Abstinence or Chaos.

Today’s post is another anonymously written piece. if you feel like you’re effected by what you read, remember Nacoa is here for you and always willing to listen. If you anything you would like to share on the coaisathing platform then please contact us using the contact form.


On Christmas Eve I nipped to the supermarket for some last minute provisions. I had left the house feeling excited about the festivities. My daughter is 5 and her excitement about the big man arriving that night had rubbed off. As I waited in the long queue I noticed my mood had become gloomy and my stomach was tight. I am learning to probe my responses to things. What was beneath the sudden shift in mood? It suddenly struck me that completely unconsciously I’d spent my entire trip around the supermarket checking how much booze people were buying. I was looking in trolleys, counting up bottles, looking at the pallor of the people pushing them and watching the faces of any children in tow as bottles clinked into trolleys. I was making up stories in my head ‘5 wine bottles and she already looks tired. Who will look after her little one while she drinks them?’. The knot in my stomach was fear. My body was reacting to my obsessive thinking and my irrational response to what I was seeing.
I probed a bit more. Why do I do this? I am a recovering alcoholic with over 2 years sobriety. Was I watching because I wanted to drink? I knew this wasn’t the case. My life has been transformed by getting sober and the thought of returning to the dark final days of drinking terrifies me. It struck me that I have spent much of my life on booze alert. I did it long, long before I picked up a drink. From as far back as I can remember my default has been to look for subtle signs that something will go wrong when alcohol is present. I count the drinks, I watch the facial expressions for any change, I have a 6th sense for a shift in the mood of others. For as long as I can remember I have been a self appointed detective, a watcher, the hairs rising at the smallest of signs that trouble could be afoot.


I do this because I am the child of an alcoholic. I am the granddaughter of an alcoholic and the niece to 4 alcoholics. My family are Irish and the prevalence of alcoholism in our family is unfortunately not uncommon in my country . Alcoholism has seeped through the family like water through cracks. It has left undeniable marks on us all.


From as far back as I can remember I swore I would never drink. I hated what I saw it do to my dad, my granddad and my uncles. I saw good men transformed into people I just didn’t recognise. I think the character transformation that takes place when people drink is one of the most frightening things for kids. The men in my family are real Jekyll and Hyde drinkers. The pattern is periods of sobriety and then a long and almighty fall off the wagon. The style of drinking is all or nothing. I’ve never seen anyone in my family have one glass of wine or pop out for a pint. It’s abstinence or chaos.
As I child I remember living in a state of high alert. I operated like an emotional sponge. I would brace walking into my home after school each day. I could tell just by a quick look at my parents eyes what kind of mood they were feeling and it would completely set the tone for me. I still find myself walking into a crowded room, scanning the emotions of others and reacting in seconds. I’ve learned to notice and control this through meditation which has been a life saver for me. My dad had long periods when he would stop drinking but during these periods I couldn’t relax.

I would watch for signs that he might relapse. I remember one point when he’d been sober for a couple of years standing by the window praying for him to come home because he was a few minutes late home from work. Even during the calm times I couldn’t switch off the fear he would drink again. 

The biggest impact of the alcoholism in my family was a sense of shame that I internalised and carried everywhere with me. I was ashamed of everything about myself and would constantly look for ways I might be different from others. I worked hard and did really well at school, went to uni and got an amazing job. Despite it all I still felt I didn’t fit and that others were better than me. This shame often manifest itself in excessive blushing. I would go bright red in any situation where I had to speak up or be seen. I often secretly wanted others to fail so that I could feel better. No matter what I achieved it felt completely empty and never made me feel better about myself.
In my early 20’s I drank for the first time. I had very little control over alcohol right from the start and like my dad would drink to blackout every time. I would wake up in strange places with no idea how I got there. Despite this I continued to drink into my mid 30’s by which stage I was drinking daily and had completely control over my drinking.
5 years ago I gave birth to my little girl. I continued to drink for 2 years after she was born. I was so desperate to stop and not be the alcoholic parent I swore I’d never be. I would wake each morning and pray not to drink that day knowing that I would. This loss of control and powerlessness is so hard to describe to someone who is not an alcoholic. Being desperate to stop but not being able to is incredibly frightening. I came to understand my dad a lot better and this has enabled me to forgive and make peace with what happened to me as a child.

I now believe that alcoholics are not bad people who need to become good but sick people who need to get well. This way of looking at alcoholism has helped rid me of a lot of shame.

Two and a half years ago I got into recovery for my alcoholism. It has been hard but also the most incredible experience. I have learned so much about myself and what it takes to make a good life. I am incredibly grateful that I am now able to have a relationship with my little girl and am sober and well. I can honestly say I wouldn’t change anything about my past as it has led me where I am now. I have so much gratitude for the simplest of things. This morning my daughter woke early and we lay in bed reading together. This is such small thing for a lot of people but I felt such joy that I can now do this. The biggest turning point for me was accepting I need help and talking about my own alcoholism and the alcoholism in my family. Everything got better the minute I took that step. I used to be so secretive and self reliant. I’ve now realised it takes a group effort to get me through life and that taking help from others is a sign of strength not weakness.


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