Saturday, 7 June 2008

Dangers of Drinking: Tale from a child of an Alcoholic (true story - my own)

‘Drinking too much damages you and destroys your family.’

Twenty. To many it is just a number but to me it is much more. To me the number twenty means the official end of my teenage childhood. It mean’s I can no longer use the age old excuse of being a teenager to watch kid shows or act childishly. When I turn twenty this year people will expect me to be grown up. To act responsibly, with respect and consideration. To stop rolling down grassy fields filled with daisies. To stop day dreaming about far away places and adventures. To no longer drink lilt through a curly pink straw, or milkshakes for that matter. Maybe even horror of horrors, to start paying rent monthly to mum and dad!
I could do all that, fulfil what society expects of me but I won’t. I can not. I will not. If there is one thing I have learnt so far during the past two decades of my life, is that life is so much more fun and exciting when you stay true to you. Be the way you are, not because somebody told you to act so. I have always been a big kid. Even when I was sixteen my Dad would regularly tut at me when he caught me watching W.I.T.C.H on CITV. I didn’t care.
Dad to me is the epitome of everything grumpy and old. He has wrinkly skin, wispy grey beard, smokes a pipe and always has something bad to say about the world in general. I always find it hard to imagine my Dad as a child. Playing around the farm with his brother, my Uncle John. I can imagine him playing with dogs. He has always been a great lover of dogs, of all kinds, shapes and sizes. He probably can’t remember how many dogs he has had in his life but he would always remember the one, Kimmy.
Kimmy was a standard poodle and apparently from Dad a great hunting dog. Dad told me the rather entertaining story of how Kimmy came into his life, and for a short while into mine.
The dog Dad had known before Kimmy was a big black Labrador by the name of Bruce. A big playing machine always loved playing with children and was absolutely worshipped by my Dad’s mum, my Grandma. Sadly Bruce went blind at the age of four yet that didn’t stop him. Dad told me how Bruce would go about his usual rounds around the village where he lived, stopping at each house for a treat. How when it came to crossing the road Bruce would sit down and tilt his head left, then right then left again and cross when the road was clear. Bruce lived to the ripe old age of twelve and not once did he get run over.
If you were to ever listen as Dad tells this story you can detect a small glimmer of happiness, laughter, perhaps even a sense of fun behind his weary eyes. A sight as rare as humans proving the moon is really made of cheese.
However after Bruce died, Dad’s parents were getting old and unable to handle any more dogs as Dad and Uncle John lived away from home. Dad on the other hand wanted a dog badly. He once told me the home farm without a dog barking in the yard is as empty as the sky without a sun. So one day he devised a rather cunning plan.
You see, my oldest cousin Terry, Uncle John’s son, was another of Grandma’s idols in those days. So Dad and John convinced Terry to come with them to a local farm who was giving away some poodle puppies. They picked out Kimmy and gave it to Terry to give to Grandma. Dad said they walked into the house with Kimmy in Terry’s arms and Terry announced “Look Grandma, look what I have bought for you.” Grandma’s apparent response was “What are we meant to do with that?” Yet as the past has shown it didn’t take long for Grandma and Granddad to fall in love with Kimmy.
Kimmy proved to be Dad’s best friend and loyal companion. This turned out to be very valuable qualities indeed when Grandma died and Granddad took in a new woman into his life, whom Dad never seemed to agree with. Kimmy became Dad’s one true friend and source of support. That of course made Dad all the more broken when Kimmy had to be put down when I was just coming out of my toddler years.
When I was born, not many years after Mum and Dad married, Kimmy saw me as an intruder and didn’t like me much. Not in a nasty way, he just didn’t want anything to do with me. My sister Charlotte even now though continuously rubs it in that Kimmy liked her more yet she always seems to forget she wasn’t even walking when Kimmy died.
Apparently Kimmy had suffered several bouts of illnesses, from chest infections to weak back legs and eventually Dad made the painful decision to have him put down.
I think it was from that day that Dad started to become such a cynic about life. I only became truly aware of how gloomy my Dad was when I was teenager, around the age of fifteen. They say you do become awakened to more things when you turn a teenager, and I don’t necessarily mean puberty, sex and all that. I mean the true way’s of the world. What life is truly like and how everything isn’t always as cheery as the cartoons on TV.
At the time the rest of my family and I were all aware my Dad liked a drink after a hard day at work as a taxi driver outside Malton train station. His favourite drink in those days was Newcastle Brown Ale. There would always be a crate of twelve in the kitchen and it would always be empty after the five working days but with another always ready in its place.
Those were the days when Dad was just starting to become distant towards us all. We were still allowed to go wake him up about noon on Sundays, he’s day off. All three of us, Charlotte, Nicholas and me would crawl under his duvet from the bottom up slowly crowding him with good morning cuddles. Informing him dinner will be ready soon. After dinner he would position himself in his claimed chair before the TV and watch the Grand Prix with beer bottle upon table beside his ash try and smoking pipe. Things were relatively happy in those days, when I had just turned thirteen; but as the years passed Dad clearly but slowly changed.
