You have to love yourself first
It’s hard to know where to start my story. I am a child of not one, but two alcoholic parents. Growing up, both of my parents were high functioning alcoholics. They both worked 9 to 5 and raised my brother and I. We didn’t want for anything, and on the outside we were the picture perfect 2.4 family.
My mum: a kind, funny, generous, introverted and smart woman clearly wore her addiction from about 7pm onwards – she was never one to handle her drink. I knew whatever was in a glass bottle turned her most nights, but my Dad who did the very same could converse and keep it relatively together. My dad: confident, an extrovert, fun and ‘loopy’ (as he’s known in the family) could drink, and drink….and drink and he’d be still pretty with it. Aside from the glazed eyes, red wine lips and matching red wine complexion.
As I grew up, our attentions focussed on Mums’ drinking because from the outside it looked ‘out of control’, when in reality my Dad’s addiction was no different. The harsh reality was that they were both suffering together because they allowed one another’s behaviour to continue and could hide by blaming whoever was worse of the two.
My brother and I have seen it all – countless vicious arguments, several trips to A&E, the flat-out denial they have a problem and the failed AA attempts.
All my life I’ve been preparing myself for the worst because when you live in chaos and you see the mental and physical damage being done…you aren’t hopeful for the future.
The day came my Mum called me to tell me she had breast cancer. In my mind’s eye, this was all to do with alcohol. Naturally my Mum didn’t cope with her diagnosis well and drank her way through it. Dad I don’t think knew how to step up in that moment. He had recently lost his brother to cancer and he wasn’t present by any means. I can’t explain the exhaustion I experienced at that time. Being the over-responsible ‘little grown up’ who tries to fix everything throughout my whole life sure wears thin!
In July of 2020, 6 weeks prior to my wedding day, my Dad suffered from a Delirium Tremens seizure. Another call – this time from my Brother to tell me that Dad had collapsed. We both knew something wasn’t right as he was acting very odd prior to the seizure; hallucinating, acting remorsefully and talking almost as if he knew his time was up. In hindsight I wish we had clocked the symptoms sooner.
I realise I’m talking a lot about my parents so I want to take a moment to pause to say, there is no two ways about it – I am deeply effected by my parents drinking and that’s hard to admit.
I do have a tough time ‘having fun’ and drinking. If I see a friend or loved one drunk, I’m usually quite triggered by it and have to stay sober to ensure I’m there for them. Then sometimes…I’m totally fine and have no issues and love an espresso martini or two. I have no doubt that I constantly seek approval and affirmation as a I am a huge people pleaser – I’ve had to put the needs of others (i.e. my parents) before my own. That’s translated into a lot of relationships I have in my life.
I cannot deal with being lied to (“I’ll stop drinking I promise?” -Ring a bell?) and I am definitely a control freak (“I’ll get it done I promise”…never happened did it?).
However in spite of all of that, I am loyal, I am kind, I am empathetic and strong. I like to think of myself like Persil: Small but Mighty. I’ve been to Al-Anon and had therapy. I don’t think I’m the finished article by any means and I’m keen to see a psychologist as I believe it’s so important to truly know yourself, and why you may react in certain ways to situations or what your triggers are etc. One of the key pieces of advice I was given that hit me like a tonne of bricks was “You cannot save your parents”. It’s not down to me, or to you reading this…it’s hard to hear, unbearable because we love our parents right? Love them with every fibre of your being, you will never be their saviour, that’s on them and nobody else.
It’s February 2021, both my parents are in recovery (7 months!). I always dreamed I’d have sober parents at my wedding and it came true. My mum is 4 years cancer-free and my Dad’s seizure was his rock bottom. My Mum followed suit out of sheer willpower. I do sit in this uncomfortable state that they will go back one day to drinking and that this is all a dream – maybe one day they will lapse or relapse.
At 30 years of age, I know all I can do is love and support from an arm’s length. I’m a daughter, not a carer.
Be kind to yourself. Reach out to that favourite Aunty/friend/School teacher, or whoever that trusted special person is for help. Nacoa is always there for you too. I’d have given anything to have social media/Nacoa as a kid to see that there is a family/community all here that have walked similar steps in life.
My story is hopefully one of hope. I know so many may never see their parent’s reach sobriety – but you can have hope for your future. If you are reading this, know that you are loved, but you must love yourself first.