Drunk Again: Living with an Alcoholic Parent


What Now?

Your friend lives in a different world—a world full of well-founded fears, a world where nothing is simple.

The same person she loves causes her great pain.

If you genuinely like her, show it, but please don’t do it as a “project” or an assignment for a couple of months and then walk away and leave her. She has enough reasons to distrust people without that.

Respect her and respect the confidentiality of anything she tells you.

You can’t eliminate her pain. You can’t force a change in her home.

What you can do is care about her. You can understand, accept, help, support, encourage, and love her.

You can help her feel her Heavenly Father’s love.

Christmas Time

Holidays are hard for your friend, so don’t forget her. Have her over to your house. If it would not offend her parents, you might invite her to spend the holiday with your family.

And always remember her birthday.

Shame/Anger

Drunk people do disgusting things. They may even abuse their children.

Your friend will be both shamed and angered by these actions. And she may feel guilty about her anger. Let her know that she has a right to be angry.

Just help her direct and control that anger so it doesn’t cause her serious trouble.

Fear

Your friend may worry that her dad will get into an accident while driving drunk.

She may be afraid her parents will divorce. Or she may be equally afraid this painful way of living will go on forever.

She fears that her dad may embarrass her with inappropriate behavior.

She’s afraid no one will like her because of her father’s actions.

Of these fears only the last one is within your control. Make very sure your friend knows that you love and respect her. Your friendship can help reduce the harmful effects of all the other fears.

Left Out

Even Church meetings and activities can be painful for your friend.

If you see her sitting alone, ask her to sit with your family.

Ask her to join you and your dad at the daddy-daughter activity or find a “substitute dad” for her.

Lessons on temple marriage can be very sad for someone who sees no hope of ever being sealed to her parents. Be sensitive to this.

If the fathers at church get a flower or card on Father’s Day, offer her one to take home to her dad.

Secrets

Don’t pry into your friend’s family life, but if she wants to talk, let her share her pain without interruptions or advice.

Comments such as “That must hurt a lot” or “That must have been very embarrassing” will tell her you’re really listening.

You’re not there to judge her or her dad. You’re not there to tell her how to act or feel. You’re not there to solve her problem. You’re there to listen and to care.

If Your Friend’s Father Is an Alcoholic

Your friend may feel responsible for her dad’s drinking. Every drunken bout makes her feel more worthless.

Help her realize that IT’S NOT HER FAULT.

She may think God doesn’t love her because she prayed that her dad would stop drinking and he didn’t.

Help her understand free agency.

Help her build a healthy self-esteem.

Sincere compliments are welcome, but phony praise is not.

When she fails, let her know that her effort was worthwhile. Be sure she knows she doesn’t have to earn your acceptance.

What Now?

Your biggest job now is to take care of yourself. Remember that you are not alone. Our Father in Heaven knows and loves you perfectly. You have not shed a tear or prayed a prayer that he is not aware of. He wants things to be better for you.

He will give you inspiration and comfort.

He will send teachers and leaders and friends to help you. Accept their help and their love.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect by tomorrow.

You’ve got a lifetime ahead of you, and it will get easier.

You can make it. It’s not easy, but I know you can do it.

Don’t ever give up.

Christmas Time

Work with your mother to make holidays as happy as possible for your brothers and sisters. The real joy of every holiday comes from serving.

Also, if your friends want to brighten their own season by serving you, let them.

Shame/Anger

If you sometimes feel angry at your dad and embarrassed to be his child, don’t feel guilty about it. It’s okay to feel angry. Anyone in your circumstances would feel that way.

And if you haven’t been able to forgive him, keep trying, but don’t feel guilty about that either.

Forgiving is not an easy virtue to master, and nobody’s timing you.

Fear

Your life is full of fears—fear of a drunken accident, fear of divorce, fear of humiliation—the list seems endless.

I wish I could give you an easy formula for banishing fear, but I can’t. For one thing, many of your fears are based on reality.

