Do you have someone in your life who has issues with alcohol?
Many of us do.
My grandfather was an alcoholic. I’ve had friends who were alcoholics. One of my ex-partners had an issue with alcohol. I’m from Finland and in Finland most people have alcoholics in their immediate environment. As is probably the case in most other European countries.
My grandad was an alcoholic and I loved him. I loved him dearly and I miss him. As I child, I saw him as a fun adult who would invent games and spoil us grandkids. I felt that he and my grandma truly loved me as I was. I felt accepted by them and important to them. I found them to be interesting adults, who were into culture, reading, languages and travels.
I realized at quite a young age that my grandad was drinking heavily even though people in my family didn’t talk about it. Sometimes I noticed him behaving oddly. I remember being scared one time when I went to my grandparents’ cabin and found my grandfather sitting alone in his underwear with the curtains closed and him smelling bad. I remember once riding in the car with my grandma while she talked about his drinking and my mom saying: “Not when the kids are here.” I got the message: drinking was not to be discussed.
I was around 25 when my grandma died and soon thereafter my grandad died. I never talked with them about his issue with drinking. I only began talking about it a few years later. I wanted to know more and asked my mom about it. She answered hesitantly at first and eventually talked more. She had never talked about these things before.
I learned that my grandad most likely had fathered so-called “illegitimate” children out of his drinking excursions. I heard that my mom once couldn’t get out of the door as her dad had passed out in front of the door. I heard that my grandma tried to protect my mom and her brother and that my mom only learned in her teens that her dad was drinking. He just went missing sometimes and that was not talked about.
I decided I would talk about my grandad’s alcoholism and I have done so with my mom, my son and others in my life. I also talked about it at Al-Anon meetings (a 12-step group for loved ones of alcoholics). I’ve no longer kept it a secret.
I also talked about it with my grandad. While visiting his and my grandma’s gravesite in the forest, I began to talk aloud to them spontaneously. I told them how much I missed them. I yelled at my grandad for drinking and for how I judged that had negatively influenced my mom’s life and my life as well. I told him how much I appreciated him for the way he had talked to me and looked at me. I told them both that I loved them. I cried. And I’m crying a bit now as I write this. I love them a lot. I am sad that my grandad was an alcoholic and I’m sad that he received no psychological support after the war (as nobody did back then) which is when he began drinking. I imagine he drank to numb or erase his memories of killing people, of watching his friends be killed, of being terrified of being killed.
I am now at peace with both loving my grandad and acknowledging how much his drinking hurt my family, especially my mom, my uncle and my grandma.