Living with an alcoholic – child of an alcoholics perspective
The house is busy with students in the kitchen, Dad isn’t around and Mum is busy cooking dinner. My sister is in her room and I’m just wondering about, not feeling settled and that’s how I usually feel. Life as a child of an alcoholic is tough.
I’m not sure what Dad’s doing and to be honest it doesn’t really matter, he isn’t usually about anyway. What I do want is for my Mum to have time, to be able to have space and to be with me. I felt a disconnection from my Dad because he spent a lot of time on his own. Sitting in his car drinking. He isolated himself off, so there was little chance of any decent relationships forming.
As an adult I understand my Mum was busy running the house. She was also dealing with the students, doing meals, chores and sometimes working as well. As a child those things didn’t really seem important to me. There is a lot to be said for time, time with someone and time without someone. Time of day, time of night, time to grieve and time to be still. Time can give and take away so much.
Life as a child of an alcoholic
Living with an alcoholic father, gave me a whole different experience to someone that had a relatively healthy home life. It can be calm and everything seems relatively normal. Then, drama descends, arguments start, fear ensues and in a moment, a whirlwind has hit.
I know now that everyone’s experience of living with someone’s alcohol misuse varies dramatically. At the time things were beyond awful, but somehow, some way I got through it. We all got through it. Hearing people’s stories as an adult has given me a new perspective, at times I think I had it relatively easy. At other times fairly hard. It depends who I’m listening to, but to be honest, it is what it is no matter what others went through.
My perception at the time and now is what I lived by, what still impacts me now at times. Whether what is in my mind actually happened or not is irrelevant, if I think it happened then it’s still affecting me. I learnt to deal with that, it’s important to pay attention to what still affects me now.
My days as a child with an alcoholic father varied. Sometimes Dad was in a good place and other times not so much. We all lived our lives around his mood when he was drinking, there were times when he stopped for a while.
What did I want?
I wanted parents that were able to be there for me, inspire me, tell me I could achieve my dreams and make me feel so important. I wanted their time, time to be me and for them to accept me as I was. To love me UNCONDITIONALLY! Even now, I believe I have to do something for someone if they do something for me, or give me something.
I learnt that people give you something but then you owe them. They did you a favour or helped you so you have to return it. I learnt that I had to act and be a certain way to be accepted, if I didn’t then I was the naughty and difficult child.
What did I get?
As I remember things now, I had a lot of rejection. I was rejected as a person because I was seen as the difficult child, I asked too many questions and didn’t just do as I was told. I didn’t know about boundaries, how to look after myself, how to not compromise my own needs for the benefit of others. I was always told to think of others, even it that meant I would be unhappy.
After so many years, being by myself seemed like the only option. It kept me out of trouble, most of the time and I didn’t feel like a bad person. I use to listen to my music and record the Top 40 hits off the radio on a Sunday. I was also really creative and spent my time making things. I did have some good times with my Mum, I especially remember baking and sewing with her. We’d also go to the beach and spend a lot of time there, having fun in and out of the sea.
Most of all my home didn’t feel safe, we had foreign students so our home wasn’t our own. My Dad hallucinated when his drinking was really bad, I had physical and mental experiences I would rather not have had, and I just remember feeling so out of control.
I hated that my life was dictated by others, by my Mum and Dad. I couldn’t choose to leave, although I tried running a few times. How can a child get out of such an upsetting, unsafe and unhappy situation?
The subtle effects of being a child of an alcoholic
There are some obvious and less obvious effects, loneliness is one. I felt terribly disconnected and lonely. I didn’t feel anyone got me. My self-esteem was low because I didn’t feel accepted as I was. I struggled with friendships in secondary school and outside of school. I was petrified of my own Dad, he was strict and that impacted my adult life. I became fearful of authority figures. I was overly responsible and not just in a practical way, but I had a sense of responsibility. I’d think of what I’d be expected to do to help.
This has carried into my adult life. I’m incredibly black and white in my thinking, I have a huge need for control which manifests in OCD through organising. I use to try and express my feelings, but it was met with denial and dismissal so as an adult this became hard to do. The people I trusted as a child let me down, so trusting as an adult became very challenging.
Living on eggshells because I didn’t know what mood my Dad would be in, made me feel extremely anxious. I use to scan a room and feel totally on edge and even now struggle to totally relax. If I arrange an event, I feel anxious that it goes well and everyone has a good time. It’s very stressful! I’ve written more about typical characteristics of families of alcoholics here.
I hope by sharing my experiences you’ll see how living with an alcoholic can impact your adult life. My self-esteem and confidence were affected hugely and for me this is at the very core of a lot of our problems. I’ve created a useful eBook to share with you, to give you inspiration, courage and hope.