If you’d asked me about my childhood when I was 20, I would have told you it was ‘great’ and I truly would’ve believed it, whether that was because the layers of denial were so deep or because I knew no different I couldn’t even tell you now. I don’t think that was the beginning of lying to myself, I think that had been engrained in me way before.That time seems so long ago and so much has happened since. I don’t know when I started to realise my childhood wasn’t great, I do remember a conversation with my sister-in-law, where she’d said ‘yes, but if all those things happened, how could it have been so great?’ I suppose that conversation from over 10 years ago must stick in my mind for a reason, so maybe it was then I began to realise it wasn’t it all I was remembering it to be.
With hindsight I realise that I’d been taught to appreciate the ‘nice’ things in life, to feel lucky and spoilt with material things, of which we had plenty. We lived in the biggest house in the street, money was never an issue (until it was) a couple of foreign holidays per year to 5-star resorts, members of the country club, never wanting for anything. I guess that’s what I meant by ‘great’ We literally had everything in that sense.
This doesn’t sound much like a story of a child of an alcoholic (or alcoholics in my case) it sounds like I was born with a silver spoon.
This is probably why I still feel so confused now, my whole childhood was a series of contradictions and confusion.
People would say to me in my late teens and all the way up until my 30’s ‘I don’t know how you cope with your mum’ / ‘I don’t know how it hasn’t affected you’ again, I truly believed it hadn’t.
I knew I often felt anxious, scared and felt enormous amount of guilt, but didn’t everyone? I knew I presented well, as in up together and normal, but again didn’t everyone put a brave face on it all? The feelings I felt were the feelings I’d always felt and I never knew it wasn’t normal. I’m not even sure I knew what I was feeling, as in being able to name the feelings and identify them. I still struggle with that now.
Even writing this down, a 35-year-old talking about my childhood seems a bit weak. It makes me feel like I’m searching for an excuse to explain where I find myself now… an alcoholic that is trying to recover and wondering how the hell I found myself being visited by the ‘sins of the father’ and desperate not to put my issues upon my own child.
When I’ve been interrogated by my brother as to why I’m the way I am I have tried to talk about the effect of our childhood but have been told I can’t ‘blame’ it on that. I don’t think I am looking to blame anybody I just want to get to the route of things to find my way out!
My brother is so successful and success to him is money, material things and he has worked relentlessly to achieve this. He has grafted and worked 100 hour weeks through his 20’s, to build up a property portfolio, 2 beautiful children, and absolute financial security. He’s Mr. Black and White, as an engineer, he works so logically and there is no logic in alcoholism. I think he’s happy, he appears to have the things that make him tick. Personally I believe his hangover from our childhood is the need for financial security, to never have to rely on his children to bail him out the same way he’s had to financially support our parents since he was 16.
His life is an aside but does often lead me to thinking, we grew up in the same house, how can it be my parents affected me so much and not him!?
I struggle to remember too much about being younger, especially the good things. When my brother and I speak about it he laughs about how bad my recollection is. He remembers the good clearly. I remember the bad clearly. Maybe that’s the difference.
As a child I recall leaving junior school at 7 and praying from the walk from the school gates to my mum’s car praying that Mum and Dad wouldn’t argue this weekend. Or lying in bed praying. I would pray obsessively and my prayers went like this ‘please, please, please, please, please, please, please… don’t let them argue this weekend’ They would.
Then I’d think ‘well I said ‘argue’ and they’re actually physically fighting, maybe I should’ve said ‘fight’ They still fought.
Vein and desperate attempts made me think maybe I didn’t say ‘please’ enough times, so I’d decide a number and ensure I say it that many times in my head. They’d still argue, so then it was because I’d said the right number of ‘pleases’ but I’d tripped over a couple of the repetitions so I’d have to say it perfectly.
It was exhausting!
I didn’t want them to fight, I was scared. I would intervene and beg them not to, I would sit on the stairs and cry while there were raised voices, then only step in when the violence started. It seems crazy, a 6 or 7-year-old standing between a 24-stone man and an 8-stone woman begging them to stop.
I was worried, I wanted everything to be ok! Wanting ‘everything to be ok’ became a massive part of my character.
I don’t remember where it all started but I know my father, who was and still is a hugely charismatic man, lived in the pub. He was never home, either working hard or in the pub. Not in the pub in a grubby way a drunk at the end of the bar.
We’d take turns to polish his shoes before he went out, he’d come down the stairs smelling fresh and looking good.
