Todays piece has been written by Jacqueline and explores the lack of understanding around parental drinking. Many COA’s have their experiences devalued as ‘not that bad’ and this piece explores this in such an articulate and human way.
A recent post on a Facebook page from a child of an alcoholic was about how people who aren’t COAs can have such poor understanding of what it means and the lifelong impact it can have. The awful isolation it leaves you with. The same can be said for people who have experienced other traumas such as the loss of a child or sexual abuse and it’s true that we can’t entirely know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Yet I think alcohol has a fairly unique position in our society that might explain the way those of us affected by drinking are seen and sometimes treated.
Alcohol is mainstream. A drug with easy, accepted access. Young people are encouraged to drink; people drink before a football match, at a wedding, at a funeral. People know alcohol. So, if I tell a friend my dad was an alcoholic and it killed him, they might be sad and empathetic but probably expect me to have gotten over it by now – he died 40 years ago. If I had the opportunity and privilege of telling another COA then they would know it’s likely the death bit was the easy bit, it was the 13 years before it that, much as I hate to say it, defines me to this day.
I’ve spent very many years in therapy trying to convince my younger self and my body’s alarm system that time has passed and I am no longer in constant danger – will the house burn down? Will he crash the car again? Will my mum kill me as she takes all her anger out on me? My dad was only half of the problem as my mum was totally out of control as a result of his behaviour. Part of the problem is people don’t get that these are very real dangers, not a jokey pissed person mucking about at the end of an evening. They put you on permanent red alert and the brain forgets how to be otherwise after a time. I liken my COA legacy to a brain injury and there is clinical evidence that our brains are injured. We have carved out pathways in our brains that react to anything as simple as a clink of a bottle or a raised hand as if it’s all happening again even though the actual danger has long since passed.
For me, for a long time, that perceived danger was everywhere and I was in a constant state of terror but if I plucked up courage to tell anyone, they would remind me I’m not like that and I should imagine if something really bad had happened to me. I truly believe a big part of this is because alcohol is mainstream and the end of the spectrum that impacts on people like me goes unappreciated. If I had a wish for COA awareness week it’s that the next time someone who hasn’t previously come across a COA, they take time to recognise that before you stands a someone who would get over it if they could and will be working harder than you could imagine to do so. To be accepted in our struggle is all we wish for and to be given time and space to work it out. We’re generally smart. We had to be to survive.