Are you affected by “Silent Voices”?

Silent Voices, is a new campaign which aims to show how Ireland’s toxic relationship with alcohol hurts so many people.

This campaign is not about blaming people, or pointing fingers. Silent Voices want to stop the cycle of damage repeating and repeating across generations. As Father Peter Mc Verry says

Hurt people hurt other people”.


Marion, Barbara and Carol are 3 brave women

The 3 brave women leading the campaign have spoken out about the impact of their parents drinking on their lives.

Marion Rackard has been acutely aware of the silent stress including feeling powerless to do anything about it.

Barbara Whelan had feelings of anxiety and depression throughout her life. She began to realise the impact it had on her and sought professional help.

Carol Fawsitt found her self-esteem was “shot”. She felt different to everyone else, always on the outside, never being good enough, always feeling inadequate.

By setting up this campaign, these brave women are helping to start a much needed conversation about the harm alcohol does.

 Fergal felt shame was like his second skin

The celebrity BBC TV presenter Fergal Keane grew up with alcohol misuse. He felt shame all the time. It was like a second skin. The other big feeling he has is grief, because he never had a normal childhood.

In the video launching the campaign, Fergal talks about his own misuse of alcohol. He also makes the really important point that his parents did not wilfully set out to harm him. Useful to remember if you’re a parent drinking too much and feeling ashamed of the impact on your children.

Fergal’s book a memoir of his life called  “All of these people” is well worth while reading and is available from libraries or online

Are you more likely to have a problem with alcohol?

The research on whether children with parents who misused alcohol are more likely themselves to have problems with alcohol is mixed. Some studies report there is a higher risk of such children going on to have problems with alcohol, other say it is less likely. It seems to be generally accepted though that children affected by alcohol harm are more likely to have mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression etc. as adults. Silent Voices has more information here.

Everyone in Ireland knows some affected 

Since the early 1960’s our average drinking per person has gone from 4.9 litres per person to a high of 14.3 litres in 2001. The Health Research Board report that over 1.3 million people drink too much and the Silent Voices group estimate over 400,000 adults have been affected by parental drinking

silent voices



Are you a silent voice?

Are you an adult child affected by your parents’ alcohol misuse?

Well half the battle is to acknowledge that alcohol harmed your childhood and this harm may still be affecting you to-day. It might even be affecting your own ability to manage your drinking.

You might find it useful to read the stories of other adult survivors which you can find here.

You might also find our tips here on coping with emotional neglect useful.  Click here for details

More Irish people coming out about their drinking problem

The stigma around drinking too much is still there. It stops people from getting help because they are afraid of been seen as bad people. It also means treatment services are not as good as they can be. For women in particular, there is a real fear they will lose their children if they admit to a drink problem.

It’s changing

It’s changing now though with more and more people going public about drinking too much. So in this post we look back on the stories of some of people who have gone public about living with an alcohol problem.

Emma was a high flyer with a drink problem

Emma had a degree and was well on her way to qualifying as an accountant with one of Ireland’s top accountancy firms. Click here for Emma’s story.


The Rose of Tralee “confesses” to an addiction problem 

Did she really have an addiction problem though? Click here for her story.


Alan was a successful entrepreneur with a drink problem 

Yet no one noticed he was drinking too much. Click here for his story.


Valerie could never stop drinking

Until she found out why she was drinking too much. Now she helps other people. Click here for Valerie’s story


SouthLady drank to drown out her anxiety 

She did not realise her drinking was making her anxiety worse. Click here for her story

Lucy saw herself as one of life victims 

But she was a feminist  so how could she be a victim?
 Click here for Lucy’s story

It’s good these brave people are going public. But there is still a long way to go before society’s attitudes towards alcohol become healthier.

Mc D stops going to pubs

Attitude change

As time went on I found that I naturally started to drift away from going to pubs.  Sure I still go out and socialise in them, but if there are other options I will take them first.  I find that I can catch up with friends better just by going for a good walk and a cup of coffee.

