‘Sharing My Experiences with the Commission on Alcohol Harm’ – Family Member’s Story

Beverly is a media volunteer with Scottish Families. She kindly shared her experiences on growing up around addiction when the Commission on Alcohol Harm launched their report in September 2020 – ‘It’s everywhere’ – alcohol’s public face and private harm: The report of the Commission on Alcohol Harm (2020). Beverly spoke at their virtual conference to over 150 people and we couldn’t be more proud of her bravery at sharing her story with such a big audience. She has written up a blog about her experiences sharing her story. Thank you, Beverly.

I’ve spent most of my life not talking about my dad’s drinking. At school I never mentioned it to friends or teachers, worried they would judge me. The stigma around alcoholism was so great that even as an adult, after my dad had passed away, I kept that part of my childhood a secret. It wasn’t until I heard a friend at work talking openly about his mum’s mental health issues that I realised I could share my story without judgement. This chance event lifted a little weight from my shoulders, but still I didn’t rush to tell everyone my stories of growing up with an alcoholic parent. For me, it was enough just to know that I could share if I chose to.

When I get together with my brother and sisters, we might laugh now about finding empty vodka bottles in the washing machine or smile sadly when we remember how funny my dad could be when he was sober – and sometimes unexpectedly when he was drunk, although we probably didn’t find it so funny back then! However, I am also now aware that my dad’s drinking and our constant battle to keep it hidden from friends and neighbours, has had a lasting impact on me. Like many children of alcoholics, I still experience anxiety and hyper vigilance especially in situations where alcohol is involved. Although I might mention my dad’s drinking in passing, I never really talked about the details because the image we have of an alcoholic is not one I want to associate with my dad.

When I moved to Edinburgh, I became involved with a volunteer group called Community Alcohol Related Damage Service which provides support to people with a history of alcohol misuse who may still be drinking. Through this I started to understand a little bit about why my dad had been drinking. I also started to think more about the impact his drinking continued to have on my family and became more aware of the impact alcohol was having on the wider community. One encounter in particular made me decide to share my story more widely: a young woman on a bus who was so drunk she almost dropped her baby. I didn’t want that child to grow up feeling ashamed and too scared to ask for help. The stigma around alcohol abuse that stopped me speaking up, still exists today. We label problem drinkers selfish or weak, who could stop drinking if only they really tried. As a country we treat alcohol as a vital part of our celebrations and commiserations, but we often have little sympathy for those who “can’t handle their drink”.

My first experience of sharing my story was recording a podcast with Scottish Families which was a strangely therapeutic process.  I also agreed to share some of my family’s story at the launch of the Commission on Alcohol Harm’s report “It’s Everywhere” because it’s important that the voices of families be heard in policy discussions. Sharing your story in public isn’t for everyone. Some people will be happy to share their stories with friends, others may prefer to talk to someone they don’t know, maybe via a hotline or online forum. Just knowing there is someone out there to talk to may be enough for some people, even if they never share their own stories. For me being able to talk openly about my dad’s drinking has been a positive experience which I hope might encourage others to share their stories, so the hidden harm of alcohol abuse is brought into the open. Growing up, I thought my family’s situation was unusual, that we were the only ones trying to keep this enormous secret. Now I realise there are thousands of families out there in the same boat and I hope that by sharing my story, I can help create a space where they feel able to share theirs too.

We’re here for you if you are concerned about someone else’s alcohol and/or drug use. You can get in touch with us today on 08080 10 10 11 or helpline@sfad.org.uk. You can also use the webchat here on our website.

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