nothing functional about functional alcoholism
Functioning alcoholic. I’ve always thought that was a strange term. If someone you love is an alcoholic, there isn’t much functional about your life or theirs.
My mum is an alcoholic, although she much prefers to use the term ‘binge drinker’, because she goes to work and doesn’t drink every day. In her mind, there is no way she is actually an alcoholic.
For as long as I can remember, mum would be sober maybe five days out of seven. She works in a school and is loved by students and staff alike, a perfectly normal mum to the outside world. She is my best friend. I call her every day, she walked me down to the aisle and when she is away from alcohol, I think my mum is a truly beautiful person who I am privileged to have. Then one evening she picks up a box of wine on the way home. Mum will then drink non-stop through the night and entire following day.
I think my mum is a truly beautiful person
During this time, she will lay in her bed, smoking, shouting, starting arguments and ordering alcohol to the front door via anyway she can find. I told nobody as a child. I was paralysed with fear that not only would mum get into trouble, but that people would think I was the weird one with the alcoholic parent. I was even too embarrassed to tell any other family members, including my dad. It’s only recently that I am realising how important it is to confront these problems head on.
The severity has gone in waves over the years, but my life has never felt functional. As a child I remember the days of staying home from school in fear of her taking an overdose of paracetamol or simply not looking after my younger sister. I’d have sleepovers but have that gut wrenching dread of her drinking and having to usher my friends out the house in the morning before they smelt the cigarette smoke wafting from her bedroom. Mum hated herself so much that when she drank, she would push everyone away. An argument would start out of nothing, and the day would be spent shouting, crying, having bottles thrown around and abusive texts being sent. She would leave mess and chaos wherever she went and made the house feel like a prison. Even on the days where she was sober, it was always in my mind when she would drink next. We would have fun plans for the weekend, but I spent the week afraid to be excited only to wake up that morning and see she had decided to drink instead of spend time with me.
I feel imprisoned by her drinking.
Even now I have moved out, I feel imprisoned by her drinking. My sister is still a teenager and so when mum drinks, I normally drop any plans and have her at my house. The abusive text messages are only worse now. Plans and special occasions are still ruined – including days like Christmas Eve, the days leading up to the birth of my son and the night before my graduation. Even in situations without her, I can’t hide from it. I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with social situations centred around alcohol, and it meant I struggled to enjoy my university experience. No matter how much I stay away from alcohol personally and thrive as an adult, her alcoholism still means my life is dysfunctional.
The days after drinking are even harder
Sometimes, the days after drinking are even harder to deal with than the drinking sessions themselves. She refuses to accept the impact of her drinking on those around her and we are made to feel as if our emotions aren’t important or recognised. Instead, we are met with accusations of not supporting her recovery, being the stress behind her drinking, or being nasty to her when she drinks. The time between drinking sessions is usually spent repairing the relationship that was broken down and trying to accept that she will never understand how upsetting and anxiety inducing her drinking is. Not to mention watching her physical health deteriorate as a result of years of abuse.
If I were to give a full insight into my experiences, I’d need to write much more than one blog post! Living with an alcoholic parent is all consuming and life altering. It leaks into every single part of your existence, and you cannot escape it just because for now, your parent is sober. The dark cloud of alcoholism will always be there, influencing every choice you make. Making you feel guilty for being away from them but repulsed at the thought of seeing them. The next time you use the term functional alcoholic, I implore you to consider how you might be undermining and minimising the experience of those who have to live with alcoholism.