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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C

I love a drink but I don't want to end up like my dad an alcoholic and alone

“Having struggled to deal with my father’s alcoholism my entire life, I wonder just how his ‘fondness for the drink’ has distorted my perception of alcohol.”

MY DAD WAS in the pub when I was born. To be fair, it’s not like he was needed, Mam was doing all the work. I came out a girl, the youngest of four daughters in my family and an unplanned “surprise”.

I always figured Dad must have been somewhat disappointed. In a recent discussion about our female-filled family, my sister made a remark which struck me:

I’m so glad you didn’t come out a boy, Dad would’ve taken you to the pub and ruined you.

It was then that I realised I’d won the gender lottery. We all had. My father, a committed alcoholic, has spent much of his life, and all of my 25 years on this earth abusing alcohol and, in turn, being abused by it.

He’d learned how to drink from his father before him, raised in pubs where emotions and discussion of the hard things in life were quickly quashed by another pint. As a girl, I escaped this fate.

‘How his “fondness for the drink” distorted my perception of alcohol’

Growing up with an alcoholic parent is something that many Irish people can sadly relate to. The children of alcoholics walk among us all. The nuggets of disappointment, fear, false hope, anxiety and depression are all lodged in our psyche.

The defined roles of each child within the family fall into such a surprisingly accurate and relatable line, you could almost host a convention for us at the airport Hilton. No, my story is certainly not a new one, or even a particularly unique one, but having struggled to deal with my father’s alcoholism my entire life, I wondered just how his “fondness for the drink” has distorted my perception of alcohol and the way I use it.

My sisters don’t drink. Well, one’s teetotal and the other two, they’ll have couple of beers while watching the match. I am the only “real” drinker out of four of us.

A couple of times a month I get drunk, suffer the hangover as penance and apart from the odd “bad pint” I largely remain in control. By no means does my kind of drinking differ, or in many cases, match up to that of my friends.

I know several alcoholics my own age, only they don’t realise they’re alcoholics yet: People who wake up, vomit-strewn in a new location every week (It makes for a hilarious Snapchat story). People whose lives, jobs and relationships are starting to atrophy in gradually worsening ways due to drink. My drinking is by no means healthy, but it is the Irish norm. We drink when people are born, we drink when people die, and we drink to commemorate every significant event along the way.

I worked in a pub for three years. It was torture to see day-in-day-out the face of my father, so many of the punters reminded me of him. In my time there I saw drink take hold of so many lives, and I saw a part of Irish culture that was so ingrained that it facilitated the creeping stranglehold of alcoholism on people’s lives:

The aul fella on his fifth Guinness by one o’clock – sure he’s just part of the furniture. The twenty-one year old barman whose liver is already showing signs of damage – mad for the sesh, great craic so he is.

The wealthy and respected local businessman holding court with four gin and tonics and a bottle of wine – he’ll waltz out, keys in hand, ready to drive home well over the limit. Tomorrow he’ll still be wealthy and respected, provided he doesn’t kill anyone.  The girl who stumbles home at 7am, knowing that she’s back in work in three hours. Her mother sits at the kitchen table, worried.

That last example was me, by the way, or at least it was until the benefit of having an alcoholic parent kicked in and I took a stern look in the mirror.

I love drinking. I love getting together with friends. I love a good wine with a nice dinner or a cold, crisp pint on a summer’s day. But I’m scared. I must check myself. Every time I take a drink I feel like I teeter closer to becoming entrapped by the demon that is alcoholism. The demon that sends you off missing for days at a time, the one that wakes your children at three in the morning as you vomit after a night of drinking in your bedroom. Alone.

Dad is alone. Too many years, too many chances later leaves four daughters who want nothing to do with the man the disease has made him. I remind myself that I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to hurt those I love in the same way. Every day, whether I realise it or not, is a battle against my father’s drinking and the notches it carved into me. I have to watch my step, and I’ll have to do it myself because I live in a society that’ll tell me as soon as I’m slipping under: “Sure it’ll be grand, we’ll have a few pints.”

Read: 22-year-old recovering alcoholic tells how he stopped drinking eight cans of cider every night>

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