This piece was bravely written by Darrell from Australia. If you feel like you relate to Darrells story and need someone to talk to then Nacoa is always there to listen. If you would like to share something as a COA then get in touch, posting more than once is always welcome too.
My name is Darrell. I am a man of 53 years, and yet there are elements of my childhood that remain with me as fresh as if they happened yesterday. Nearly all of them revolve around my father, a raging, violent alcoholic. He was also high functioning and manipulative. My world consisted of my mum, my 4 older sisters and my older brother who has cerebral palsy and my father. I imagine in our own ways, each of carry some guilt about whether we were the cause of his drinking either individually or as a family. Deep down I know that is not the case, but you always question yourself.
By the time I was old enough to have any sort of understanding of my world, my father’s drinking was the norm.
I never knew him to be anything else but having the stench of beer, a snarl on his face and a fist ready to strike at anyone who challenged him.
I grew in a time where there were no support services for spouses and children of an alcoholic. We were trapped; we had to learn to survive in our world which revolved around drinking and violence. I had never known anything different, to a degree I thought every family was like this, it was only when I started school and people spoke of their “dads” that I began to understand that my world, my family was different. They spoke of birthday parties where friends came over to their house, in my younger years I struggled to reconcile why I could never have friends come over. The realisation brought anger. Anger at my father for being who and what he was, anger at my mother for marrying this man, anger at the world for putting me in this position. Jealous of others who had what I perceived to have everything I didn’t. It turned to a never-ending cycle of jealousy and anger. As I grew the anger grew at those who shunned our family for the man that was my father. My mum was and is a religious woman. In desperation I turned to her church to try to find what gave her strength, but I found them as judgemental and superficial as the rest of the world. My anger continued to grow.
Naively I kept trying to please him, to make him proud of me.
He went through stints in rehab and detox, always promising to change, it never lasted. Whenever I did something a little out of the ordinary, like making a representative team in sport, I was nothing more than bragging rights at the pub. With this realisation my anger grew.
As I grew older, I realised that I was the only person in the house with a physical strength to try to match it with my father. Many black eyes, broke ribs and bruises came with my attempt to stand up to him. After one confrontation, he wrenched my big toe so that it broke, laughing at me and saying that my sporting days were numbered.
Physically it all came to ahead when he pointed a rifle at my mother’s head and pulled the trigger. He was in the company of one of his “drinking buddies” The gun wasn’t loaded, but I can still remember their laughter at the sheer panic he caused. His knowledge that he controlled life and death in our house. Years of anger and resentment exploded in one moment. I was 16 and the anger that was within me came to the surface as my own rage manifested itself on that night. I ran to him, grabbed the gun and smashed it into him time and time again. I smashed his head, his ribcage and in hindsight the only thing that stopped me killing him that night was that after he was on the floor in a bloody mess I turned my attention to his “mate”. Chasing him out of the house and down the street threatening him all the way. He managed to get away from me and then I went home and sat in the front yard crying uncontrollably as I smashed the rifle with every bit of strength left in my body. The next thing I remember was the flashing lights pulling up out the front. He had called the police and wanted to have me charged with assault. Hours in the police station left with me receiving a caution but not charged. Apparently I was lucky. This only made my anger grow.
Sport continued to be my only outlet. But when I turned 18 and reached legal drinking age, I turned to what I had been shown. In the 70’s and 80’s sporting clubs had a drinking culture and I easily fell into that cycle. I played sport hard, drank hard. But I was different to my father, that’s what I kept telling myself, he drank beer, beer made him violent, ugly and abusive. I went straight for the spirits.
I drank to be social, to fit in.
I also drank to block out my emotions, which in turn, manifested in self-loathing that I was drinking heavily, I was no better than my father. The only difference between us is that I was never violent when drinking, I actually mellowed and laughed, that gave me the justification to continue to drink, I wasn’t him. But I was……………
Being a child of an alcoholic, it’s part of my DNA.
