Tag Archives: alcoholism

Adult children of dysfunctional families

My parents split up when I was 7 and I was moved 200 miles away from everything I knew to live with a succession of relatives.  In the first 2 years we moved 9 times, usually after my Mum had fallen out with whoever we were living with at the time and often for good reason (eg. my Nanna used to belt me and if I wanted to read a book I was made to sit outside in the car, in the middle of winter).

I’ve never talked to her about it, but my Mum obviously had mental health issues.  Anti-depressants as we know them today didn’t exist though, so I’m fairly sure she was put on some kind of benzodiazepine probably valium.

I’ve always loved animals but had had to leave my cat behind, so when I was 8 my Mum got me a rabbit.  She couldn’t afford to go to a pet shop to buy one so I’m fairly sure my Uncle (with whom we were living at the time) caught a wild one.  It was vicious its whole life and I never even got to stroke it, let alone cuddle it.  I called the rabbit Whiskey, which tells you a lot about my Mum’s drinking habits at the time.  She wasn’t an alcoholic though – that came much much later.

When I was 9 my Mum met my step-Dad.  It was a volatile relationship from the start and they argued like their life depended on it.  I would come home from school with a sick feeling in my stomach, not knowing if they would be speaking, not speaking, if my Dad would be in a strop because his favourite football team had lost a match the night before or if my Mum would chuck something at him across the dinner table in temper.  Our home with filled with a constant under-current of tension and you could often cut the atmosphere with a knife.

On the other hand, when things were good they were great.  My Dad has the most wicked sense of humour and there were days when everything was hunky dory.  But I always knew it wouldn’t last and even when I was laughing I’d be waiting for someone to say the wrong thing and for it all to kick off again.  They were both wonderful with me though and never shouted or raised to a hand to me, but the consequences of living within their toxic relationship and with their almost split-personalities changed me forever.

Of course our home life was a big secret and I instinctively knew I wasn’t allowed to talk about what went on within our four walls.  To the outside world my Mum was lovely and all my friends envied our close relationship.  My Dad was a bloke’s bloke who played darts, loved the footie and would help anyone at any time.  If I meet people in the street even now who know him the first thing they say to me is “he’s a grand fella your Dad” and, when he wasn’t losing his temper like a 5 year old child, I’d agree with them.

Add to the mix the issues I had with my absentee biological Father, my giftedness and the emotional depth and sensitivity which comes along with that, the pressure I was under at school to achieve academically because I was gifted, the lack of any adult in whom to confide and it comes as no surprise that I spent most of my teenager years clinically depressed and by the time I was 18 was on anti-depressants and regularly sat in a Psychologist’s office trying to make some sense of the world.  I couldn’t wait to become an adult and get the fuck away from home.  I loved my parents but when I finally had a house of my own I had peace and stability and could live without the daily anxiety of wondering what was coming next.

Fast forward 30 years, I’m now 50 and both my parents are ill and in need of huge amounts of help.  Consequently I’ve been drawn back into their lives and back into their relationship dramas which, despite being married for 40 years, have never changed.

As if all that weren’t bad enough, my Mum was forced to stop smoking when she had half her lung removed 6 years ago so in order to get through the days her drinking took off in earnest.  She became an alcoholic who was drunk every day by noon.  This brought back hugely negative emotions from my childhood and I really struggled to cope with it, so much so that a year ago I paid to see a counsellor.  She was helpful and I did manage to come to some sort of terms with the situation.

In the summer of this year my Mum contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome and was in hospital for 3 weeks.  During that time she dried out and I lied to her and said the Doctors had told me that if she drank when she got home she would die, so she didn’t.  The last 3 months have been fantastic.  She has been back to the Mum I’ve always known, without the nasty bullying of my Dad (who is in the early stages of dementia), the finding everything hilarious because she’s plastered and who rings me lucidly every day for a chat and a gossip.  Over the past few years I’ve really missed the friendship my Mum and I have always had and it was wonderful to have that back.

But of course she wasn’t receiving help for her alcoholism, so I knew it was just a matter of time before she fell off the wagon.  She was housebound for the first 2 months after coming home from hospital, but the second she told me “I’m going to go with your Dad in the wheelchair to Sainsburys on Friday just to get out of the house” I knew it was only a matter of time.  And sure enough, 3 weeks later I turn up at the house to find her drinking a glass of wine.

