Today’s piece comes from blogger Eliza Hope, who’s amazing blog can be found at thesecretmindofelizahope.blogspot.co.uk . Remember that if you are affected by what you read then Nacoa are always there to offer help and support and if you have something you would like to share as a COA, then please get in touch here.
I was fourteen when my dad’s alcoholism took over our lives. It had most likely been there for many years – he was a dad that always had a pint in his hand and most weekends were boozy pub lunches – but, I didn’t see it coming. Of course, I didn’t, I was a child.
It started when we moved into a Spar grocery shop- mum and dad told me it would give dad a job and somewhere for us to live. We’d been living in a rented flat since dad lost his job four years earlier.
Dad changed overnight – gone was the cuddly, kind, generous daddy and instead was this ogre screaming that ‘he was better than serving fucking baked beans.’ I had no explanation for this new life and mum’s night-time sobbing – the best I could conclude was that mum was pregnant.
Nine months later there was no baby, just more chaos. And so, it continued for another two years. No one told me why dad was acting like this, I didn’t think to ask. I certainly didn’t tell anyone, and despite this madman at home – all the customers in the shop loved him.
It wasn’t until I was sixteen, only a few weeks into sixth form that mum sat me and my sister down, just before school and told us he was an alcoholic and was going into rehab that day. I have no idea what I was thinking, I took it on board and went to school like the good girl I was. He came out sober, but it didn’t last long, he was back on the bottle by the weekend.
And so it went on, I now know that alcoholics come in all shapes and sizes, but Dad was a drink all day alcoholic, many times mum had to get me out of bed at 7am to help with the shop as Dad had already passed out. He was an abusive alcoholic, mainly verbal, but later down the line came the physical abuse.
On New Year’s Eve, 2000, I was twenty, we hit a rock bottom.
Dad’s dad had died a few weeks earlier and dad was sinking into a hole. Mum for the first time called the Police, which set off a series of events. Dad locked us out of our home so mum had to go to court to obtain orders to get him out and to not come near us. I was in the middle of my finals at University, I couldn’t study for them, all my books were at home.
He went into rehab again, this time for three months. Again, he came out sober, again he picked up the bottle. By this point I had had enough, I had met this gorgeous boy, now my husband who I instantly trusted. On our third date, I casually mentioned my dad was in rehab, those few words set off a chain of events in me, I had said it. I had told someone – the feelings that I had been bottling for so long came hurtling out, and it wasn’t pretty.
I thought stepping into adult life would save me – I could finally take control of my life – yet the child that had coped so well, who had taken charge of her sister, dealt with the many crises, who studied hard, got good results and was a talented sportswoman seemed to just die away. I was left with this woman who was anxious in the workplace, depressed and couldn’t stop exercising and restricting her food to lose weight.
It’s not the verbal and physical abuse that have done the damage, sure they haven’t help, but it’s keeping the secrets, the shame I carried, the humiliation, the fear, the hyper-vigilance – it’s all of them that’s hurt so bad. All of these I have carried into adulthood. I have continued to keep many secrets as an adult – my anorexia, my addictions, my depression. I have carried on portraying to the world I am a happy, confident woman, but inside I have felt crushed – the constant companion of not feeling enough and searching for something to fill the void.
I found Al-Anon and I knew it was the place for me. When I hit my rock bottom at age 30 with my own addictions, it saved me from totally going under. It showed me I was not alone, there were people out there, plenty of people who were going and had gone through the same and whose head worked like mine. It introduced me to the spiritual way of life I now live, teaching me the power of prayer and meditation.
I wish I could say, that life simply got better after that, but there was still a long way to go. My story also involves being sexually abused by my grandad from the age of 5 to the age of 12 – I had suppressed the memories and they were to only come back at age 31. I have spent the last six years coming to terms with all of this. My grandad was also an alcoholic, as was his father.
I pray the cycle of addiction stops here – I have worked so hard to be free of my anorexia and exercise addiction, to stop looking for highs through work. I am healing – I am trying to build my self-esteem– I want to build a different life for me and my daughters. My dad found sobriety five years ago, just one day stopped – he is a wonderful grandad to my children.
Yes, my head can still be crazy, on days I can feel very alone and very insecure, convinced that everyone hates me and is going to leave me. I am hyper-vigilant, ready to solve any crisis that might happen, I can still feel responsible for everything and everyone’s feelings. But, I now know those thoughts aren’t real, they are just fears haunting me from the past. I am not alone anymore, I have lots of friends, in and out of recovery that I can pick up the phone to. And I am not responsible for everything – I may have felt responsible for parenting my sister and for solving dad’s alcoholism, but now I have a partner where we can share the load, be a team.
So, there it is. I hope for any of you that have been through this or going through it right now, there is something in my story that you can relate to or identify with. Knowing there were other children of alcoholics out there was my first step in recovery. The first step where I felt a connection, where I could be me, tell the truth and be understood. It gave me hope.