On Halloween evening, when I was ten, my father pushed my brother down the stairs, breaking his leg. At the bottom of the stairs, not only did my father not help my brother, but he actually injured me as well. While my brother was very visibly injured, I attempted to help him, getting caught between him and my father. My father, angry that I was helping him, yanked on my hair so hard that he actually tore a chunk of it out, and I hit my head from the impact of being yanked backwards. Both my brother and I wound up in the hospital that night. When my mother came home she asked us what we’d done to provoke him.
On my sixteenth birthday my father threw a glass filled with scotch and ice directly at my head. While my head didn’t bleed, it certainly bruised. I spent several weeks lying about how that happened after the fact.
At my high school graduation, my father was so loaded, he vomited on the floor of the auditorium while graduates were walking across the stage. They asked him to leave. Having a last name that starts with the letter ‘V’ meant that I was one of the last few to walk across the stage. He was long gone from the auditorium and didn’t see me accept my diploma.
While these are just three memories of my formative years, I have a lifetime’s worth.
My father is an alcoholic.
If you asked him, he would probably tell you that his children had a very happy childhood. Which, wouldn’t be a complete lie. We definitely did have happy moments now and again. Though, when I think back of the happy memories that I do have, he was never involved.
If you asked any of my brothers or I, recollections of our childhoods probably wouldn’t be of those happy memories. Recollections of our childhoods include a lot of memories like I’ve shared above. There was a lot of pain – physical and mental. There was a lot of struggle – as we were young kids trying to understand why our father liked to beat us up. There was a lot of sadness – sadness because all we wanted was him to go one day, any day, without drinking.
This isn’t an easy subject for me to talk about. When I was young, I often wondered why he had children. He never seemed to want us around.
I’m an adult now, and while I understand that his actions and mood were largely due to the alcohol, my siblings and I have learned that time does not, in fact, heal all wounds. He missed out on knowing us then, and his drinking keeps him from knowing us now.
I graduated from high school at 16 years old, and I left. I went right into University, and after completing my degree, I started working 2,000 miles away. Over the years, we saw each other on occasion – when my siblings and I visited my mother, family funerals, stuff like that. He and my mother moved several times. They tried the East Coast for a while, and didn’t like it, so they moved to the Arctic Circle.
It wasn’t until I was almost thirty that I spent any considerable amount of time around him again. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I helped her through her treatments while he was still working. It was 6 months of us largely tip-toeing around one another. There was the occasional fight. Now that I was an adult, though, I had a vehicle and a driver’s license, so when we fought, I could get in my car and drive away before it turned physical.
My father and I don’t speak much. We never really have. Even while in the same room, he largely will say things to my mother, for her to say to me. We don’t wish one another Happy Birthday, he’s never going to be the person I call if I’m in trouble, and I don’t rank highly on his list of people he wants to share news with. None of his children do. The alcohol has always been more important to him. The alcohol has always been more important that everyone, and everything. Now in his late 60’s, the only friend he has in this world is my mother.
When you tell people that, they look at you with pity.
“Oh, I’m so sorry that happened to you, dear.”
I don’t tell people because I want pity. That fact is largely why few people in my life actually know the depths of the strain in our relationship. Once people know, they don’t look at you the same. You’re no longer you, you’re the eight year old that had to call the police to stop her parent from beating on her. You’re that little girl with blonde hair and big eyes who had to testify to what it was like living with a man who routinely caused his children trips to the hospital, while a broken system never did anything to protect her.
Please don’t get me wrong here, I am by no means saying that all alcoholics are aggressive, or violent. I’m merely saying that they can be. And, when they are, it’s a rough place for a kid to grow up.
What is important to remember about alcoholism is this: alcohol doesn’t just effect the person who drinks. Alcohol effects the whole family. Alcohol effects the friends, the strangers who cross paths with the alcoholic. Alcohol effects everyone.
When someone willingly chooses alcohol over themselves, their families or their friends, I feel for them. I may not understand all addiction, but I definitely understand alcoholism. I understand that need for one more glass of scotch. I understand sitting down to have a beer and drinking all six of them. It’s familiar to me. Having been through what I’ve been through in this life, I have so much appreciation for people who are in recovery and the work they put in to maintain their sobriety each and every day.
Recovery is not easy. You have to want to recover, and in the case of my dad, he seems pretty content with his alcohol, rather than knowing his children or grand children.
My biggest takeaway from being the child of an alcoholic? It’s not about me. It never was. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that. Since I can’t, though, what I can do is instill confidence in my nieces, nephews and future children, to know that it’s not about them. It’s never about them, and it’s always about the alcoholic.
To all the kids of alcoholics out there, young and old, I see you, I hear you and I understand you. It’s not about you, it never was. I hope that you remember that, no matter how deep the scars run.
The following guest post was written by a fellow WordPress blogger. Please be advised that content in this article is her story, her thoughts and her perspective. Visit ‘Just Vee Cause’.
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Lead Photo by Thomas Picauly from Unsplash