She’d only bought one of those little 18cl bottles, and her excuse was “I’d like a glass of wine with my Christmas dinner but don’t know which one to choose, so I thought I’d try this little bottle to see what it’s like”.  I felt sick.  That she would be wondering what she could drink on Christmas day when it was only 14th November tells you everything you need to know about her mind set.  So I sat down and, as gently as I could bearing in mind I was in bits, said that I loved them both but I was going home and I was not coming back.  And I got Bertie and my handbag and left.

That was on Tuesday and I have felt horrendously ill ever since.  I wake up with a huge sick knot in my stomach, can’t eat and feel so exhausted I’m like a rag doll.  Years of living with the anxiety and unpredictability of my parents’ behaviour seems to have come to a head and I feel floored.  I have spent 3 days spontaneously sobbing and feel on the edge of some kind of breakdown.

It would be so easy to simply walk away, but they are old and sick and my poor Dad really doesn’t need this drama.  So I have rung my Mum and told her that I love them both, and I will take care of them, but I simply cannot visit them – not for a while.  Things are going to have to change I’m not sure what the new future looks like yet.

They depend on my hugely, I have been the glue that’s kept our family together, and I know they will be terrified I am going to abandon them, which I would never do because I couldn’t live with the guilt, but there are going to have to be new ground rules.  I have felt responsible for keeping them on an even keel my entire life and I am too fucking tired to do it anymore.  That I am ill myself seems to totally pass them by.

In not visiting them, however, I have no-one to look after Bertie, my dog who is a rescue with severe separation anxiety and who can’t be left on his own.  That means I can’t go to my Camera Club which is my passion and often the only thing which keeps me going.  It’s the only time I get out of the house all week, the only time I ever see anyone other than my cleaner and the post man and is the only social life I have.  I feel such rage that my Mother’s selfish behaviour has robbed me of the only joy I have in life.  A life which is devoid of any pleasure and any of the normal things healthy people take for granted.

Sometimes I wish she were dead.  The second she retired from work she sat in a chair, watched telly, smoked and drank and basically waited to die.  There are times when I wish this would happen and put us all out of our misery.  She has been unhappy her entire life and has made me unhappy along the way.  Then I think about all the times she’s helped me, comforted me, been there for me, loved me and am wracked with guilt.

So, that’s where we are today and I’m in complete turmoil.  I feel so poorly I can barely get dressed and am constantly on the verge of tears.  It’s like every emotion I’ve ever felt towards my parents has come to the surface and I can’t push them down any more.

Please don’t tell me to get help, contact al-anon or anything else.  Trust me when I say there is no avenue I haven’t been down.  My Mum doesn’t want help.  There is no al-anon where I live and in any event I don’t do the bullshit “higher power” thing.  My parents have what they need to live: a cleaner, carers to help my Mum shower, a gardener, their meals provided.  But as I’ve mentioned before it’s all the stuff that paid help can’t do which is the stumbling block, like finances, paperwork, mending the seam on my Mum’s nightie, submitting electric meter readings, grocery shopping, talking to medical staff as neither of my parents are capable and 1001 other things.  I feel so trapped, and resentful and guilty.

There aren’t any easy answers.  Walking away and leaving a parent with dementia is not an option.  Carrying on as we always have is not an option either.  I have no clue what to do.

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Counselling

After the tiff with my Mother the other day I was pretty upset.  My period is due, I feel like crap both physically and emotionally, and am really struggling with her alcoholism.  I googled help for families of alcoholics and could find nothing other than Al Anon (there was legions of help for the actual alcoholic though, which is great but it’s not the alcoholic who has to live with the fallout from their disease, it’s the people around them – the alcoholic is so high most of the time their life is just a blur).  However, the nearest Al Anon meeting is an hour’s drive away and I’m not well enough to do that every week.

