This piece has been bravely written and sent in by Laura. Remember Nacoa can offer help and support to anyone affected by their parents drinking no matter your age. And as always if you would like to share something as a child of an alcoholic you can use the contact page, or via our email firstname.lastname@example.org
Trying to write this piece has been such a hard thing to do. It’s no secret where I have come from and what I’ve been through to the people that know me well, yet still articulating it can be tough for me.
I guess I’ve got used to keeping it under wraps, never wanting to be defined by it.
So here’s my story….
Growing up my dad was my hero, I followed him round like a shadow and loved spending time with him. His daily drinking was my normal and I was far too young to have any understanding of the destruction and violence that had preceded my being born and that was still occurring out of sight.
Credit to my mum and sisters, they protected me well and I never thought twice about the fact that we were anything but a normal family. Even when my elder sister came to my room late in the night asking me to make my parents stop their blazing arguments, as I was the only one my dad would listen to (despite the fact I was in primary school) and I would cry and cry until my mum came to soothe me so I could make sure she was safe, I just thought this was what all families did. I didn’t even think to question it.
Everything about home was unstable. My mum doing her best but daily life being punctuated by my dad’s erratic, drunken and often violent behaviour (if not that then the threat of it). There was never a doubt that my dad loved us with all his being but unfortunately his inability to manage these emotions was what tended to cause all the problems. He literally couldn’t live without us and was prepared to do whatever it took to keep my mum and me with him. Including kidnap and violence. In his drink addled mind the ultimate show of love.
I feel it’s important to note the physical violence never came my way in the 22 years he was in my life but as I grew I knew the damage he could do and had done and that was enough to make me toe the line.
As I grew into a teenager and managed to gain a place at a fantastic selective grammar school for girls I became acutely aware of how different my life was. Not everyone’s dads drank heavily, not every child had to ask their friends to wait outside so they could quickly check their father wasn’t too inebriated or passed out naked on the sofa and certainly not every child had to lie daily about their life so no one would find out.
School was tough, I knew I was different and so rebelled immediately pushing would be friends away to avoid the embarrassment that I knew would ultimately come. Still excelling academically to avoid drawing any attention to myself and also to keep anyone from contacting home. Something that would have been very badly received were it to have happened. I became adept at flying under the radar, keeping both dad and school happy. Nothing was ever good enough though, A’s should have been A stars and good was never good enough. My mum tried hard to be both parents but I still desperately wanted my father’s approval and worked super hard to gain it.
Growing up I tried all the usual things, self-harm, issues with eating (IBS was a regular occurrence in my life from the stress I was living under), drinking and drugs but none of them were ever the answer for me. I didn’t want out, I just wanted the crazy to stop.
In an effort to keep my appearance of normality to the outside world going, I am to this day, a hugely active person. I am incapable of stopping and after years of introspection have realised this is because when I do, I start to panic, first that something bad is going to happen and then that if I let the flood gates open the emotions that come out I will be unable to control. I am well aware it’s an unhealthy way of being but for the sake of my sanity it’s what works for me.
I also have a perpetual fear of happiness. Being happy brings out a physical reaction of panic in me as I am so used to most times something good happens it is regularly been marred by something bad happening (usually as a result of alcohol!). I’ve worked on this over the years, especially since having my beautiful children, and am now slightly more able to accept that I can enjoy life without any caveats. I once tried explaining it to my father-in-law who replied “don’t you think you’ve had your share of bad things”. That struck a chord with me.
Don’t get me wrong, growing up with an alcoholic in the family was not all bad. My ability to see a bad situation developing before it has is second to none and this has served me well over the years. I can also convince everyone I am fine when my world is falling apart like a ninja!
I am also very selective about who I let into my circle, being judged is something I am always nervous of, so I am now lucky enough to have a small but perfectly formed group of amazing friends who support me and understand what I have been through.
I wish that my story could end on a happy note but sadly it doesn’t. Not long after I left for University my mum finally left my dad after 23 crazy years. I had known since my teenage years that this was the plan, yet it still came as a shock.
Over the next two years my dad disappeared in front of my eyes. Alcohol induced mental illness crept in and before long he was nearly sectioned for his own safety (although he disappeared as I was on the phone to the nurse having what a section was explained to me. As my parents were never married I was his only next of kin so it fell to me to take the responsibility). Slowly dad drank himself into a stupor, calling me tens of times a day and eventually turning up at my place of work and stealing my car to sell, all the while threatening to kill my mum if I told anyone. That was the last time we spoke.
After this I cut him off for both my safety and sanity. However I always kept an eye on the local press knowing that eventually he would crop up in court for some misdemeanour or another. What I was not expecting was the night the news broke that there had been a fire at his sheltered accommodation. I called my mum to joke that he had probably burnt the place down only to be confronted the next day by a picture on the front page of all my dad’s charred belongings in the front garden.
Terrified I called around to find out where he was and if he was still alive. It turned out in his drunken confused state he had told the care workers I had moved abroad. He was still alive and had been taken to a local burns unit so I raced there to find out what had happened and to see he was ok. Despite everything he was still my dad and I loved him.
Sadly he wasn’t alright, the effects of the alcohol had nullified his body’s ability to fight the 80% burns he suffered and as I result he went into multiple organ failure and died the next day.
Looking at him so small and frail in the hospital bed with blood pouring from his mouth it dawned on me what a horrible, horrible addiction alcoholism is. It starts as a choice but very slowly and very quietly it creeps in and takes all your choices away. Nobody would choose to die the way my dad did. Least of all him, the proud man from my childhood that I choose to remember over the bully of my teens or the drunk from my early adulthood.
After dad died life changed dramatically for me. The crazy was over and I could finally build the life I wanted for myself, without judgement or mocking, and I have.
I have two beautiful daughters, a loving husband, a successful job and I’m happy. Yes I still carry the scars of my history but I try to channel them for good. I am open about what I’ve been through in the hope that it may help others and am passionate that something should be done about the millions of children that live with alcoholics in our country. It always struck me (when I was old enough to realise) just how many people knew about our situation with my dad’s drinking and yet nobody did anything.
If ever you think there may be something happening with a family that is not quite right, be that with alcohol or any other addiction, speak up. There are services and people that want to help and there are kids all over just waiting for someone to be their voice.