independent advocate reducing alcohol harm

Elizabeth

I would lie in bed with the sound of a well known dreary play droning in the background … I was petrified.

My story – where do I start? The weeping wound that never heals. Even though I am now in my older years. I was from a large family- who wasn’t in those days? My early years are filled with hazy memories. My mother was not a loving parent. The weight of parenthood was a huge burden to her. I do not remember any expressed joy or love shown by her to me. My father was over protective, obsessive and given to ferocious outbursts at the slightest misdemeanour. My father was very much driven by the development of his career. He did well, despite the fact he depended on alcohol to exist. My mother joined him in the end.

My childhood and early teen years centred around the binge drinking of both my parents. This was considered acceptable by me, I knew nothing else. All my parents’ friends drank heavily. I could give you so many examples of how frightened I was all the time. Frightened when my father drank, when he did not drink, when I heard his key in the door and when we sat at the table for our meals with him. Just writing this gives me a knot in my stomach. I did not know any better. My parents were habitual heavy drinkers and their inconsistent mood swings reflected this. I would lie in bed with the sound of a well known dreary play droning in the background of shouting, laughing and sometimes violent outbursts coming through the floorboards. I was petrified. I did not feel safe.

My parents and their friends were all professional people ‘well to do’. There were continual and often spontaneous parties. The mood was always high. I often said since it was like living on a precipice of how things would pan out. Something was on the verge of happening all the time. There did not have to be drink because, as I know now, their moods throughout their lives were effected by their habitual drinking. I had absolutely no autonomy. I had no choice as i got older I was expected to be in attendance. I would be the runner: empty the ashtray, get some more water, serve the crackers and cheese! My father was very possessive of his daughters. He was a force to be reckoned with when it came to the natural interest by any of his daughters in boys. Another obsession. However, he witnessed his male ‘friends’ showing an unhealthy interest in me. They would offer their ‘laps’ for me to sit on or discuss how I was becoming a ‘lovely young’ girl. Of course this was all while they were drinking. I, once again, was frightened. I did not know how to handle their behaviour. I was brought up to respect adults. My home was not a safe place. I learnt very quickly who, of these men, to avoid.

So basically I became ‘street wise’ about the predilections of some men in my own home. I learnt that men could not be trusted, were weak regarding sexual desire, especially when they were drinking. I would also have seen inappropriate.sexual behaviours between these adults. This continued until sadly my father died an early death brought on by all his excesses. I was very angry. My mother continued her heavy drinking. It is very hard to describe the mother/daughter relationship that is fractured by alcohol abuse.

Without doubt I loved my mother. The non drinking mother. I hated the drinking mother. I also hated the fact that above all else she lived for alcohol. It ruined every family get together. Something always happened. Obviously she got drunk. She was not fun to be with. She would say nasty things. I did not drink with her, therefore she spoke badly of me to her drinking buddies. When I spoke to someone recently about my father’s excesses, I said it was awful that he never gave them up. This person said ‘if he had, what would he have left?’ I said spontaneously without thought – ‘us his family’. I am still that frightened, hurt child who realised, very early on, that I had no place in my parents lives.

My mother, as an old, older person, had one last hurrah which ruined a big family event. We spoke with her. She decided to stop drinking. She had a stroke 2 months later, from which she recovered very well. Those family members who took control of her finances decided it would be too expensive for her to be at home. I did not agree but had no say. Sadly she went to a nursing home. I basked, for the first time, in her complete love of me during those last years of her life. And she had mine, with no bottle of alcohol to taint it.

There is a lot more I could say…about my childhood – the far reaching effects this had had on me. Watching other family members being alcohol dependant and seeing a repeat of my childhood in their children’s lives. I am aware that how inadequate I am when confronted with this due to my own experiences. This makes me sad…again.