Here is another bravely written anonymous piece, that any COA is welcome to do on this page.
As a result of having been ‘brought up’ by a series of alcoholics I have suffered from anxiety and low self esteem for all of my adult life. I always thought it would get better as I got older; however despite the passing of years (I am now 50 years old) and my endless study of every self help book I could get my hands on, I just seem to be getting worse. I know why I am the way I am but I just don’t know how to be normal. To be honest I had almost lost hope until I accidentally came across the series Nacoa did for Radio 4, where adult children of alcoholics told their stories. I couldn’t believe my ears as I listened to others who were recounting almost the exact same experiences as me. Just knowing that there were other people out there who would understand exactly what I have been through helped enormously and it is for that reason that I want to share my story. I hope that it will help someone else to know that they are not alone and that they are not weird or not good enough – all the things that go hand in hand with being a child of alcoholics.
I was brought up by two alcoholic parents. For the first 11 years of my life it was my father who drank. He was an extremely violent man who beat my mother almost every weekend. I was the oldest of four (I have three younger brothers) and I remember lying in bed at night pushing my face into the pillow, naively hoping that I could kill myself so that I wouldn’t have to listen to the screaming and crashing coming from downstairs. We lived in a tiny two up two down house (no bathroom, outside toilet etc.) so I could hear everything.
One night, when I was about eight or nine, I actually went downstairs and tried to pull my father off my mother as I thought he was going to kill her.
On many occasions the police were called to our house to break up the fights. The fact that there were four young children upstairs didn’t seem to matter and social services never got involved. I and my brothers all wet the bed, which I know now to have been a sign of stress which no one took much notice of – it was the 60s / early 70s and I don’t think there was as much awareness of childhood domestic trauma as there is now. I also had horrendous, persistent nightmares, which, looking back, were also a sign of trauma.
My mother had two cleaning jobs to make up for my father’s unemployment. She drank as well but at that stage it wasn’t problematic although I do remember that she was quite violent towards me on occasions. This didn’t stop me feeling sorry for her. I used to stand at the corner of the street and watch her as she went off to work in the evenings and I remember crying as I felt so sorry for her and the life she had. Now I can see that this wasn’t normal for an eight or nine year old. My mother took us away from my father when I was 11. For a short time it was just us and I remember feeling happy and relieved that we were away from him. However this was very short lived as it was about this time that her drinking problem developed. About a year later she met someone else who also drank. She let him move in with us and the extreme arguments started all over again. He wasn’t violent but she spiralled out of control and became very emotionally abusive toward us children. There was fighting in the street, her spending full days in the local off-license and turning up drunk to speak to my teachers at a school open night. I remember quite vividly her confession to me and my brother about her abortion (not something you should discuss with a 10 and 11 year old!). We were teased by other children because of our shabby clothes and the fact that we smelled of pee (because of the bed wetting). I think I must have been an extremely sensitive child as I felt all this acutely and was deeply ashamed of their behaviour and of myself (even though I hadn’t done anything wrong).
As I got older I became a carer for my brothers and did most of the cooking and cleaning. Her new partner often worked nights and I remember as a teenager sitting with her until the early hours of the morning listening to her drunkenly complaining about how awful her life had been.
When I tried to talk about me she didn’t want to listen.
The strange thing is, and this really bothers me, is that I didn’t leave home when I could have. I only know this now having read so much about children who suffer trauma but by the time I turned 18 I had developed an acute case of learned helplessness. I didn’t have the initiative to move out and even though I had done well at school I had no idea what I wanted to do and ended up being unemployed for over a year. No one at home talked to me about why I wasn’t trying to get a job or tried to offer advice. My mother was drinking so much at that stage that I don’t think she even knew I was there or she was just happy that I was there to do the cooking and cleaning. This still really hurts when I think about it all these years later.
I have so many unhappy memories and this could very easily turn into a book! Suffice to say that it all had a massive impact on my life and my coping skills as an adult. I managed to go to university as a mature student and managed to obtain a PhD however I am currently working part time in an admin role as I never felt that I was good enough and didn’t have the confidence to apply for jobs that were worthy of my qualifications (this is very painful for me and difficult to cope with).
I have had no contact with anyone from my family for many years (I had to break contact with my mother when her drinking started to affect my own children). Lately I had begun to feel terribly alone and needed to be able to talk about these things with someone who would ‘get it’. Perhaps it was serendipitous, but it was just about then that I heard the Radio 4 programme and it has meant the world to me to know that there are others out there who do ‘get it’. This has given me the strength to seek the emotional support that I now know that I (and that we all) deserve.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my story,