Living with Alcoholism: First my Father and now my Son Living with alcoholism is one of the worst experiences you can go through, but what happens when that disease spreads through your family. Heather*, 49, grew up with an alcoholic, so when her son started to exhibit signs of the disease she didnʼt think she could go through it again. They say you canʼt choose your family, but when your family is constantly hurting and lying to you, you start to wish you could. I was five when I first noticed my father was an alcoholic. He asked me to help him up from the couch as he was too drunk to do so himself. I reached out my hand to him and he enveloped it in his giant grasp. He looked at me and said: “Right pull.” I remember pulling with all my might until we both fell into a heap on the couch in a fit of giggles. That was the point my mother screamed at him. “Get to bed Fred!” I was so upset with her because this was the only time my father and I could have fun together, when he was drunk. He was bad tempered at other times and would shout constantly shaking with weakness. From then on it was always like that. When he was drinking he was happy and would tell my sisters and me jokes from his past about when he and my mother got together. I preferred him this way. Then when he wasnʼt drinking he was bad tempered, he would shout at me and lock my sisters and me into our room if we ever spoke out of turn. We werenʼt even allowed out to go the toilet, we had to wee into a bucket - I became scared of him. I soon learnt that children should be seen and not heard, that is, until he was drunk then he became my dad again. He never blamed himself, he was an ex-marine in the Malaysian war and he would blame it on the horrors he had seen. He told me when I was ten that he had seen his best friend blown to pieces right in front of him. I was horrified. As time went on his addiction went from bad to worse. When I was in my late teens I got pregnant to my boyfriend, it was a mistake and my father wasnʼt very happy. Soon after my boyfriend, Simon, and I got married. One day when my son, Tom, was three I asked my dad to look after him while I went for a job interview. I was a little worried but my mum was in the house so I thought he would be all right. Then half way through I got a phone call from the neighbour saying there had been a fire, I was so scared I rushed back immediately. I found out that my dad had gotten so drunk he had tried to cook and fell asleep. Luckily, Tom was asleep upstairs so was unharmed by the fire. My mum had popped out and left them alone for a while, I hated her for that. I screamed at him when he finally sobered up. “How could you do this to your grandson? What if something has happened to him?” I was so disappointed in him, I never allowed him to be alone with Tom again.
Without alcohol he would hallucinate and collapse on the floor from drink induced seizures. We all feared the inevitable. All the family begged him to stop, but he would just say: “Itʼs too late for that,” and take another gulp of whisky. One day when I was 25, my Dad was rushed into hospital and we were told the news we had all feared. “Prepare for the worst, your father wonʼt out live the night.” I felt like my whole world had come crashing down on me. I hated it and I hated him for doing this to himself and us. Luckily he survived but it wasnʼt without consequence. For the next 20 years we had constant moments of fear like this. He was in and out of hospital all of the time and he had three operations on his bowel and finally had to have it removed and a colostomy bag was put in its place. Doctors would tell him that he would die if he didnʼt stop, but some how he managed to pull through every time. My husband and I moved around a lot because of his job in human resources so I couldnʼt be as close to my father as I wouldʼve liked. Finally he reached his rock bottom when my mum, Margret of 47 years, left him. There was no one to pick him up off the floor, and that forced him to stop. I was so relieved when he told us he wasnʼt going to do this to us any more. “I donʼt want to drink anymore,” he told us. “I am going to get better.” I felt like I was finally free from the disease. He has been clean for six years now and is as healthy as ever. Three years later my husband and I moved back to England after living in Russia for seven years. My son, who was now 30, had a child of his own and we wanted to see more of our grandson, so we moved into their house until we found a place of our own. Our grandson, Kyle, would stay with us most weekends and Tom would be out drinking a lot of the time. I started to notice something was wrong when he came to pick up Kyle in the car one weekend to take him back to his mothers and he was struggling to stand. “Have you been drinking?” I asked him. He just told me to stop being paranoid and shrugged it off. I couldnʼt let him leave with Kyle so I drove him back to his mothers myself. Kyleʼs mother, Michelle, wasnʼt very happy and confided in me that Tom drove round to hers sometimes in the week drunk and demanded to see his son. I didnʼt want to believe that this was happening again so I tried to ignore it. Then I started to notice alcohol missing. Expensive whisky that my husband collects started to disappear, bottles of wine and beers were gone from the garage. He would go back to the house during the day on his break from work and drink on his own. When we came home he would be passed out in his room. When I confronted him about it he would deny it. “Please donʼt do this,” I said to him still unable to admit to myself that it was true. “Do what?” He replied. “Can a guy not have a drink after a day at work.” It was never just one drink. I was constantly walking on eggshells around him and I had a knot in my stomach whenever he went out. I finally opened up to my husband about my worries but he just brushed them aside. “Donʼt be silly Heather, Tom is fine he
