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Dublin: 4 °C Thursday 12 December, 2019
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'As a child of an alcoholic, I am damaged'

A reader talks about their experiences in the wake of the establishment of a government Group on Alcohol Harm

Anonymous

Following on from our article on the effect of parents’ abuse of alcohol on their children, one reader sent in her experiences of growing up with an alcoholic father.

THERE WERE A lot of camels’ backs broken in our house. Nothing ever came of it until the very last one. The camels just lay there broken, eventually pushed away into the recesses and hidden for the time being.

The worst one occurred when I was 22. It was a hot, hazy summer’s day and I was walking home from work in a local bistro. I reached the bottom of the estate which stretched upwards over a hill. At the top of that hill, I could make out a figure.

He was swaying to and fro on the brink of falling hard with every step. He was wearing a dark shirt and what seemed to be light-coloured trousers. But something had darkened an area on the back of them. When I peered closer, it was obvious. The man had defecated himself.

That man stumbling home stained with his own faeces, passing the neighbours and children of our estate, was my father.

I cannot explain the emotion that ripped through me at that moment. Shame is the label we give it; but this struck through to my core – it was deeper and darker, damaging and lasting.

It was my father. I am linked to him. He was part of me.

The tears welled up instantly when I realised it was him and I put my head down as neighbours drove by. I walked an alternative route home that day, the back way around the estate, slowly.

When I got home, he was in the bathroom and the tap was running. He came out and went to bed for the rest of the day and night. He left his trousers in the bath. I cleaned the mess up.

Petrified

My mother had separated from him several months before and he had no-one else. My brother was a young teenager and my sister lived abroad. I took care of him.

He eventually began to have alcohol-induced seizures.

I will never forget the first one. It happened when the electricity had been cut off due to non-payment.

I was awoken by a loud thud, followed by violent shaking and gasping/smacking sounds. The sounds were coming from my father. I ran downstairs to get a torch and ran back to his bedroom. I was petrified but I opened the door. I could hear him struggling for breath.

I shone the torch on his face and I screamed and cried as I knelt beside him. He was the colour of candle-wax and was wet with sweat. His eyes were rolling and he was stiff but shaking.

I was sure he was dying. I rang emergency and was told someone would be with me soon.

The seizure lasted for maybe another minute, minute and a half, but it felt like hours with a solitary torch in the dark. I tried to embrace him and begged him not to die.

The paramedics came and took him to the hospital and he recovered. This was the final incident of the many that came before in their different rotten guises.

It was not long after this that he finally reached his ‘rock bottom’ and went into rehab. He fully recovered and was released from the programme the same day my new son and I were released from hospital – a beautiful time.

Damaged

As a child of an alcoholic, I am damaged.

I read the recent article in TheJournal.ie (“You feel invisible”- the Irish children suffering from their parents’ alcohol abuse of alcohol). The injury and hurt resurfaced as raw as the days they were inflicted as I read the quotes from those children.

Reading the article, I became that child again, worrying about my father falling down the stairs, covering my ears to stifle the sound of my parents’ fighting, hoping my drunk father wouldn’t turn up for my graduation mass.

I am positive that those other children of alcoholic parents, now adults, experienced the same pain reading that article. The memories and the emotion remain raw and vicious.

As a child of an alcoholic, I am a damaged adult. I don’t have healthy coping mechanisms so I naturally turned to drink.

Trying to move on

The concept of ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ didn’t hold water when I was growing up. You either drank like my father or lashed out like my mother in order to temper the distemper.

I have never considered counselling as I loathe the thought of me being some type of victim. I hate being the centre of attention and I blow-up when I try to open up.

The most poignant part of all this is that I am now a parent. I have stopped drinking and I am trying to write about my bad memories. I have a very supportive and loving husband. It all helps, but it is difficult.

I can see now that I’m a parent that my parents weren’t bad people; they were just like me, caught in a vicious circle that I managed to escape.

I can look at my memories in an objective way and understand their point of view to a certain extent. But I will never be able to reconcile my memories with their perspectives. Never.

Curbing the harm

I am glad that Frances Black is shining a light on this hidden hurt. However, I believe the new Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will do little to curb this type of harm.

I believe the approach has to come from the bottom up and the top down, discursively and culturally. Discourse about drinking in this country needs to move out into an open forum. It needs to be de-stigmatised and people who experience harm from alcohol abuse need to speak out loud about it, unafraid and unashamed.

GPs need to be aware of the issue and offer help to both the patients who have a drinking problem and the families affected by it.

Schools should address it as an issue that affects the mental health of a child, and offer avenues for children to seek help. All children should be educated about alcoholism and its effects in school, particularly familial alcoholism.

Once a forum exists and there is a comfort level in speaking out about the issue, I believe this is when radical change could be achieved, just like with depression. People now have more understanding of depression and are able to speak about it more openly.

Judgements cannot and should not be made on those who are struggling. Tuts, eye-rolls, and whispers are like lashes of a whip to a child and they are not forgotten.

Get help

It needs to be said that I love my parents dearly. They both tried their best and I know they love/loved me.

My father since passed away. We had five glorious alcohol-free years and his grandson has beautiful memories of him. He was a beautiful person, poisoned, and my mother is the bravest person I know.

Childhood should be a happy time and we all only get one. So to all parents with a drink problem, look at your children and remember that. Get help.

The author has chosen to remain anonymous.

Read: “You feel invisible” – the Irish children suffering from their parents’ abuse of alcohol

Read: Ireland has the highest alcohol prices in the EU (almost double the average)

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