The strength to change: Support for family members

Al-Anon | November 2018 | 8 minutes

Al-Anon Family Groups is a fellowship dedicated to helping anyone who has been affected by their relationship with someone with a drink problem. Christine received help from Al-Anon, and life for both her and her children has changed for the better.

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Most people seeking support for alcohol dependence are looking for a way to help the person with the drinking problem - often looking for ways to stop them drinking. What is often overlooked is that for every problem drinker, there are at least five people who are affected by their drinking. They can be family members or friends – but many live with a degree of emotional and physical abuse, uncertainty, and financial insecurity which can also lead to mental health problems. The impact on their lives can be devastating. Their story is usually never told.

Al-Anon Family Groups is a fellowship dedicated to helping anyone who has been affected by their relationship with someone with a drink problem. Al-Anon members provide meetings in all major towns and cities.

One Al-Anon member, Christine, describes the devastating impact heavy drinking has had on her and her family, from growing up with an alcohol dependent mother, to being drawn to heavy-drinking partners who were abusive. She describes how asking for help from Al-Anon has given her the strength and support to change, and the positive impact on her children.

Christine's story

“I grew up what seemed from the outside to be in a ‘typical’ family. The reality was different. My parents both had fathers who were addicts. My mother was an alcoholic who drank daily, and my father always took her side and protected her from any harm.

“My earliest memory is when I was three years old - playing a game with mum; topping the alcohol bottles up with water so that dad wouldn’t notice she had drunk it all. Even when mum was obviously drunk - we all pretended everything was fine. I wondered if I was exaggerating about mum’s drinking. I kept thinking that if she loved me she would stop. My mum could be nasty when she was drunk, and would scream at me and throw me out on a regular basis. I would wait until early evening when I knew she would be unconscious on the sofa before I returned. This carried on for years until one day I didn’t come back.

“I was 17 years old and rushed into a relationship with the first person who showed me some attention so that I could start a family of my own and make everything ‘right’. Unfortunately, I was trapped with my husband who was physically, emotionally and sexually abusive. I tried to hide what was happening from our children though the abuse progressed and eventually it got to the point where my seven-year-old daughter stood in the door way pleading with me to leave because ‘Daddy nearly killed Mummy’. I knew she was right, so we waited for my husband to leave for work the next day before escaping.

“Although we escaped I couldn’t escape from myself. I believed all the hurtful words my husband had told me. I was suffering from depression and an eating disorder whilst trying to make a home for myself and my children. Six months later I found myself in a psychiatric unit after attempting suicide.

“I first admitted the truth about my childhood and abusive marriage while I was in hospital, which is where I also met my next partner. He was in hospital because of his alcohol dependence. He was very loving, which was what I had always craved. My doctor suggested that I go to Al-Anon for support, but it took another year and more suicide attempts before I finally went to a meeting.

“My new partner and I were together three years before we parted – a short time, but he had a huge impact on my children and me.

“My children were brought up by an addict father and an adult child of an addict, and they have been more than a little affected, but with the help of Al-Anon I have been able to change and have a positive impact on my children.

“My dad sadly passed away in 2009. The week he died was the last time I experienced my mum drunk, after which she stopped drinking. The only obvious symptom of more than 40 years of daily drinking was that she developed the shakes. It turned out to be Parkinson’s Disease and dementia. I became her full-time carer and I was able to help and comfort her in a way I couldn’t when she was still drinking, and I’m so grateful for that.”

If you have been affected by a loved one’s drinking you deserve support, and things can change for the better.

Find out more

About Al-Anon

Al-Anon Family Groups UK & Eire is launching a new campaign, “The Untold Story” (www.al-anonuk.org.uk/theuntoldstory), during Alcohol Awareness Week to give a voice to some of the people living with problem drinkers and to encourage more people affected to seek support and find their local Al-Anon meeting. The “Untold Story” campaign uses illustration and real stories to show how alcohol dependence can affect individuals and families, and how attending Al-Anon meetings can offer solace and hope.

All details of local meetings can be found on the Al-Anon website or by calling 0800 0086 811 (10am-10pm)

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