This blog is not FDA approved
Earlier this year, I wrote a post about being the child of two alcoholic parents. I created a picture of a life with a mother and father both afflicted by addiction, but I never allowed myself to sink my teeth into the meat of how addiction affects the children and shapes the people they will become. Perhaps I was afraid to represent my parents in a negative light, which I will never do, but there were several things I wish I had written that I did not. This post is based solely on my experience growing up with two parents consumed by the demon that is alcohol.
Alcohol is a serial killer. It lurks in the shadows showing no preference in victimology. No team of experts experienced in profiling killers would be able to compile enough information to provide an accurate summation of how deadly alcohol can be to those afflicted with the addiction and to those trapped on the roller coaster ride of a life with alcoholic parents.
In the early days, life with my parents was fun. We made many lasting memories as a family and there was a great deal of love in our home. Looking back on my younger childhood memories, alcohol was always present. I had my first Red Eye (beer and tomato juice) at the tender age of eight. Our cross-country ski trips always included a wine-skin and the drinks flowed freely throughout the afternoon and into the evening. This was our life. This was my normal.
My parents were not affected on the outside until many years later. If you didn’t know them well, you would never have been able to tell they had been drinking. Subtle changes in their behaviour that were extremely noticeable to me were not even a blip on the radar of those around us. There was never a slur or a stumble but life became different when they were drinking. I would arrive home with a 98% on a math test expecting proud gushing from my parents on my achievement and my triumph was crushed with a question from my dad asking what happened to the other 2%. Thus began my lifelong battle with never feeling like anything I did was truly good enough and spending a life trying to please everyone and feeling like I came up short.
I spent a great part of my childhood trying to fix the two most important people in my life who didn’t want to be fixed. I wanted to bring them into a reality that they didn’t want to know existed. I wrote poems, I wrote letters and I cried until no more tears would come. When I was 16, I succeeded in getting the whole family to attend a meeting at a local ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics). We met with a counsellor who tried to help my parents understand that their drinking was affecting those around them, but the meeting and its message lay dead on the table before we even left the office.
College for me and University for my brother came and went, but life at our house never changed. When the real estate market crashed the drinking began to assuage the gravity of our financial situation and dad’s orange juice at breakfast became more and more diluted with whatever vodka or white wine was left from the night before.
He was the first one to show the physical symptoms of a life of abuse and we spent many days and weeks in hospitals. He and my mother both had esophageal varices banded to control internal bleeding caused by the lessening function of their livers. My father was air-lifted to a Toronto hospital where his stomach was sprayed with super glue in a last ditch effort to save his life. He lived on for a few years after that, but he was a mere shadow of his former self encased in a withered and dying body. His vacant stare was a glaring reminder that the gregarious father I remembered had been trapped, like a message, in a bottle. His other organs could no longer sustain the function needed to keep him going and after watching him have seizure after seizure, relief from illness finally came and he passed away.
A month after my father died I began dating my now ex-husband. If I had never believed the saying “girls marry their father” before, I certainly do now. My ex is an alcoholic. Unlike my parents, he became loud, verbally abusive and after almost 6 years of drowning in a another relationship fuelled by alcohol, I called it – time of death: October 2011. With the decision to end my fight to fix my ex, I came to the overwhelming realization that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fix everybody. It took me thirty years and a divorce to figure out that my solutions were never going to come to fruition.
I experienced a great deal of personal growth after lifting that burden from myself. It took me many years to figure out what happened during those tumultuous teenage years was not my fault and that nothing I could have done would have changed anything.
My brother and I have been there for each other throughout this bumpy life of ours. Having alcoholic parents affected us both very deeply, but in different ways. I always knew this hazy life had swirled around him and taunted him as much as it had done to me. The nagging doubt of “will I turn into my parents” continually floats like a cartoon balloon above our heads. A couple of weeks ago, my brother sent me a YouTube video of a song he called his ‘go-to alcohol song’. I listened and then I cried. I wept for me and I wept for my brother and all of the times that he cried alone living his life as the child of alcoholic parents. I wept for all the time we could have shared our grief, but didn’t. In that moment I realized how deep his wounds were and that his scars matched mine.
We are now faced with this horrific reaper once again and the same vacant stare now looks back at us occasionally from my mother’s eyes. Her gait is troubled and her body is beginning to fail due to the horrible process of end-stage liver failure. She has swings in her personality and is encroaching the same rabbit hole that swallowed my dad.
Alcohol has been a relentless stalker. It has powered the roller coaster that we have ridden. It made the upward track seem fun for a while, but somewhere along the ride the cars derailed and we are now faced with the horrific aftermath of a disaster that we cannot walk away from. I will never be able to pour a glass of wine without that nagging doubt in the back of my head that alcoholism is genetic, but I have to put my faith in the strength I possess and the lessons I have learned along this path of destruction.
Northern Pikes – Tomorrow Never Comes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67r-4Ft2UNg