This is a really hard one to write about but I think it's important. It's said that 1 in 7 people suffer from some form of addiction, which means most of you will know at least one person battling this affliction - whether they know it or not...
Addiction is savage, it doesn't discriminate, it tears through families, communities and relationships without compromise.
Whilst my story contains some pretty big flash points and put a lot of strain on our family unit at times, I’m happy to report that things are pretty good right now and have been for a long time 🙌
So what do I know? well, not that much actually, I have some addictive tendencies but I've always managed to channel them down a semi positive avenue. I have, however, been surrounded by addiction for my whole life.
Having spent a lot of our teenage years (my brother and I) worried about which version of mum we’ll come home from school to find, I thought it might be quite useful to write about it - I’m absolutely sure that there are thousands of kids going through the same and in these hyper connected times they shouldn’t feel alone.
I’m going to skip a lot of the details, I don’t think they are necessary or particularly fair. But there’s still a lot to be said on the subject.
Depending on the day, and my own mental health I guess, I look back on my life between 10-18 in different ways. 1 day it can be full of the joys of living at the seaside, never being happier than with a football pretty much surgically attached to my food, and others it can be filled with memories of endless Saturdays and Sundays amusing my brother whilst my parents sat in pubs and drank.
I’m gonna level with you, this is about the 10th time I’ve started writing about this… I’ve never stopped for a particular reason, more because I’ve just run out of juice I think...
What I’m going to do, is keep this open as a kind of journal on the subject, and hopefully come back to it when I have something useful to say (which apparently happens sometimes?) - So, well, welcome to my open therapy sessions around addiction.
I wan’t to start by saying that my family are all brilliant people. My mum is the kind of person that would do anything for anyone (kind to a fault probably, more on that later), my dad is the hardest working 56 year old I know, and my younger brother is so full of love for people and the world, that it makes me feel inadequate at times, but, sadly - they also all have their demons.
I’m blessed to say that my mum has now been in healthy recovery for 14 years, but with me now being 36, a quick bit of maths will tell you that my formative years weren’t so blessed.
My earliest memories of my parents alcohol use was them sat up drinking on Friday and Saturday nights. We had to wonder back through the lounge to get to the toilet, and like clockwork, you’d see a bottle of whisky and a 2 litre bottle of coke on the side table by the sofa - to be honest, I don't think this was particularly problematic, my parents were very young (probably 25 at this point) and when I was that age, I was doing a lot worse than drinking whisky on the sofa at home 😂
I’m thinking I was around 9 or 10 when we started going to pubs. We lived in a tiny seaside town where family pubs are abundant, so it didn’t seem particularly strange, if anything, it was quite a novelty. First it would be Sunday afternoons, we’d go to a family pub - play pool, drink and sometimes get some food - all pretty normal, but before long, Sunday afternoon had turned into Saturday + Sunday afternoon and we’d start not being home for dinner. 4pm finishes then turned into 6pm before eventually becoming 8 and 9pm + those family pubs slowly got swapped out for which ever boozers had the best drinks deals at the time.
It’s hard to entertain kids in a pub for 9 hours, so once the boredom of continually playing pool kicked in (btw I loved playing pool, but there was definitely a limit), we’d get given a coupe of quid and sent to the arcade to amuse ourselves. All pretty cool to a 10 year old actually; freedom, money in our pockets, got to choose which takeaway we had for dinner, so far so excellent... to a child!
It wasn’t until much later that I realised what I’d missed out on. Whilst the people around me spoke of their favourite childhood walks, woods, forests, animal sanctuaries & Saturday night TV rituals, I would sit there smiling but totally unable to really join in the conversation… turns out I don’t have many of those anecdotes...
Things got more problematic when I was around 13. The Sundays started to escalate, would often spill over in to Mondays and regularly take a dark turn in the process. The drinking wouldn’t stop, the 2 of us would take ourselves off to bed with a view to getting ourselves up for school in the morning, and my dad gave up trying to get mum to bed at some point soon after that, and hit the hay himself.
Then the fun started, we’d semi regularly get woken up at 2am by a female power-ballad being played twice as loud as acceptable, and a refusal to turn in down. For your parent to seemingly have a total disregards for your education is pretty confusing to a 12/13 year old - isn’t it meant to be the other way around?
More often than not we’d make it to school ok. We’d get up, get ready and help ourselves to lunch money from whatever came to hand, you know - mums discarded purse, dad’s last night’s jeans etc and that would be us all set.