Money wasn’t a worry but I do remember even though he’d have a wad of notes in his pocket, having to help my mum check inside his shoes on his way out the door to see if he’d hidden more in there. He’d buy everyone a drink and I mean everyone.
As a big man he’d drink huge amounts, when he arrived at the bar he’d order 2 drinks for himself, down the first one while the second was being poured. He’d offer everyone a drink at the bar and if they said ‘no’ he’d continue to cajole them until they agreed. He held court and I thought everyone loved him, looking at it now, through adult eyes, I’m not so sure they did. I know as a child I was kind of proud of this big, loud man who was the centre of attention.
He wouldn’t always go to the pub alone, we’d spend a lot of time at the weekends there too. I remember the first year of Junior School, l had to write a journal and the teacher took me to one side to tell me that I had to be truthful in my journal. She didn’t believe I’d been to the pub straight from school Friday, all day Saturday and all day Sunday.
My mum would sometimes enjoy the lifestyle, enjoying the attention she got. As my nan would say, ‘you’d stop to look at her’ She dressed well, looked good and revelled in the attention that brought. Other times, she’d get annoyed with the late nights, him never coming home at the time he said he would. I’m not sure on the chronological order of it all but I know things went badly wrong or should I say got worse.
Who knows when it all happened but I remember mum regularly locking the door and leaving the key in it and all the tension that went with the build-up of waiting for him to return. It could vary from him being charming and having brought a brandy home from the pub with him (a glass with cellophane on the top) and her letting him straight in, where the either would or wouldn’t be an argument. To her refusing to open the door and him pleading with me, me feeling entirely torn about the right thing to do. One occasion I didn’t open it and he took to the door with a chain saw. The next morning the mark in the door remained but we laughed about it, like it was a funny rather than scary going on!
I wasn’t sure what I should feel. The same pub banter that happened in the pub was in our house too. Winding each other up, doing each other down, bullying to some extent. My brother and Dad would usually form an alliance against me, laughing and ‘taking the mic’ until I cried and then laugh at me for crying when it was ‘only a joke’
They’d do the same to my mum and I’d join in because it felt nice to be ‘on side’ and part of their team. I don’t know how this effected my mum, I don’t remember her laughing or crying or anything really.
It was such a confusing situation to live in. Mum always drank but not that I remember it being problematic, Dad would buy her a few cans to have while cooking the Sunday dinner. Then decide he wasn’t coming home for it and ask her to plate it up to take to the pub. She always did and more, keen to please.
The order of it all is so unclear but I know by the time I was reaching the end of Junior school my mum didn’t work on Tuesdays and there soon became a time I was scared to walk through the door because I didn’t know what to expect. Dad was Dad and all his drinking was done outside the house, he’d proudly announce that he never drank at home. Mum however, would sometimes act strange on a Tuesday, like she did at the weekends, a slight change in her voice, a different tone or delivery, a smile that was maybe too big. I’d ask her what was wrong and she’d blame her hormones or tablets she’s taking. I bought it I think.
Soon I’d catch her swigging bottles of Vodka neat in her dressing room. Then denying she was even doing it. I’d try to tell my family, nobody believed it. I tried wrestling one of the empties away from her and cut my hand on the metal lid, as she snatched it away. I tried to show the cut as proof to my Dad, he either didn’t believe it or just chose not to believe it, because that would mean he’d have to do something about it.
As this illness does, it progressed. Helped by the fact my mum discovered dad had forged her signature to re-mortgage the house and suddenly money worries became a factor in our lives.
The lifestyle at the pub continued yet now he was coming home to a plastered wife and the fights would be worse than ever. Although by now, I was so fed up with my mum that as he threw her down the stairs, I’d think ‘you can’t blame him, she’s crazy’
It was all at odds, rushing around the supermarket on a Sunday morning with Dad working to the 12 o’clock pub opening. Huge fights which we were told ‘stay between these four walls’ that was the mantra of a childhood. Laughter and fun while tidying up the smashed objects from the night before.
I don’t know if I knew my mum without drink, she’d often have a few drinks at home. I do recall a really loving mother, someone who couldn’t do enough for me, I adored her. But I also remember being too young and hearing too much, how she was abused when she was younger, how she was forced to have shoes from the jumble sale with holes in, how nan would smash her head against the door frame, that was at odds too with the warm nan that I loved to visit and how she’d sit on my Grandads lap as an adult and cuddle him. None of it made any sense. My heart would break for her, I’d be so sad that my lovely mum had to go through all of that.
