AAlcoholism is often referred to as a family illness. It affects the family as a whole and each family member individually. Living with an alcoholic can have a big impact on a child’s daily life because it disrupts normalcy.
The child’s ability to enjoy life decreases due to issues with trust, broken promises and embarrassment. For families affected by alcoholism, denial is abundant, family life is often frightening, and stress levels are high. In all respects, the fight against alcoholism is becoming a family secret. Children affected by alcoholism have an instinctive desire to protect themselves.
My father struggled with alcoholism when I was growing up. I was in first grade when my mom told me my dad was an alcoholic. It may seem like I’m too young to be told, but I wasn’t. I needed someone to tell me. I needed the truth because I didn’t understand why there were times when I didn’t see my father for weeks. My dad went alcohol-free for months and the cycle finally started with his passing, which meant he was drinking again.
Our family plans were put on hold for at least two weeks. I have memories of my elementary years of my father coming home after two weeks of drinking, feeling sick and remorseful. Within a week, our lives continued as usual until the next departure, and the chaos started all over again. This is the pattern of many periodic alcoholics. Growing up in an alcoholic household is not easy because everyday life becomes a place of fear and uncertainty. During my younger years, I didn’t understand why my father chose alcohol over his family.
My dad was always open with me about his battle with alcohol. We had many discussions around the dinner table. I couldn’t understand why he was drinking when he knew the worry, pain and chaos that deeply affected his family. He explained that his struggle was consumed by the compelling compulsion and obsession with drinking. His thought process was, “I can only handle one drink.” Once he drank that one glass, a loss of control over whether to drink or not to drink took over. It was a constant battle that rose to the highest peaks and fell to the lowest levels.
My father was active with Alcoholics Anonymous while my mother and I participated in Al-Anon, a program for those affected by alcoholism. The meetings were useful because we were surrounded by other people who were going through similar struggles. On the surface our family was like any other family, but we felt like we were in a whirlwind of conflicting feelings of love, loyalty and guilt. The meetings helped us overcome negative feelings and understand the disease to the best of our ability. Al-Anon helped my family during my father’s recovery years. As I got older and became more involved in Al-Anon, I understood the disease better. Most importantly, I have learned to put the upper power in control, control what I can, and let go of the rest.
My father was an honest man. I loved him unconditionally. Although the alcohol changed him, I still had hopes that the chaos would end. This hope kept me going when things seemed so confusing, especially when I was a young child. Over the years, his battles continued until he hit rock bottom when he realized his family was about to move away from him. The realization that his family was leaving him was the wake-up call he needed. That’s when he got sober for the rest of his life. We became so exhausted from our struggle with alcoholism that something had to change. Fortunately, after this awakening, as a family, we found inner peace despite the fact that alcoholism would still be a daily struggle for sobriety. My father did and it was his determination and courage to lead the fight. That’s why I will always be proud of him and consider him my hero.
Rozanne Alonzo is a resident of Chino Hills and a contributing columnist for The Champion.