Overcoming My Childhood from the Daughter of an Alcoholic Father

Do you need Al-Anon? Do I need Al-Anon? Are you a child of an alcoholic father? parent? I know a lot of people who come from at least one parent who has one addiction or another. I had an alcoholic father. He isn’t dead but he is 92 now so he doesn’t really drink anymore. I tend to think alcoholism is different than other addictions because drinking alcohol is socially accepted behavior. Most people do it (according to Gallup poll, 66% of people in the U.S.A drink alcohol, averaging 4 drinks per week). It’s harder to define who has a real problem since it’s 1) legal and 2) socially accepted. Today, my dad would be called a binge drinker. I don’t think they had that term back when I was a kid.

I have some behavior patterns that one might say are attributed to growing up with an alcoholic parent. I’ve been trying to decide for years if I need Al-Anon. I probably do, but I’m not keen on sharing my stories in a public forum. LOL. I know this is public but you can’t see my face saying it … talking about it.

At any rate, I found myself today on the Al-Anon website, looking for a local meeting and I came upon their checklist page. The page where they take you through 20 questions to determine if you have been affected by someone’s drinking. So here it goes. I’m going to go through them one by one – follow along and join in. I’d love to hear your stories or responses to some of these questions, in the comments below.

1. Do you worry about how much someone drinks? Hmm. Yes I do. I don’t worry about how much I drink but I do worry about how much my husband might drink. Lucky for me my husband doesn’t drink all that much, so I don’t have to worry too often. But, I am upset when someone is drunk at a party, especially if I’m not drinking.

2. Do you have money problems because of someone else’s drinking? Yes? I tend to have a bad relationship with money. Is it because of someone else’s drinking? I don’t know. My dad was a raging alcoholic—is that why I tend to throw away money … I don’t know.

3. Do you tell lies to cover up for someone else’s drinking? No! I don’t do that. Thank god. My mom was always up front with everyone about my dad’s drinking and never asked me to hide it or cover it up. When he would break things, because either he fell into them or purposely broke them, she didn’t clean it up. We left or went to bed, and she said, “Leave it. Let him see what a mess he made. He can clean it up.” Thank you mom. I have friends who still don’t talk about their childhood because of their “family secrets.” I’m glad I don’t have any secrets. I’m an open book, for better or worse.

4. Do you feel that if the drinker cared about you, he or she would stop drinking to please you? I probably thought this as a child. It’s not my issue today because my father is 92, and he doesn’t really have the energy to get plastered anymore. I’ve had about 15 good years of him not drinking, except for one incident, about 8 years ago, when he lived with us briefly. He downed a bottle of rum one night and was still drunk in the morning. I hated him for that because it brought back all sorts of memories from my childhood. But, I’m not the type of person that thinks someone changes because they care about someone else. I’ve learned that change comes from within. You have to like yourself first before change comes. So, long story short … no. Today, I do not feel that a person would or could stop drinking to please someone else. Whether or not they should, well I don’t use the word should anymore, thanks to Michael Kane.

5. Do you blame the drinker’s behavior on his or her companions? Hmm. I did. I used to think it was my mom’s fault. Her fault for shopping too much, moving too much, arguing too much. I thought if she would just stop arguing with him, he might not drink as much. Or if she wouldn’t shop so much, he wouldn’t get upset about her spending. Or, if she would just be happy where we were and didn’t always search for something better—a better house, a better car, a better whatever—that he wouldn’t drink so much. Then they divorced. And, when I was about 24 years old, I realized that my dad’s behavior had absolutely nothing to do with my mom. People have control of how they react or don’t react. Everyone is in control of their own behavior. I often quote from my favorite book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” The word responsible can be broken down to response-able. We are not animals. We have free will. Between action and reaction, we have a choice. We can choose how to respond. My dad, even though he still does, cannot blame his life, circumstances, or his behavior on anyone but himself, and neither can I.

6. Are plans frequently upset or canceled or meals delayed because of the drinker? Yes. They were when I was little. Not anymore, so this is no longer an issue for me.

7. Do you make threats, such as, “If you don’t stop drinking, I’ll leave you”? I never made any threats because I was a child. It wasn’t my place. When I got older, in my mid to late twenties. I made a choice to not answer my phone after 5pm. I did tell him once, when I was about 30 years old that I would not speak to him when he was drunk (he was drunk when I told him that), so that is why I never answered his calls after 5pm. He was furious. I hung up on him. He kept calling. I didn’t answer. We didn’t speak for awhile after that. Then all was forgotten, and he was on his best behavior.

8. Do you secretly try to smell the drinker’s breath? No. I never did that. My dad didn’t drink in secret. He was either not drinking or drunk. There was nothing in between.

9. Are you afraid to upset someone for fear it will set off a drinking bout? No. I don’t live with anyone who drinks like that. Thank God. I’ve reconciled that I’m not in control of other people’s behaviors or reactions. That’s on them.