So, I’m considering some counselling.  I want to choose someone in the next town though, as I don’t want to see someone locally only to bump into them in the supermarket knowing they know every intimate detail about my life.  There is a counsellor who used to work at the local Hospice who looks well qualified and experienced, but I don’t know whether I need a Psychologist rather than “just” a Counsellor.  My history goes something like this:

  • Perfect childhood until the age of 7 when my Mum left my Dad out of the blue.
  • Taken away from everything and everyone I knew, moved 200 miles to live with a grandparent who used to hit me.  Mum was clinically depressed, drank too much and was addicted to prescription Valium.  Moved 9 times in the next 2 years, couch surfing with various relatives.
  • Started being bullied at school, which went on for the next 10 years.
  • Mum met and married my step-dad but their relationship was volatile from the start, including daily rows and the odd plate throwing.  I never knew what the atmosphere at home would be like from one day to the next.  This was all kept a secret though and to the outside world my parents were really nice – my school friends were all jealous that I had such a “lovely Mum”.
  • Repeatedly sexually assaulted by my step-brother aged 9-10.
  • Sexually assaulted at the age of 11 by a neighbour.
  • Became clinically depressed around the age of 13 but this wasn’t recognized in children in those days.  Woke every day for 4 years wishing I were dead.
  • My saving grace was my boyfriend, who was three years older than me.  We were together for 4 years until he dumped me on New Year’s Eve when I had just turned 17 – turned out he was seeing someone else.
  • Had a mini-breakdown aged 18 and dropped out of school.  Spent 9 months barely leaving the house – put on antidepressants and saw a Clinical Psychologist for a year who was really helpful.
  • Met my future husband aged 19.  He was dominating and critical, just like my biological dad.  Married at the age of 21 and my husband became much more controlling and mentally abuse, eventually alienating me from my family and friends.  Thankfully I came to my senses and divorced him.
  • Went to work abroad aged 23, which is where I caught the virus which lead to my M.E.
  • Came home and met my next boyfriend, who was lovely in most respects other than he flirted with anything with a pulse and was highly critical of my appearance – which did nothing for my self-esteem.
  • Developed ME aged 26 and spent the next 10 years bedridden and alone.  Boyfriend was dumped as he couldn’t cope with me being sick.
  • Lived alone for the next 20 years.
  • After going through the Menopause, my Mum became increasingly verbally abusive to my Dad and a very angry person (though she hid this behaviour in public and I was still constantly told how lucky I was to have such a lovely Mum).  Our previously close relationship started to deteriorate.
  • Just as my ME was starting to improve, my Ehlers-Danlos and Mast Cell Disease kicked off.  Yay.
  • Mum had lung surgery in 2011.  She had to give up her 20 a day cigarette habit so took to drinking instead, along with taking 16 prescription drugs a day.
  • She then had a heart attack in 2013 and now needs constant care, provided solely by me and my Dad.
  • Dad recently diagnosed with Dementia.
  • I’m now in peri-menopause and finding it hard to cope with my hormones, health, Dad’s Dementia and Mum’s health and alcoholism.

I know there are people who have lives much worse than mine, and I do my best to just get on with it and not wallow in self pity, but even I have to admit there are times I struggle and I think I need the perspective of a trained Counsellor to help me navigate the next few years.  Waking up in the morning and actually wishing your parent would hurry up and die so you didn’t have to cope with their crap any more is not good.  Therapy is expensive though and at £35 a session I can probably only afford to see a Counsellor twice a month, which isn’t ideal.

I still can’t decide whether to see a Psychologist or a Counsellor.  Counsellors have a tendency to listen then just repeat your problems back to you in the hopes you’ll find your own solution, which isn’t what I need.  But I still think the Counsellor who used to work at the Hospice would be good to see, as I know I’m already grieving for my Mum (despite the fact she’s still alive) plus obviously I have my own health problems which this particular Counsellor would be used to dealing with.  She offers a free first consultation, so maybe I’ll go along for that and see if we click.  She also does telephone appts which is great and means I don’t have to travel to see her if I’m not well enough on a particular day.

I recognise that my life is challenging and that I’m struggling.  Reaching out for help is important and the Psychologist I saw when I was 18 turned my life around.  I don’t want to become depressed again and need some new coping skills and ways of navigating the caring role I now face with my parents (which I’m finding difficult when I spend days basically hating my Mother).  I’ll let you know how I get on.

The shameful secret

I attended a Camera Club event on Wednesday night (more in my Weekly Roundup post tomorrow) and got chatting to one of the Club members who I get on well with.  She must be in her late sixties I’d guess and her husband has severe COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) the same as my Mum.   I asked her how he was doing and she replied “he has COPD, heart failure and drinks too much”.  “Sounds like my Mother” I replied in sympathy, and we both realized we had a hidden story in common.  Alcoholism.

