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What My Parents Taught Me About Alcohol Addiction

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What was your first memory of alcohol? Maybe an awkward high school party, when drinking alcohol felt exciting, risky and new. It might have been in a college dorm room late at night after you finished all your exams. You may have been celebrating your 21st birthday, surrounded by friends and family. My first memory of alcohol was walking five miles to school at 8 years old because my mother and father were too drunk to drive.

I love my parents. Outside of a detrimental, co-dependent alcohol addiction, my parents were everything I could have ever wanted. I played catch with my dad in the backyard every day after school. My mom showed me how to cook dishes passed down through generations every single night. On the surface, we were a perfect family. However, it was what lurked silently beneath the surface that slowly tore my family apart, and ironically, taught me a lot about alcoholism, addiction and life in general.

I remember that walk really well, surprisingly. It was early April. Spring hadn’t yet sprung, and there was a cool bite in the air. I remember looking out the window of my parents’ bedroom after trying and failing to wake them up, and starting to consider just what I’d have to do. The scent of alcohol stung my nostrils and my parents’ vacant listlessness was terrifying. I wasn’t sure if I remembered how to get to school from my house on foot. I had never walked there before, and honestly had never even considered it an option. I took great care to slip out of the door quietly and lock it behind me, using a house key for the very first time. A light mist hung over wet grass, and my adorable little dress shoes were covered in wet dirt and dew just minutes into my walk.

I don’t remember being scared, at least not of what most kids would have been scared of walking alone to school at 8 years old. I wasn’t worried about “stranger danger” or of getting lost. I was scared my parents didn’t love me anymore. Or maybe that they had died. I don’t remember even making it to the school. I only remember opening the door to the third grade room and immediately being scolded for being late and arriving in a dirty uniform. I wondered if my parents were OK as I took my seat in the front of the classroom in silence, the gaze of my classmates imbedding themselves into the back of my head.

I knew my parents drank. I didn’t know what alcohol was, but I knew what it did and I knew I wasn’t allowed to have it. Every night at dinner I’d watch a tall bottle of purple wine vanish before my eyes, as my parents slowly began slouching in their seats, forgoing eye contact and slurring any half-hearted attempts to speak. I remember them falling asleep during family movie nights. I remember the fights late into the night. And I remember everything that happened an hour after I had finally found my way to school.

I was still in a haze. I remember the phone ringing in the classroom — a rare sight — and all of my fellow classmates falling silent.

“Yes. Yes she’s here,” my teacher whispered into the receiver. “Yes, I’ll send her now.”

My teacher walked over to me and knelt by my desk. In an uncharacteristically kind tone, she asked me to come out into the hallway. She escorted me silently down the hallway, my socks still wet from the morning walk. I was sure I was in trouble. Yet, when the door opened, I saw the two people I hadn’t expected to see. My mother and father shot out of the two chairs in the office, tears covering their faces as they ran over to hold me. They apologized profusely, a seemingly endless stream of tears dampened the shoulders of my school uniform. I remember looking in my mother’s eyes and seeing something I had never seen before. I saw an unimaginable sorrow, an immense joy and somewhere deep down, a desire to change.

Things changed. It took time, but the bottles of wine at dinner started to last just a little bit longer. There were no more walks to school. No matter how hard it got, they stuck to their treatment plans for alcohol abuse and weathered an unimaginably difficult storm. There were still fights and there were still tough nights and tougher mornings, but slowly my parents started to fight back against alcoholism.

Whether they wanted to or not, my parents taught me a lot about addiction. They taught me what it looked like. They taught me just how much it can hurt. But they also taught me that it’s not an un-winnable fight. They taught me that love and support can make all the difference when family is on the line. They taught me that alcohol isn’t something to be played with. I still don’t drink, and when people ask me why, I always wonder: what was your first memory of alcohol?

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA‘s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Thinkstock photo via vitapix

Originally published: July 18, 2017
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