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“Why does Dad prefer alcohol in a bottle to us, Mum?”

Hannah – 10 years old

When my daughter recently asked me that question, I had no idea how to respond. My first impulse was to reply that she should ask her Dad, but then I remembered that she can’t. She can’t because as a functioning, in denial alcoholic, his response, if he chose to answer and not just walk away, would not be honest and would only lead to further confusion and hurt.

Instead, I directed her to an online Alateen Chat Site where she was able to connect with other kids who are struggling with an alcoholic family member. She is not yet a teenager, but because of how fast she has already needed to grow-up in order to understand how and why her life is different from most of her friends, Alateen is a safe place. There, she can express herself amongst other kids in a way that she maybe can’t with me as an adult.

Having worked through online Al-Anon programmes for several years, I know the importance of finding a safe haven. The relief of breaking through the mystifying fog of going it alone to realise that your story is only one of thousands, each as similar, or more heartbreaking than your own.  I am aware that as I type this, there are millions of children who suffer in the stranglehold of silence. The most recent global statistics of severe alcohol abuse and its effect on children are staggering. Even now, in 2015, for thousands of households, alcholism is still the disease “that dare not speak its name”.

Living in secrecy with shame, embarassment and guilt – only a few of the toxic feelings most strongly associated with alcoholism – deprives children of the ability to mature into emotionally strong adults, severely reducing their capacity to deal with the eventual ups and downs of their own future lives.

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Children do not want to be different. They want their lives to be as normal as their pals. They do not want to be taunted in the schoolyard or left out of activities because they have an alcoholic father or mother. They instinctively love their addicted parent, desperately wanting him or her to recover because of their innate need for a strong role model and nurturer.

Children cannot understand that their parent has been so fundamentally changed by their addiction that they are no longer able to function in a healthy manner; that they use blame, denial, lies and manipulation in order to continue their habit and that they are often oblivious to the damage which they inflict.

Children of Alcoholics week gives us all a chance to raise awareness, to reach out and help, to break the silence.

These kids are your nieces and nephews, cousins, children of friends, neighbours or co-workers. They are all around us, many too scared and ashamed to ask for help. They are hurting.

Children are so tech savvy now. Most own, or have access to, computers. If they are suffering, a nudge in the direction of some of the websites linked to in this text could be a lifesaver for them.

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By breaking the silence we can break the cycle.

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Don’t laugh at a youth for his affectations; he is only trying on one face after another to find a face of his own.  ~Logan Pearsall Smith, “Age and Death,” Afterthoughts, 1931

 

 

Happy Birthday dear Jamie, 

You are Thirteen today. Imagine!  We can, as we have always pictured your every turn of year; changing face, different hairstyles, interactions with your siblings and friends. How your being here may have affected family decisions and random events, as so often it only takes one person’s words and feelings to effect a wholly different outcome to an occurrence. How your own needs and wants would have shaped our everyday lives, with all the joys and sorrows that life brings. Your life, sweet boy, is a mystery always imagined.

The last time I wrote for you was on your tenth birthday. It was, I think, a much sadder time, brought about by the passage of a generation and a need to reminisce about life as it was then or could have been. I still dreaded Christmas and New Year. Trying to create an atmosphere of jollity with a heavy heart is a task in itself, but something shifted after that year. Whether it was just time easing loss or watching Eli and Hannah completely grow out of all infancy, I don’t know. You became no longer the baby I mourned, but rather the young boy I imagined you to be. Today is another milestone, your imagined passage towards becoming a young man and a new leap for your family into a renewed start. 

What would we be doing today, young man? Laser game, cinema, your pals over for some gaming, pizza and music? I imagine you tall with dark, unruly hair – we still have a curled baby lock in your old case – sporty maybe, as your brother most definitely is not! Hanging out with Edward, our fourteen year old neighbour and a great kid. Scouts possibly, girls probably. Would you have had ‘the chat’ with Dad already and beg me to park 50 yards down when collecting you?

Spats and Tiger, your two girl dogs, who lay gently on our bed with you when we brought you home as a baby have both moved on to chasing cats in another place. Iggy, our first boy dog, ensures we don’t forget our place in the scheme of things with strategic wee puddles and reminding us that our house isn’t a home without tumbleweeds of dust and dog hair in all corners. 

Your brother and sister continue to amaze me every day, when they’re not driving me crazy. Eli lives in a world of his wonderful imagination; storifying, characterising, inventing. How much of his world would be changed by having an older brother as mentor and menace? Hannah, the practical. She sees all and understands all in a flash. Musical and artistic, with the ability to twist your Mama’s arm with humour and hugs. I can live with that.

So, for your special day today, Jamie, we’ve cooked up a couple of guinea fowl (I imagine that, like your Dad, you’d appreciate some wild bird). For pudding there is a mousse framboise chosen by your sister.

“I think Jamie would love that, Mama.”

“I imagine he would, bunny.”

Happy Birthday. xx

cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22Growing older in the midst of a youthful technological era is a curious conundrum.