We quietly chatted some more and I discovered he had been an alcoholic for 20 years.  Luckily I’ve not had to deal with it that long, just 5 years in my Mum’s case although my Mum’s drinking has definitely featured my whole life – it just hasn’t been a “problem” until recently.  It was so nice to talk to someone who gets it and who obviously has similar feelings to me about the situation: anger, frustration, anger, resentment, anger, rejection, anger, despair, anger, fear, anger.

What makes it worse for me, is that my Mum and I had always been best friends until her drinking took over.  She was always my soft place to fall and now that’s been taken away.  I read a shared Facebook post this week which contained a bucket list (more on that in another post) and one of the items on the list was this: “I want to greet my family every day the way I greet my dog”.  It really hit home.  When I visit my parents my dog Bertie goes bounding up the stairs ahead of me, where he has a treat waiting for him on my Mum’s side table.  He gets hugs and kisses off both my parents and their eyes positively light up with joy when they see him.  They tell him how gorgeous he is and how much they love him.  I come trailing after, usually laden down with bags (I take my lunch with me so I don’t eat their food, I often have shopping I’ve done for them, or DIY stuff to do jobs for them) and some days I barely even get a hello.  No cuddles or eyes lighting up for me or being told how much I’m loved.  I don’t even get a brew made.

The lovely lady who walks Bertie for me also does my Mum’s cleaning.  I’m pleased they get on well because Mum rarely sees anyone these days (her choice I hasten to add) and enjoys the company and different conversation but when the cleaner leaves she gets a hug and a kiss.  When I leave I get nothing.  My Mum never touches me these days.  Have you any idea how hurtful that is?  That my Mum will hug the fucking cleaner, and the dog, but not me.  I’ve tried to remember when the hugging stopped and it’s been a while.  Before Mum’s drinking started I’m sure.  I’ve no idea what the problem is but I resent it, hugely.  It is so hurtful at the very core of my being that it’s difficult to put into words.  I am an exceptionally good daughter by anyone’s standards, leaving aside the fact I’m ill myself.  There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my parents and they know it.  Without me their day-to-day lives would be unsustainable.  My Dad at least shows me some appreciation and affection – not in the cuddling stakes so much, but we go off and do things together and he walks my dog for me and picks my bread up on the days I’m not well enough to get into town.  My Mum, on the other hand, does fuck all and on top of all that I receive zero affection.

I’m sure there are all sorts of complex reasons my Mum acts the way she does but y’know what – I’m not interested in them.  I don’t care if she resents me or her situation or all the myriad of reasons I’m sure exist for her behaviour – she should bloody well fake it.  I don’t care if she wants to hug me, she should do it anyway.  If she can hug the goddamn cleaner she can hug her only daughter.  I manage to hide my anger and resentment towards her every day of my life and put my love for her to the fore – it’s do-able.

My Camera club friend ended our conversation by saying “when I meet people, they all ask how my husband is and I want to say he’s a selfish, lazy, drunk arsehole but of course I don’t.   No-one bothers to ask how I am”.  I get where she’s coming from.  What I haven’t told you is that my friend has Parkinson’s Disease so our stories really are very similar.  That the people who are supposed to love us the most make our already difficult lives harder through their drinking is tough to live with.  That they allow themselves the luxury of getting drunk and feeling better at the expense of making us feel worse.  That everyone you meet shows concern and sympathy for them when we’re the ones holding everything together despite battling our own ill-health and keeping the secret of their alcoholism.  Because it usually is a secret.  A huge, shameful, embarrassing secret.

I know some of my readers also have alcoholics in their families and will totally relate to my story.   In fact, I’m amazed at how prevalent it is particularly in the elderly population.  Alcoholism isn’t a disease, whatever alcoholics say.  Parkinsons is a disease.  Ehlers-Danlos is a disease.  I can’t wake up one morning and choose not to have EDS any more than my friend can wake up one morning and choose not to shake, but alcoholics can wake up and choose not to drink, albeit they may need help doing so.  My Mum chose to start drinking at the ripe old age of 70 and she could choose to do something about it if she wanted to, but of course she doesn’t want to.  She’s happy in the oblivion alcohol brings her every day.  And my Camera  Club friend feels the same way about her husband.

I will continue to care for my Mum until the day she dies, but my love for her diminishes at an alarming rate.  I’m now at the stage where I just go through the motions – to me, the Mum I’ve known all my life is already dead.  Drowned in a vodka bottle.