I can only give you two pieces of advice. First, when you are afraid, pray. Our Father in Heaven knows your fears and can help you master them.

Second, let some trusted adult counselor help you distinguish between real dangers and imaginary ones. With so many real things to fear, there is no room for imaginary ones.

Left Out

Sitting alone in church is no fun.

Lessons on temple marriage hurt.

Father-daughter activities are painful.

But remember that we are all brothers and sisters, and there are many kind and loving people in your ward who would like to be your friend. Reach out to them and let them reach out to you.

Also, you can resolve that you will marry in the temple and be active.

In the meanwhile, invite your father to take part. Assure him that perfection is not necessary for Church activity.

Secrets

It’s hard to talk about alcoholism, but it’s even harder to bear your burden all alone.

The Church in your area may have counselors who will talk with you. Your bishop can help you reach them. They will keep everything you tell them confidential.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a group for young people who live with alcoholic adults.

Or you may want to talk to a trusted friend—perhaps your bishop or a teacher.

If Your Father Is an Alcoholic

You are not responsible for your father’s alcoholism. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT! He doesn’t drink because you’re bad. Even if you were perfect he would still drink.

Maybe you’ve asked Heavenly Father to make your dad stop drinking and the drinking continued. That doesn’t mean Heavenly Father doesn’t love you. He does. But he must respect your father’s free agency. He won’t force people to do things.

What Now?

Most people do the best they can. They try hard to do the right things.

I believe my dad did his best. Maybe he could have done better if he had joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Perhaps a hospital for alcoholics might have helped. Maybe going to a counselor would have helped. But he didn’t get help.

Living with him was very difficult. Living with him was disgusting sometimes. Living with him was embarrassing sometimes. Living with him was sad many times.

Sometimes I was ashamed of him. Sometimes I was scared of him.

Other times I felt angry when our Mormon neighbors didn’t seem to like him. I knew he was a good person when he was sober. Why couldn’t other people see it?

One of my children asked me what I did for fun when I was a child. At first I didn’t have an answer. Of course, I had some good times. But the strongest memories of my childhood all involve alcohol.

Alcohol steals childhood. Instead of many carefree days, there is premature responsibility. Instead of happiness, there is anger and fear and guilt. Instead of openness and trust there is secrecy. Often there is a falling away from the Church.

But I survived, and others can too, if we all help. I hope we will.

Christmas Time

It was Christmas Eve. I sat by our Christmas tree that was decorated with sparkling icicles and glowing red and white lights. I was sad my dad was not home. He was drinking at some bar.

It’s not the way I wanted Christmas to be.

Drinking ruined birthdays. It ruined Thanksgiving. It ruined New Years and Easter and other special days.

Holidays were often the saddest, loneliest, most painful time of the year. On those days the contrast was sharp and bitter between how life could and should be and how it really was.

Shame/Anger

The movies and television show handsome men and beautiful women drinking. These people do clever and funny things.

It’s not like that in real life. My dad didn’t do clever things. He did disgusting things. He would wet the bed. I would have to strip off the sheets and blankets. Then it was my job to turn over that big, wet mattress. I would pull and push to turn it and sometimes it would spring back, wet and smelly in my face.

He vomited. He vomited and then vomited some more. My bedroom was next to the bathroom. I would bury my head in my pillow. I didn’t like that sickening smell.

Sometimes my dad would walk around without clothes on when he was drunk.

He never hit me when he was drunk. But lots of people do get mean when they drink. They hit their children and abuse their families.

Now I’m an adult I can forgive him. I know now that alcoholism is a disease that requires treatment. He did the best he could do without help. But I didn’t forgive him while we were living in the same house.

Fear

I was afraid a lot.

I was afraid my dad would kill himself while driving drunk. I was afraid he’d kill someone else when he was driving drunk.

Late at night I would lie in my bed with all the lights out. I would wait and wait to hear his car pull in. I’d pray over and over, “Please help him get home safely. Please don’t let him hit anyone.”

In the morning I’d look at how the car was parked in the driveway. Sometimes it would be barely an inch from the house. Sometimes it would be over into the neighbor’s flowers.

