My dad was intelligent, charismatic and had piercing blue eyes that always seemed to have a twinkle in them. He was a member of the TA and a Regimental Sergeant Major in the Army Cadets. Last year I chatted to a friend who had been one of his cadets and he gleefully told me that my dad had been such a big part of his childhood. Ordinarily it would be a proud moment to hear that your parent had been such a positive influence on someone else, but for me it was very painful to hear because unfortunately for me and my brother he wasn’t a big part of ours because his alcoholism eclipsed all of this and destroyed our family. Eventually his addiction had become so bad that he couldn’t hide it and he wasn’t able to continue with the cadets and stopped working. This only made things worse for him, and us, because he had more time to drink. We would regularly find him passed out in the front garden. He would bring people back to our house that he’d only just met in the pub, which put us all in a few bad situations. One time he came home with cigarette burns all over his hands and arms. I loved my dad and the fact that someone had hurt him like this was sickening and I was so upset. The next day we found out he’d done it to himself as a bet – he wasn’t the same person when he was drunk.By the time I was 9 we’d all had enough. We’d been on our first holiday abroad to Spain and he spoilt every minute by being paralytic every night. At one point we couldn’t find him and had to go out looking for him. Obviously we found him in a pub and he was so drunk that we struggled to get him back to our hotel. He was falling over and shouting and people were coming out on to their balconies to see what the noise was. At that moment I felt so ashamed of him.
When we came back my mum asked him to move out and he did, but he didn’t make any attempt to change and instead focused his anger on wanting my mum to sell our house and give him half. If my dad had gotten his way my mum, my brother and I would have ended up destitute. I was fully aware at that time that he didn’t care where we ended up, which set my mind in motion for a life of feeling worthless.
I grew to learn to avoid going out with my dad and eventually stopped altogether. Once when I was 10 we went to Pleasure Island in Liverpool. It started on a bad note as he and his friend had already started on the whiskey before we got on the bus in the morning. In the afternoon we were waiting to go on the go carts and they wouldn’t let my dad on. I asked the bloke why and he said “I’m sorry love, but your dad is drunk”.
By the time we were waiting for the bus home in the evening he was so drunk that he completely lost the plot. I had a skipping rope and was trying to lasso it to a tree. To be honest I was pretty hyper, but who doesn’t get like that when they’re 10. This was not the way he saw it and started to accuse me of being on drugs. He made me sit down and took off my shoes and socks and kept saying “This is where they inject” whilst looking in between my toes. I didn’t know what he was talking about and was so frightened that I hit him and ran away. My auntie lived two streets away and I went there hoping she’d be in. Did my dad come running after his 10-year-old daughter who had run away in the dark? No he got on the bus and went home. When my mum confronted him he said he knew I went to my auntie’s house. Thankfully she was in, but what if she hadn’t been. This was 1992 and no one had a mobile phone – I shudder to think what might have happened to me.
When I was 15 he died when he was on holiday. At 7am in the morning his friend’s mum knocked on the door and said “Alan’s dead”. At the age of 42 he’d drank himself to death. I was so broken inside I didn’t know how to cope and so I internalised everything. This had been a trait of mine all my life, but now it was even worse. The emotional and psychological scars ran deep and my feeling of worthlessness grew as I got older. When I went back to school, no one tried to talk to me about it and my miserable existence as a student continued. I recently looked back on my school reports and the dominating phrase is ‘Claire does not work to her full potential’ Now as an adult I realise that that’s because no one really tried to help me reach that potential.
On the outside I smiled and giggled but on the inside I was full of self-hatred and would judge and harm myself without mercy. I would worry what people thought of me and go out of my way to make other people happy all the time, even if it made me miserable.
I thought that when I had my own children I would stop hating myself, but I just hated myself for other reasons, like I shouldn’t have told him off then. Even when my youngest son was born with a congenital heart condition, I blamed myself. What did I do wrong? The doctors told me that it certainly wasn’t my fault, but it has taken me a long time to see this. Looking back at this situation now, I know that self-hatred was how I coped because what happened to my son was outside of my control and I felt I had let him down. This thought process stemmed from how my dad’s actions made me feel – I had failed to save him by not being good enough and now I wasn’t good enough as a mother. At this point I knew I had to change because I refuse to pass the effects of my dad’s behaviour on to my children – this had to stop with me! My youngest child is healthy now and I am so thankful for my children.
With the help of my mum, partner and my wonderful therapist Sean, I have finally learnt to let go of my dad and my self-hatred. If I‘d had the emotional support when I was a child my journey as the ‘child of an alcoholic’ would have not be as long and painful.
I didn’t want to go through my life living with the consequences of the damage caused by my dad and no child should. This is why it is imperative that the government takes a more proactive approach to children in the same situation and gives them the help that they need to deal with such a destructive situation.
This amazing guest post was written by Claire Jones. If you feel affected by anything that Claire has so honestly written, then the volunteers at Nacoa are ready to listen and understand. Find out more here.
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