I stopped being brainwashed

I stopped the brain washing that automatically assumes that being with friends involves alcohol.  It does take some time. I did have one or two setbacks, but all they did was remind me just how much I hated hangovers and how booze left me feeling rotten about myself.

Unexpected Surprise

Along with a lot of people, one of the reasons I started drinking to begin with was to combat shyness. I realise I am a lot older now and a lot less shy as a consequence.  I have found that through socialising without booze, I have become a lot more comfortable in my own skin and am confident in any social situation.  Meeting new people in new places was sometimes intimidating to me without the crutch of alcohol.  Meeting people without drinking has allowed my natural self to blossom and grow and my true nature has been allowed to develop fully.

Did I mention money?

Although it was n’t the main motivation to stop drinking, I noticed straight away just how much money I was saving by not drinking.  Not getting into rounds, no taxis, no expensive wine with meals and no drunk internet shopping meant a lot healthier bank account.  As a consequence I have been able to treat myself to a few luxuries I would have not dared buy when boozing.  The irony is n’t wasted on me, year after year I squandered pots of cash by drinking it, while thinking I was unable to afford something I really wanted.

Conclusion

Overall I found socialising without alcohol tricky at first, having a plan on what to drink and what to say to people when questioned is very important.  Making it a rule that drinking is just not an option and sticking to this rule solidified the decision in my mind and gave me strength in times of discomfort. 

Going to pubs does not bother me

Having said that in the beginning, I only went to events that really appealed to me so I would not be in constant temptation and I also removed alcohol from my home.  Now I am less inclined to go to pubs and when I do it really does not bother me to be around people drinking when I am not.  I thought to get to this stage would never happen to me.  Experiencing all the benefits of stopping drinking, let me know that I am missing nothing at all.

Editor’s note

Mc D does a lot of things right. He

  • Listens to what he needs
  • He makes a plan
  • Initially he avoids events unless he really wants to go
  • He accepts he will make mistakes and does not blame himself for them
  • He uses the money he saves to buy things he really likes
  • When he’s more confident, he starts going to pubs again-when he really wants to!

Photo Background photo created by jcomp – www.freepik.com

Mc D discovers socialising sober can be done in Ireland

When I initially stopped drinking I was very nervous about going out and socialising sober. Without the crutch of alcohol would I survive?  I was sure that I would be bored senseless and also be judged boring by those around me.  However, I was determined to go about my life as normal as possible and I didn’t want to live like a hermit now that I had put down the drink.

Preparation is key

On the occasions that I did go out, I was well prepared beforehand.  I knew what I was going to drink. I also had a backup drink to fall back to if my preferred alcohol free option was not available.  I choose to drink alcohol free beers. I found they gave a good sense of beery satisfaction and were a godsend in the early days.  By filling my glass with a beer it stopped unwanted attention from people enquiring into my drinking status. Socialising sober wasn’t something that I wanted to broadcast in the early days as I wasn’t yet comfortable with my new change in lifestyle.

Growing in confidence

Every time, I socialised sober without alcohol at an event that would have been a drinking event in the past, my confidence grew.  Initially, I had dreaded socialising without the crutch of booze, but then I began to look forward to being able to drive to an event. I could enjoy meeting people, engaging with them properly and driving home afterwards, knowing full well I would wake up refreshed the following morning.  I also discovered that if a situation was boring alcohol added nothing to it.  People would just get drunk and get even more boring/morose/ argumentative as the night went on.

Questions and Answers

After some time I couldn’t hide the fact that I was no longer drinking.  I had built it up in my mind that the people in my life would be extremely interested in this new change and would be trying to get me to drink at any occasion.  Two things happened.  The first was that people were supportive and just said “fair play” and would only mention it again in passing to see if I was still not drinking.  

A mirror to our own drinking?

Others would feel the need to tell me that they do not drink that much and so there would be no point in them giving up.  It’s often said that when we stop drinking it holds up a mirror to other drinkers. It forces them to confront their own relationship with alcohol.  If they are not that comfortable with their drinking, they usually feel the need to explain or deny their drinking habits.

