“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”
Living with addiction is one of the hardest things you or someone you know will have to deal with in their lifetime, both for the person with the addiction and for the person watching it consume their family’s or friends lives, honestly it doesn’t ever get easier and from what I have learnt, I don’t think it ever will but it is something you can learn to live with. I know that might seem disheartening and maybe you wanted me to tell you something different but unfortunately I can’t, what I can tell you is if you learn to put yourself first you will find you will become a stronger person and will be able to make decisions from a wider perspective. You can see how this addiction controls that person you love, don’t let this part of your life control you, you are your own person and you have a choice, if you need to walk away then you must walk away and give yourself time.
From the first memories I have, my parents have always been alcoholics, as a child it was something I didn’t think twice about, that was my life and I didn’t know any different.
I remember that my parents used to fight a lot, I think the only thing that really kept them together for so long was the common interest in alcohol. Everyday felt like a new battle while living at home, new arguments, new people, new problems. Me and my brother watched from the sidelines wondering when the newest problem would arise. Being a child of addiction is confusing, I couldn’t of imagined that what I thought was freedom was my parents not looking after me in the correct way. After a rough few years, my mum decided to leave my dad and took me and my brother into a refuge, that was a particularly awful time as it meant leaving everything I knew behind, my friends, family and school. Whilst in the refuge one of the rules of living there was not to bring any alcohol or drugs into the building, of course that didn’t stop my mum.
A short amount of time after moving into the refuge, me and my brother were left with a lady who also lived there whilst my mum ‘popped out’ for a little while, as I have come to realise alcoholics are unpredictable but I was never to have seen that she would never come back for us, for a long time I blamed myself, If only I have chosen to go with her, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Although from the outside people looking in could see that things with my family was not right, I was young and all I wanted was to be with my parents, I couldn’t see the destruction before me. Eventually, to my dismay we were placed into Foster Care, it was decided that my parents couldn’t give us the care we needed but as a 9 year old child, I didn’t even know what foster care meant, all I knew was that I was taken from my parents and that scared me See full story here
Addiction is something that is still very real for me even after all of these years later. I always kept in contact with my parents and once leaving foster care at 16 I made it my responsibility to look after them, that was a hard time for me. I had been somewhat sheltered from their addiction since going into Foster Care, seeing the awful state that they would get in brought back so many horrible memories but they were my parents and I felt I had a duty to put my feelings aside. After a tough fight for many years, my mum has now overcome the addiction after putting her life on the brink, seriously damaging her liver however relapsing on more than a few occasions, we work everyday with her to keep her strong enough to not relapse again but there is always that chance that when things get tough things will go back to they way they were.
My dad is still very much an alcoholic and I feel he is at his worst yet in terms of health. There has been many opportunities for him to try and help himself but that hasn’t been something he has wanted to do, or has been able to do. I have come to realise that it’s something he can’t do for his children, he has to want it for himself and unfortunately even if he does, the compulsion to get more alcohol is bigger than him and bigger than the love for his family. Although I love my dad, I feel at this point in my life that I am no longer able to help him, watching someone you love destroy themselves each time they sip that next bit of alcohol can become the hardest thing in the world, I want to scream ‘JUST STOP‘ but that won’t help, I feel nothing will anymore. I see my dad every now and then, not often and this sits in the back of my head everyday, questioning will I regret the way I handled things when he is no longer with me but I know that if I choose to care for him with no hope in sight I will only destroy the hope of happiness for my own life.
We all live with the fear of death, of ourselves or a loved one but living with someone with addiction it is a very real reality and its something you slowly watch happening before you, living with this everyday is scary ‘Will my parents be here tomorrow?’ I ask myself, its something that I do not know the answer too but what I do know when I think about that is that I don’t want to live with regrets, I don’t want to be asking myself questions in the future that I can not answer ‘Could I have done something?’ Did I give up to soon?’ ‘Why didn’t I spend more time with them?’ But I also don’t want to look back and think, I spent so much time trying to fix them, that I forgot to work on me.
If there is one thing I have learnt over the years, it is getting angry doesn’t help. Now this doesn’t mean that my initial reaction isn’t anger because it is, there is only so many times that one person can keep making the same mistake before you feel like giving up on them but I have slowly taught myself not to scream and shout at them when this happens, I have done this so many times and even though they can hear me, they just don’t listen because they know all of the things I am telling them, they know that it will one day kill them, they know that they are killing themselves and they know that they are affecting their children’s lives but the compulsion and desire for more alcohol is the only thing that fuels them.
