Having a functional alcoholic parent meant having a dad who self medicated to numb his own trauma and pain. Before you keep reading this, I’m going to ask you to read it consciously.
I’m going to ask you to read and listen for your own function or dysfunction. Listen for internal justification that says “that’s not me, or I can quit anytime, or this woman has no idea what she’s talking about, or “yeah but” or “gee, that sounds like my mate, but I’m not going to say anything or “is she talking about me?”
I’m going to ask to you read and listen for how you can recognise a functional alcoholic parent. How you can recognise if a deeper problem is being silenced.
I’m talking about my Dad, and his silence. His highly functional silence.
If I resonate with you, then great. Here goes.
I love our sunburnt country. I really do. It’s awesome. With our tall poppy culture, and our drinking culture – not so much. With our “strong and silent” attitudes. Not. So. Much. Sorry, but silence is not a sign of strength. The strong and silent type is anything but strong.
After growing up with a highly functional alcoholic as a parent… I’m not a fan of silence. It feeds shackles of shame. It prevents healing. It creates walls, not boundaries.
A nasty trick that generations of men (and women) have fallen foul to. “Don’t talk about it.” Whatever “it” is. Although generally, “it” is a problem. Unsolved. Shame based. Too painful to face. Problem.
So we silence it.
Here, have another beer. Maybe a scotch. It’s happy hour somewhere in the world, even if it’s only 10am here, right? I’m drinking while I’m thinking. I can quit anytime. I only have a couple a day. Every day. How many is a couple? Ah, six. I don’t have a problem. I’m going to quit. Ah, its the weekend, she’ll be right, mate. It’s just social. Except when home. Alone. And it’s not. It’s self medicating. It’s accessible. It silences the pain.
I would like my son to not believe this whole strong and silent thing as he grows into a young man. I would like my son to be highly functioning, without any need or desire to self medicate with alcohol. I would like the generational trauma to be healed and end with me. No more highly functional alcoholic parent. It’s part of why I rarely drink.
I would like very much my son to have a voice when it comes to dealing with pain. I would like him to develop true confidence. I really don’t want him to use alcohol to silence internal pain, or to bring out false confidence.
And here’s why I’m asking.
I’m asking on behalf of your kids, and your grandkids. Actually, I’m not asking politely.
I want you to wake the hell up. Realise that high functioning, is actually dysfunctioning.
They need to see that you are warriors. That you want to fight the good fight.
That you will take on fights that don’t require fists, but require faith in your own worth. Worth that is not inside a stupid cancer causing soul eating bottle.
Stick around to pass on a litany of bad dad jokes. Pass on advice on how to fish, how to cook the fish, and the heavy lifting stuff. How to deal with pain that women may have caused. Women are not perfect. We cause pain. I know we do. We all do. We also have a choice to stay slumbering numb, or wake up.
Who am I to ask you to do this?
I’m a daughter who had a great Dad. A high functioning alcoholic parent who got trapped by hurt and hate.
I wanted him to wake the hell up.
I’d seen ads on TV with a Dad dying, his skin grey. Everyone was sad. His young daughter sitting hopelessly by his side. Because smoking caused lung cancer.
I chopped up hundreds of dollars worth of gold benson and hedges cigarettes that he had stashed in the brown wooden china cabinet.
I didn’t want him to get cancer. Because I loved him.
He never once told me off. He never quit smoking. I did quit chopping up his cigarettes – his life – his choice. I just wanted him to choose me.
But he had another problem that took me longer to figure out.
Mostly because there were no ads about talking about the downside of alcohol. I never poured hundreds of dollars worth of johnny walker or emu export down the sink.
My Dad was a high functioning alcoholic. That’s the sad truth.
He died of cancer. Stomach cancer. He also died of bitterness. A generation without the self awareness tools that I am fortunate to have access to.
I watched him try to numb the pain on a Saturday afternoon of our every other weekend with drink after drink after drink. He also numbed it on other days. Weekdays. Workdays.
I’d watch the lightness of his dad jokes leave and watch darkness cross his face. He thought he was dealing with pain. He was actually being eaten away by it. He couldn’t see it. I could. Occasionally it would spill out with hurtful pain filled words staining Saturday afternoons.
Don’t think that your kids can’t see what you might be trying to deal with in the dark.
Don’t think that this demon isn’t a hard one to fight.
Do believe that we want you to fight it.
To look after your physical and emotional health. Do believe that your kids want you around to meet their kids. That they want time to heal anything that needs healing.
I can’t do anything about my Dad now, except share second place memories with them instead of first place ” could have been” experiences.
I can tell my kids aaaall his jokes, and share aaalll his stories. Take them down to Point Peron. Reminisce on adventures of how my Dad dropped us at one side and got us to climb the cliff face alone around to the other side. 80’s parenting was awesome. Yet, I couldn’t do anything to help him. It’s hard for kids to get through to adults.
So I’m going to try to get through to you.
Ask you to man up. Be brave. Change the story of someone else growing up having a high functioning alcoholic parent to just “high functioning parent”.
Man up for the generations that are looking to you for guidance.
Bring your voices into the room. Have “man chats” about “man stuff” with the right people – doctor, counsellor, a mate. Talk about whether you might actually have a problem with dealing with shit that life has put you through – inherited or otherwise. See if you can do it alcohol free. See if you can talk to a mate who might have a problem. See if you can help him.
You can’t change your past. You can change your future.
Because on behalf of your kids… We want you around for a long time. We really do. So please, from a daughter who misses her Dad.
Face your pain. And fight it. Fight it sober.
You were made stronger, smarter, better braver, and worthier than that.
If you’d like to work on healthy boundaries, and do some deep work, feel free to register for the next round of boundary bootcamp.
Dad – 19 September 1944 – 30 September 2003
Related: Dealing with parental traumas & healing – Mum’s story RUOK?