People are more wrapped in their own worlds

I have also discovered that people are just generally more wrapped in their own worlds than I realised.  It was quite narcissistic of me to think that they would be overly concerned with me kicking the drink.

Staying strong  & socialising sober

Having said that on one or two occasions, when I was socialising sober, I did get people looking at me as if I had lost my marbles and told me that it would only be a matter of time.  Only once did I get a person who asked me outright if I was an alcoholic and I treated this comment with the contempt it deserved.

Editor’s note

You can see that preparation is key to managing an alcohol free  social life. Mc D thought carefully about the situations he could handle and took it at a pace that suited him. He used alcohol free beers until he was comfortable saying he did not drink. In his case most people were supportive but when he got a bad reaction from people he did not take it on board. He realised it was the other person’s problem not his.

Mc D continues to not drink

Mistakes are seen as learning

I decide to continue to not drink and extend my challenge to 365 days and yes I did slip up, make mistakes, but I got up and dusted myself off again.  I realised that making mistakes was normal and were a great way to learn more about myself and also how to safeguard myself from future blowouts.  I became obsessed with all things alcohol free.

I did not drink. I did n’t need it

I listened to podcasts, read as much quit lit as I could get my hands on.  This newfound freedom and perspective on life had given me real zeal to absorb more information and strengthen my resolve. Stopping drinking was not a chore it was a revelation.  I attended many social occasions and didn’t need to drink.  I began to realise that for the first time, alcohol was unnecessary to socialise.  In fact my confidence in myself continued to grow.

I’m still at it

I’m still at it now.  I have joined other sites such as Soberful which is run by two addiction specialists Veronica Valli and Chip Somers who have years of combined experience and were instrumental in getting Russell Brand sober.  The insights they have to addiction are extremely interesting and insightful and have a weekly podcast that I listen to.

Safe places

Another is Soberistas a website started by single mum Lucy Rocca after she gave up drinking and wanted to create a safe place to meet likeminded people with the shared interest of stopping alcohol.

I find a sense of community

My journey continues.  I recently started attending AA.   I realise that it’s not for everybody but with my newfound confidence and willingness to try things with an open mind.  I take what I agree with and leave the rest and have been finding a sense of community in it.

I can never say I will not drink again, it’s a sneaky and insidious drug and I will continue to work on my sobriety and the lease of life it has given me.

What do I think of alcohol now?

What do I think of alcohol now?  I think it just a socially acceptable drug.  We have been programmed to think that alcohol is the answer to life’s problems and society has been hoodwinked by the drinks industry for too long. 

Go for it, it may change your life

It’s a nasty destructive poison that ruins people’s physical and mental health.  Taking that leap of faith and giving up the sauce has got to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.  I don’t know what the future holds but for me I will looking forward to it alcohol free.  If you’re curious to take a break from alcohol.  Go for it – it may just change your life.

Editor’s note

Mc D approach to AA is spot on. He’s used it to find a sense of community and people he has something in common with. He just takes what he agrees with. He does not accept the AA view, that if he fails it’s him that fails. He does not blame himself, but sees drinking when he does not want to as an opportunity to learn. For a review of AA see here  


If you would like a different type of community try Smart Recovery who focus on not drinking but do not refer to a higher power.

Mc D’s discovers the ups & down of his sober challenge

This week Mc D tells us how he got on with his sober challenge.

Confidence and Anxiety

One of the biggest revelations was in my confidence and anxiety.  I have always felt that deep down alcohol was holding me back and making me jittery. I always used it as a crutch and at times literally hid behind a pint glass when talking to new people, as my self-esteem was so low I felt like a nobody.  Only when I was a couple of pints down would I come out of my shell, slurring my words and thinking I was hilarious.

I was flawed

For a long time, I have believed that I was fundamentally flawed in some way.  I never could muster a lot of self-belief no matter what I accomplished in my life.  I realise these feelings can be caused by a number of different factors but for me alcohol magnified and exaggerated them.

Slip ups, restarts and learning


It wasn’t all plain sailing though, I had to re-start my sober challenge a number of times before I really started to get some alcohol free time behind me.  As time progressed it became easier, life was shinier and I started to feel good about myself.  The program not only got me to stop drinking but looked at other areas of my life that could be improved.

