Todays brilliant piece has been written by Alex and explores how the impacts of being a COA often last long after even the death of an alcoholic parent. If you are still feeling the affects yourself as a the child or adut child of an alcoholic then Nacoa can offer you support. If you would like to share something as a COA the please get in touch.
My mum was an alcoholic, I think that I first understood this at about 7 years’ old when I found an empty gin bottle under my mattress – I was playing with friends at the time. My mum died of liver failure and other alcohol-related issues in 2001.
I’m a 43 year-old man (my mum died when I was 26) and I’m writing this because I want people to know that I’ve never stopped living with the experience of growing up with an alcoholic parent and that it has the tendency to shape your behaviour and thinking well beyond the death of that parent.
I’m not wishing to upset or scare anyone with that statement but I want people to know that some of the decisions that I make and how I interact with others is as a result of how I dealt with the situation growing up. I hope that it allows others in a similar situation to understand why they may act or think in a certain way and not to be hard on themselves as a result.
Some background to my mum’s drinking. She was never violent but was chaotic. I never knew what to expect when I came home from school or woke up in the mornings. It could be piles of sick in my bedroom or just completely unpredictable behaviour. I felt incredibly embarrassed when in public with her, which led to really strong feelings of guilt on my part. It also meant that I did as much as I could to minimise any embarrassment – I was unfailingly polite at home and especially in public, I kept myself to myself and away from social situations, I did what I was asked to do. I didn’t pester for friends to come over (although for obvious reasons), I didn’t pester for the latest clothes, trainers or anything of that nature.
Why ‘The internal saboteur’? Well, I have found that I do things to derail my own happiness, I derail things that start to go well for myself. This has taken several forms – from the age of about 14-21, it was getting into fights and trying less and less at school, college or university. (Yes, I made it through). From 21-30 it was drinking too much myself – not daily and all the time like my mum but I was a weekend binge-drinker, which led to situations that could have landed me in serious trouble and did on one occasion after I reacted to someone goading me on a night out. I’ve walked away from friendships for no reason at all. I’ve upset friends on purpose, so that I could be on my own instead. I had counselling when my dad died – I was 29 when he did – and that helped. Since the age of 30, I’ve tried to focus on the external aspects of my life (the fitting in and keeping my head down). I focus on work and I focus on the relationship and family that I now have. But emotionally it is exhausting.
I have found that I don’t quite understand when my children aren’t always polite. I get it – they’re young children – but I can’t understand why they won’t do simple things the first time that I’ve asked them to – brush teeth, put on shoes, get ready for school etc. I know that it’s irrational but I find myself getting angry with them just for not saying please all the time. Not the ‘tired parent’ frustration but angry. I have to work so hard to keep this in check. I then suffer from so much guilt for even feeling angry but also self-satisfied that I’ve let myself down again.
I have found that I don’t always put myself into positions at work that could be beneficial for me and at the time, I’m happy that I’ve done so. However, I have worked hard on not impacting my family or myself at work. So much so that I have completely forgotten about myself – I won’t go out with friends, I hate being in social situations (or so I tell myself). I won’t go to anything that means that I have to talk to new people. I’ll plan to see a band or go to the cinema and quite often pull out – just to sabotage any chance of fun or focusing on me.
Again, I understand why I do it but can’t stop doing it.
I’m having counselling/therapy again. I’ve been inspired to focus on myself by my family.
I appreciate that there are people out there with situations that are harder, rawer and are still living in the family with an alcoholic parent and I wish that your situations could improve. However, I hope that this helps someone to understand their own behaviour and thoughts. I hope it resonates with someone. I don’t have any solutions or ways to overcome my thoughts other than I use a huge amount of energy to keep work and family a priority. I know that I need to use some of that energy for myself and that’s what I’m working on.