just likes to have a few drinks.” He couldnʼt see what was going on right under his nose. I hated him for not believing me; I knew what the signs were. It went on like this for months. Tom would leave work smelling of alcohol and brush his teeth to hide the smell. I saw right through him. I would come home from work early to try and catch him, but he hid it well. One night I decided to confront him. “I know you have a problem Tom.” “What?” he said. “You stink of alcohol again, how much have you had tonight and how long has this been going on for?” “Donʼt be stupid mum youʼre just smelling things, calm down” he said walking away. One weekend we got a call from Kyleʼs mum at 10am saying that Tom was unconscious in her garden. He had been on his way to pick up Kyle for the weekend and apparently took a detour. That was all Simon needed to believe me. He became so angry with Tom that he couldnʼt talk to him for a week. I became anxious all the time and I couldnʼt sleep. I just lay awake wondering why this was happening to my family again? I know they say it can be genetic, but why me? My hair started to fall out and the doctor had to prescribe me beta-blockers to calm me down. I was a complete wreck. I started to search his room and the garden. I would find two-litre coke bottles with vodka in them by the side of the bins and in his room. I was so angry. What if Kyle found them and started to drink them. Tom started getting better at hiding his addiction, but that only made us better at looking for it. Simon would search his car every night and find empty bottles of wine and vodka. One night when he told us he was going out to the gym we decided to follow him. Walking silently 20 yards away from him, I felt like my son was a criminal. “Do you think we are right in doing this?” I asked my husband. “We need to know how bad he his before we can confront him,” he said to me. We followed him to a pub in the next town, and he emerged again a few hours later stumbling. “What are we going to do?” I asked Simon. “I am not sure, we need to get him help. We to need confront him about this together,” he explained. At a loss we decided to attend our local AL-Anon meeting, which is a support group for anyone who is affected by someone elseʼs drinking. It helped us see things much more clearly. What we had been doing was completely wrong. “You canʼt just ignore the situation,” one of the support members told me.
“You have to confront him about it, give him a chance to admit it, but he wonʼt seek help until he admits it to himself,” he explained. From then we attended the meetings every week. They helped us realise that Tom had a devastating progressive illness and that the addiction was just too powerful for him to stop. A few weeks later we decided to confront him. Simon and I sat in the living room waiting for him to return home from work. I was so nervous I couldnʼt stop moving. I didnʼt want him to go crazy and start drinking, but I knew what we had to do. When he walked in I told him to sit down. I took a deep breath remembering my responsibilities and said: “Tom, what you are doing to yourself and your family is unfair, you have a problem and you need to admit it to yourself.” “I donʼt have a problem mum, there is nothing wrong with me,” he exclaimed as he slammed the door in our face. We didnʼt hear from him all week from then. I was so scared he was going to kill himself or someone else, if he kept drink driving. Then one weekend we were pushed too far. Tom had taken Kyle out surfing with a few of his friends and they stopped at the pub after. We got a call a few hours later from one of them saying that Tom was really drunk and he had driven off with Kyle in the car. I was absolutely furious, how could he do this to his son, our grandson? I phoned him straight away and screamed at him. “You pull over the car right now and tell us where you are or I am going to call the police and tell them everything and you will lose your son for good.” “Right, ok calm down mum, donʼt do anything stupid,” he said stumbling over his words. He finally told me the name of the road and we rushed straight there. When we got there I completely lost it. I pulled him out of the car and started to hit him over and over again. He was so drunk he didnʼt even realise what was going on. I just screamed at him. “Why are you doing this to us?” I yelled tears crawling down my face. Simon had to pull me away and told me to get Kyle out of the car. Kyle looked at his dad and said: “Itʼs ok dad I donʼt blame you.” It broke my heart hearing that little boy talk like that. It reminded me of how by dad used to hurt me as a child. It isnʼt fair. The next day when he sobered up he came up to me and asked: “Mum will you help me?” I breathed a sign of relief. I still couldnʼt forgive him for what he had done, but this was a start. “Of course I will help you son,” I said with tears in my eyes. My husband took him to his first A&A meeting that night. When he got back he said to me: “Mum I saw a lot of myself in those people, I donʼt want to get that bad. I want to get my family back.” I know that this isnʼt going to be easy and that this isnʼt the end but hopefully it is the beginning of the end. It took fifty years for my dad to finally get clean and I just hope that it doesnʼt take my son that long. At least he is trying I
suppose, which is something my dad never did. Alcoholism is a disease and if you donʼt get help that disease can spread and it doesnʼt just end with you it creeps up on everyone around you. This disease has ruined my family and I hope that when this is finally over I will be free from alcoholism once and for all. *All names have been changed for legal reasons For Psychologies Magazine
Published on Sep 14, 2012