I attended a networking and conference event recently and, in the few minutes before the first speaker began, I started to chat to the man sitting next to me. Let’s call him Gary. We talked about his business for a while, the downturn, the benefits of apprenticeships and then he asked about my work. I flashed my Alcohol Consultant badge and Gary said simply, “Oh. My daughter’s an alcoholic.”
At that point the first speaker started, and we sat through introductions, then presentations, then awards. During this time, I could feel Gary’s desperation to talk to me. An hour later he got the chance. “Can I ask you a question?” he asked, “What can I do to help her?” I’ve heard this many, many times, at conferences, in training sessions, at parties. Everyone knows someone.
The daughter, suffering from liver disease, had just discharged herself from hospital. She had been given just months to live, she wasn’t eating or sleeping but continued to drink. Gary described her abusive phone calls, the detoxes, the stint in rehab, the violent partner. He talked about the hours he’d spent waiting for her to come home, cleaning her up, bathing her, buying alcohol for her, refusing to buy alcohol, pouring her drink down the sink. He’d tried everything. Her own daughter had refused to have anything more to do with her and Gary couldn’t understand this. “It should be her, looking after her mom,” he said, “Not me.”
I told Gary what he already knew – there’s nothing that he can do to save his daughter. His daughter is the only one who can make the necessary changes. He can help her, of course, by encouraging her to eat and take her medication, believing in her and, importantly, ensuring that he has the resilience to carry on.
In the meantime, his granddaughter has to find her own coping strategy, there’s no right or wrong way deal with the grief and trauma of having a loved one who’s dying. My advice was: take care of yourself, take care of your grandchildren; get the help you need to work through the next few months and beyond (the Adfam directory of services is a great place to start).
And, when you feel ready, join us. Fundraise for Adfam, lobby your MP, support our campaigns. We know the harm that alcohol can do to families like Gary’s. If ordinary people like Gary, whose lives have been devastated by alcohol problems, can add the weight of their concern to ours, we can really have an impact on the harm caused every day to individuals, their families and their communities.
This Blog piece was written by Lauren Booker, a substance misuse trainer and consultant.