A note from Ellie: addiction is a family disease, and it impacts everyone who loves an alcoholic. Periodically we like to post submissions from the 'other side' of addiction. There are many people who read this blog who have grown up with alcoholism, or who love someone who is struggling, and so we feel it is important to talk about this aspect of the disease, too.
A little background about me: I am 27, married, no children and am the daughter of alcoholic parents.
My parents have been drinking since I was a baby. Since my sister was a baby. Little sis’ remembers a lot more than I do, which is strange, since I am the oldest. She remembers the two of us with our long blond hair and matching outfits crying confused in a corner as my mom, a usually passive drunk, stood in front of us screaming at my father, an angry, scary drunk. Our home was filled with threats, physical abuse (not at us, I don’t think) and harsh words to never be unspoken.
And then things changed…
You see, my parent’s were young, new business owners of a convenient store, restaurant and bar, all operating one block from our trailer house in the park. And one night, I remember my dad agreeing to our request to sleep outside on the picnic bench, the bubbling of laughter erupting in our bellies as we felt elated and spoiled to be doing something so wild. We fell asleep smiling, but awoke to confusion and fear in the form of police lights and an ambulance. My mother had come home drinking, my dad too, I think had left some time and joined her, and there had been hitting, the last one splitting my mother’s lip open. We still didn’t understand what was going on until the next day, after sleeping over at a friend’s house, until we saw my mother in bed; my father crying over her and her stitched up lip, and the word “divorce” was spoken. That’s when we came unglued. Even at our young age, divorce was more terrifying than that alcoholism. We begged and bawled, our five year-old selves crying for them to do anything but divorce. I remember the physical pain felt as though, through that one word divorce, our flesh was being ripped in half.
That was their rock bottom, which brought them to AA and counseling and nearly eight years of sobriety. I am thankful for those years, because it was in those years my dad was a dad: coaching us in softball and basketball, dealing with his anger sober. My mom worked out daily and looked great and cheered us at games. Sometimes they fought, but it was different sober.
What happened after that eighth year I do not know; I just know they succumbed to the drinking again. The harsh words began again, but this time I remembered them, sharp daggers in my heart every time. The incoherent statements telling me to “f*ck off” at three in the afternoon as I screamed and cried while my mother stumbled into the house, the detailed information of their sex life spilled over after one of their drunken fights, the humiliating experience with friends asking if my parents were “wasted”, and the hardest being told it was my fault they were drinking again, that our house has never been a home, because a home is where love is.
Of course, I could go on and on, but writing these facts only serves the darkness, when there is so much light instead.
The light of redemption. A path of a faith that has removed the scales from my eyes so I no longer look through a lens of shame and pain. I look at that young girl I once was, a girl who pulled out her eyelashes and was far too thin and lived with a constant anxiety that formed knots in my stomach, a pain that became my norm. A skeptic, critical girl full of anger and a need to control everything and every person. A girl who lost many friends because I wasn’t much of a friend, didn’t know how to be. A woman who almost lost her beloved husband (then-boyfriend) because he couldn’t stand my constant scrutiny and multitude of insecurities, the biggest one my fear of rejection.
The light for me has been my faith, my guide to a place of peace, of wisdom and of real, everlasting love.
Since that time, I have sat down with my parents, explained to them the pain their alcoholism caused, offered forgiveness and hoped they’d accept it. I had prepared myself for my dad to say “I don’t need your forgiveness” or “well, in that case, I forgive you for being such a difficult child!” But he didn’t. He graciously accepted it and commented that he has seen a change in me, one that he is curious to know more about.
They are still drinking. Often. My mom’s liver isn’t doing so well, and you can see the alcoholism all over the pores on her face, the vessels in her nose a little more purple. She has gained much weight since those sober days. My dad doesn’t take care of himself, often smells bad, is overweight, and his mouth is a dark hole of missing teeth due to improper care.
I have to be honest that until recently, I was still playing the role of savior, the perfect child, the one to look to when things are rough… “oh our daughter, even if life is hard right now, at least she’s got it to together.” Yep, I was a textbook child of alcoholic parents. It wasn’t until a recent visit that I realized, “I cannot do this anymore.” Because I am not perfect, I have struggles. And I need healthy relationships to talk through life.
But I do love my parents. I see my role now is to hope for them, pray for them and most of all, love them, right where they are. Because I am not their drinking; it is not my fault, and I am not their answer. I have learned that.
My parent’s alcoholism is not my fault.
And there is always hope.