I grew up in an alcoholic home. My mother always insisted my alcoholic father’s drinking did not affect anyone else. But his behavior did affect me, his daughter, especially hard. In fact, effects of alcoholism on an alcoholic’s children can be so profound its lasts a lifetime. As the daughter of an alcoholic father, I had found it difficult, if not impossible to deal with. Alcoholism is a family disease. It affects the behavior, of course, of everyone in the family. My parents denied a problem existed and as a result I lacked a role model for healthy relationships and functioning behavior.
I never had a “normal” family relationship with my father. I didn’t even know what normal was. I always found it uncomfortable to be around “normal” families, I never knew what to do or say.
This post is a HUGE beginning for me. I have always judged myself mercilessly, always my own worst critic. I’ve dealt with high levels of anxiety and depression and have always found it difficult to lighten up at social gathering, not be so on guard. This is true with my own husband, I used to hate it whenever he drank any alcohol at all, even if he didn’t get tipsy. Perhaps that’s because I had witnessed so many holidays, vacations, and other family events sabotaged by my alcoholic father. Like once at my parents Christmas table, on the rare occasion that I had even shown up for a holiday meal, my father was to sit at the head chair while we said grace, but he fell off his chair down to the floor, drunk. Family friends and my future husband was in attendance, it was terribly embarrassing.
As a child I desperately wanted to be with my father, spend meaningful time with him. That never happened. Oh, I was allowed to go along with him but he was indifferent to my presence. If I wanted to spend time with him it was either a hunting trip or to a tavern, which is what bar establishments were called in the small German town I grew up in. Many times it was both. A drunk hunter with a small child along, um…dangerous wasn’t the word. I’m probably lucky to be alive.
Some memories are embarrassing even at 10 years old. Like him falling out the door of a tavern and rolling down five steep steps totally drunk. I was so embarrassed I remember looking around through the darkness hoping no one saw him do that. He got up, vomited, said nothing, and we got into the car and he drove home drunk. I remember how much the car was weaving down the road. I have often wondered many times since, how could my mother have ever let me go with him? She had to know the danger, wouldn’t she?
I was frightened of his anger. Even so, I wanted him to pay attention to me. One time I asked for help doing my 5th grade math homework. That particular night was a positive experience. I was so happy because I actually sat on his lap and he helped me do my math problems. I got 100% on my paper the next day in class and high praise from my teacher. I was the only student to have all the questions correct and on top of the world. It felt so good. The next night, I wanted to ask for help from him again. This time it didn’t go well, his behavior was the complete opposite. I told him I had all my math problems correct and I wanted to do that again.
“Get outta a here, get away from me, leave me alone!” Was the answer I received. He put his head on the table and started crying about how badly he’d been treated by his parents when he was a child. After he quit sobbing and snuffing he stood up from the table, made a fist and came at me. My mother, in one of the few instances she actually tried to protect me grabbed a frying pan off the stove, then stood in the middle of the kitchen and threatened to crack his head open if he touched me. He was so angry at me, just for asking for his help, again. I never understood that, it remains burned in my memory. I never asked him for help again.
My father was a hunter. He took pleasure in killing small animals. If I wanted to spend time with him I went along. He shot lots of squirrels. My mother would fry squirrel for dinner. I could not eat them. I wasn’t the hunting type and I know it disappointed him. But if I wanted to spend time with my dad, that’s what I had to do.
While on a rabbit hunting outing once we passed a little bunny hiding in the underbrush. I called my dad’s attention to it, I just wanted him to see it and I suppose I didn’t really understand that he intended to kill it. He shot that rabbit right there. I remember the feelings of horror that overtook me as I saw its brains splattered out across the ground. I betrayed that rabbit.
My dad told me, “You did good in pointing out that rabbit to me. You see anymore you do the same thing.” Then he gruffly patted me hard on the back. I felt sick. I’d just wanted to SEE the rabbit, I didn’t want it to get shot. I cried over that rabbit. I was only about nine or ten years old. After that, my father would not take me anywhere with him because I had cried over animals being killed.
“Animals are for man to eat,” he said, “you’re weak in mind, you’re a girl.” So that was that. Because I was a girl and liked animals I had no place in his life. I got that message. He made me feel guilty. My love for animals grew after that, all I wanted to do was rescue them, heal them, help them.
Dad was a functioning alcoholic. He worked at his job drunk. He interacted with his family drunk. If he visited family members he got even more drunk, was passed out on the couch or floor most of the time. He lived drunk and he died drunk. He was an irresponsible self-centered person. His inflated sense of self-worth and self-importance prevented him from seeing his deficiencies and shortcomings. It prevented him from seeing me as a person or loving me as a daughter.
Mom verbally and physically abused me more than my drunk father did although he hit me a time or two. One thing she would consistently say to me: “You’re just like him. You walk like him, you look like him, you act like him.” She must have hated my dad because she sure hated me. When I was older I finally had the courage to stand up to my father, once, and I asked him to please stop his drinking for the betterment of his family, for me. His response was: “You’re so selfish.”
My mothers response was: “I’m not going to let you do that to him!”
I left. No use in saying anymore. As far as my mother, it seemed I never could do anything right. After I had married and left home, all she could talk about to anyone who would listen was how I was going to buy the house next door and live near her so I could take care of her. My husband and I left the state. I had no intention of staying any where around them. After that, I was considered a traitor.
Fortunately I was a resilient child. I had characteristics that allowed me to leave my family life behind. I was able to obtain positive attention from other people. I have good communication skills, I am of average or higher intelligence, I always displayed a caring attitude for animals and people, and I had a desire to achieve. I believe in self-help. By acknowledging the reality of my families dysfunction I no longer have to act as if nothing were wrong or keep denying that I sometimes still unconsciously react to childhood harm and injury. In accepting that I was powerless as a child to “save” my family I have been able to release my self-hate and to stop punishing myself and others for not being enough. By accepting and reuniting with my inner child I am no longer threatened by intimacy, by the fear of being engulfed or being made invisible.
My husband and I both came from dysfunctional homes. He has a brother who is a worse alcoholic than my father was. My husband and I talk for many long hours, often, about how he wanted to rescue me from the abusive situation he saw I was in, and how I had been so drawn to him, almost like a victim, attracted by that weakness I saw in his family. I’m not saying we didn’t have issues, we did, but we’ve worked hard to make our marriage what it is today. We are best friends and have a great relationship, but it wasn’t easy, marriage is work and when you come into it with issues like we had its even harder, but it can be done if both partners want it to work.
Self-help was my biggest healer.
I write books.
So far, most of my work is fiction. My characters usually display the same problems I faced. They are strong-willed, do not feel sorry for themselves, and pull themselves up by their “boot-straps.”
They are fighters. I admire them.