‘Always walking on eggshells’

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“My father: hardworking, proud, intelligent, handsome, up for a laugh, popular among peers, strong morals and addicted to alcohol.

“I remember a large part of my childhood in detail, however I never really remember being care-free or being able to just enjoy being a child. I can only speak about what my experience of addiction has been and its impact on me.

“It is very difficult to describe what it’s like to grow up in a home with someone who has a drink problem. Unpredictable and tense. What was normal to us, was by no means normal to other families. I always wondered why I struggled to make friends and let people close to me. I didn’t want them seeing the real picture.

“When asked to write this, it was not an easy challenge, but if it reaches out to a parent who might be drinking a bit too much, or makes an aunt or uncle reach out to a child in need, then a little pain is worth it.

“I had a relatively privileged upbringing. We were a two-car family and had foreign holidays, but I can’t remember a time in my childhood when my shoulders weren’t tense. Don’t get me wrong, we have bucketfuls of happy memories. I was incredibly blessed to have a mother who was and who still remains the most caring, strong and inspirational woman I have ever known.

“Aside from his drinking, I had a father with strong values and a desire for us to achieve our potential. “Like all households with children, a routine is needed to keep everything ticking over smoothly. Our typical day started with mum leaving for work early, followed by me, at the ripe old age of 8 having to wake my dad up with his hangover in order for us to make it to school on time.

“From a very young age, I learned very quickly that it was pointless to go to sleep early as you may get rudely awoken by a drunken argument.

“I also knew when, as an 8 year-old, my services might be needed to defend my mother from the antics of an angry man who earlier that day was your father but who now was a monster. However, I never actually felt like he was a monster. I would have been a daddy’s girl. And that’s why, the nights when my mum would have to drive us away in the wee hours to spend the night in the car somewhere, it hurt more.

“We would later return home to a calmer house to get uniforms and schoolbags for another ‘normal’ day. I spent my time in school wondering what the reception would be on our return.

“Somehow, I never truly feared my father or his behaviour. Something in me always wanted to challenge him, and I often did unsuccessfully. I’m glad I spoke my thoughts though. I think keeping it in would have been worse for me emotionally.

“I remember being quickly scooped from the bath, no time to get dried and rushed out past a person who only, hours earlier had been taking me for a walk or a run for sweets and a video. His behaviour changed so quickly.

“As we got older, dad’s drinking got worse. We would find hidden stashes in the most random of places; proof he was tippling throughout the day. His judgement was certainly clouded and with that came bad career moves, debt, danger, car accidents, and altercations with a number of people. All of these felt like they were my problems as much of his.

“I remember dad returning home one evening from a night on the tear and waking us up to tell us he thought he’d knocked someone down. Fearful for the life of an innocent pedestrian, we took to the roads to retrace his route, looking in hedges, fearing we would find the injured party. Or worse.

“Somehow I’ve always known that dad wasn’t really out to do us harm or cause hurt. The more I learn, the more I’m convinced of this. If you look at nearly every person addicted to alcohol, who wins? Certainly not the alcoholic. In the end, my father lost his home, his family life, his career, and even his dignity.

“Unfortunately for us, my dad’s addiction had brought him to the point of no return. He passed away in very sad and lonely circumstances. Somehow it was a relief. That may seem cold and alien to some people, but that’s the truth. His long battle with a chronic illness was over.

In his coffin he looked peaceful for the first time I could recall. My grief was much less painful than the constant stress, worry and confrontation I had with a man I truly loved... and who I knew loved me.”

Unfortunately Sarah’s not alone in what she has experienced.

It’s important that everyone throughout the community should be aware of children and young people living with adults who may be abusing alcohol or drugs and offer them a listening ear or point them in the direction of services that can help.

If you would like more information, advice or support, please contact the Drink Think project on: 71363925 or log onto www.drinkthinkproject.org.

ADVICE AND SUPPORT

Drink Think - 71363925

Divert - 71269327

Northlands - 71313232

WHSCT Alcohol and Drugs Service - 71865237

Al Anon - 90682368