Monday, September 27, 2010

Alcoholism Is A Family Disease

***Submitted by Sarah

I’m Sarah. Ellie asked me if I’d introduce myself and tell a little bit of my story, because I’m a child of an alcoholic, and she thought it would be useful if those voices were heard here too. I hope it can help. I’m surprised to find that writing it has helped me.

My mother is an alcoholic. She has been since the Halloween I was eight. My brother wasn’t feeling well, so my father took just me out trick-or-treating. We came home to a Halloween-appropriate sight: blood all over the foyer. She’d been drinking and had slipped and cut her head open on the banister. My brother, left alone with her, was, apart from being sick, five years old at the time.

I think she’d been drinking for a while, though it’s hard to know anything from my memories as a six- or seven-year-old. Unfortunately, that’s all I have to go on. My brother, being younger, remembers even less. My parents didn’t have friends, no family visited, and in any case, nobody else knew. And my father - well, the less he notices, the less he has to deal with.

I’ve always known that it’s extra-unusual to have an alcoholic mom. There’s a lot written about alcoholic fathers, but if you have an alcoholic mother, you start to get the feeling that nobody wants to talk about it. My therapist says that’s because mothering is much more idolized than fathering in our society. Maybe so. All I know is, when I started to try to figure out what was going on and why my family was so unlike any other I knew, I couldn’t find much. Since then, though, I’ve had wonderful people, professional and personal, who have given me so much help - once I realized that I could and should ask for it and work for it.

I’m not an alcoholic. Which is not to say that I have my act together. I’ve had problems managing my money, my food, and my relationships, but never alcohol. I’m not exactly angry at my mother, anymore, though - I think that much is true. I’ve seen her a few times in the last couple of years, after having no contact for 10 years. Drinking has taken its toll on her: she looks more like I remember my grandmother than like I remember my mother. I’m not comfortable around her but I don’t wish her ill. She wanted the best for my brother and me: she just didn’t know where to begin. How to stop. How to get help.

My father isn’t evil either. In recent years, though, my frustration has focused on him. At first, it was so obvious to be angry with my mother that it didn’t occur to me to look at my father’s part in things. Slowly I realized that it wasn’t just my mother who didn’t step up. I don’t think he protected us very well. He hid what was going on and he went to work.

I remember feeling very grown-up levels of responsibilty. Making sure she didn’t come to harm barging in on a neighbor’s backyard party. Finding her passed out on the bedroom floor, in the dining room doorway, in the powder room, in front of the Christmas tree. Realizing that spending time with my father or my brother drew her to us and meant fighting, and the only way to keep things quiet was to stay out or alone in my room.

I could never fix things, handle things, make things be normal. What I’m still realizing was that at eight, or 10, or 12, there was no way I could have. It sounds obvious on paper, but not inside.

I wish I’d had parents who paid attention to the emotional health of their kids. I wish I’d had fewer adult worries. I wish my teachers or my friends’ parents had known - that I’d been younger when I decided to break the unspoken rules and tell people what was going on.

And then there are all of the future worries. I seem to end up in relationships that are (in hindsight) basically just throwing myself into making someone happy. Even if I couldn’t fix things with my family, I could be a model girlfriend, right? Except I can’t. Eventually I want to care about the things I like again, not just his life.

I’m trying to be patient and work through what I need to. I have so many blessings that I’m so grateful for, and among them are my dear friends’ wonderful marriages and fabulous first, second, even third kids. But deep down, there’s something in their happiness that makes me sad. I can’t help grieving for a lot of things: the ones that I wish I’d had and didn’t; but also the ones that I think I want and don’t see ever happening for me.

The tears are dripping off my face as I’m typing this. I don’t know if this will make sense, but - I think that’s a good thing. I hope so, anyway.


  1. Growing up a child of an addict mother, I understand. I wasn't so lucky, alcohol got me (thought it wasn't as bad as what she was doing I guess.) Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I am bound and determined to break the cycle of alcoholism for my children. I have been sober almost 22 months. Reading this has given me new found motivation for never taking another drink.

    Peace to you, friend-

  3. I identified more with your words than I expected to. My father is an alcoholic, although we never knew for sure until later in life, long after we were out of the house. My mother died when I was a teenager, and I have long suspected that alcohol played a part in it. Since my Dad, like yours, noticed little and dealt with even less, I may never know for sure. Thank you for putting into words what so many of us can't.

  4. Sarah, thank you for sharing your story. I was sober when I got married & had my son. But I relapsed over the years that he was 6-12. I know that I hurt him a lot. I know that I embarrassed him and frightened him and didn't put his needs first. I have tried to make that up to him every day that I've been sober since Jan 17, 2006. I appreciate reading your side of the story because it helps me to better understand how my son must have felt.

