So many of us have grown up in dysfunction in one way or another. There are varying kinds along with many degrees. Mine is hard for me to discuss at times if I’m honest. I am not looking to blame, chastise or speak about the what-ifs at this stage in life. All of that is not helpful anyway, and I’ve seen so many spend their whole lives doing this. At some point, we have to take responsibility for ourselves. The disease of alcoholism tore through my home, growing up like a cyclone and at times ravaged everything in sight, leaving the rest of us—the living, to clean up the mess, quietly and in secret. Let’s pretend was often played but instinctively, from the youngest age we know, the children—our bellies ache and thoughts race—the sickness makes its way slowly through our small frames. At first, it calls out to us softly, telling us this doesn’t seem right and is not supposed to be. Dad on the floor, Mom in tears, broken bottles and broken hearts that lead to crushed souls and pulverized dreams. The whispers soon become screams, and we feel everything with everything we have. Dad don’t leave; Mom stop yelling, brother and sister stop crying. We beg for it to stop, but if it does, are we the same? For so long, the disease had been the one thing that held us together: our reason and our why. And what then?
We spend boatloads of money in this country fighting addiction and helping addicts seek treatment, and it’s not a fraction of enough. What if we worked harder and shifted some focus to the families, especially the children. Children of addicts are far more likely to become addicts themselves, but they aren’t yet; they’re children. And with time, education and support, can’t we make a difference? Even teaching our youth that addiction is a disease and has nothing to do with them is a start. There is such little funding for this. When I was growing up in the 80s, there was one group, a forty-minute drive away, for children of alcoholics. Thankfully, it was near my grandmother, so we’d go, stopping first at Nana’s, a lifelong waitress, for our diner-style dinner every Thursday that my brother and I so loved. My mother went to Alanon upstairs and us downstairs. It was an outlet for me to talk to others who understood. Our drawings were similar, and our lives were too. For the first time, I wasn’t embarrassed or afraid. Most importantly, I learned it had nothing to do with me, it had nothing to do with love, and I couldn’t fix it.
Sadly, not much has changed for the children in the nearly forty years since I’d gone to that group. There is still a lack of funding, awareness, and support. That’s why I’m incredibly excited that I have two books coming out this year. My poetry book, Unheard Whispers, is written mainly in the voice of a child and young adult, and the work reflects on growing up in an alcoholic home and comes out in April. My women’s fiction novel, The Silence in the Sound, debuts this August 2022. It’s a coming-of-age story woven with celebrity, friendship, and a toxic love affair. Still, it is primarily about the devastating effects growing up in addiction can have that are lifelong.
What’s more exciting is I am in talks with a non-profit in the Boston area that also works nationally, assisting children growing up in addiction. It’s a large organization with some big names attached. We are discussing part of the proceeds of my books helping this fantastic group and, most notably, the children. They need to know that they are not alone.
What’s in the mug, I wonder—
he stumbles from the room.
Moving close, I hold my breath,
putting my hands over Raggedy Ann’s
stitched mouth and triangle nose, fearful
it might do to us what it does to him—
the smelly amber liquid.
I whisper to Ann.
She is quiet, speechless.
Our words have no meaning, mine and Ann’s.
Lifeless eyes, unknowing, but we know, we wonder:
Why drink something
that smells like the cleaner mom uses
in the bathroom?
It takes my breath away when she does.
I stare down into the mug until I must breathe.
I uncover Ann’s mouth.
She’ll be quiet.
She always is.
She’s good, I tell her.
I don’t flinch.
Neither does Ann.
The rubber tree falls into view,
dirt spilling from the pot.
Then he tries to steady himself
on the door frame.
He trips in my direction but doesn’t see me.
Shading Ann’s eyes with my hand,
I protect her.
She doesn’t like monsters.
Empty eyes of fire and glass,
green like the shaggy rug.
He tries to pat my head,
but misses and hits my ear,
then plops down in his seat,
smiling—pleased with himself.
He drinks it—
the smelly amber liquid.
Dianne C. Braley
Feel free to contact Dianne via her website: Dianne C. Braley