By Penelope Wesley —

We usually don’t think of alcoholism as a loss, but it creates ripples of loss in every direction.

My experience with alcohol and abuse consists of being raised with an alcoholic father and a mother who turned to drinking later and attempted to hide it, and my own struggle with drinking to drown out my memories. These memories included watching my mother being physically abused and being chased around the house by my father with a butcher knife. I grew up in fear of anger and became afraid to talk.

I often feared that my father would go to jail or prison. I always feared that he would harm someone, whether in a car accident or shooting. I remember him standing at the top of a long flight of stairs pointing a shot gun at my mother, my brother and me. He held us hostage for what seemed forever. On another occasion, I remember my mom sending us off to tell my aunt to call the police; later, I knew that he had been taken to jail.

My mother turned to drinking while I was in high school. I was so angry at her because she hid her drinking.

I told myself from an early age that I would not marry. I would never put a child through what I experienced. I so often worred about my parents. I became overly responsible and now, looking back, feel cheated of a childhood.

Alcohol also was a factor in an assault I suffered as a college student. I had taken my car to a mechanic who knew my father. He instructed me to pull the car inside his shop. The large heavy door closed. To make a long story short, he had been drinking and I was raped.

After I became a nurse, I started drinking myself. It was about five years into my career. I worked on a permanent 3-11 pm shift. My grandfather had died and I was depressed. A glass of wine or vodka in orange juice relaxed me, and I increased the “dosage” over time.

I am thankful that I realized where I was headed. I knew I could continue and lose all I had worked for and destroy my own life. I knew I had to have help. I began therapy. I learned that I suffered from Major Recurrent Depression and have fought a battle against suicide since a child.

I am happy to say my mother and father had a religious experience that drastically changed their lives. The drinking stopped.  About ten years later, I watched as Alzheimer’s took the person I had always wanted to love me. He became someone I needed to forgive.

Dealing with the emotional trauma of my past has been a long journey. I have had to work through many hurts, but one of the hardest things to allow myself to do is to love the person and hate the behavior. As a child I felt disloyal to my parents. I tried to hide what was happening as much as they did, but inside I had the feelings and anger and at times hate.

As an adult I have come to recognize that I am powerless over others.  I now have choices in my life beyond staying trapped within an abusive situation. I realize that I can get help through support groups, therapists, doctors and others. I had to allow people into my life and learn to trust before I could heal. I spent time grieving over what I missed in life, coming to terms with the fact I didn’t get what I needed or wanted and that I received much that I didn’t want.

Looking back on this legacy of alcohol, I have learned that generally parents do the best they can in their stage of life–they are dealing with their own hurts and pain. I am also aware of my own determination; even though I have wanted to give up many times, I continue to live and be a better person with each new day. I also know my purpose at this stage of my life is to share my journey. If someone else can be learn from me, then my pain has not been in vain.

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Penelope Wesley

Penelope Wesley is a retired nurse with personal and professional experience with grief. She has led small groups and is past coordinator of women’s ministry in her church in Kentucky. She is receiving training in lay counseling. She is presently working on a memoir called a “Journey Out of Silence” and on the story of her father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease, called “Broken Pieces.”

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