Out of secrecy: Mother and daughter talk about life with alcoholism

Family, Heartbreak

Lou and Cassia share their experience of the love, pain of a child living in an alcoholic household

Lou (Mum) writes

So often when we are sharing or making videos in our work with families of drinkers I find myself saying “we have been through the pain and learned so many of our lessons the hard way, but YOU DON’T HAVE TO”. I say it with great passion because I can take a more detached overview with that exact science of hindsight; but I say it even more passionately now as my daughter begins to share her own heartrending journey. May I say here again very clearly, that we write these articles together for clarification and implore you not to read and condemn yourself. Any sort of function so quickly disappears when we live with an alcoholic. Much of the time we lurch from day to day, crisis to crisis protecting, ignoring, rescuing, berating and hiding; and caring for ourselves is so far down the list that we rarely consider anything except managing the drinker’s chaos and trying to protect our children.

My daughter knows that I tried very hard to keep her safe. Just as I see that in my attempt to do that I made some wrong choices along the way. She adored her father, so I wanted to protect her from knowing the excesses of his drinking. I knew deep inside that children are much much more aware of what’s going on than we give them credit for but hoped against hope that, because we all loved each other, it would shield her from the worst of the damage. Only now do I realise that she knew so much more than I realised; and that, ironically, her love for me was shielding me from the added burden of her anguish.

HOW I WISH WE HAD BEEN ABLE TO TALK.

Denial and secrecy had woven its deadly web of silence and we all soldiered on alone. I at least eventually plucked up the courage to tell my parents and a few close friends. I am appalled to learn that my daughter told no one. Of course I have told her how sorry I am. I choose (with varying degrees of success!!!) not to beat myself up because it will help no one at this point; but I want to scream to every family hiding an alcoholic in their midst; please please don’t do this alone anymore. Encourage your children to talk. Of course you don’t want to overburden them but simple questions about how they are and how they think things are going in the family give them opportunity to share anything that’s bothering them.

Reach out to someone who you feel would respond with care and wisdom. Give your children a chance to do the same. Protecting denial exposes each of you to greater and greater damage.  For your older teenagers maybe these dual articles would be a helpful talking point.

It is our strong hope that these painful stories will signpost you towards healthy steps and decisions  and that you will take further steps into your recovery as a family even today.

Cassia (daughter) writes

I recently read an article written by my mum, she wrote it a few years ago and it utterly passed me by. The subject of her writing was about being the wife of an alcoholic. Just as I now write as the daughter of that very same alcoholic. What made the article so relevant was where she went to work through her despair. To quote her article she wrote:

"That chair had witnessed more anguish than any self- respecting piece of Victorian furniture should be asked to endure, but it was big, well-built and situated in the one room that my family rarely traipsed through. Here was a very private battle, regularly fought and agonisingly and painfully won"

The funny thing (although it's probably not all that funny) is that this was the place I went when the arguing started, but instead of the chair, it was the sofa. I vividly remember closing the door to that room and burying my head under the pillows and wishing I could just disappear. I lived in a 4-story house, so I could have run to the top floor and been as far away from that screaming and shouting as I possibly could of been, so why did I choose a room on the second floor? A room where I could still hear the muffled sounds of distress.

I think there are a few reasons. One of which being that although I was in a state of fear, a world where I did not feel safe, I felt safest on my own. I lived with 3 people who although they loved me, I did not really feel safe and secure around two of them. Another reason is that I felt close enough to save the day If I needed to. I'm not sure what I thought I'd be able to achieve, but as much as I'd run away from arguments, I'd always hover close enough to hear, close enough to make sure no one was in danger. But the main reason I'm sure, is that this is where my mum felt safe. It's where she went, I'm not really sure if she knew I knew, but I did. I remember countless times walking in to her red eyes and her desperate expression. Wishing I could do something to help, wishing I could take her pain away. There was nothing I could have done however, and I usually ended up leaving her alone. I think as much as she wanted to be able to talk to me, she also knew it would do no good.

I carried around the weight of a broken home, trudging through life like I had a pocket full of heavy stones. I struggled through my youth, through school, trying my best. The older I got, the harder everything felt. It took a great deal of time, pressure, and stress to finish my homework when all I wanted to do when I got home was escape. I took regular sick days because I couldn't face the walls of people. I skipped years of P.E. lessons because I was so self-conscious, I couldn't bear to look at myself, or let others see me, judge me.  When I finally reached the age where I really understood what was happening in my home life, it was the age where I least felt I could talk about it. My friends, my peers were asking older people to buy them alcohol, vacant houses turned into drink fuelled party buildings, weekends with friends involved someone trying to squeeze in a drink or two. 

I remember when my dad would come to music concerts with me and get drunk, everyone would tell me how funny he was, how cool he was. On holiday when he would get so intoxicated he would fall over furniture and stumble back to our holiday home. How I would look at him with utter heartbreak while my friends laugh and tell me he's so great. How do you explain to your alcohol hunting peers that when your dad drinks himself to oblivion, it's not funny or cool? It's scary and soul destroying, and that every time they get a little too drunk it sent me into a spiral of panic. I noticed myself pushing certain people away because it was easier to cut them off than to explain to them what was happening. I couldn't tell any adults, because my experience with adults wasn't great. I wish so badly that I had access to a school counsellor, or a teacher I trusted. Struggling with that weight on your own, especially as a child, is agonising.

So, this room, her safe place, also became my safe place. A place I also visited privately to carry out my duties as Superwomen and super distressed woman (Read: girl). As much as I struggled to talk to my mum, to tell her anything I was feeling, she was the safest person in my life, after myself. But instead of talking and supporting each other, we argued, we screamed and shouted at each other.  But never for a single moment in my 29 years on this planet have I felt unloved by her. I have not once felt like she would abandon me. Which sadly is probably the reason she received the blunt force of my agony. I took everything out on her, and then proceeded not to even tell her what was wrong. I did not tell anyone what was wrong.  If I have one regret in life, that would be it.

If you identify with either Lou or Cassia you can find information,help and support at Bottled Up.