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Recovery Diaries: What it's like to be the family of an alcoholic

Updated: Jul 10

I heard the Irish music come on in the lounge room and knew it was going to be a night where I would be able to breathe.

Things were easier when he drank, and especially good when the music came on that signalled the rollicking phrase of the night had kicked off.

We could stop walking on eggshells, maybe talk on the phone ton our friends, play music in our rooms, or go out.

Dad was so happy when he was at this stage of drunkenness - we became loveable and funny. He’d encourage us to chat and wanted to hear how our days were.

Like this, he wasn’t scary or oppressive. He was a loveable dad, if a little dorky with his diddle-dee Irish music playing as he finished his wine for the night and moved onto the whisky. This was the only time I could bear to be around him.

Hands out in fear
Living with a parenting who abuses substances can be terrifying.

There weren’t many days where I didn’t arrive at school having cried my way there. It was like walking out of a war zone.

The mornings were always hideous. He was hungover, cranky and stomped around with a face like thunder, looking for a fight. There were always reasons for him to pick on us - my sister had used his comb, my brother had let the dog inside, I hadn’t cleaned my shoes, my mother hadn’t ironed his shirt.

He terrorised us with his hangovers. There weren’t many days where I didn’t arrive at school having cried my way there. It was like walking out of a war zone. I did a terrible job of pretending to be normal.

Traumatised childhood

If his car wasn't in the drive when I got home from school, my pulse would thump in my ears. It was going to be a hard afternoon and I’d have to figure out how to stay out of his way. The best thing was to go out but it wasn’t always possible. I would try to put a smile on my face - no other expression was acceptable to him - but being a traumatised kid, I wasn’t very functional or happy. I’d usually end up in trouble within minutes as he was still hung over and hadn’t started drinking yet.

When the magical time of 5pm came around, he’d ask my mum or me to bring him a beer, which we’d do gladly. He’d sit in his study, drinking beer for hours, demanding total silence so he could concentrate on reading. Around dinner time he’d start drinking wine and things started to get a little more relaxed. If he decided to eat at all, he’d barely touch his meal before retreating to the lounge room. We’d pray for the Irish Rovers to start singing so we could relax.

A life cut short

My dad’s alcoholism was only arrested by literally going mad in his mid-50s. He was diagnosed with dementia caused by drinking. Then adults, us kids had to close his business and life down. As a family, we looked after him in various states of dependence until he had to go into a rest home in his mid-60s. He died aged 69.

Although I hated his drinking and regularly used to pour bottles of booze down the sink so he wouldn't drink them, I became an alcoholic as well.

Today I’ve been sober for quite a few years and often think of my dad and what life would have been like for all of us if he’d managed to get sober. What could he have done differently? What would our lives have been like?

I am so glad that I found recovery and managed to break the cycle of addiction and trauma it brings. Being in a family with an alcoholic is no fun. My children know me as a sober parent, and someone they can rely on. I am far from perfect but I am giving them the best, sober version of me that is possible and for that, I am truly grateful.

If you’re ever wondering why you might want to get sober, look to your children and know your efforts will never be wasted.

If you're worried about your drinking or that of someone you love, give Elaine a call on 027 573 7744 for a confidential and compassionate chat.

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