She’d confide in me that my dad never really wanted children and I was lucky to have her. She’d tell my how he used her for sex and liked porn and she went along with it because she wanted to make him happy. I don’t know how old I was, maybe 12, I remember feeling uncomfortable and awkward but also thinking maybe I could help her with it.
Make her feel better, be better so that she didn’t drink.
Her drinking got much worse, they separated when I was 14 and she overdosed, I found her, she had her stomach pumped, survived, Dad came home and it wasn’t really mentioned again. The craziness continued.
My friends that lived in my street asked about the ambulance, I don’t remember what I said, but I remember it wasn’t really ‘a thing’ so I’m fairly sure I brushed it off in some way.
As she deteriorated Dad continued to go to the pub, although now it was as a victim of her drinking. Apparently he didn’t want to go, he wanted a quiet life at home. Well this was perfect! That’s what mum had always wanted, him not to put the pub first. I’d try to make her understand if she’d stop drinking she’d have everything she’d wanted. It didn’t work. She got worse.
I found some comfort with my Dad, I now felt sorry for him and he played the victim well. Poor man, all he wanted to do was stay at home but he couldn’t because of his drunk wife. I’d go out with him, we were like mates escaping the madness together, we’d go to the pub. I’d only really drink at weekends but I liked the feeling of having someone onside to help me deal with my mum.
I made endless trips to the doctor begging them not to prescribe her anti-depressants because the reaction with alcohol made it all worse. They wouldn’t for a few months, then they would and the cycle would begin again.
During this time I had a solid group of mates that I grew up with, I don’t think I ever really spoke about home life because I was mortified about what my mum was like and every one thought having a Dad like mine must be so cool, and I guess I believed that for a while too.
We’d go to the park at 12, they were all older than me and down bottles of cider and then vodka, we’d be crazy, we’d laugh, we’d have pretty much harmless fun. I don’t know if that drink made me feel right but I can only assume it made me feel different because I remember all of that being fun. They were 16 and experimenting, I was 12 and enjoying hanging out with the bigger kids. I was quite mature for my age and didn’t have a hard time fitting in, I was probably a bit desperate to be liked but I don’t know how I showed that. Hazy memories!
I went to Greece at 19 to escape the madness of my mums drinking, it had become much more public and I was so embarrassed about the reflection on me. I never told anyone, I never knew how to. I didn’t discuss it with my mates, it was the elephant in the room at times.
While in Greece I eventually called home, to find out my mum had crashed my car drink driving and my dad was on holiday with another woman. A couple of weeks later I called again, she was depressed or drunk and he was on another holiday with another ‘another woman’!
I fell to pieces in Greece, combination of me partying and drinking too much and feeling responsible for all that was going on at home, so I returned.
We sold the family home, the one which my brother had pretty much paid the mortgage on for the previous 3 years. Mum and I moved into a small 2 bed, it was weird for both of us. I was supposed to start university, I did but I commuted so I could be with her. She was still holding down a job but it wasn’t for much longer. I would come home and find her naked and passed out in the garden, or buttering pieces of paper for an empty front room full of imaginary people.
I don’t know how I coped with it all at that time, I spent a lot of time at friends houses and going out partying myself. This was probably the height of my drug taking. I smoked weed everyday and took coke and pills at weekend, everyone did. Although I saw no relation between my drug taking and my home life. I loved partying and loved getting high.
I saw very little of my dad and brother during this time. I felt abandoned. They lived together in a house my brother bought and seemed to be having a great time going to the pub and holidaying while I looked after mum best I could. I tried to contact them and maintain a relationship with them but they were both pretty busy.
Mum wouldn’t let me sleep, she’d pace the corridor, be up and down all night and eventually became violent. At 19 I left her home after she gave me two black eyes. My dad knocked the door and upon seeing my face took me to my brothers and gave up his room there to move in with his girlfriend. I was secretly pleased, it felt nice to be looked after (well I wasn’t really looked after, but it felt like the most like being looked after I’d had in a long time)
I met my first boyfriend shortly after, I thought that was it, I was happy, I had someone, I was going to be ok…or so I thought.
I’m sharing this in the hope it helps me work through this stuff and also, to maybe show someone else going through this that they’re not alone. I found out about Nacoa in the rooms of AA, if I’d have known about it when I was younger or that I wasn’t alone, things might have worked out differently for me.
This post was written annonymously. If you feel confused about the way your parent or parents are drinking then Nacoa is here to help. Also if you have been affected by parental drinking and want your voice heard then visit here.