His taste for beer changed to red wine and he would start coming home with four to five bottles in a bag. My Mum believes this change occurred after Foot and Mouth disease hit the region, ceasing much if not all tourism. Turning his jobs to Flamingo Land Theme Park and Castle Howard to just local jobs covering no more than twenty miles at max, on a rare occasion. All of us knew Dad hated his job despite being self employed. He was once a good Gardner at a big house but due to his back problems getting worse he had to end it. Even the big vegetable patch in the garden that once grew gorgeous new potatoes had to be rooted out and turfed over. We still have a small patch growing gooseberries and asparagus but that’s all that remains.
Back then I didn’t know Dad’s work affected him so much and I didn’t really think how his lack of good jobs would impact the finances. Mum was still doing a good child care business of her own at home. Many of the children in the area have at some point been looked after by my Mum after school, until their parents came to pick them up after work.
It seemed though that Dad was in great turmoil about the dip in his business and extremely anxious about keeping the family income going. It took quite a few years for business to even get near what it was like before and it is still recovering. Unfortunately Dad never recovered in the same way. He became drained of all optimism in life; he lost the once playful streak that I and my siblings adored. The first signs the wine was destroying his spirit.
When work got bad the amount he drank went up and continued to do so over the changing years. He no longer went to bed early in order to get up early. He would start work at half nine not half eight as before. The same would happen at the end of the day. He used to return just after six, now he would come back at the same time we finished school. He would sit before the TV until perhaps midnight or beyond on many occasions. Dad no longer interacted with my siblings and I. He would ask how school had gone but that was about it. He made no effort to be close with us again.
Mum eventually finished with the child care business and looked for a job else where. She applied for a job of dinner lady at a local primary school which was accepted. So good was her work with the children there she was offered the position of teaching assistant with the few disabled children or those who had learning difficulties. Mum flourished there.
I think Dad though became privately jealous of her success at something new and so his gloom and depression deepened into many wine bottles. Dad was nine years older than Mum and with a bad back did not see himself able to learn something new or even capable of doing so. Dad saw the whole world turning against him despite the many things he could now do in today’s age.
Things only got worse between Dad and my family. We all began to learn to keep a physical distance around him in the evening. One small remark or foot wrong after he has had a few glasses would always ignite the bomb of anger that sat in his black heart. So we turned to my poor Mum more and more, and before we knew it she became more or less the single parent in a marriage that was starting to show cracks.
We had all tried on countless opportunities to try and rekindle a love for life within Dad and warn him how much drink was taking a hold in his life. Over the past eight years he has spent more time with a bottle of wine and the TV then with any of us children or his wife who loves him despite her suffering. I wrote him numerous letters telling him how I truly felt when he starts drinking each and every night and how I fear for his health each time he trips when staggering up the stairs to bed. I have lost count of the times he has fallen out of his bad or falling over the simplest obstruction in his bedroom. Which most of the time could have been avoided if he wasn’t drunk and walked with more control.
I would like to say he changed, it’s my one desire in life these days but my tale is a sad one. In 2005 he got charged by the police for drink driving, banned for two years and given community service hours. He did a course to get his license back this April but because his drinking continued and got worse he has been signed off by the doctor from any work for another year. Nowadays he clings to every chair, wall or table he can reach to help him walk in even a straight line. In this spring he fell over a small table in his bedroom which was against a wall and badly damaged several ribs which was the main reason he was signed off work again. The amount he has been drinking has impacted his back and health badly. Only when he tried Detox in hospital, in the Christmas of 2006, for twelve days was the first time he ate three meals a day in many years. However that failed badly as soon as he was let out and he is back to drinking half the day away and only surviving on tea and the occasional lunch.
For the first time he hit rock bottom this Easter Sunday and spent the whole day complaining of feeling crap but did nothing but sleep and drink. My entire family has lost all trust and respect for him. My mum has already demanded he move out but Uncle John or any other relative has not offered us or him any support. He knows he has no where to go and so refuses to leave, even to his brothers for a weekend. Mum won’t leave because no one else would take care of our two golden Labrador puppies Gem and Bailey. Another scheme we hoped would encourage dad to change and give him something to focus on after our black Labrador Fern died suddenly from unseen health problems in March 2006. So this year we have made plans to visit relatives in Pool for the first time without Dad; because he won’t change no matter how many reasons we give him. In truth we are all ashamed of his behaviour in general. He says we don’t support him but how can we support him when he refuses to seek help other than his councillor once a week? His drinking lives no longer in the evenings but afternoons and early hours of the morning.
That is why I believe that the ‘Smoking Kills’ advert on cigarettes should be spread onto all kinds of alcohol. It should say ‘Drinking too much damages you and destroys your family.’

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