Archbishop Justin Welby, myself and Calum Best are adult children of alcoholics or COA's. This means that our early years, although vastly different in many ways, each bore the tell-tale hallmarks of parental drinking. Welby has talked about being with a father so far down the alcoholic spiral-of-decline, that as a teenager he became his carer.
"You never knew what was going to happen. The experience of living with a parent who had a drink problem is ... very shaping as to one's views of what human beings are like."
The Archbishop has always taken care with his own temperance as a result. Myself and Calum Best did the other, more usual thing. We emulated what we had grown up hating yet accepting as 'normal.'
Now aged 34, the model and reality TV star admits 'I still have that demon inside.' A world weary way of describing the binge impulse COA's suffer from.
'Drinking ruined my health, cost me my career and my reputation. I was drinking for three years. But my mum helped me and put me on a better path,'
Society at large, politicians and the social care system have been too slow in understanding that, as the survivor of one such home 'Josh' has brilliantly summarised: @COAIsAThing.
15 February 2017, was a historic day for COA's as it saw the launch of the first manifesto for change on this issue. Liam Byrne MP, is leading the charge on bringing our previously under reported cause to the attention of government. He does so with a joy and gusto that such a grim topic needs to fly. He is a COA, so is the equally determined, Caroline Flint MP, his fellow All Party Parliamentary Group associate.
At the launch of the 'Manifesto for Change' at Portcullis House, Mr Byrne told me:
'These are Britain's innocent victims of drink. A child of an alcoholic going through the hell of mum or dads drinking carry the stigma and shame, alone. This manifesto is the first step to breaking the silence and the cycle cascading down the generations.'
The 'Manifesto for Change' is a ten point plan aimed at shaking up the government's lethargy concerning booze and the long term damage its abuse inflicts upon COA's.
Being a COA comes with lifelong symptoms and consequences. And don't be fooled into thinking that the grinding Eastenders style dramas of our childhood homes means this happens in one economic tier of society. Swagger or stagger, vintage champagne or Asda brand cider, those who come through this harrowing start in life all recognise a) Maudlin love scenes of the 'You're all I need I love ya' style and b) Casual scenes of violence disturbing enough to make Quentin Tarantino puke.
The Archbishop of Canterbury sent a letter to NACOA in support of the Manifesto. His fathers death, he said, confused him emotionally. He experienced sadness 'mingled with relief'. Of his own childhood he wrote:
'One of the things I most missed was the company of others who understood the issue.'
Growing up, with a celebrity father, like Calum Best (son of Manchester United legend George), I remember aged 10, people fawning over my dad. I recall the envy stamped on the faces of little girls comparing their everyday dads with my own handsome, talented, gregarious version.
After dad signed bits of paper for them, I'd watch as they would head home to dinner and a bedtime story. My evening would end with a packet of salt and vinegar silently picked at, in the dingy corner of a pub. At home, my bedtime routine was not the same as theirs. A cold wash dried by a stinking towel, followed by freezing darkness. Then the nighttime sounds. Dr John's 'Gris Gris' scratching on the turntable too loud to allow sleep. The inevitable swearing, shouting, smashing.
Today, 1 in 5 of our nation's children, is a baby, a toddler, a primary aged child or a young person, coping with uncertainty, hunger, neglect, sexual or emotional violence. As a direct result of alcoholic adults being their carers.
For too many, adulthood is not the escape it promises to be.
Children of alcoholics are:
- twice as likely to experience difficulties at school;
- three times more likely to consider suicide; and
- five times more likely to develop eating disorders.
We COA's are also four times more likely to become alcoholics ourselves. And, we are more likely to be drawn to alcoholics as partners inflicting the dramas of our past onto a whole new generation.
Our voices have until now almost solely been listened to by the amazing volunteers at the National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACOA). Now their dedication to children's needs have galvanised a political process on their - and our - behalf. I want to say a big thank you to Hilary Henriques for staying the course with an issue that, until now, was highly unfashionable.
Meanwhile, great things are on the horizon. Liam Byrne MP closed the manifesto launch summing up the momentum which has caught the politicians unawares.
'Sometimes revolutions are started by some people in a room. We've started a revolution. Let's keep marching.'
Images: author's own.