While one half of your brain has resigned itself  to cynicism and world weariness, the other half  is startled out of all reverie by the daily barrage of images and information spilling from our computers, television screens and mobile devices.

It’s a visual media deluge, which can either confirm your increasingly jaundiced view of life or, every now and then, make you glad that your cells are still functioning in a relatively normal manner.

Confusion has never been this baffling and for me, yesterday in particular, was a day of such conflicting emotions.

In the early half of the day, my faith in human nature took a considerable nosedive when the news sites that I visited were full of images like this,

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with people actually having discussions as to whether this is racism or satire?

Aristophanes, Alexander Pope, Aldous Huxley, Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, Matt Groening; these are some of the names that come to mind when satire is mentioned.  Tea Party wingnuts wielding inflammatory, disrespectful posters and spouting dangerous bullshit, is not.

Despite heading out to enjoy a semi-boozy lunch with a good friend, this picture drifted around my head for the rest of the day, causing much sighing and feeling of malaise until, later in the evening, an event occurred which lifted the gloom.

In July this year, I joined the social networking site Twitter.  Well, to tell the truth, I signed on in February, but was so freaked out when the only people following me were spam bots and porn bots (and this is before I even knew what a ‘bot‘ was), that I ran away, back to the comforting familiarity of Facebook.  Over the next few months I read and heard more about Twitter until finally, the events surrounding the Iran elections persuaded me to give it another try.

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I knew nothing about Twitter etiquette, retweeting, direct messaging or who saw whose messages.  I felt vaguely uneasy about just jumping in to talk to total strangers and for a couple of weeks suffered from stalking perception anxiety.  I made silly mistakes and probably tweeted inane drivel but ploughed ahead.  Any networking activity involves a learning curve, right?

Maybe I just got lucky with the people I chose to follow on Twitter.  Any error was gently corrected and despite being a ‘newbie’ (ack, I hate that term), I was made to feel welcome by all.  People join social networking sites for a myriad of reasons. For me, the fact that from my small corner of Belgium, I can connect with writers, journalists, scientists, artists, fashionistas, photographers, comedians, musicians, mothers, fathers, nutcases – “the whole gamut of human emotion” – is a mind boggling wonderment.

As humans we live to connect.  It forms part of our makeup.  Yesterday evening, at 7p.m. GMT, in London, I watched and was part of,  a connection which negated the hate images of earlier in the day and raised my awareness as to “the kindness of strangers”.

The Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, London, is currently home to sculptor Anthony Gormley’s ‘living monument’ art project  One & Other .  It is a daunting 3 meters (10ft) high, open to the elements pedestal, where each participant may showcase their point of view of life; their juggling, dancing, oration or ability to turn into a tomato skills, for one hour.  If a week is a long time in politics, one hour on a plinth must feel like an eternity.

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A quiet buzz had been starting to build in the ‘Twitterverse’ as we all became slowly aware that one of the ‘ladies who tweet’ was preparing to be forklifted up and become one of the ‘living monuments’.  Events may move quickly on Twitter but support shifts like the wind.  Within the space of a few short hours, women living in or around London re-organised their schedules, ignored their partners, donated their children to charity and flocked to Trafalgar Square to stand by their girl (women are superb at this).

Henri Hunter’s hour began at 7pm GMT.  Here in Belgium, it was 8pm, the kids put themselves to bed;  no teeth brushed.  In California it was 11am and the girls were coffee primed.  In New York, it was 2pm, work or no work, they were glued. In Rome, it was aperitivo time – online – (yipee!).  All over the UK, the usual routines stopped as the “Trafalgar Sq. Online Crew” (thanks, Nene), tuned in to tweet support and comments.  In the wilds of beautiful Scotland, one woman was looking, listening and helping to direct the web cameras.  Kiz,  Photographer extraordinaire found the best angles for the onlookers and sweet-talked lovely Felix and Zoom (the ‘One & Other ‘ Camera Operators), into pointing out the best spots for close-ups of:

Henri – (@titianred)

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The flame-haired, Autumn Goddess of the Plinth.

The Shoes –

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Sister, I would SWIM to Finland to pick up a pair of those….

The Tweet Support Gang –

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Jeez girls, aren’t you supposed to be looking UP..?

See what I mean?  It’s an addiction, I know.

The male support were keeping quiet in the background.  The ‘Silent One’ proferred the champagne  and goodies for the ‘après-plinth’.  Cheers, O Silent One!

The other male had to run off to Somerset House for work, but as he said to me once in my earlier days:

“It was a good thing”.

Yes. Yes, it was a marvelous thing.

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All thanks for the screenshots in this post go to Kiz (@deililly).  Check out her superb photography by clicking on the link above – if it works – God, when am I going to GET this stuff…?

Even more thanks to Henri (@titianred) for allowing me to use her magnificence for this post.  Will you finally adopt me now?

To the ‘Twitter Girls & Boys’: too many to name, but you are all there, in my heart & laptop, until some virus wipes you all out. Thanks.

To my paren….all right, already….