I was sixteen when my father collected me from my Saturday job at a department store, in a town in South West London. He was drunk and for some unknown reason brought my cat along, not in a basket, just in the car. Unsurprisingly the cat escaped. So I found myself chasing my adored feline across a busy three-lane high street in my favourite white coat! Incredibly I caught my cat and more incredibly neither of us died.
The following Monday at college, I discovered to my dismay that some of my girlfriends had spotted me dodging the traffic, fortunately however they were most interested in where I got my coat from rather than the facts of the evening. It is a bizarre irony that thirty years later in a court in North Hertfordshire, one of those friends was presiding as a judge when my father’s driving licence was taken away for drunk driving. He caused a horrible pile-up, three weeks before my wedding, breaking his neck and causing injuries but, I am ever grateful, no fatalities.
School I can honestly say was not a time I look back upon with any fond memories, however it is probably the journey to and from which was by far the worst experience.
A particularly unfortunate stroke of fate meant that my father went to work on the same train that I travelled to and from school. Generally he went earlier and returned later, however when he was drinking really heavily, a bottle of whisky a day, washed down with litres of cheap beer he was very often on the train upon which I returned from school. He often fell off the train, I lose count of the number of times the train had to be held in the station because he’d injured himself. The whole experience was compounded when someone recognized him as my dad. The shame and dread was extraordinary.
My childhood wasn’t completely terrible, I’m sure, I just don’t recall any good bits. When I was little I was something of a Daddy’s girl but that vanished forever when the drink arrived. I still love him, of course, but it’s hard. Not knowing what you are going to return to on a daily basis means that you are constantly on edge. Sometimes the police were at home due to a road incident, and sometimes my father just disappeared. He once dropped his motorbike in our front garden which I picked up, (I know not how – I was 11 and it was a heavy 350cc Kawasaki) – a complete lower leg skin graft for him ensued. My parents argued and shouted a lot. In that environment, you subconsciously make yourself invisible and of course when I did do something well or achieve (or get into trouble), it mostly went unnoticed. Today, if I have a small success or have a problem I struggle to tell anyone and certainly play it down.
An amazing lady, a comedian, told me about 15 years ago that the experience had made me who I was and that I would find a way through it. I’m not entirely convinced that I believed her but she was right.
There are days when my confidence exits stage left and my self-esteem hits the floor, and I still metaphorically put facades and barriers up to stop people getting close, though know now that it’s a mechanism developed long ago to protect me from not being hurt again. I’m still rubbish at talking about how I feel, especially when I’m upset or sad, and I find it hard when given a compliment.
However, I feel very blessed to have a wonderful family. I’m married, have two gorgeous daughters, a supportive husband, I run a company and live in the countryside with our two dogs and a potty cat. My eldest daughter is the age that I was when my father became a desperately heavy drinker, so perhaps that was the catalyst to speaking out. I bounce along most days, and last year my first book was published.
It is only now that I have decided to talk about what it means to be the child of an alcoholic, and the profound and destructive effect that it can have both upon one’s formative years, and well into adulthood, and all the relationships along the way. My mother has completely re-written the past and even brushes my sister’s bulimia aside as an unfortunate coincidence. My father is, remarkably, still alive and maybe this is why I oscillated between whether to speak out or not. But, if by speaking out and supporting new policies at government level on alcohol that take children into account, or by highlighting the existence of wonderful support groups like NACOA.org.uk, that listen to children in the predicament that I was in, to realise that they’re not alone, and that it isn’t their fault, that can only be a good thing.
At 47 I now know that it’s okay to not be okay on some days but if we can support each other, there’s hope for us, and the 1 in 5 children that are currently suffering.
I wish you a wonderful 2017 filled with fun, happiness, good health and love.
If you can relate to what Kate has so wonderfully written, then always remember that Nacoa is hear for you, whatever your age. And if you feel like you want to say something on a public level as the child of alcoholic, then contact coaisathing here.