I no longer dreaded Monday mornings

In no time, I had started a regular mindfulness practise.  I started journaling and increased my exercise.  Anxiety that had been a constant in my life began to disappear.  I no longer dreaded Monday morning and went into work with a spring in my step. I slept better and started to love early mornings.

I had to start dealing with emotions

I also had to start dealing with emotions and feelings that I would normally have repressed with alcohol. This for me was a steep learning curve and it is something I am working on to this day.  Overall my confidence started to drastically improve and for the first time in a long time I started to feel comfortable and happy in my own skin.

Attempts at Moderation

I tried moderating alcohol after a slip up.  The beer monkey had me convinced that I was not that bad and compared to other people I was practically teetotal.  I understand now that this is common issue when people stop drinking and it’s only the addicted mind trying to rationalise further drinking. 

For me it was pointless

It also took a huge amount of energy to start planning when, where and how much I would drink.  It became emotionally exhausting and the few times that I did try to moderate, I failed.  I had always liked alcohol for the buzz it gave and one or two drinks would inevitably turn to several.  I would then suffer bad sleep, anxiety and the self-loathing hangover the next day.    Trying to moderate would also undermine my new healthy regimes and turn me into an insufferable grump.  In the end it was far easier to just stop completely as I knew it was not possible for me and therefore pointless.

Reduce or take the sober challenge?

Editor’s note

Mc D discovered reducing his drinking just did not work for him. Everybody is different in what works for them. For some people, like Lisa Jean just reducing what they drink can work. If you’re trying to find out whether the sober challenge or moderation is best for you. Click here

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My drinking was holding me back

For a number of years after I had woken up after a session, I knew my drinking was holding me back.  Correction, I had always known drinking was holding me back.  I would have considered myself a moderate to heavy drinker.  Mainly drinking at weekends, at home or any occasion,  I was the type that would immediately get the drinks in on any social occasion. Any activity that did not involve knocking back the drinks was boring.

Drinking was holding me back

I had been drinking since my late teens and I found it really helped me to come out of my shell and allowed me to talk to people with confidence which was a revelation for a tongue tied painfully shy young man.  Once I started I never looked back and drinking alcohol was what everyone did and what was expected.  It was great for a while, but then the nagging feeling that this was not good for me was always at the back of my mind.

Questioning my drinking

After a big blowout in August of 2017, I started to question my reasons for drinking and began to loathe the automatic drinking that on the weekend. I realised drinking was holding me back. I had also become more aware of the dangers of alcohol as its general acceptance was being questioned more and more by the media.  I had become a Father and becoming aware of  my mortality and a sense of responsibility towards my children sent me looking for a way to cut down or at least take a break from alcohol.

I was not a problem drinker

A few internet searches later and I found a website that appealed to me.  It was a way to take a break from alcohol that allowed to do so without labelling myself an alcoholic or problem drinker.  Alcoholic in particular having connotations of park benches and methylated spirits and something that was completely alien to me.  After listening to a couple of podcasts and being inspired by the general message I signed up to www.oneyearnobeer.com .  They had a choice of 3 challenges 28,90 or 365 days. I selected 90 as I wanted to test myself with a decent time period and 28 was too short, 365 too long but 90 was in the goldilocks zone.

Challenge Accepted

Apprehensive as I was at the beginning of my challenge I was determined to succeed and was hell bent on engaging the process fully.  After joining I got access to the website and their closed facebook group.  I also started daily e-mail messages with links to videos of co-founder Andy Ramage giving daily tips and trick on how to start, get stuck into and crush the challenge.  I was filled with excitement as the daily mails and the instant community I had joined was filled with inspiring people living an authentic, healthy alcohol free life.  The message was that there was nothing to give up and everything to be gained.

Will McD succeed?

Editor’s Note :

So will Mc D succeed in his quest to give up alcohol?  Well, he’s increased his chance of success in the way he’s approached his problem.

