The untold story of alcholism is it affects not just the drinker

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When someone has a drink problem, the focus is usually all about them.

But for every problem drinker, at least five of their close family and friends will live with the often-unseen and devastating impact of their alcoholism.

Al-Anon Family Groups has launched a new campaign called “The Untold Story” during Alcohol Awareness Week which aims is to encourage more people living with problem drinkers to find their local Al-Anon meetings.

The campaign highlights that, although the problems associated with alcoholism are widely recognised, the friends and families of problem drinkers often live every day with uncertainty, deceit, financial insecurity and - in some cases - violence or emotional and physical abuse.

They need support themselves - and this is The Untold Story of alcoholism.

One member of a local group shared his experience of alcoholism and turning to Al-Anon for help. Anonymity is a key principle of Al-Anon, so his name is withheld.

The man said: “My name is irrelevant. I could be any one of tens of thousands of people. I am a man in his 50s, although on not so good days I can revert back to feeling and acting like a nine-year old boy.

“I grew up in the east end of Glasgow, the middle child of five sons. My unavailable mother worked as many jobs as possible, often seven days a week, to feed hungry mouths and my dad was a stay-at-home parent before it became trendy and new age.

“A seemingly constantly angry and aggressive man. And an alcoholic.

“Waking up every morning with a sense of dread and having a perpetual knot in my stomach from the anticipation of violence, it’s small wonder I became withdrawn and insular.

“I learned from a very early age to predict certain triggers that would set off the drunken rages. I read faces, sensed mood swings and gauged situations for potential flashpoints as far back as I can remember.

I was living in constant fear; fear of anger, of disapproval, the dark, quietness, closeness, abandonment. An overwhelming sense of inadequacy and not fitting in or belonging hung over me like a dark shadow. I don’t really remember having any ambitions or dreams as a child. Just tension.

“Quite a few things from childhood have impacted me as an adult, none more so than being sexually abused over a period of seven or eight months when I was 10.

“Feelings of blame haunted me and the lack of parental support took its toll in later years. Add to this the constant fighting and arguing of my parents and you have my life in a nutshell.

“As a result of being somewhat emotionally unavailable and immature beyond belief myself, it was perhaps predictable that my first serious relationship would be a train wreck. I found myself repeating the behaviours of the man I swore I’d never be like – my dad.

“I didn’t really drink but I couldn’t control the rage within myself. Although never physically abusive, I was both verbally and mentally controlling. I had become the person I swore I’d never be and had no clue how to be anything else. Unfortunately, there were two young daughters caught in the crossfire and they are undoubtedly affected by my behaviours.

“It took my partner and children moving out for me to realise I needed help. After years of progressively becoming more and more unbearable I was on my knees. My partner was having a mental breakdown and my children hated me. I was totally and utterly alone.

“I called Al-Anon and asked for help. I’d heard of them when I attended an open Alcoholics Anonymous meeting during one of my dad’s periods of sobriety. They offer help for friends and families affected by a loved one’s problem drinking. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew I definitely couldn’t go on living the way I was.

“I attended my first meeting and was greeted with smiling faces and warm hugs. This isn’t for me I thought. These people have no idea how I’m living, thinking, feeling. They’re too cheerful.

“The truth was, they knew the “real” me only too well. They too had experienced much of what had troubled me so. They had words to express and define the torment that I could never find. They re-assured me I wasn’t alone and that there was a way forward. For the first time in my life I experienced what I now know as hope.

“I attended meetings regularly, never knowing that they are held on most nights of the week, in towns and cities all over Scotland. I took on board suggestions from people who had lived a similar life to myself but seemed peaceful and content. I wanted this so much.

“Through time I followed the suggested 12-step programme and very slowly, one day at a time, my life changed beyond recognition.

“There have been many ups and downs along the way (my brother passed away recently as a result of alcoholism) but with the help of Al-Anon and the people there I am more mature, confident, responsible and better able to deal with life on life’s terms. I’ve grown up and now feel comfortable in my own skin.

“I just needed people who understood me, that I could trust, and this I found in the Al-Anon meetings.

“I am eternally grateful and today I can, hand on heart say, “I love my life”. I no longer feel like an outsider, a spectator looking in on my life events. I participate.

“My partner and I separated on speaking terms and thanks to some pretty awesome conversations, my daughters are my best friends.

“I’m now married to a beautiful, funny, very special lady and we have a daughter whose middle name had to be Hope. It’s amazing watching all three daughters go out for lunch, chat and debate which one is my favourite.

“Without doubt, I feel my dad suffered from an illness. He was addicted to alcohol, which unfortunately deprived him of so much life has to offer. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to resolve a few issues before he passed away a few years ago.

“From a self-destructive mindset, I now honestly know peace and can lay my head down at night without the constant, repetitive chatter. I continue to attend Al-Anon meetings regularly in order to maintain my level of sanity, although with three daughters it’s not easy.

“I love my girls, I love my wife. I love my family and my Al-Anon friends. More importantly, I’ve learned to love myself - and therein lies contentment.”

You can find other shared experiences of living with alcoholism www.al-anonuk.org.uk/theuntoldstory.

Anyone affected by someone else’s drinking can find their local Al-Anon meetings, which provide safe and confidential environments where members can offer each other understanding, strength and hope.

There are several meetings every week the local area at the Muirfield Centre on Mondays from 1.30-3.30pm; the McAulay Halls on Tuesdays from 8-10pm; and the Muirfield Centre on Wednesdays from 8-10pm.