So what is the right thing to do? And is there a right way that you should handle this?
I believe that you must tell those people in your life how it affects you, its so easy to hold back on how you feel about the situation because you’re scared that it will only make the problem worse but opening up and telling them that this affects you is important. People with addiction can be selfish and can make everything revolve around them, ‘I feel depressed so I needed another drink’ Well, tell them that you need them and them doing this only makes your own depression grow stronger and makes you question ‘Who is there for me now?’ It makes you feel alone and disconnected from the world around you. Telling them these things won’t instantly stop them from doing what they are doing but it will allow them to see things from your perspective, it will allow them to understand that there are people who rely on them and this is because they are loved. Sharing with them that they are loved can allow them to begin to love themselves because without this, they will not consider being addiction free, they need to learn that they are worth more than the addiction that has overtaken their lives.
Most importantly it is so vital that you remember to put yourself first, after years of turmoil it is only fair that you remember that your life matters too. I became so angry at my parents and couldn’t understand why they were doing this to me but when I eventually learnt that they ‘weren’t doing it to me’ I soon came to realise that despite what people may say, it is an illness and you can either stick by them and do your best to support and help them or you walk away, walking away doesn’t mean giving up, it just means coming to accept that you have done all you can.
How has addiction affected me?
Its been almost 13 years since I lived without my alcohol dependent parents, granted my father still is but I am able to remove myself from such close proximity of the problem. Even with this in mind, as I remember my past today I feel confused and even though I am now closer to my mother more than ever before, we still don’t really talk about what really went wrong and why she left us, its something that we both try to pretend didn’t happen, I suppose not talking about it is the easiest option for us.
Due to so many broken promises and sense of abandonment over the years, I have found it hard to allow myself to trust people, I feel threatened when anyone tries to get too close to me, possibly because I associate closeness with unpredictability and even worse, unbearable responsibility.
Behaviour like this left its mark: if you can’t trust your parent, who can you trust?
I have become self contained because of this, if I have a problem I do all I can to fix it myself, I have only myself to rely on, I won’t let myself down like I know other people will. If I rely on people to heavily, what will I do when they’re gone?
Children who have been brought up within this chaos are three times more likely to have problems with alcohol and drugs, eating disorders or become suicidal, and four times more likely to suffer from depression.
I try my best not to be a statistic and don’t believe that all children who where brought up this way are automatically going to be more likely to have problems with these things however I have suffered with an eating disorder, I do suffer from depression and I have been suicidal. I can’t be sure that there things are with me because of the difficult upbringing I had, maybe I was always going to be the person I am today. Either way I choose to be in control, some days are harder than others but I am adamant on becoming a success and living a life that I wasn’t given but worked for every single day.
I believe that although living with this sadness in your life, you should not allow it to stop you from thriving, let it be the determination that sets you apart from others because it can be the reason you fight for a better life.
What do I do if my parents or someone in my family has an addiction?
- The first thing you have to do is tell someone, you may feel like you are betraying them but not seeking help and keeping the secret is all part of the addiction process and it allows the problems to get worse the longer they are left. Unfortunately even if it is something they know they have a problem with, the majority of the time they will still keep the secret leaving the responsibility to you, it may be difficult but it is important to look after you too and the person with the addiction would want you to do that in their healthy state especially if it is something they are struggling to do due to their addiction.
Learn healthy coping strategies
- Growing up with family members who use their addiction as an unhealthy coping strategy, they become our example, dealing with things in the wrong way. It is so important that you learn that how they are dealing with life is not right and be sure to adjust how you deal with upset and disappointment.
Keep a diary
- This is something I have always done and it helps in many different ways and for many different problems, dealing with anger and upset is important, leaving it to fester is only at detriment to yourself. Identify those feelings, recognizing how a family members problem makes you feel can help you from burying your feelings and pretending that everything’s OK.
Stop the cycle
- Shockingly children of alcoholic parents are at higher risk of becoming alcoholics themselves. Scientists think this is because of genetics and the environment that kids grow up in. This can also become the unhealthy coping strategy that you may become to rely on. Focus on something that you love and remember to talk to people when you’re feeling those feeling that can lead to such a devastating affect.
If you want to talk to someone who can understand, please feel free to Email me, contact details are on my About Me page.
Adfam is the national charity working to improve life for families affected by drugs and alcohol. Click here to be directed to there website.