  5. It DOES make sense. Thanks for sharing. My mom died when I was 15...her death certificate says "chronic alcoholism". She was only 34 when she died. I turn 34 this year (December 31). I can relate to almost everything you said. Growing up I always had adult responsibilities that gradually increased over the years. I did everything I could to pretend everything was normal. I never even told my childhood best friend whom I told everything to about my mom's problem. When my mom died, my second cousin, who attended my jr. high told everyone 'how' she died. Even after her death I still wasn't ready to tell my friends about her problem and denied it. I loved her so much but I felt so embarrassed. I remember going to bed every night of my child hood cursing alcohol and swearing I would NEVER drink. I think you are doing an awesome job of sharing your story and in seeking professional help. I wish I did. This daughter of an alcoholic is now someone who drinks everyday. Now every night I go to bed and I'm still cursing alcohol...but this time I'm praying I'll never drink again. -ALM in Florida :)

  6. Thank you so much for sharing....
    My kids are a huge reason why I'm sober... so thank you for inspiring me to keep going.
    So glad the writing was therapeutic. Thank YOU.

  7. I grew up with an alcoholic mom, too. I said I'd never be like her. I ended up just like her. My kids were my motivation for getting sober. One day I sat across the table from a woman sharing a bit of my story and the realization hit me that if I didn't change then my daughter would sit across the table from someone one day and tell the exact same story. I had my last drink the next month.

    It's only recently that I realized I still have some major issues with my dad and his head in the sand approach to her drinking and our well being during my childhood.

  8. I grew up with an alcoholic mom and can really relate to what you are saying. The overwhelming feeling of my childhood was constant anxiety. I remember feeling responsible for absolutely everything but at the same time powerless to change anything. That is what I still struggle with today.

  9. Thank you for sharing your story. I too quit for my kids and thank God every day I can be there for them in a way I believe is healthy and happy for them. Your story reaffirms the guilt I felt and why I wanted to stop.

    Thnak you also to the many of you have shared brave tidbits of your lives as well.

  10. "I wish I’d had parents who paid attention to the emotional health of their kids. I wish I’d had fewer adult worries. I wish my teachers or my friends’ parents had known - that I’d been younger when I decided to break the unspoken rules and tell people what was going on."

    Oh my god, yes. I have a distinct memory of sitting in my guidance counselor's office, after a particularly hard night at home. She was talking about college and I was telepathically drilling into her mind "ask me if everything is ok at home, ask me if my father drinks to me much. Please please ask me."

    When I found out later that I was not the only person in the entire world who lived with that, I wanted to institute a policy that an announcement had to be made over the loud speaker at school "Dear Children of Parents Who Drink Too Much, you are not alone." My god what a difference that would have made.

    I know that so much of my anxiety about "Something Bad" being just around the corner is related to my experience as a child. But that doesn't make it easier to deal with. I have forgiven my father (it hit me one day that no one would choose that life, it had to be a disease) and we are close now, but I know it broke all of us somewhat inside to live like that.

    yeah, tears here now, too.

  11. Thank you for sharing from the perspective of a child of an alcoholic. Having raised my now-grown daughter and subjecting the person I was entrusted to love and protect to the worst of my disease is gut-wrenching for her and for me. She carries deep wounds and I carry heavy guilt. We are both in recovery now, she in Al-Anon, I'm in in AA, but the road is long. Things are already so much better, but when they're bad, when that wreckage of the past rears it's ugly head, it is devastating.

    Thank you again for sharing from a different perspective. It is important that we know and remember the devastating effects our disease has on our innocent children.

  12. I am also the daughter of an alcoholic. I was in marriage counseling many years ago and it was suggested that I read a book called "Adult Children of Alcoholics." Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. It was me, my life, my experiences all over those pages. For the first time in my life (25 yrs) I was finally mad at my mom for the life she exposed me to. She dated some real creeps and I always considered that her and I were the victims... until that book. That book gave me so much clarity. I recognized some unfavorable things I did and in turn was able to decide to change them.

    I am stronger because of those experiences but I am also damaged by them.

  13. My mother has been an alcoholic since I was about 18. I'm lucky that her addiction didn't manifest itself until I'd left home.

    I still have so much anger towards her. The whole notion of it being a "disease" gets on my nerves, as though they're not responsible for getting in that mess in the first place. At some point early on you DO have to choose to drink more than you know is good for you, surely? I remember her saying early on that she wanted to drink herself to death (great, thanks mum!). Well she hasn't, but she sure as hell has made everybody's lives around her absolutely miserable in the process.

  14. Thanks for your story. It reinforces in me the hope and need to be present for my children. I am not there yet but hope to be someday.

  15. Alcoholism is purely a family disease coz all the more problem is arised mostly from family over dose of alcohol can disturb your brain chemical balance and can react in an unpredictable way so most of the alcoholic affect their family this post is ralyy a very helpful post thanks for sharing