Alcoholism is a storm that spares no one in its path. This disease invokes pain upon everyone around the alcoholic no matter how old they are, how much money they have, or how nice their family may appear on the outside. Alcoholism leaves lasting effects on children long after they grow up. I know this because I am the child of an alcoholic.
I didn’t know what an alcoholic was when I was a child. I also didn’t think there was anything wrong or unusual about my life. In my case, I was lucky that my father was a functional alcoholic and could provide for our family and participate normally in family activities.
My dad always drank a lot, but I didn’t consider it to be excessive. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to see things differently. I remember riding in the back seat of my dad’s car with a friend and my friend leaned over and said, “Your dad is drunk! He’s swerving all over the road!”
“No,” I said, “he always drives like that.”
I thought all dads drank a lot of beer every night and fell asleep on the couch. I thought all dads drank beer while driving and shoved the evidence under their seats. I thought all dads got excessively loud while telling jokes in restaurants, to the point where people would stare. That’s just my dad! I thought.
The conversation in the back of that car was a turning point in how I viewed some of my father’s behavior. It wasn’t something all dads did. Is my dad a drunk driver? I wondered. Because I knew drunk drivers were BAD. But I didn’t think my dad was bad.
My parents kept things pretty well contained until we kids were grown up and out of the house. After that, it seemed like their whole life unraveled. Addiction took over in full force. My parents’ marriage was falling apart. My dad wasn’t showing up to work regularly and was arrested for drunk driving.
Watching all of this happen was heartbreaking.
I felt completely helpless, not knowing what to do. My parents would each call me complaining about the other one while screaming and crying. Other times they would act like everything was completely fine and normal. It was beyond confusing.
One day my mom called to tell me dad had agreed to check into rehab. I wasn’t sure he would actually give up drinking, but I was relieved. Maybe this would finally all be over. Things were somewhat better for a while.
But my parents’ marriage was still in shambles. My mom was so angry at my dad for everything he had done even though he was trying to recover. I can’t say I blame her for that, but they both refused to go to counseling so they never seemed to work through their issues. Their fights got worse and worse to the point where I wondered if I should call the police.
No child should ever be put in a position where they might have to call the police on their parents . . . no matter how old they are.
My mom started drinking more and more. She hid wine bottles and wine glasses all throughout the house. When we would visit, my kids would find them in the most random places. I brought it up a few times to my mom, and she brushed it off like it was no big deal.
But there were more signs that made me feel like my mom was headed down the same road as my dad. Denial. Hiding alcohol. Drinking really early in the day. But she was, and still is, adamant that she doesn’t have a problem.
And so I worry. I’m left to wonder when rock bottom is going to happen . . . again. What bad thing is going to happen to make her realize this isn’t healthy? Will I get a call one day that one of my parents have died? And will it be because of alcohol or because of escalated violence from one of their fights?
But there is nothing else I can do. I have suggested every helpful thing I possibly can.
I have stepped back emotionally and let them know I am their child and I’m not responsible for their problems. I am not a therapist or a professional of any kind, and that is where they need to turn to for help.
I feel guilty for pulling away and not doing more. But I have my own family to take care of. And I spend lots of time and money on my own therapy to try to work on the collateral damage that has been inflicted upon me. Damage they haven’t even noticed.
While other moms my age are dropping their kids off at the grandparents’ house for weekends away, I’m anxious and fearful to leave my children alone with ours. While other women are getting advice from their moms, I know mine isn’t in a place where she can give that to me. When other women are happily looking at Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards for their parents, I’m staring at the words of each card wondering if there’s one I can purchase that wouldn’t be a lie.
My parents aren’t bad people. And they did a lot of good and positive things while raising me. But they have problems. And those problems still affect me to this day. I am the child of an alcoholic, and that hurts no matter what age you are.