He’s done his research and chosen a way that appeals to him. He has not labelled himself as an alcoholic or problem drinker.

Labels are dangerous

There’s lots of research which shows labels are dangerous. The alcoholic label is really dangerous because as Mc D says we think of park benches. We’ve seen this so often. You’ve got to be homeless and drinking on a park bench to be an alcoholic. The unfair myth alcoholics are really nasty awful people who are causing their own problems.

The alcoholic label is really dangerous

The alcoholic label stops people looking for help. Often, it even stops us getting better as the label is so negative we are defeated before we start. Hard to believe, but we’ve seen how our own beliefs can kill us.

Stop with the labels

So listen to your thoughts. Are you constantly telling yourself you’re a no good alcoholic ? If yes,  it’s time to change the label. Try McD’s approach of not using labels and focus on the positive side, that you’re now trying to manage how much you drink.

Next week, Mc D will describe how he got on.

My teenager is drinking

An interesting advice column on  “my teenager is drinking” issue recently. A Mother found her 16 year old son had been drinking at a friend’s family event and wanted to know what to do about it.

 

Keep the relationship open

The advice was good – try to keep a real and trusting relationship with your teenager while tackling the drinking issue and setting boundaries.

 

I’ve had the “Teenager is  drinking” problem myself

I’ve had this problem myself. My then 16 year went to a friend’s 16th birthday party, where the parents pointed to a slab of beer and said “help yourself”.  Initially I did not handle it well. I said

“ you do know that when a teenager  is drinking it is illegal, and they are breaking the law “

 

Report to the Police

She was terrified I was going to report the parent to the police! Eventually when I calmed down, we had a good conversation about teenage drinking.  I even sympathised with her that it was very difficult not to drink in Irish society at just 16. She was adamant none of the other parents had a problem the way I did.

 

A compromise

She was into sports at the time so we agreed she would use that as an excuse to only drink one or two drinks on very special occasions. We also agreed that if she did get into trouble she would ring me and I would come collect her. So as a single parent, this meant I could not drink when she was out in case I had to go collect her.

 

No friends to the house

That all seemed ok. Until I noticed her friends never came to the house to get ready for nights out. It turned out, unless they were allowed drink they were not coming to the house. This went on for two years.

 

A big night out

I was away for work one weekend and she wanted to invite friends over prior to a big night out. I was not too comfortable with a gang of teenagers in the house while I was not there.  No other house was available that night. So I agreed if there was no drinks and they had no other option they could use the house. This seemed to be ok.

 

A plaintive plea

Then while I was away, I got these emotional phone calls. All the friends were saying they would not come, unless they were allowed drink. Initially, I held my ground but she was really upset and felt she would be ostracised. Yes, I know teenagers can over dramatise but the friends had not been in our house prior to a night out for nearly  2 years at this stage.

 

Spoke to colleagues

My colleagues noticed I was taking all these long phone calls and asked what was up. Their response surprised me. They said to ask her what would she do if some of the friends drank too much and caused trouble.  My daughter’s response was very direct.

“Rub their face in the vomit and  use their dresses to  clean it up”

So chatting to the friends again, we agreed it seemed like my daughter would be responsible and maybe I should take a risk. I was still very nervous. At that time, as a single parent I felt like my parenting skills were always under scrutiny.  Accusations could be raised

“You let a group of 17 to 18 year olds drink unsupervised in your house”

 

Party Time for 17 year olds

I knew there would be a bad impact on my relationship with my daughter if I did not let her go ahead. So against my better judgement I decided to take the risk. All her friends came, they had a great time and when I got home the next day, the house was cleaner then I’d left it. My daughter was delighted and felt like I actually trusted her.

 

Keep listening and talking

We’ve had lots of good conversations about drinking since, including my own drinking! I  really did miss not being able to have a nice glass of beer when she was out. It forced me to look at how I used alcohol to relax.

 

Too strict?

I know many parents have a much more liberal attitude to drinking and maybe this would not be a problem for them at all. All the research shows though that the younger you are when you start drinking the more likely you are to have a drink problem and to move on to other drugs. Other parents will think I was mad to let a group of teenagers drink unsupervised in my home.

