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Growing Up In An Alcoholic Home

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A broken promise here. A missed soccer game there. Disappointment in droves and no end in sight. Growing up in an alcoholic home robs children of childhood and marriages of happiness. It is, simply put, the worst.

My dad was an alcoholic. It was something I always knew and not something that needed to be explained to me—even at a very young age. I knew what it meant to be drunk long before I had lost my first tooth or learned how to ride a bike. My childhood home was not a happy one, but instead was always filled with slamming doors and angry words thrown from one room to another. Even worse was a silence that meant dad hadn’t been home for several days. My mom was essentially a single parent save for a very few moments throughout the week. She did everything: the cooking, cleaning, taking us to school, practices, friends houses, and sleepovers. My dad always came home late, angry, and reeking of alcohol. When I was about 3 or 4, he declared that Wednesday nights would be game nights for him, my siblings, and myself. I knew he upset my mom, but kids memories are short when it comes to something fun and getting attention from a parent who does not give it out freely or often. So on Wednesday nights, he would make it home—sober—and we would sprawl on the living room floor to play Yahtzee or Connect Four or Guess Who. Mom would walk by with a disapproving glance but would never say anything. She didn’t allow the bitterness to totally overtake her in those moments. It seemed like a miraculous hour to children who almost never saw their dad. However, it was always short-lived because as soon as the game was over, dad was out the door to his favorite bar.

I have no happy memories of the time during which my parents were married. This is not an exaggeration. I have an incredible ability to recall events, and I have racked my brain for hours and hours over the years, searching for just one. I sift through everything I can remember, turning over each event in my head. Sometimes I think I’ve found one, but then as I settle into it and allow myself to visualize every detail, I find it—the argument that ensued. I remember the tears that were shed. It’s like finding your favorite sweater in the back of the closet—only to remember it has a hole in it.

When they told us they were getting a divorce, people from all throughout the family mailed us books with titles like “It’s Not Your Fault” that depicted cartoon dinosaurs that were going through divorce in which the mom and dad still loved the kid dinosaur. Both of our parents told us it wasn’t because of us. Every time someone else offered me that platitude, I thought, “I know.”

I didn’t need to be told it was because of the drinking. Of course that’s what it was. Did they think I blind or oblivious or just the kind of child that was into self deprecation? I wasn’t. And I knew whose fault it was.

The drinking, if anything, got worse. My mom knew this, and she did her best to protect us. Because of the judge’s ruling, she had us most of the time—with the exception of every other weekend and Wednesday nights. I think she spent those days in an anxious state, praying we would be kept safe. One Wednesday night, my dad arrived to pick us u—not by his own power—but because a friend had driven him to our house. He was so inebriated he couldn’t drive himself. His plan was that the friend would then drive us to dinner and bring us back to our mom. Through lots of yelling and tears and messy details that aren’t worth remembering, the night ended with us walking to dinner and threats of a restraining order. Another ruined day.

As I got older, I was continually let down by my dad. I saw him less and less. I knew if I saw him for dinner that he would be drunk. I couldn’t stand his phone calls after he’d been to the bar. I would call and ask him for very typical favors—the kind a daughter might need of her dad. I’d tell myself, “This time. This is the day he’s going to come through. He’s going to help.” He never did. I was let down. Again.

Finally, my bitterness reached a breaking point, and I had a revelation. If nothing else, my dad was consistent. He had had a drinking problem long before I was born. We had asked him to stop, and his response had been ‘no.’ Worst of all, I was allowing my emotions to be controlled by another individual’s actions. It was then that I gave myself 2 options:

  1. Cut him off—and I mean totally cut him off. No more dinners. No more Christmases. No more phone calls. This option meant that he wouldn’t be welcome at my future wedding, my hypothetical children wouldn’t know him, and we would go to our graves with a severed relationship and years lost.
  2. Set boundaries around my own heart. If I accepted a dinner invitation, I could no longer allow myself to be hurt if he was drunk. He had proven that that was most likely going to be the case, so perhaps I should consider making lunch plans instead. If he called me after 3pm, I wouldn’t answer unless I was willing to talk to a drunk person. If I wasn’t in the mood, then I wouldn’t answer.

I chose option 2. It’s hard. Really, really hard. I made that decision for myself ten years ago, and to this day, when my phone rings after 3pm, I tell myself, “You’re not allowed to be mean to him if he’s been drinking. You’re choosing to answer the phone.” We do lunches unless I’m feeling particularly patient that day. Because of my decision all those years ago, I know my dad now. My kids know my dad now. It is a constant work—and something that makes me pray almost every day. I don’t blame myself for his actions, but I no longer allow myself to be ruled by his mistakes. I have no illusions about having a perfect relationship, but I’m so grateful for choosing the path that allowed one—and for me to have peace as well.

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One Response to Growing Up In An Alcoholic Home

  1. Amanda Richey October 26, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

    This was my life as well, minus the divorce. I begged my mom and she couldn’t do it. She and I are still very close but I avoid him as much as possible. I don’t answer calls after 3 either 🙂 It has affected how I deal with all my relationships. I hate drunk people and broken promises. Being let down is hard because it’s been going on my whole life. It’s hard to let go of the bitterness.
    Thank you for sharing.

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