I am the wife of an alcoholic and would like to share my experience of what I have learned in the process of becoming lost in the vortex of his disease. I wish to share how this has affected our daughter and what I did to change what I could, whilst letting go of what I could not.
Alcoholism is a family disease, one person may drink but it affects the whole family. I lied to myself thinking for many years that his drinking didn't affect our daughter and as much as I tried to hide it from her, she already knew. Kids are not stupid. Our daughter had expectations of her father not understanding that her dad was unwell, in the sense that there were certain behaviours he would express due to his alcoholism. On occasions, our daughter wanted to go to the cinema as a family but couldn't understand why her father didn't want to attend with us, or we were invited out and again her father would refuse. Our daughter would become upset, frustrated and angry and voice this to her father. Then he would become irate.
Over time our daughter started to resent her father, their relationship deteriorated, practically became none existent at one point. I had learned to accept that he was a drinker and that drinkers have a distorted sense of reality. That alcohol is the other woman and she would come first. Our daughter did not understand the relationship that her father had with alcohol. Our daughter knew her father had a problem but due to her age, she could not define it.
I decided to educate myself on alcoholism and the effects on the family. I read information from Al-Anon, Alateen and ACoA. I learned a great deal and could identify with almost everything written on those sites. I became a member of Al-Anon and started to learn to apply the programme to my life. I started to have compassion for the drinker, after accepting his illness and that I am completely powerless over it. That there was nothing our daughter or I could do to change it.
This whole time I was convinced by keeping our daughter away from seeing his drinking that it wouldn't affect her, not fully understanding that my behaviours and attitudes towards his drinking had affected her more. It was not the visibility of the drinking but the way our family communicated with one another, especially how my husband and I communicated to one another. We didn't communicate effectively, we just shouted at one another, were hurtful to one another and now, looking back I can see why our daughter became so lost.
I started to educate our daughter by explaining in an age-appropriate manner as to her father's illness. I explained that her father was unwell and was unable to act like her friend's father's because he needed to get well first. That the promises her father made to her weren't lies, that her father had every intention of keeping them but because of his illness he was unable. This is true. He was completely incapable of keeping his promises due to his addiction to alcoholism. He meant what he said at the point of saying it but after the moment had passed it sadly changed and the focus was back on the alcohol. Instead of him planning things with our daughter or even if he did, I followed through with the plans, even if he was incapable, I wasn't.
I taught our daughter to not communicate with her father when he was intoxicated, there was really no point in it. He would only become hostile and twist things to suit himself. Oh, let's not forget, that the drinkers try to make it all about themselves. I taught her that it's really not important what he father does as long as we enjoy our time. Over time she became able to just brush his comments off or not react back. Our daughter still has expectations of her father, this is proving very difficult for her to change. I encourage her to journal her feelings and thoughts as a way of dealing with her anger. I reinforce that she is not responsible for her fathers drinking as she often thinks he drank because of her. It is not her fault and she shouldn't be made to feel like it is.
I am separated from the drinker now but do encourage the relationship between him and our daughter. The drinker is now in recovery, but that is his story to tell. I have read many stories from adult children of alcoholics that weren't educated as children and have lived lives full of guilt of their parents drinking. They have also carried the shame and embarrassment of it. It is not our children's fault, it is not our fault either. If we do not educate our children now, the effects of alcoholism will be taken into their adult lives. I don't want this for my child, do you?