I was afraid he’d embarrass me. He did. He’d wake up from sleeping off a drunk and not really be sober. He’d stumble out of the bedroom. He’d stink of beer. He’d say dumb things. I hated it.

My real friends still liked me. Still, it was embarrassing.

I was afraid my parents would get a divorce. Many times they would have fights when my dad drank. He had a black leather suitcase in his closet. He’d get it out and start packing his clothes. If it were daytime I’d run out of the house. One day I took my dad’s white pocketknife with me. I wanted to have something of his if he left.

Sometimes I was afraid my parents would not get a divorce. I was afraid they would keep living together and I would never have a home that was nice. I thought my mother and I could go live with my grandparents. It sounded so safe.

Left Out

At sacrament meeting I watched other families sit together. I watched them smile at each other. I wanted my dad to be there. I wanted our family to sit together.

But he never came to church. He said they didn’t like him because he drank beer. My ward had parties for fathers and their children. I helped plan these parties. I never got to go to them.

On Father’s Day our ward gave rosebuds to all the fathers. I helped pick every rosebud in our garden. My dad didn’t come to the meeting.

I hated it when they talked about temple marriage at church. I hated hearing my family was different. I knew as long as my father drank we could not go to the temple. I loved my mother. I loved my dad. I wanted to be with them forever. It’s very difficult to sit in class when they are teaching about the temple.

I just kept going to church. I decided I would not drink. I decided I would be married in the temple.

I’m an adult now. And I definitely don’t drink. And I have been married in the temple. I am happy that my children are sealed to me.

Secrets

My mother came from a very religious family. They went to church together. They did a lot of fun things together. I loved to hear her talk about when she was a child. I would pretend that I had been a child then too. It must have hurt her a lot to live with a man who got drunk.

She was ashamed of his drinking. She told me over and over not to tell anyone. “It’s a secret,” she’d say.

I loved her. I kept her secret. But it was lonely. I thought I was the only young person in the Church who had this kind of home.

What a relief it would have been for me to share the burden, to know that I was not alone.

My Story

My dad insisted he was not an alcoholic. He said he only drank beer and you couldn’t be an alcoholic if you only drank beer. I believed it for a long time because I loved him. Maybe he believed it himself.

My dad would sometimes disappear for two or three days and then come home drunk.

He never just smiled and said, “I’m going to go get drunk.” He always left when he was angry.

Many things made him angry.

If I cried he would get angry.

If I asked too many questions he would get angry.

If I didn’t say the right thing he would get angry.

Sometimes I didn’t say anything for fear I would say the wrong thing. Then he would be angry because I wasn’t talking.

Usually he started drinking Friday night. Toward the end of each week I tried very hard to be good. I thought if I didn’t do anything wrong he wouldn’t get angry and go drink.

Occasionally he didn’t drink on Friday. I thought it must be because I had been good.

My mother encouraged this way of thinking.

I tried very hard to be good, but he kept on drinking. I thought it was all my fault.

I prayed he wouldn’t get drunk again. He kept drinking. I thought my Heavenly Father didn’t make him stop because I wasn’t good enough.

I remember trying to do everything perfectly. I didn’t want to “make trouble” at home. As I look back, I realize I have always tried to earn people’s acceptance. If I did things well enough, they would like me in spite of my father’s drinking.

This is the story of my growing up years. It’s not a happy story, and I don’t enjoy telling it. But it’s a story that’s happening over and over again—perhaps to you or a friend of yours. My story has a hopeful ending, and I want you to know that yours can too.

The column to the left of my story are thoughts for the son or daughter of an alcoholic. The column to the right are ideas for the friends of that son or daughter.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Sometimes there isn’t any answer except to hope and pray and continue living as best you can.

Obviously, both mothers and fathers fall victim to alcoholism. For the sake of convenience, I will refer to the parent as a father in both these columns and the child as a daughter.

[photos] Photography by Welden Andersen

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    Not the author’s real name