I’ve kind of waffled on writing this post for a while, because it’s all kinds of freakin difficult to put my feelings on this topic into any coherent, defined structure; everything I feel about growing up with an alcoholic (and all that comes with it) is personal and constantly shifting.
That being said, I feel like this is an important thing for me to get out there. I’m looking at all of these experiences from a place where I’ve had some distance from them, but I also know that this is something that affects a fuckton of people. So bear with me while I go all very-special-episode on you — this is all the shit I wish somebody had told me about living with an alcoholic. (w/ the caveat that these are just based off of my experiences.)
literally any symptoms of alcoholism
We get a couple of very specific pictures of alcoholism in the media, and they’re all blatantly obvious, out-of-control downward spiral types. This is some devious bullshit because it makes people think that alcoholism is super dramatic and violent, which it is, but it can be dramatic and violent in an infinite number of subtler ways.
Things like this are mushy in real life; denial is a big issue, because alcoholism is a disease that can take years and years to develop and reach a point where it becomes truly debilitating. Living with it and interacting with it everyday made it seem very normal to me, especially because I grew up thinking it was just how my father’s personality was. Nobody ever really said, “here are some warning signs that shit’s getting bad.”
Alcoholism can show up as:
- hiding drinking/drinking alone (ie, the infamous hiding bottles bullshit)
- black outs
- moodiness related to drinking — whether that shows up as a change in behavior after drinking or as becoming upset/defensive when you’re not able to drink
- developing a tolerance
- physical withdrawal symptoms like shaky hands
- habitual drinking, or drinking whenever possible
- an inability to control drinking — if you promise someone you’ll stop drinking but cave after two days, or can’t turn down a drink when it’s available, that’s a sign you don’t have control over your drinking
- obsessing about when you can drink or how you’re going to be able to get alcohol
At the same time, there’s a lot of things that people call alcoholism that’s really just general fuck-up-erry, like:
- getting drunk with your friends after finals. omg! so drink! much alcoholism!
- using alcohol to blow off steam or doing something irresponsible after drinking
- a movie montage of a sad white guy drinking after a breakup, right before he goes to get the girl back
Basically, some actually decent information on what’s actually fucked up would have been awesome — there was always a way for me to rationalize it, because he had a job and my parents were together and all that stuff, but truth be told, all the warning signs were there for years. Shit never got better just because I didn’t know/acknowledge what exactly was going on.
don’t listen to drunk people
Drunk people are pretty universally full of shit. Sometimes they are full of funny cute shit and making jokes, so I’ll give a pat on the back to the funny drunks before I start in on this. Good job! Y’all are a fun bunch.
Mean drunks live on the other side of this troll bridge, though. I dunno if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of somebody who suddenly has a bone to pick with you once they’re out of their normal headspace but: it’s all kinds of bad. After spending years sitting through hours-long lectures (which progressed into one sided yelling) on why I’m doing life wrong and am an unacceptable daughter, or whatever the issue of the day was with some other member of my family, I realized that these sessions really had nothing to do with me. I could have been perfect in every way and still had him trying to tear me down, because drunk people just talk bullshit.
From an external perspective, it seems obvious that you shouldn’t take stuff like that to heart, but you have to remember that this can come with years and years of gaslighting — aka, if you grew up hearing that something is your fault, that you’re making them drink, that they’re doing this to help you, it can be a real achievement to even realize that you shouldn’t listen.
put your air mask on first
Interventions don’t always work and you can’t force people to change. I mean, you can try, but there just comes a point where it’s more important to take care of yourself, and this extends far outside of the relationship you have with your [alcoholic loved one].
Basically, it’s not selfish to make sure you’re not ignoring your own needs. It’s not selfish to pay attention to your academic/career goals, and it’s not selfish to avoid someone when they’re trying to give you shit and get in the way of your health and happiness. I know self-care is a buzzword and trendy and all that but it’s still valid, put yourself first and don’t apologize for it.
talk about it
There was a long time where I felt like my experiences weren’t valid or extreme enough to ask for help. I thought people would think I was whining, even though if someone came up to me and said “I have to lock my bedroom door at night to feel safe and then listen to someone pound on it and yell at me,” I’d be like SHIT THAT’S AWFUL.
Once I started talking about it, literally just venting to friends, I realized alcoholism is something that’s all over the fucking place, just hiding behind this list of things we’re not supposed to talk about.
The experience is very similar to talking to a friend about shit men have done to you; like, it feels awful that you’ve both had to deal with that garbage, but it’s also incredibly comforting to know that you’re not alone and that someone understands and that your feelings are valid. It’s cathartic and gets you out of your own head, and it enabled me to get into a headspace where I wasn’t doubting myself anymore.
Talk about it to help yourself, talk about it to help others, talk about it just to break down the stigma.