By Bunmi Sofola
NO matter how many unprintable words you would use for an alcoholic, the fact still remains that alcoholism, apart from being a sign of weakness, is also a ‘disease.’ Once the bug bites you, getting it out of your system becomes a nightmare. The nightmare becomes endless when you have to live with a person who can’t say no to drinking… .
Akin, a junior secondary school pupil recently revealed that: ‘I remember coming home from school, and knowing when I walked in the door, without even seeing anyone, whether or not my dad has been drinking. That’s how sensitive you become when you grow up in that kind of environment….’
Another youth recalled that: “I remember as a little girl, may be three or four, in front of the house and watching for my dad to come home, I could see by the way he walked whether he was the daddy I could talk to and play with or the other daddy….”
Years back, an 11-year-old girl just sat around her school premises, afraid to go home. In the end, the school principal found her. It was a good thing the principal had time for her. “I don’t want to go home because of my dad, cried the poor girl,” last night, he came home when we were having eba with okro soup; Mum hadn’t seen him since the day before. When he came home, he said he wanted food too, but mum ignored him. So, he took our bowls of eba with the okro soup and flung everything around the house. The fridge was covered with the slimy stuff. Then he started yelling and slapping mum. When I gave a frightened moan, he hit me on the head.”
And there was the 14-year-old boy, still in primary school, who bragged of the clever way the family sneaked off in the middle of the night so as to evade payment of the accumulated rents his dad had owed. Dan is very short for his age, and doesn’t look like he’s 14 years. But he’s been shunted from school to school by a father who drank half of his income away rather than save his children the shame of being expelled from school by not paying school fees. As a result, the two children of the marriage are way behind their peers in school.
Clem grew up in a family where his father, though rich, was an alcoholic. ‘There was this morning the police called at the house,” he recalled. “They’d found dad’s Mercedes at seven O’clock in the morning parked on the opposite direction of a one-way street. How he’d come to be travelling the wrong way beat everybody. He had a briefcase with a lot of money in it. In his drunken stupor, he’d parked the car, clicked the doors shut and slept off. When the police found him, they thought he was an armed robber making away with his spoils.
“When they actually discovered he really lived where he said he did, the pitying looks they gave us will stay with me for the rest of my life.
“You would have thought that would teach him a lesson, but no. The following week, we all got ready to go to church and nearly stumbled on what I could only describe as a nightmarish eyesore. My dad had obviously made it to the front door in the night, thrown up something rotten, and slept on his mess. Our neighbours and their maids were already sniggering, when we came out and a few hissed, kissing their teeth disapprovingly. I wanted to crawl somewhere and die.
“When he was not blind-drunk, he was verbally abusive. He just chipped away at my mum, and us kids. He was a really intelligent man—an architect. And, as you very well know, the sarcasm of real wit cuts to the core. My mum, not surprisingly, turned to religion. My dad started me on booze right from when I could remember. He used to brag about my staying power. Then there was this night when I came into the house blind-drunk. My room seemed to be sloping at a funny angle and I wove a very uncertain course to the door, feeling as though I were on a rough Molue ride. When I got to the fridge to drink some water, my sister’s mouth was open in fright. I lurched at her, determined to hit her just as dad usually did when he was drunk. She ran off to fetch mum. I would remember her heart-rending sobs till the day I die. That killed my urge for booze for ever, and I haven’t touched the stuff since.”
Sadly, a lot of women now drink as much as (if not more than) their spouses. A lady recently accompanied her mother to their home town as a last-ditch attempt to cure her of her alcoholism. The spiritual leader who they were to stay with forbade any alcohol. For three days, she said, mum was as good as gold. “She was allowed to break her three-day fast in the afternoons because of her age,” she recalled. “On the third day, I sort of sensed that something wasn’t right with her. Her eyes were too bright and she was too cheerful. I sneaked into her room when she was with the spiritualist for her special prayers and found a bottle of gin hidden beneath the clothes in her suitcase! The bottle was almost empty—just within two days!
“That made me give up all the fight to save her. She is now in her mid-50s and I’ve learnt to live with her drinking. She obviously enjoys drinking and I know she is going to die with a drink in her hand— I’ll have to live with that and love her for the loving mum she is when she is sober….”
As one victim of an alcoholic father puts it: “One thing you realize as the son or daughter of an alcoholic parent is that a lot of people share in such pain. But it is not reparable. It’s a pain you’ll have to learn to live with.