Children of alcoholics – when home is the most dangerous place

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It was a Tuesday.

A day unlike any other, except I was off school, again. Without having a blood test I was suffering from anything ranging from Glandular Fever to M.E. Seriously fatigued and next to no energy to do anything, I was lying on the sofa covered with blankets watching rubbish day-time TV in an attempt to keep somewhat entertained.

My dad Keith – a semi-retired businessman – was also at home since his latest job had collapsed and left him unemployed. He was making us lunch when the next thing I heard was a loud yell. I assumed he had just stubbed his toe or burnt himself on the cooker, so passed it off as something stupid.

But five minutes passed and the house was silent, so I dragged myself from the sofa, holding on to anything to keep me upright, to then see something so heavily engrained on my brain, I fear it will never leave. It was as if something had tried to prepare me for the events that would follow. But as I came through the door there he was – on the floor on his side, glasses snapped but hanging jagged from his face, blood oozing from his nose and forehead, eyes rolled back, his whole body uncontrollably shaking.

My neighbour was a nurse, so I ran to the window to check if she was in, but she wasn’t. No one was.

My dad did not recall a thing other than being dazed in the back of an ambulance. In that time, he had moved from the conservatory floor stained with his blood, to the bathroom where paramedics found him. In Accident & Emergency, I was sick. It could have been  the illness I was suffering – or the fact I hate hospitals. Or it could have been the stress of the situation.

But the worst part? For the first four hours of this ‘episode’, it was my word against anyone else’s. It’s not that people didn’t believe me, but I was the only witness. A scared, shy, unwell teenager. And until he had another seizure in his hospital bed, no one had any idea what was wrong.

This was the week my dad was diagnosed with alcoholism.

kate hewitt and her dad

 

Alcoholism is genetic. In 2014, the DNA network that makes some people more vulnerable to alcohol than others was identified confirming a suspicion that alcoholism is hereditary. And although that incident when I was 13 was one of most traumatic things to have ever happened to me, it’s not the worst of it. Because that was the week my family was diagnosed with alcoholism.

It does not affect one single person. It affects all their loved ones – and it does so like a tonne of bricks. It’s like ripping a person’s heart in half and asking the same person to stitch it back together.

The emotional pain outweighs the physical. Emotional pain is more damaging. It’s words and phrases that stick with you for a lifetime. Nasty words. Unrepeatable remarks. Scary behaviour that only belongs in horror films. Clawing at your own skin and pulling chunks of it away. Biting at your hands. Grinding your teeth so hard you can hear bits graining off.

To have to accept that as part of your life and to deal with it as and when it comes, sucks away the life you had just regained from the previous time. It’s draining. But it’s the life of an addict and the addict’s family and it’s what your life revolves around.

My dad doesn’t drink 24/7 of every week of every month. For that, I am lucky. There are people out there who do have to suffer every day of every month. There are children who are subjected to that. My dad binges for about a week every five or six months. Sometimes there’s a root cause – and sometimes it’s just sheer boredom.

I don’t want to ‘villainize’ any alcoholic.

The villain is the alcohol, not the person. People change when under the influence. They lose all sense of normality and once consumed at the rate of an alcoholic, the person you know is lost until they are fully sober. My mum and I call this the ‘monster’.

My dad acknowledges this side of him as the ‘monster’ – the side he wants us to stay well away from when it happens again. I used to get nightmares. I failed GCSEs at school. Instead of answering exam questions, I was too busy anticipating what I would be going home to, or worse, running away from.

When I was 15, I hid in the back of my mum’s wardrobe and pushed all of her clothes in front of me. Dad was smashing the house to pieces, kicking holes in doors and walls, smashing plates and cups, throwing anything he could get hold of across the room. It was the first time the police were called. My mum phoned them after I’d called her in hysterics.

But just like most people don’t have to think about being allergic to nuts – because they’re not allergic to nuts – most people don’t have to think about being an alcoholic.

The underlying fact is, whether you are aware of it or not, someone you know will have their own experience of alcoholism.

kate hewitt and dad - alcoholics featureBeing drunk is so much more different to being an alcoholic. It’s not at all like waking up with a raging hangover, craving some greasy junk food and wasting the next day lying in bed. It’s going to sleep normally but waking up in the middle of the night and drinking until you fall asleep again. It’s hiding alcohol or going to the shop to buy some – and then drinking it before you get home so you can toss the bottle away. It’s smell is like perfume, walking turns into stumbling, speaking into mumbling, eating into vomiting. Yet, you carry on because you can’t hear or see the light of day.

I cannot express how torturous it is to witness someone you love, like my dad, drink themselves to potential death. My dad only has one kidney. He had a kidney transplant because his simultaneously failed when he was in his 30s, before all of this – before me.

Alcohol is a drug. It’s an addiction – it’s an illness.

You wouldn’t tell someone who is suicidal to stop being stupid. Or someone who is anorexic to just eat. So expecting an alcoholic to not drink because you say so is as misguided as expecting someone suffering from depression to just suddenly cheer up because the sun’s come out. There’s a stigma around alcoholism. In fact, alcoholism is so tainted it’s almost used as an adjective – as a joke.

I don’t have anything against alcohol. My mum, however, hasn’t drunk since he was diagnosed. Yet, despite all of the this and all the hurtful, spiteful, terrifying experiences she’s been through with this ‘monster’, she’s stayed by his side. Because the man who doesn’t drink and the ‘monster’ are not the same person, they just share the same body.

I’ll be 22 in June – almost 10 years since my dad was diagnosed. Ten years of hiding a major part of my life and a major part of who I am from people who deserve to know.

It shouldn’t have to be kept a secret.

It shouldn’t have to be hidden away.

It’s a part of who I am – whether I want it to be or not.

Forgiving is hard. Perhaps forgiveness isn’t what is required. You can’t forgive a person who will continually hurt you for the rest of their life or forgive someone who has hurt you for a decade.

But that’s old fashioned love. Working through each other’s problems and accepting their flaws just as you would praise their strengths. I never mentioned that my dad has depression, his son has epilepsy and his daughter has fought anxiety and anorexia. Sometimes one story leads to a series, which I guess is where ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ comes from.

Alcoholism – and the perception of it – needs an overhaul. Not just for the alcoholics, but for their friends and families, too. In my eyes, they (we) are all survivors.

 

Factfile

Children of Alcoholics Week has patrons including actor Sir Ben Kingsley, model Elle Macpherson, chef Marco Pierre White and former England football captain Tony Adams.

More than 50% of confirmed abuse reports and 75% of child deaths involve the use of alcohol or other drugs by a parent.

More than 1,170 people in the North West contacted NSPCC last year reporting substance misuse among adults with children present – a 23% rise since 2013-14.

Without an increase in support, statistics will only get worse.

For more information, visit http://www.coaweek.org/

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