10. Have you been hurt or embarrassed by a drinker’s behavior? Yes. Most of the time my dad was smart enough to only get drunk in the privacy of our own home except for his occasional spells at work where he got drunk and told off his supervisors. He worked in Civil Service so they wouldn’t fire him, just send him home and call my mom to let her know he was driving home drunk. He worked nights so that was usually around 11pm. My parents didn’t have a big social life so the chances of public embarrassment were slim. However, in my first marriage, my dad, in his early 70s, got drunk hanging out with my ex-husband and our friends and it was embarrassing. I decided that night that I never wanted my husband and dad to drink together again.

11. Are holidays and gatherings spoiled because of drinking? Yes. Sometimes they were. Only because when my dad pulled out one beer I knew he wouldn’t stop there. He was smart enough to wait for everyone to leave but I knew that where there was one beer, there was 20. And I knew what that meant, and what to expect that evening.

12. Have you considered calling the police for help in fear of abuse? No. This is not my situation today. And I was never abused either verbally or physically as a child. My dad would always tell me to go to bed and then he would rant and rave at my mom all night. He made a lot of threats – like “You think I’ll kill myself like my brothers but I won’t. If I kill myself, I’m taking someone with me.” Wonderful shit like that. He had never gotten physical with my mom, either, until one night. I woke up to my mom screaming my name. He was chasing her around the house. That was the first time I imagined killing my father. I remember looking at the poker hanging among the fireplace tools. I remember picking it up and I remember running after him with a vision of hitting him. I didn’t hit him or pick up the poker but I would have if he hadn’t stopped chasing her the moment he saw me. I was 13 and almost as tall as him. My mom left him after that.

13. Do you search for hidden alcohol? No. He never hid his alcohol. He never had it in the house unless he planned on drinking it. So, it was either in the fridge or it wasn’t. If I came home from school and I saw it in the fridge, I would call my mom at work and tell her that dad had bought beer. We both knew what that meant.

14. Do you ever ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking? Yep. All the time. My dad watched me during the summer days. My dad worked nights, and my mom worked days. Sometimes he would drink during the day while doing yard work. Then he would drive to the dump to get rid of the trash, and he was drunk. I would call my mom and tell her but there wasn’t much she could do as you couldn’t tell my father anything. I don’t think DUI’s even existed back then. I grew up in the same town where M.A.D.D. began. I used to wish he would get in an accident and die when he would drive drunk. Not with me in the car, but when I was older, and I was allowed to stay home. Thank God he never killed anyone while he drove drunk.

15. Have you refused social invitations out of fear or anxiety? No.

16. Do you feel like a failure because you can’t control the drinking? No.

17. Do you think that if the drinker stopped drinking, your other problems would be solved? Back when I was a kid, I might have thought my life would be a lot better if my dad didn’t drink. I know I had a lot of rage. Today … I think I don’t blame much on his drinking but I have a hard time with him. He is 92 now and I am the only child who takes care of him. My half brother and half sister can’t deal with him and no longer even call on his birthdays. I am all he has. It’s difficult.

18. Do you ever threaten to hurt yourself to scare the drinker? No. That’s not my situation or my personality. As a child, I never did this either.

19. Do you feel angry, confused, or depressed most of the time? Sometimes. Angry mostly. Depressed only occasionally—mostly for missing out on any real relationship with my father. He never really spoke when he was sober and he just spewed venom when he was drunk. I don’t remember having much fun around him. Only one time, when he surprised me by taking me to Six Flags. He was the only one that would ride roller coasters with me. That was the one thing I can remember sharing with him. That, and our love of electronics, computers and gadgets. Oh yeah, and fishing in Fort Bragg, CA.

20. Do you feel there is no one who understands your problems? Not really. I know that many of my responses, patterns and behaviors stem from being a child of an alcoholic parent. And I know that there are plenty of other people who experienced similar childhoods and understand. 

What are your answers to these questions? Are you keeping a family secret? Do you still judge yourself or think it’s your fault that your parent drank? Do you protect your parent? Drinking is an addiction. If you are with someone who drinks, it’s their problem, not yours. Don’t be a victim. You have one life to live. You owe it to yourself to love yourself and be your own advocate. Be the change. I know my dysfunctional patterns that stem from my childhood and working through these patterns is part of my journey—nothing makes you address negative patterns more than once you become a mother. Acknowledging my negative patterns doesn’t make me feel bad about myself, rather it does the opposite. I view this as productive problem solving. Being proactive, makes me feel good. I am in control of myself, my behavior and my reactions, and you can be too.

Suggested Reading:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Making Peace with Your Parents

Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back …

Adult Children of Alcoholics

Heal Your Broken Heart

10 Negative Thinking Patterns to Avoid (article)

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