by Loretta Walker
Years ago, I was challenged by Marlene Evans to reflect on my growing up years to explain what it is like to be the daughter of an alcoholic. In no way is this article to hurt my family, but rather, it is to help others in contact with those who have grown up in a troubled home. My feelings and memories are probably different, and yet may be very similar, to numerous others who came from this type of background.
One prevalent thought that I remember as a child is that of being second to something. It didn’t matter that, as the youngest, I was very loved by my mother and siblings; I still recall thinking, “My dad loves liquor better than he loves me.” I remember times when I would hug his neck and ask him not to drink again because I knew it would hurt him. He would say, “You’re being silly! A little drinking doesn’t hurt anybody,” or he would just ignore me and go get drunk anyway. I remember wishing that my dad loved me enough to not drink. In my childish mind I thought that if he loved me enough, he wouldn’t care about booze.
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Another emotion I remember is being very ashamed of the fact that my dad was a drinker. Everybody in school would brag about their dads and say, “My dad does this,” or “My dad does that.” During those times, I would shrink from the discussion. Even though I could have said good things about my dad, such as the fact that he drove a truck or he worked as a mechanic, the one big thing I knew and felt that probably everyone else in the class knew was that my dad had a drinking problem. This shame went into my teen years in not wanting my friends to see my dad. Even though my parents were divorced, at one point my dad rented an apartment across the street from the house we were renting. One day a friend and I were walking down the street, and I saw Dad slightly weaving down the side-walk with his head down. I knew he had been to the bar around the corner. Before I had to acknowledge to my friend that the man was my father, I grabbed her arm and slipped into an alley so Dad wouldn’t embarrass me by recognizing me.
Another daily problem with living with an alcoholic was the fear of what he would say. Alcohol loosens one’s lips and gives a person the courage to say and do things his sane mind would never allow him to say or do. The alcoholic doesn’t even realize, when sober, what has been said or done while he was under the influence of liquor. Dad would hit my brothers, my sisters and my mom. These fights and frays were frightening to me and kept me anxious about what was going to happen next. Even if an alcoholic is not violent, he will say, with a slur, things that are completely incoherent and often very hurtful.
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One day when I was in high school, Dad saw me on the street with one of my friends. He stopped his vehicle long enough to accuse me of having been in the hospital having an abortion. Now you can imagine the hurt. I wasn’t a Christian at the time, but I knew I had been in the hospital for sickness, not to have an abortion. To purposely keep your purity and then be falsely accused in front of a friend is very humiliating. I didn’t get angry at him or even react. I simply tried to reason with him—which was like trying to reason with a bear. He drove away still upset with me, and who knows how long it was before he really believed the truth. A drinker can sit for hours and conjure up some pretty far-out thoughts.
I believe something with which most every alcoholic family lives is poverty. It may not be extreme destitution, but I believe it is a more difficult kind of poverty to live with than others. To me, it seemed that our poverty was self-inflicted. It seemed that my dad was drinking up the wages, leaving very little for a family with five children. Poverty that is brought on by sickness of a parent can be more easily accepted because the parent can’t help it. If the parent is out trying to find a job or trying to keep any type of job, that is admirable. But a parent who drinks up his wages and moves from job to job because of his problem is very difficult to understand. This can, and does, bring a lot of resentment. How can a child understand the dependency on a liquid? How can a child understand one parent having what he wants while the other, along with the children, does without?
These are just a few of the feelings I experienced in my growing up years. Though these emotions were hurtful and left some scars may I tell you how excited I am about my background? I now see with my adult mind Romans 8:28 and the wonderful truth it contains, helping me to understand that God knew what He was doing in allowing me to grow up in my particular home. I’ll say more about this next week.