 

What’s right and wrong is not always clear

So I think the key lesson for me in this was to keep listening and tease out “what if” with my daughter. Understanding her as a young person who was strong minded, reliable, conscientious and could be trusted meant I could take a risk. Maybe it’s not the same for other parents if their  teenager is drinking. In which case they need to look at other solutions.

I’ve found John Sharry on parenting issues to be very helpful. The HSE have also just published new advice which you can find here.

 

The key lesson

As the article says if your  teenager is drinking

“The situation needs a long-term steady and reasonable approach that sets your son up as the self-managing person, you hope he will become.

I think this applies not just to young people  but to  us all. We need a long term steady and reasonable approach to managing our drinking. We can’t change the habits of a lifetime overnight.

For quick tips on how to get started take a look at this post.

 

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

 

Emma was a high flyer with a drinking problem

Emma Kinsella was a high flyer with a drinking problem. She  had graduated from college with a business degree and got a highly sought after job in one of the big four accounting firms.  On the surface everything was great.

She was passing her accountancy exams. She was getting good performance reviews. Life was busy and good. Inside though she was struggling.

 

A drinking culture

Emma started drinking in her 20’s. Fairly late by Irish standards. She had heavy drinking nights out in college, but always studied hard in between. In work, there were 12 hour working days with a post work drinking culture. Emma however preferred to go home to relax with a bottle of wine. She did not realise this was the start of a drinking problem.

 

She stopped drinking

Although sometimes she felt her drinking was a little high, she had no problem stopping when she got pregnant. She had a difficult labour and suffered from post-natal depression. But she could not put into words

“How I was feeling or how overwhelmed I was”

 

A major drinking problem

Drink helped Emma turn off her emotions. However it stopped working and she started to drink more and more. Her drinking problem became a major issue. She ended up in St Pat’s psychiatric hospital, Cluan Mhuire, then the Renewal addiction centre. Her partner left taking  their son with him.

 

She was a nightmare patient

Emma describes herself as a “nightmare patient” She just kept drinking again and again.  This makes me really angry because Emma had what is called a dual diagnosis. She had both a mental health and addiction issue. But health services see these as totally separate issues, so she kept being told they could not treat her mental health until her drinking problem was under control. As Inside Rehab says

“addiction is the only area of health care where we blame the patient when the treatment does not work”.

 

Emma was failed by the healthcare system

So I’m angry because Emma could have suffered a lot less. The healthcare treatments she received did not meet her needs. They also missed another major issue.

 

Emma‘s childhood experience

When Emma was just 3 years old, the sexual abuse started. It was a relative. Emma blamed herself and thought everybody knew.  She carried a lot of guilt. She blocked out these emotions and never disclosed what had happened to all the different health care professionals she met.

 

Difficult childhood experiences

Difficult childhood experiences ( the experts call these Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE) are well known to be a cause of drinking problems. However  our treatment systems do not look at this. They ask

“What’s wrong with you?”

 Instead of

“What happened you”?

They don’t create a safe space for people to tell their stories and take the first step in healing.

Until our treatment systems change, people like Emma will continue to suffer more than they need to. Treatment systems need to become “trauma responsive”, as the experts say.

 

Emma made a great recovery

Eventually Emma  got the right type of help. Now she’s got her relationship with her son back. Her ex-partner  trusts her again. Emma shows even the most severe drinking problems can be fixed with the right help.

 

Is your drinking problem caused by childhood trauma?

So if you’re having difficulty getting your drinking under control, consider whether your childhood experiences might be an issue for you. It does not have to be as horrific as Emma’s story. It could be something like childhood emotional neglect. We’ve written about this here. It’s very common in Ireland.

So as brave Emma’s wonderful story shows never give up hope. Change is always possible.

 

Like this post?

You can read Emma’s full story, written by Sheila Wayman here.   

You can find out more about the role of childhood experiences in alcohol harm here.

You can find help on finding the right treatment here.

 

Photo Dara mac Dónaill