I grew up in what I thought was a normal household, but one day my world turned upside down as my dad’s alcohol addiction became too evident to hide.
My dad had always been a heavy drinker, but I never saw him being aggressive when he was drunk. I was aware of him being overly loud and emotional. I remember being embarrassed by his behaviour at times but didn’t realise that it was down to him being drunk. When my parents got married mum knew that dad enjoyed a drink, but she didn’t think he had a problem until I was born. She thought that after giving birth dad would control his drinking and be more hands on. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and that’s when mum realised that dad might be an alcoholic.
After several years mum realised that she couldn’t cope with the effects of living with an alcoholic husband anymore. That’s when she found out about Al-Anon and started attending meetings which helped her. I became aware of my dad's alcoholism when I was about nine or ten. I wasn't aware of it, but my dad had previously hit my mum whilst being drunk. With all the support that she had, my mum had learnt that she needed to look after herself and that she didn’t need to accept being treated badly. That’s when she warned my dad that if he hit her again, she would call the police, and that's what she did. My mum woke me up to explain that a police officer would be coming and that they would want to speak to me but I shouldn't worry. After that my mum and I went to stay with one of her Al-Anon friends for a while until my dad moved out of our family home. I realised the extent to which Al‑Anon had become her support system; she made friends that became like family.
Over those years I didn’t see the effects of my dad's alcoholism, purely because I was too young to understand it. I never felt angry or resentful towards him - but then I very rarely saw him. However, I did see my mum struggling for years; that wasn't easy. I wouldn't say that I 'blamed' my mum for their separation, but I most definitely took my feelings out on her. She was the steady one who was there for me and therefore our relationship took the brunt of my anger.
After my parents separated, the custody agreement was that I would see my dad every other weekend. I believe his drinking was at its worst at the time. When I went to visit him, he would take me to the pub every day “for a quick half”, which turned into an afternoon in the pub with me almost carrying him home. I remember feeling uncomfortable and resentful, but it didn’t occur to me that I could choose not to go with him.
When I turned twelve, my mum dragged me to an Alateen meeting (for 12-17-year olds). I was a painfully shy little girl who couldn’t talk to anyone, so it was hard for me. The thing I remember most vividly was seeing someone in the meeting from my school. It was a big moment, the realisation that someone I knew was going through the same thing. Up until then I felt that the chaotic life I was living was confined to our family home.
Over the coming weeks the Alateen meeting dwindled, until one week it was just me and the Alateen Group Sponsor. This one-to-one session was far too intense for my liking and I didn't return. Probably a year or so later I began attending another Alateen meeting, a group with more regular members which made me feel more comfortable!
Alateen was a huge help for me growing up, it taught me that I wasn’t responsible for my dad’s drinking and that I couldn’t stop it or control his behaviour. I’m aware that a lot of children blame themselves when growing up with an alcoholic parent, often leading to mental and emotional instability. I’m grateful that as I became aware of my dad’s drinking, I also came to understand that his addiction was an illness. I avoided many years of begging, manipulation and tipping drink down the sink. Alateen helped me in so many ways.
Putting boundaries in place helped me the most to deal with dad’s drinking. I grew more confident and learnt that I could treat him with respect and still say ‘no’ to him. I refused to go to the pub with him anymore and made it clear that I would remove myself from the situation if he was drunk. This was very difficult since he didn’t recognise that he had a drinking problem - I remember once using the word ‘alcoholic’ and he flipped. I didn’t do that again!
Over the years the main thing that kept me in contact with my dad was simply because I thought he would die soon. I could see how he was abusing his body and he was always in hospital from some alcohol-related issues or accident. I would feel so guilty if I didn’t see him and something happened. Last year he ended up in intensive care with sepsis after a fall but to everyone’s surprise he recovered.
As I grew and matured, I was eventually able to have what I call a “good” relationship with my dad. We spoke about his illness and how it affects me. He now accepts that he has a drinking problem, we discussed his options and that he could go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings for support. Sadly, he chooses to continue to drink and that’s his choice.
Some days are better than others, and on those bad days it can still be difficult to set those boundaries. For example, explaining that I can’t talk to him on the phone or having to finish a visit early if he’s drunk. However, doing so allows us to maintain a good relationship and it keeps me sane. These days we can talk, we can laugh, and he loves seeing his granddaughter. Sometimes, after years of being the ‘adult’ in our relationship I even reach out to him for help. These are gifts that Alateen and Al-Anon have given us.