We’d get home to dinner being cooked by mum and on we went, like nothing had ever happened. Sadly it’s the 10% of times where it didn’t play out like that that really stay with you…
At times my mum worked in the local bakery whilst we were growing up, I’d often call in there on the way home from school (I was a chubby kid fuelled by sausage rolls, what can I say?) - it was the days that I was greeted by her boss asking ‘how’s your mum?’ That I knew were going to be bad. The problem with binge drinking alcoholics is that routine routinely goes out of the window. Singing along to Celine or Witney whilst drinking wine at 2am, doesn’t lend itself that well to getting up for work, who knew?
On those days, I’d dread going home, because hangovers were rarely dealt with in our house, they were more often drank through, so by the time we got back at 4pm, things could be worse than when we left. Sometimes it would just be drunken stupidness, sometimes secretly drinking in bed, other times it would be tears, and, on the worst days it would be out and out aggression, lots of shouting and even attempted physical on a couple of occasions (luckily I was pretty nippy for a fat kid 😂)
I can’t really tell you how it made me feel, I think the reality is that I just started to avoid it, I got into a long term relationship quite young and increasingly spent my time immersed in that families world - maybe that’s why I never really talk about it? I worked hard to box it off at the time, why open that box now?
So where is my dad in all this? Very good question. My dad is a drinker, he is also a worker, and his drinking has never really effected his working. You could see that as a good thing, but Im actually not sure it is? The popular measure of whether you have a problem with drink is whether it effects your ability to get up for work, and for dad it never has, but with that being said, it’s definitely impacted his / our lives in many other ways - so I would say that was potentially a problem?
In the early days I remember the 2 of them being happy drinking ‘normally’ together. But in the fullness of time, that turned out to be a big part of the problem. As mum’s drinking morphed into something more problematic, dad was unable / unwilling to change his habits. In his head - They drank at these times, and they drank this amount, that’s the way it was, and that’s the way it will continue to be, and as dad peeled off for bed because he’d have to be up at stupid o’clock for work, mum wasn’t able to stop.
As far as dad was concerned, he hadn’t changed, he was the same dude he had always been and didn’t see a need to adjust his habits, regardless of mum’s struggles - not how I would deal with things but not abnormal, I’m sure there are thousands of stories like this being told in AA rooms throughout the country everyday.
More problematic to me was when he started disappearing for day’s at a time. We’d go to bed on a Sunday, things would kick off between the 2 of them and we wouldn’t see him again until Wednesday.
Like most young men my dad was my hero growing up so rather than question him, I’d nod and agree with his reasonings for being away, desperately seeking his approval for my ‘grown up’ attitude towards the whole thing.
We have, and always have had a pretty good relationship. I think he set out for us to be mates, and so we became, but I think looking back, at those times I probably needed at dad, not a pal.
His drinking has remained fairly consistent, if he has money in his pocket he will drink a few pints everyday. Probably doesn’t sound awful but the compound effect led to him having a mimi stroke 9 years ago and sadly, even that hasn’t made him take a step back and have a look at his lifestyle.
My brother’s problems came later. Much like myself, he dived into a relationship to escape what was going on at home. Sadly, that relationship wasn’t as stable as mine. I got to disappear to a middle class haven where the dad was a scientific advisor to the government, but my brother was spending the lions share of his time at the home of a hippie family with 5 kids and a penchant for recreational drugs.
Now I’m going to stop here and say that I’m not throwing stones, my later years would also bring about some relatively extreme recreational drug use, but that wasn’t for a good while yet so I’m not going to labour on it.
He started smoking weed at about 12 or 13 I think, and his quest to better that feeling, sadly hasn’t stopped to this day. His story is long, and, well, it’s his story, so I’m not going to tell it, but suffice to say it’s punctuated by arrests, detoxes and relapses.
Reading this back it sounds horrific, and whilst parts were obviously pretty traumatic, I think it’s important to say that I was a happy kid. Dad worked super-hard, and we never wanted for anything. We lived in a great apartment in the centre of town 3 minutes from the beach and our mum was brilliant 97% of the time (which is a pretty good effort by anyone’s standards, that parenting malarky looks pretty fucking hard to be quite honest with you)
I don’t think this is the end of this story, I’d like to try and talk about some of the lasting effects, but i’ll need to try to identify them first 😂 and thats going to take a bit of extra work!
Anyway, shout out to anyone who has or is dealing with any kind of obstacles in their home life, no matter how big or how small - you’re all heroes and doing amazing jobs 🙌