Around my 19th birthday my mum had scraped enough money together to rent a home away from my father. We moved and I stopped contact with him. I had a job in the city as did he, and one day he reached out to me, asked if we could catch up to chat. I was curious so I did. I met him in a pub not far from his work during a lunch break. I was amazed that he only had lemonade in front of him. I asked him if he was finally off the drink and he said he never touched a drop in front of his work mates. I had to laugh, the years of hearing a can crack in the morning so he could face the day, the smell of beer always around him, he had more respect for the people he worked with than his own family. I was so conflicted, sober he carried conversation, he looked like a different man, I could see emotion, not hatred and anger. I wanted to know what he saw in me, but I never asked.
Then one day it happened. His boss came to my work and asked if I had heard the news on the radio about a fire in the city. I had. They told me that my father was in that hotel and had perished in the fire. All I can remember is the blankness, the darkness that washed over me. They said that they went there after hearing it as they knew he stayed there after drinking and when he didn’t show up for work they went down and were unofficially informed. So they told me. It was my job to tell the family. We buried him, actually cremated him and put his remains in a wall at the cemetery. I went to the coronial inquest to hear of his alcohol content which coupled with a few other factors resulted in his inability to leave the building and his subsequent death.
I laughed, the drinking did kill him.
But with his death came the realisation I could never resolve anything with him. I couldn’t tell him what I needed from him. I needed answers. I needed him to tell me why we were never good enough, why we didn’t warrant respect or love.
I can’t remember how long after that, but slowly I began to unravel as the person I was. I cried easily. I became more emotional, but without the violence, without the anger. I was mourning. Not for the man who died in that fire, I mourned for what might have been. Those glimpses of the man I met in the city who showed what my mum saw in him. Then I was angry again. Angry at his memory, angry that he could have been a dad, but he chose another path.
That is when it dawned on me. That is when it hit. I too had a choice. I was a child of an alcoholic, which did not have to determine who I was, his nurture would not be my nature. It was in my DNA, but I could choose. I did not have to be him. I stopped binge drinking, asked for help. I saw a counsellor and for the first time attempted to trust people with what I was feeling, what I was thinking. I understood that like my father, I have an addictive personality that I had to be aware of. Some ridiculed me, some didn’t know how to respond and turned away, but a few, a precious few listened, didn’t judge me and helped me help myself. I learned to like myself and understand that I can’t control what happens around me, but I can control how I choose to react. Simple words but so hard to put into practice. Something that I am still working on to this day.
It has been a long slow process and I have made many mistakes along the way. I have had two failed marriages through a combination of poor choices and circumstance. But with every set back I picked myself up, refused to blame anyone but myself for my part and kept trying. I learn from every mistake and try to make myself a better person for it.
Twelve years ago I met the woman who would change my life forever. A woman who I could allow to accept me for who I am. I could be honest with her, tell her parts of my life I had buried through shame and self–loathing and let her into my heart and mind. I trusted her with everything and she has never once betrayed that trust nor used it against me. Right now we have been happily married for 10 years and have two beautiful daughters. Every day I strive to be a husband and a dad. Not a father, a dad. I have used my childhood to provide me an example of what I will never be to my daughters.
I still make mistakes, but I am now in a place where I can apologise to my girls, tell them that their dad isn’t perfect, but he tries.
And I will keep trying every day to make them proud. They are not old enough yet for me to tell them about my childhood, one day I will, for being a child of an alcoholic is in my DNA. Therefore it is in theirs too.
This year I have reached the same age as my father when he died. It’s hard, but it’s a great journey. It’s my journey, my life. I am so lucky to have found three souls to share it with. It has taken me a lifetime to get to where I am now and in a strange way all of my past has gone to create who I am. I may even go to his plaque at the cemetery this year and tell him how my life has turned out.
His alcoholism, helped form me, it does not define me. Maybe, just maybe I have indeed been lucky for I am on the other side and have found happiness.
Thank you for letting me share my life with you. My name is Darrell, I am a child of an alcoholic, but I have become more than that.