The damage of growing up with an alcoholic parent

Doors banging, screaming, crying. A nightly occurrence. It’s normal, right? Everyone’s parent drinks can after can of beer every night. That’s what I thought for the first 13 years of my life, anyway.

I grew up with an alcoholic mother. Every night of my life, and even years before I was born, she has drunk herself into someone else. She fits well into the ‘functioning’ category. She can maintain a job and a social life, appearing happy and care free to the outside world – Until 7pm comes around, that is.

We all know how much drinking copious amounts of alcohol can change the way you think, the way you act, and the way you feel about everyone else around you. In large amounts, on regular occasions, it’s poison. Poison for not just the drinker, but everyone around them. She is what you would call a ‘bad drunk’. She turns nasty, almost possessed at times. If it hurts, she will say it. Empathy is non existent.

It started out how you would expect. The parents arguing downstairs, the shouting, the slamming of doors. I was so young I never understood what was going on. I have memories of standing on the upstairs landing, looking down and listening to the racket. It wasn’t long before my dad had enough and walked out the door. Who was left to pick up the pieces? It started shortly after my dad left. I started to notice a change in her behaviour at a certain time of day. It always corresponded with the all too familiar cracking sound, one made by the opening of a can.

She was never caring or affectionate at any time of day, but she certainly wasn’t abusive in the daytime. She was a night drinker. As soon as that first can opened, it didn’t take long. I remember the feeling of dread whilst hearing those footsteps coming up the stairs. I often found that the longer it took for her to reach the top step, the worse it was going to be for me.

I would be woken up and told to get out of the house, aged 13. I would wander the streets and wait outside in the cold and darkness for her to fall asleep before going back in. I would wake up to find flailing arms landing down on me and screams of seemingly random abuse, one of which I remember as ‘let me have a life!’ She told me a day later that having a child stops her from getting a boyfriend. All I had to do was exist. Did I deserve it? I couldn’t make any sense of it.

The worst, by far, was emotional. I was fortunate enough to have a lock on my bedroom door. When it got too much I would lock myself away. It created a barrier, yes, but it wasn’t a deterrent. I would listen to the screaming from outside the door. I would watch the door flexing from the banging and the repeating ‘Let me in now!’. If I didn’t open the door my favourite belongings would get broken.

I was a teenager. I had nowhere else to go, as she would remind me. There was no escape. I had to stay and put up with it.

She would create stories and lies, telling friends and family that I had attacked her, that I abused her. She enjoyed doing this to my dad, making him feel partly responsible, getting ‘revenge’ on him for leaving. I didn’t have any family after that. On the outside, to others, I was an evil child. I was made out to be a problem child, putting a kind, friendly, loving mother through endless suffering. Who would believe me? Who would I tell? Kids will be kids, they say.

She would scratch at my neck or slap me across the face. She would launch herself at me out of nowhere. I would hold her arms in restraint and she would scream that she was being attacked,  for all the world to hear. She would pack up all her belongings in the middle of the night, and tell me she was leaving me there, at home, alone, without food or money.

This wasn’t the worst of it. I could go on and on. Perhaps the most significant part for me was the morning-after denial. She would wake up and ask how I slept and if I was OK. Part of me wondered if she could even remember what she did, or if she blocked it from her mind through shame. Obviously, things said the night before don’t disappear with a good sleep, as she hoped. Friends and family would ring or come over to ask what had happened. To my shock each and every time, she would go along with it. She would pretend what she said whilst drunk was true, for the sake of embarrassment. I would demand apologies and get nothing.

So, I endured this on a nightly basis until I was 18. I didn’t escape it, though. I would be called by someone trying to stop her drinking bleach, or to tell me the horrible things she had said to them. I would get huge walls of text to my phone, with the same abuse. I left home for university and didn’t look back. I haven’t stayed a night there since. All these years later, I still get those texts. I’m not allowed to forget. I’m not allowed to move on. I grew up with an alcoholic. Not a parent.

It’s only now in my adult life I start to notice things I’ve carried over. I can’t associate everything to my childhood experience, but having talked it over with an amazing, understanding partner, I can see the damage done.

1. I find it hard to maintain relationships.

I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone cares about me at all. No matter what they do or what they say. As you can imagine, I wasn’t shown any affection at all, from anyone. I am constantly seeking reassurance. I find it pathetic, but I really can’t help it. I have this nagging feeling that whomever I get close to, they will abandon me anyway, so what’s the point?

2. I’m terrified of drinking alcohol.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a drink every now and then, but each and every time I tell myself, ‘I need to stop now, what if I turn out like that? What if it’s genetic and I act like she does’.

3. I don’t feel any connection with family

This is one that really gets to me. I was never given the opportunity to have a close family. They were all turned against me from a very early age. They still try to rekindle, but I just don’t feel any connection or emotion towards them. This isn’t their fault, and I know it, but I can’t shake it. Since I left home they now know the issue and have apologised for not realising or helping at the time. But it’s too late now.

4. I never feel content and relaxed

I had no stability at home, my entire childhood. I never reached that point where things just flowed, because I knew that when 7 pm came, something different and potentially life changing would happen. I was constantly on edge. What would I be shouted at for next? I can’t ‘settle in’ so to speak.

5. Self confidence – I never feel good enough

I am always held back by this never-ending feeling that I’m worthless, and there’s not really any use in anything that I do. I feel as if I will just fail anyway, so what’s the point? She used to insult me, the way I looked, regularly. I feel like new people I meet, instantly see the negative. I punish myself. I’m my own worst enemy.

6. I avoid conflict at all costs

I had enough conflict in my childhood, on a daily basis, so I really don’t need any more. I now avoid these situations like a plague, even though they are needed sometimes.

7. I don’t trust anyone

I was constantly lied to on a daily basis. I was constantly promised things. I was promised the drinking would stop. I was promised that she would have a day off drinking, but instead, she poured gin into coca cola when she thought I couldn’t see her do it. I was promised gifts I never got. I had my toys sold to strangers to raise money for beer. Why would I trust anyone now if I couldn’t trust my own mother?

8. I still feel the resentment

I still ask myself why I had to grow up like that. What did I do wrong. Why didn’t she stop when I asked her to stop. I cried myself to sleep constantly, I’d beg her to leave me alone, even as a young child, why wouldn’t that stop her.

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