This piece has been written by Hayley and explores something that nearly all COA’s will likely relate to and it also has a nice undertone of how we can break the cycle in so many ways.
My daughter has friends coming home after school tonight. They’ll walk home together, have tea, and then go to the school disco. They’re ten, nearly eleven, so in their final year at primary school. They’re just starting to take more of an interest in their appearance, and while I make their tea they’ll shut themselves away in my daughter’s bedroom, admiring outfits, brushing each other’s hair, messing about with tiny amounts of make-up. It’s a regular thing whenever there is a disco at school, and she always wants to be the one doing the inviting, to have her friends at her house. I always say yes.
And while I might pretend that it’s a pain always being the mum with a house full of other people’s children, I’m actually pleased. Not just pleased but thrilled. The fact that my child doesn’t think twice about inviting friends home, knowing that she’s confident that everyone will be welcome, will have a good time, and will want to come back again fills me with pleasure. It doesn’t even occur to her that there might be a problem with people coming home. When she plays outside with her friends at the weekend she comes crashing through the back door with an entire gang of children looking for drinks or food, without a second thought. It’s one of the main things I wanted for her when she started school, because it’s something I never had.
The confidence disappears when you’re a child of an alcoholic parent. Each journey home is spent considering what you’re going to go home to. How much lager was left in the house this morning? Was it enough to keep her going, or would she have gone out for more? Would she have bought whisky or gin if she went out? Was she so drunk yesterday that she wouldn’t want to get drunk today? The questions eat you up. And however experienced you are in it, however many years you have spent asking those questions, there is no guarantee that what was right last week will be right today. The best way to judge what you are going to be walking in to is to knock the door, even though you have a key. The frosted glass in the front door means this isn’t foolproof, but the time taken to answer the door, and the way she walks down the hallway gives you a minute to brace yourself. And there might be relief, because she’s sober, or crushing disappointment that there is a stagger in her walk because you were absolutely sure that today would be a good day.
So you can’t invite friends home. Or, if you do, in a desperate attempt to make your life as normal as you pretend to the rest of the world it is, you spend weeks going over patterns in your head, trying to create the perfect storm so that people don’t see her drunk. Or just a little bit drunk, the sort of drunk that might not be noticeable. Early in the day is best (this is the reason I got married at midday – everyone said that 2 pm would be better, but I knew that my chances of getting her to the church at least half sober was to get married as early as possible), and you try not to give too many details. The more she thinks about the possible visitors the more likely she is to be drunk when they arrive. Never ask her not to be drunk. Because she will agree, act like it’s a ridiculous thing to ask, and then hours later she will scream at you for being such a selfish little bitch. But in general, just don’t invite people over. And definitely don’t give the impression that it is ok to just call around. Because it is not.
It’s just one more thing that means you’re not like everyone else, slightly apart. Always making an excuse as to why you can’t host the party, why it’s better to go to someone else’s house. Being consumed with envy at the people who can casually throw out an invitation, because they have calm, not chaos. Mostly because you need to keep the secret, other people can’t find out. Letting other people know what happens inside your house would destroy the carefully constructed fortress of lies you’ve spent years building, and you do not want to be defined by her. The need to maintain the pretense is so strong that you still can’t quite bring yourself to write about it in the first person even twenty years later.
From the moment I left home I have been keen to invite people over. I am a feeder, I want to be the hostess, and being able to say ‘the more the merrier’ makes me happy. I want our home to be open, not closed, calm, not chaotic, and most of all welcoming, and the way my daughter invites friends home with confidence makes me feel like I’m winning.