A Day In The Life Of The Child Of Alcoholics
A new report uncovers the full extent of alcohol-related family and abusive behavior in Australia. Over a million children (22 percent) are estimated to be affected in some way by alcohol abuse according to the report, which is being presented to Australian of the Year Rosie Batty today.
The story below is from a Hoopla reader, who talks about her experience, revealing a day in the life of a child growing up around alcohol-related violence.
“I am sure I was not alone watching Q&A last night and reliving the issues of alcohol-related domestic violence and emotional abuse in my family when I was growing up. I am glad I was watching it alone: I was free to shed my tears for a stolen childhood scarred by the chaos and one hundred forms of fear that comes from living in a home with two alcoholic parents. And, as more and more people are realizing, alcohol does not discriminate. I was privately schooled, and my home was in one of Melbourne’s most expensive suburbs.
As any child who grows up in an alcoholic home knows, you live on the edge. Every single day. You come home from school and you don’t know what personality will meet you: the sad and depressed mum, the raging mum, the happy drunk mum. You go about your business of homework and chores and perfect behavior, but all the while knowing that although your mum is home in the body, she is not present mentally or emotionally as she is dealing with her own issues. Although you don’t know the feeling then, as you get older you come to understand that you are most definitely alone.
Later in the evening dad will arrive home, or in some cases doesn’t (at least not until 2 in the morning). It depends on the events of the day. You are so torn between not wanting him there and needing him to come home because you are sick with worry. No matter what, no matter how much anger, violence, and tension his presence brings, he is still the protector, the man of the house, especially when mum is not ‘on top of things’.
The morning starts with a delicate balance of pretending you are ‘happy’, for fear of being criticized for being in a bad mood (when you are a teenage girl it gets very difficult to manage moods!). You walk on eggshells from the moment you wake so as not to light a fire of rage (especially if they have a serious hangover from the night before, or they had their own physical encounter). You tread very very quietly, do everything as perfectly as you can to go under the radar to avoid being noticed.
You get out the door and run to your friends, who become your home, your safety, and where you can be you. You go about your schoolwork, working hard so you don’t get in trouble for bad marks. You head home and press repeat.
Many of my childhood years followed this pattern but today I hold no malice toward my parents. I understand they were unwell and they were doing the very best they could with their lives and as parents. They provided a roof over our heads, food, clothes, a good education, holidays, and, in the eyes of the outside world, a good life.
What I grieve today is the loss of childhood; they stayed in the cycle because no one talked about it. This is a time in your life when you are meant to be carefree, safe, and boundless. If nothing else, I hope that parents who are affected by alcohol and alcohol-related violence spend a moment to look through the eyes of their children. To see what their lives are doing, to notice the damage that is life long.
These years of growing up in my home were years to be endured, counting the days before I could escape. You are most definitely a role model as a parent and I know it’s not easy, but please, work to remove your children from these damaging environments.
The alcohol and abuse cycle is vicious and far-reaching in our community and I am grateful today that someone is paying attention to this problem. And calling for action to look after the little children in the hope that children don’t have to live in fear every day.”
You can read the report, The hidden harm: Alcohol’s impact on children and families, by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR), here.
Have you had a similar experience to this reader? How did you survive? And how do you break the cycle?