Anthony describes how alcoholism has affected his whole life. After growing up with an alcoholic mother, he subsequently married a problem drinker, and life became chaotic. After going to an Al-Anon meeting in desperation, he found a way to cope with everyday life, as well as his wife’s drinking.
“I’m what is known as an ‘adult child’ of an alcoholic. My mother had a problem with her drinking from before I was born to just before she died, when I was 22. Then I went on to marry an alcoholic.
As a child I pretended to be a lot more sorted than I felt - always putting on a good show, being a ‘perfect child’ while hiding my real feelings. Inside I was a mess.
As I got older I became filled with self-doubt, confused and unable to work out why I found managing normal life so difficult. In my 40’s I picked up a book from my brother’s desk titled Adult Children of Alcoholics and from the check list of questions on the back of the book (amongst others: ‘Adult children guess at what normal behaviour is’, and ‘Adult children constantly seek approval and affirmation’) I realised I identified completely with the traits described in this book.
I started talking to my siblings about our history and realised through what they shared that our mother had a real problem with her drinking throughout our childhood, a problem that was to bring her to an early death in her mid-50’s. But no-one had ever talked about it openly in our family. Her drinking, her irrational behaviour and everyone’s reaction to it was considered “normal”.
I realised that was part of the reason why I was attracted to my wife’s way of partying and socialising. The first night we met, we went on a drinking spree until 5am, and that set up a pattern for most of our marriage. I did my best to keep up, but she was able to handle her drink better than I could. Many nights I’d go to bed only to wake the next morning with her still drinking with whoever was the party-person of the moment. My resentment and confusion around why I felt so uncomfortable started to dominate my thoughts. I tried (unsuccessfully) to seek solace in my job and to achieve self-esteem through my work.
It wasn’t until she continued to drink not just through her pregnancies but during their formative years that I decided to seek help. I knew that I had a problem with repressed anger and control, but I wasn’t able to reason things out with her or confront her. The denial I had around her drinking was very powerful. Most likely because of the denial surrounding my own mother’s drinking.
I was desperate. I needed to know how to help my two young boys who were showing symptoms of anxiety. She would leave them on their own or take them for long evenings out in the pub. I’d get calls to tell me that one of them had fallen over and cut their head open at the pub. Or a parent from their class would text me to say that my wife was out of control. She would come home late from the pub and fall over on the stairs or crash into something in the kitchen. Most nights I would lie awake listening for some impending disaster.
Things came to a head one summer. I needed to work during the school holidays and couldn’t organise child care in time for my boys, so they had to stay home with their mum. A new client wanted me to come to meet them, but I felt huge anxiety and stress around leaving the boys at home with her but knowing as I was also the only breadwinner in the family that I had to also prioritise work. It knew that I couldn’t go on like this.
I remembered a relative mentioning Al-Anon to me when I was a teenager. I looked it up in the yellow pages in desperation. I don’t remember how but I found a local meeting but somehow, I turned up.
In my first meeting I heard the stories of others who had similar and experiences to mine but handled them differently. I don’t remember much about what was said but I felt that there was a calm and peace to the people there, so I kept coming back.
It’s been over ten years now since I started going to Al-Anon. My life has changed completely since then, and I owe most of that change to Al-Anon. I’ve learned about the ‘family disease of alcoholism’, about how I was powerless over the drinking and that a lot of my ways to control situations around the drinking actually made things worse.
My wife and I decided to eventually separate, and she is now in recovery, needing the space and time of living on her own to be able to take responsibility for herself. We have a mutually respectful relationship now, and my two sons live with me.
I keep going to meetings as I know I still have a lot to learn and also by giving back some of my experience, strength and hope to newcomers, I help this community of self-help.”