Support for teens
It’s hard to know the full extent of problem drinking in New Zealand, but it is clear that the effects are far reaching. Four central Auckland girls aged between 11 and 15 spoke to reporter Emma Whittaker about growing up with alcoholic parents and the he
SARAH thought it was normal when her mother finished a bottle of wine and drove down to the supermarket to get another.
Elizabeth thought it was normal when her dad didn’t arrive home until 9.30pm bringing chips from the bar he’d been drinking at and chocolate bars for dinner.
Missing out on family holidays and having parents that constantly argue was standard for Louise.
Each of the girls is used to living with the financial and emotional difficulties that come with having an alcoholic parent.
‘‘When you’re young you don’t know different,’’ Elizabeth says.
‘‘It’s not until you’re older and you go to other people’s houses and hang out with your friends you realise something isn’t normal.’’ The girls are members of Alateen. The fellowship is a teen focused offshoot of Al-Anon, an international support network for friends and families of alcoholics.
It’s a safe haven for the young women to share thoughts and feelings that are often well out of their peers’ realms of understanding.
‘‘It makes us realise that there are more people with slightly chaotic lives.
‘‘You can’t really say to people ‘ my mum’s an alcoholic and I can’t cope’, nobody really understands unless they have been through it,’’ Sarah says.
Elizabeth’s family has been irreparably torn apart by alcohol.
It’s the reason her parents separated and she, her mother, and siblings had to leave their home when they couldn’t make the mortgage payments.
Her father has been to prison twice and still doesn’t know where they live.
‘‘He’s unreliable and it makes it hard to want to see him because he’s temperamental. You don’t know if he’s going to be grumpy or if he’s going to be all nice, or just not going to be there at all.’’
He once turned up drunk to one of her childhood birthdays banging on the door and demanding to see her.
Elizabeth tried to placate her frightened guests by telling them it was a neighbour who just wanted food.
‘‘You can hardly say ‘that’s my dad and he’s drunk’.’’
The girls rarely saw their alcoholic parents drinking and most outsiders were none-the-wiser to what was happening. It has been a relatively private problem for them.
‘‘I used to have all of these bottled up feelings that I just didn’t want to talk about because, where would you talk about it?’’ Louise says.
‘‘It’s good just to get your feelings out every week at Alateen. And if someone is experiencing the same thing we can support each other.’’
They all agree the best part about the group is that it’s anonymous.
‘‘If you happen to see someone who goes to your school they won’t talk about you afterwards,’’ Sarah says.
Their advice to others affected by alcoholism is to come forward and get help.
‘‘I only went to Alateen to keep my mum happy. After I spoke at the first meeting and they said ‘thanks for sharing’ I thought ‘wow they appreciate me, they want to hear me talk’.’’
Alateen meetings provide support for teenagers affected by somebody else’s problem drinking.