Please welcome Susan from Polysyllabic Profundities with a story about being the child of alcoholic parents. This post was originally published on Black Box Warnings.
The words that grip me today are saturated with reality. They come from a place of experience. They come from a place of sadness. But they also come from a place of honesty.
Disease is a long and winding road. I am an adult child of alcoholic parents. There have been reams written on the subject, some of it is familiar to me and some seems to be a language from another planet. Each child who has grown up with the same label I have experiences life in a completely different way. No two children live within the same defined constraints of alcoholism and no two children will ever see the disease in the same way. My brother and I grew up in the same house and I would put money on the fact that we would describe the experience from two completely different perspectives. This is the reality of disease – it will affect everyone in a unique way. Disease conforms to nothing and changes for nobody.
I was always an intuitive child and I knew from an early age that my parents did not drink the same way most parents drank. Sure, life was fun, life was a party, but life also got swept under the rug and the hard times were diluted with an alternate reality that was sold in a bottle. My childhood was not a horrible experience, by any means. My parents were loving, affectionate, always giving and our family knew how to care for and support each other and work hard for the things we got. But the demon always lurked in the corners. When life was good, it was great. But when life was difficult, my parents would retreat into the safety of the haze that alcohol provided and the world outside the four walls of our home ceased to exist. They shared a blurred vision that perpetuated the chase for the colors of their elusive rainbow. Their co-dependency only fuelled the fire of the disease and, as the years progressed, my father was the first to show the physical evidence of the demons’ true profile. Alcohol is a serial killer.
His once athletic frame had become withered and yellowed and the spark in his eyes had faded. The buoyant man brimming with life was transformed into an aged man who, at times, seemed like a stranger. His personality slowly retreated into a dark corner and the vacant stare that remained only served as a reminder that the man we once knew had been abducted by the demons of his past. Watching my father suffer the prolonged and debilitating effects of the disease was horrific. Thankfully the memories I choose to keep are those of the energetic, exuberant man whom everyone loved.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of that serial killer lurking in the shadows. I enjoy a glass of wine. I appreciate a cold beer on a hot day. But that enjoyment is tarnished with thoughts of a possible genetic mutation that may alter my pleasure and turn it into something sinister. When I savour a red wine bursting with the aromas of blackberry and cinnamon, when I let that wine circle my taste buds with the pungent taste of earth and spice, there is an underlying sense of disquiet that the indulgence may have an ulterior motive. I can only take solace in the fact that wine, for me, is a pleasure and not an escape. I delight in its taste and my life is not affected by my enjoyment of its true character and nuance. It enhances my palate, it does not control my world.
True to the form of a demented psyche, the serial killer eventually targeted my mother. It stalked her, circled her and batted at her like a cat does to a mouse. She did her best to fight back but seeing the physical changes in my mom was more difficult because we had something to compare it to. That all-too-familiar haunting look in her eyes and the subtle changes in her personality brought the experience with my dad back to the forefront of our minds. We knew what to expect and there was nothing we could do to change it. We were helpless to watch my mom teeter over the same rabbit hole that swallowed my father and, almost eight years to the day, the executioner took my mother’s life as well.
Today, left as orphans by the nefarious hunter known as alcoholism, my brother and I forge through a life filled with memories of happiness but scarred by the remembrance of sickness and death. Together we remain strong and ready to fight if we feel any visceral sense that the demons’ presence is lurking in our shadows. Fuck you, demon. You’ve taken enough from us already.