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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 21 November, 2019
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'My dad was a violent alcoholic. I vowed to make my daughter's childhood better than mine.'

My father drank to forget the worst years of his life – his childhood – and at the same time destroyed mine.

Anonymous

MY FIRST MEMORY is of a bee stinging me on the arm. I was around two years of age. My second memory is of viewing a house, picking out my bedroom. My third memory I’m in the back of a removal van. Unbeknownst to me back then, the second of three memories would be repeated often over the years.

My dad was an alcoholic. A violent alcoholic. He was washing away the worst years of his life, his childhood, at the same time he was destroying mine. I’ve seen my dad beat my mother. I’ve hid my head under my pillow at night, trying to block out the noise and the arguments while crying. I can still hear the tell-tale sign that he was trashing the house and laying into my long-suffering mother. I feared my dad, though we did have good times when he was sober.

A hard childhood

By the time I was eight my dad stopped beating my mother but he would still beat us kids. This was the first time I wanted to kill myself. We were often left alone during the day. We had a long list of chores. My brothers had no interest in cleaning so it was down to me – as they went off and played, I turned into Cinderella.

As I picked up the frying pan to wash it, I put it back down and looked out at my brothers playing through the window, I picked up the knife and lifted my T-shirt, I pressed the sharp poking into the soft part between my ribs. I couldn’t even break the skin, it hurt so much. I want to die back then, I really did. The thought occurred to me often through my childhood but I was too scared to go through with it.

At that point, I was living in my fifth house and going to my second primary school. By age 10 I was in my seventh house and third primary school. I began contemplating running away but it never materialised, though I would often dream up scenarios. I also dreamed up scenarios where I died, and how to end my life.

By 11-and-a-half while I was in 5th class in my fourth primary school we moved into our tenth house. This house was remote and the nearest primary school was too far away to walk too. My dad never drove us to school – even when we walked five miles in the morning to school and five miles, back at age eight – so I never went to school again. My days were spent cleaning, cooking, gardening and watching TV. I used to get my older brother’s maths book out to learn maths; I loved maths and was good at school.

Dad struggled with the addiction

Dad tried to give up the alcohol when I was 12. But he started taking codeine linctus instead. He was a much better person while he was taking the codeine, however because he needed it he couldn’t go back to the same chemist so us kids became his source for the codeine. He would drive all over the county sending us into each chemist to ask for the stuff. I hated it I really did. The pharmacist would ask questions and we had to say our granny had a bad cough and it was the only thing she could take.

After months he was back on the booze, he would get my oldest brother to get the alcohol from the off-licence, even though he was underage. He had a word with the owner and said it was for him. He didn’t like people knowing he was an alcoholic. He only ever drank at home, never in a pub as it was a big secret. Sherry and Linden Village. The sherry was the worst – after two bottles he was happy but when he hit the third bottle we would hide as he became aggressive, argumentative and violent.

Most times he would drink and drive, so he could get another bottle of sherry, us kids would go with him for a pound, we could get a 100 penny sweets, which was luxury. He crashed a couple of times while drunk, knocking over a telephone box and once my brother was in the car and it suffered a side impact. He left the scene and my brother’s face had glass shards in it.

He could have three bottles a night, seven nights a week, starting around 3 o’clock. My dad never worked as such, he liked cars so would fix mates’ cars, often keeping us up till the early hours holding lights and fetching stuff. He also did FAS jobs, a week on and a week off. He once got a job as a caretaker of a school, but us kids used to have to clean the school with him.

I had to stop going to school

We moved to house number eleven when I was 14. This was our third different county and our second county to have lived in. He chose a place near where my mother and I could get work (not him or my brother). So from age 14 I worked. I hated moving house, I knew no one my own age, all the women workers were older, but during the holidays a few kids a bit older began working there. I couldn’t get on with them, I was socially awkward, had low self-esteem. Eventually I made friends in the local town, but they weren’t real friends, as I was to find out later.

My dad gave up the drink, again turning to codeine. Again I became a drug supplier. I did have good times with my dad, but the bad times outweigh the good. Things happened when I was 15 and I eventually decided to end it. I swallowed back a lot of pills. I was hoping to fall asleep like they did on TV, but no. While in the ambulance to hospital I vomited and it just got worse. I spent three days in ICU, drifting in and out of consciousness.

I went to see a psychologist but lied throughout. She put it all down to me lacking social skills due to not going to school. At 16 I left home because I got a job a good few miles away. I took in my brother when my dad kicked him out for protecting mom during an argument. He came to me with two black eyes and a broken nose.

I vowed to make my daughter’s life better than mine

Until I met my husband I was happy to die, I had no desire to live. Yet because I made a promise to my old boss never to do it again, I didn’t. I’m a bit old school where it comes to honouring one promise, but it didn’t stop me from taking risks hoping I would die.

When I had my first child I had something to live for. I felt love and felt loved. For the first time I felt loved, this little face smiling up at me. I vowed to make her life better than mine. I devoted my life to her. I didn’t get drunk, I would have a drink or two or sometimes I would just stick to minerals. My real friends accepted this, others thought I was odd. When my partner moved in he did so under the condition he would never get drunk and come home. He would stay at his mate house as he often did anyway. I wasn’t putting my child through what I went through.

When I was 24 I finally forgave my father. I realised he had worse childhood than I did. His parents were evil. He drank to cope. He was a stereotypical abused child. His parents never loved him and he did everything to get their love and affection. They didn’t even acknowledge his death at 54.

Live the life you want to live

Yes my childhood was bad, yes I am scarred, but somehow I pulled through. The person I am today would have been somewhat different if I had a different upbringing. I will never get my childhood back, but I get to live it again through my kids. Doing the things I never got to do, having the things I never had, going places I never got to go.

It’s hard to get to where I am now. It took me a long time. I had major issues with low self-esteem because I felt unequal due to having no education. But I went back and did the Leaving Cert Applied and got a pass with distinction.

Life is what you make it: don’t focus on the negatives, don’t make the same mistakes your parents made. Live the life you want to live.

The author wishes to remain anonymous.

Helplines:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Console  1800 247 247 (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Aware 1890 303 302 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie - (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)
  • Women’s Aid national freephone helpline 1800341900 10am – 10pm, 7 days a week.

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About the author:

Anonymous

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