(by Lizzie* – name changed to maintain anonymity)
My childhood was fraught with problems around my dad’s drinking, and my earliest memories of him mostly have alcohol attached to them…
If I’m honest with myself, I don’t remember ever feeling carefree and secure as a child because my dad’s drinking caused me to be very fearful and anxious. He drank every evening and just wasn’t present in my childhood. Alcohol made him a different person to who he was when he was sober. My physical needs were taken care of – I was well-dressed and clean, fed nutritious meals, but was left to fend for myself and felt very alone and insecure and lacking in emotional nurture.
I loved my dad very much and still do!
He is a charismatic personality with a lot of charm and, when sober, was a good and gentle dad who provided well for us. But, I have since come to realise he was a high-functioning alcoholic.
When he got angry, I feared him greatly. He was harsh in his discipline and would get a look in his eyes that would frighten me terribly. In those moments I felt there was no reaching him when his eyes glazed over with alcohol and rage.
My mom, who is a feisty no-nonsense kind of woman, would often pick a fight with him when he was drunk because she couldn’t contain her anger and frustration about it. He occasionally became physically aggressive with her in front of my sisters and me. I once remember dark glasses covering her bruised eyes and this resulted real and long lasting trauma experienced by me and my sisters.
Keeping up appearances, keeping silent
We didn’t speak about these things afterwards because it was a no-go topic. Everybody just understood that it was a family secret without ever putting it into words. Nothing was dealt with. My mom would be very quiet for a week or two, and then we would all just block it from our memories. We needed to keep up appearances by looking like a lovely close-knit family because that was very important to my dad. We did love each other though, and we also had some wonderful family moments of closeness, but ultimately alcoholism robbed us of wholeness.
As an adolescent I was very fearful and became extremely protective over my youngest sister
I couldn’t bear to sleep over at a friend’s place for fear that my dad would get drunk, have a fight with my mom, and I wouldn’t be there to protect her. The most important thing in my mind was that she never witness what I and my other sisters had seen.
What I didn’t know then was how this disease would affect my life well into adulthood and marriage…
I realise now, that as a young woman I often dated men who drank quite heavily. I guess it felt comfortable and familiar. When I met my husband I didn’t notice his heavy drinking because thanks to my childhood, I thought that kind of drinking was normal.
Once our first child arrived, I started to notice that his drinking wasn’t easing off as we were settling into family life, and would complain to him about it. But it was always met with, ‘I just enjoy a beer or two!’
It wasn’t just a beer or two, though
It was consistent, heavy drinking and it was constantly the elephant in the room that he refused to deal with. He minimised how much he drank and lied when asked how many he’d had. I became more and more obsessed about it and started to believe he didn’t love me because, I felt, how could someone who professes to love his wife not at least take her seriously about how difficult she was finding the drinking.
Alcohol always came first. It felt like a mistress that I had become jealous of because I couldn’t get his attention like alcohol could. No begging, cajoling or threatening ever made any difference. Eventually, I became so frustrated and depressed about it that I started to look for answers. I stumbled across a book called, “If You Loved Me, You’d Stop!: What You Really Need to Know When Your Loved One Drinks Too Much” which completely resonated with me. In it I learned about Al-Anon for the first time and decided to look for a meeting.
I came to Al-Anon because I had completely come to the end of myself and my efforts in trying to figure out what to do about my husband’s heavy drinking.
A great burden was soon lifted when I learned the three Cs – I didn’t Cause it, I cannot Control it and I cannot Cure it.
Al-Anon – sharing our strength, hope and support
A great burden was soon lifted when I learned the three Cs – I didn’t Cause it, I cannot Control it and I cannot Cure it. I also learned that I have played a role in enabling and making the situation worse at times. I reacted angrily and had become disrespectful, unkind and some of my behaviours were in fact rather insane.
I soon also learned that alcoholism is a family disease and nobody walks away unaffected. As an adult child of an alcoholic I could be exceptionally controlling and rather unpleasant to be around sometimes. I had a self-righteous attitude and been so focussed on the drinking, that it had become my crazy obsession.
I am so grateful for the gift of Al-Anon, for its inspired spiritual wisdom, and the wonderful true friendships I have found in this fellowship. As I focus on my own recovery, I am slowly learning how to look at myself honestly, and take responsibility for my own behaviours. This led to a separation.
He stopped drinking
The result was that after a few months, my husband, of his own accord, chose to stop drinking and started attending AA. We are now reconciled which is wonderful, but things aren’t perfect and I’m not sure what the rest of his journey will look like. However, what I am sure of is that I have tools now to help me cope with whatever the future may bring. There is no more need for despair. I have my spiritual power’s ever-present help, I have meetings, literature, a wonderful sponsor and the steps to remind me to focus on my own recovery.
With all these life-changing tools I have been able to step off the merry-go-round of alcoholism, and slowly start to do things differently. I can choose to respond, rather than react. I can choose to detach with Love. I can learn to love and accept the alcoholic and start enjoying my life, free of the burden of obsession about someone else’s actions.
Al-Anon hasn’t only helped me with dealing with alcoholism. It has helped me grow on a personal level and learn how to have meaningful and fulfilling relationships in every part of my life, whether alcoholism is involved or not. My outlook is now slowly starting to become more positive.
Life is good when I learn to change my perspective and dare to grow as a person. For that I am ever grateful!