Sobering stories from family members of addicts

When Amy Winehouse died in July, 2011, at the age of at 27, from problems related to alcohol and bulimia, she was as famous for addiction as for her breathtaking voice.

Sobering stories from family members of addicts

JENNIFER: THE WIFE

FROM the outside, we were the perfect middle-class family — my husband ran a thriving construction business and I worked part-time. In hindsight, my husband had always had a problem with drinking. When he was in his mid-30s, he was constantly tired and lethargic. I learned later that he was drinking vodka after work, and then he would sleep when he came home.

In 2006, he said he had a problem — by then, we were constantly arguing. I was effectively a single parent, because he was doing nothing around the house. He went to work and drank — I heard later that he drank at work. He came home — he drank in his van — and either fell asleep or drank more. I was carrying everything and I didn’t know what was wrong.

The children were probably more nervous of me than of him, at the time, because I was always cross and I was always upset. I thought everything was my fault and that I was not doing enough. I was told I expected too much. I felt very isolated. He went to AA, but that only lasted a few days and the drinking started again.

I went into the van and I found a load of empty vodka bottles — that was when the enormity of the situation hit me. I called Tabor Lodge and he went in there for 28 days. He was very angry before he went in; there was a lot of verbal abuse and we were all walking on eggshells. About a month after his release, he started secretly drinking. The children were nervous.

They were too eager to please — even though he was not violent, they could feel the tension in the house. At that stage, they were not yet 10 years old. I remember my daughter saying that if we didn’t think about it, it wouldn’t be so bad. I eventually asked my husband to leave, and he did. He went back into recovery, but left the programme and started drinking again. He stayed in his van or in bed-and-breakfasts, and he rang us constantly, either on my mobile or on the landline, often into the early hours.

His behaviour became very intimidating. I sought a protection order and he broke it. His behaviour became so disruptive that I got a barring order. The children were afraid of him by now, because his behaviour was getting very strange. It was bordering on psychotic. He was very abusive, he was very threatening. I was full of fear.

Our whole family was ripped apart. He went to England after the business went broke, leaving a trail of debt behind him. We attended the Tabor Lodge family programme for a number of years. It was very helpful, because the effects of addiction in the family are not wiped out in a year or two.

I am afraid for my children now. I’m afraid addiction is in the family. My son is angry and upset, to this day, and doesn’t know why, and my daughter is very quiet and finds it difficult to express emotion.

TOM: THE BROTHER

My father was an angry, controlling alcoholic, very difficult to live with and we were all terrified of him. My mother left the family when I was young, because of the physical and mental abuse she was getting, and my two sisters and I stayed with him.

The older of my two sisters was like a mother figure to us — she made the dinners and did the laundry and was always there for us. But she left school early. She didn’t find a job and she started hanging around the streets and getting involved with the wrong kind of people. She was around 17 when she started smoking pot and drinking, and this quickly progressed to street drugs, like ecstasy, and other party drugs.

This led to benzos, valium and codeine — anything she could take to get high. Once she got addicted, things changed — she was no longer available to us. By the time she was around 19, she was very thin. She couldn’t eat. I was really worried. My sister had kind of taken the place of our mother for my younger sister and I, even though I was older, and we are still very close to this day.

But my father was very controlling and things had to be done his way. There was many a Christmas when he tore down the decorations and the Christmas tree, and threw them out. Then, my sister left. She was in her late teens. After that, she stayed away a lot. Not long after, I left the house myself. I think all of us were forced to grow up too fast in that house. These days, my relationship with my father is patchy and my sisters and mother have very little to do with him.

SINEAD: THE DAUGHTER

I grew up with a single mother, who was an alcoholic. She’d been drinking since I was born, so it was all that I knew. I thought everyone’s mammy drank like that. However, by the age of 14 I knew there was something wrong with her. I lived a life of total neglect. There was no food in the house.

A lot of the time, my school uniform wasn’t washed. She’d swing from being angry and utterly neglectful to being this wonderful mother. It was all highs and lows. I’d go to friends’ houses and see how the dinner and breakfast was made and how the ironing was put on their beds. It made me so sad.

My mother would get into rages. I think she had a lot of shame, and when she got mad she’d throw things and hit me — she could be quite violent. She once slammed my head against the wall-phone, when I told her she needed help — I wasn’t even 10 years old at the time. There was no love or care in our house.

We were actually quite well-off financially — my mother was a successful businesswoman, well-respected in the community and very well-known. She owned our house and worked and kept a roof over our heads. She was a high-functioning alcoholic. I stayed with my grandmother for a few days in the middle of the week and she was a huge source of love and care, but she died when I was nine, and from then on I had to get on with it.

I missed a huge amount of school after that, because, although my grandmother lived near my school, we didn’t, so I had to catch a bus and I often didn’t have the fare. My mother wouldn’t give it to me, because she’d be angry about something.

In the end, I started to cycle the nine miles to secondary school, because I was missing out on so much of the nice bits of school life — I liked being in school. My mother’s addiction destroyed our relationship. I have no relationship with her now. I never see her and my children don’t see her. I left home in my late teens, vowing not to become an alcoholic. I was very successful in business, but I ended up falling in love with someone who turned out to be an alcoholic. However, my partner is now in recovery at the Rutland.

In conversation with Ailin Quinlan.

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