In light of the amazing Liam Byrne’s campaign for change, and more help for children of alcoholics, I thought I’d  outlay some of my thoughts.
Firstly it was a great turn out at the all-party parliamentary group meeting on the 15th September, and great to hear some passionate input from a host of different people, personalities, and charities. I heard some quite shocking stats and evidence that I think stunned most people in the room. There was a lot of talk about trying to change the way society views alcohol, the ridiculously low pricing of some of the cheap booze, about making sure everyone is aware of how their drinking may affect their children, and about getting rid of the stigma that surrounds people’s issues with drink.
All very good and important conversations that definitely need to be had, and I was excited to be present. Despite these being conversations that have previously been going on but hardly ever heard, I do think that focusing on the adverse effects it has on children is a great way to get people who may not have listened previously to do so, and help to produce an important shift in the way society views alcohol.
However, I just want to highlight a couple of things, firstly using my experience as someone who battled the booze.
I was firstly drawn to alcohol, and anything mind altering in fact, through an almost unconscious desire to escape. I didn’t start drinking because society had made it seem normal, and somewhere along the line lose control and struggle to get it back. No, rather I used alcohol to escape, and I felt like I needed it in my life almost instantly. I drank alcohol because I was running away from the craziness of an internal world created by trauma’s I had never even spoke of, let alone face. For me it didn’t matter if alcohol was cheap or not. I was somebody that, by 17, was spending at least fifty pounds on drugs that kept me awake longer so I could drink more anyway. Cost was never an issue. I couldn’t see past myself, so I was deeply selfish and did whatever it took to make sure I had what I needed. I begged, borrowed, and stole to get what I wanted. This meant that my children lost out a lot. The point I’m trying to make is that nothing else mattered aside from escaping the nightmare of my internal world. If alcohol was more expensive, I would have begged, borrowed, and stole more. At the time, denial helped me to justify all this to myself.
I was also more aware than most, of the dangers of alcohol. I had seen what it did to my family when I was child, and I had watched it kill my dad. I had the perfect, hard-hitting, advert… But in real life. But my need to escape blew that all out of the water. My drinking was never something that got out of hand without me knowing, I was out of hand before I found alcohol. Unfortunately, for me at least, I don’t believe I could have been helped pretty soon after starting to drink. Internally the walls were up, and I was too frightened to let go of any of my protection blanket. Probably, by the time I had left school  I was destined to go on to the bitter end, or reach a point when it hurt me so bad I accepted help. Thankfully for  me, it was the latter, but I am lucky.
So am I saying there is no hope? Absolutely not. But I think we need to look to the children. I, like too many children of alcoholics never told a soul about the way I felt, and I believe that If I had of done, and it had been met with the right love and compassion, then I might not of had such a scary internal world that I so desperately sought escape from.
So why don’t children of alcoholics want to talk? Well I think the answer is simple… THEY DO! I absolutely believe that, given the right environment, and with a certain amount of trust gained, ALL children want to talk and discover what their thoughts mean.
So why didn’t I? Well, normally children go to their parents. But my dad was the alcoholic and I didn’t want to burden my mum, so the other place was school. Friends? Teachers? Well I think there were 2 main things stopping me
  1. I didn’t want to betray my family, and I was worried you would take me away.
  2. I never ever linked of the ways I felt to my dads alcoholism. I just felt BAD.
So I looked around me and did what I thought you wanted me to, and never checked in with my feelings. Despite all the people around me, I was living alone, in pain, with no idea what was wrong with me. I even knew my dad was an alcoholic, but I had no idea it had any link to how I felt.
I think there’s some pretty simple ways that this can change. First and foremost we need to make sure that every single child of an alcoholic knows that it is a thing. How do we do that? We make sure there are people going into schools, or at least make sure there are posters up in every school. I may never have found the courage to confide in a teacher, but upon reading the sentence NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLICS I would have related instantly. In today’s day and age, most children can get online somehow, and I might have visited the NACOA website and known IN AN INSTANT that I wasn’t alone. I would have found out that it’s not supposed to be like that. I would have seen that some of the internal fights I had where justified. I would have realised I wasn’t weak. I may have then built up the courage to call and talk, to start to try to regulate how I felt, knowing that it was between just me and the people at NACOA may have given me the confidence to open up. The people at NACOA understand the love and compassion I would have needed to find out who I was. I would have been handed a lifeline, a chance.
This simply requires some talks in schools, to teachers and to children, and funding to NACOA to cope with the subsequent contacts.
Children of alcoholics are NOT down and out and children who don’t have the ability to talk and help themselves . They are simply children struggling to adapt in an environment that’s not yet addressed their needs.
This isn’t a small problem. 1 in 5 children. Let’s stop this nonsense that children of alcoholics don’t speak. Walk into the NACOA call centre and you’ll see, not only that they do speak, but they that can teach us a thing or two. Let me coin a phrase from the lovely Maya and say let’s ‘educate the educator’ and create a world in which children of alcoholics have the tools to create their own destiny…. Just like every other child.
Visit liambyrne.co.uk/coa to have your say, and as always check out nacoa.org.uk