After enduring years of abuse at the hands of her alcoholic husband, Roselyn (not her real name) knew that it was time to leave him when his actions resulted in their 15-year-old son standing over him with a cutlass aimed at his neck.
“…That was a wake-up call for me. There were so many different emotions flowing at the time. It did not matter what I said …I was actually hurting my own children. I saw tears in my son’s eyes as he looked at me. My son was holding my husband by the neck and the chopper was raised above his father’s head. When I called out to him and he looked at me, there were tears streaming down his face. I asked him what was wrong with him and he started muttering incoherently and kept saying that this had to end today,” she recalls.
Roselyn says her son called his father “that man” who was always embarrassing her and calling her names.
Roselyn, who describes herself as a survivor, says that the experience of living with an alcoholic who was in denial was “horrific,” particularly after the abuse was witnessed by their children, who were left traumatised.
Amidst tears, she recalls the little support she received from her church and even relatives, who insisted that she had to remain committed to the marriage. She eventually could take no more and is now divorced and using her experience to help others who are in a similar situation.
“I never thought of myself as a failure. At times, I felt helpless, defenceless but I never thought I failed because I knew how much time and effort I put into my husband and family. I have never seen myself as a victim, I would more classify myself as a fighter and a survivor,” she says.
Looking back, she realises that all the signs of alcoholism were there during their courtship and in early marriage, but she thinks her now ex-husband hid it very well. According to Roselyn, her ex-husband, who was 27 years old when they got married (she was just 19), functioned so well under the influence that one would never know that he had taken a drink unless they got a whiff of his breath. She said he was always prompt for work and picked up their children on time. She described him as the type of husband who knew his responsibilities and took care of his family.
“It took about seven years into the marriage to pick it up… it was from reading and so, I was able to identify the signs,” she says, while noting that she realized that he fell under the category of “functioning alcoholic” where the alcohol had control over him but he was able to function like a normal person.
Roselyn believes that she didn’t pick up on the alcoholism because such beverages were not kept at home. Her ex-husband spent a lot of time at work and she believes it was there that he drank. However, it wasn’t long before they started arguing about him not spending quality time with the family as he would come home as late at 4 am and that whenever he was around he was drunk. She recalls him telling her at one time that if she wanted to hang out with him, she had to learn to drink.
‘My son picked up a chopper’
According to Roselyn, the abuse she suffered was mental, emotional, verbal, and physical. She says that in one instance she was burnt with acid from her head to right breast during one of many quarrels and her daughter was also burnt. On another occasion, she says her husband broke her finger. She was also locked in the house for 19 days.
Her son, she says, would go to Brickdam Police Station whenever there was abuse but little was ever done. Whenever she would go to make reports, she recalls, she was chased and insulted. She recalls the one time where her husband was charged and fined $600 for hitting her and stamping her after she informed the court about his alcoholism. The most hurtful part of it all, she says, is that the fights happened in front of the children and this often left them traumatised.
The confrontation between her son and her husband, she says, is one she will never forget. She describes it as “shameful,” particularly since she was doing her best in the circumstances to bring her children “up right.”
The altercation occurred after the family had returned home from church. She says it was an awkward service since her husband smelt like liquor.
“We returned home from church. I can’t remember what triggered him and he began to curse and call me a dirty name. All the neighbours could hear… I used to be so embarrassed that I use to lock myself in the house and not go out,” she says.
According to Roselyn, her children had a lot pent up inside and she was especially worried about her son, who was several years older than his sister. “That morning …my son picked up a chopper,” she recalls, while adding that it was her daughter who drew her attention to what happening.
“My daughter came quickly and said mom come and see… trying to kill daddy,” she says, while adding that she never expected to witness the sight before her eyes when she ran to them.
“Our eyes were locked… he was crying and I was. I spoke to him through his eyes and I kept talking him to calm him… it took me about 45 minutes to convince my son to loose his father,” she adds between sobs.
Roselyn says after her son finally lowered his hands, he dropped the chopper to the floor and fell to his knees. Amidst sobs, he said that it all had to end as he could take no more. “It is still fresh…. so much hurt my children endure,” she says, while crying.
Dealing with it
According to Roselyn, dealing with her husband’s alcoholism was a gradual process that unfortunately ended in the divorce.
She says she sought counselling while not recognising that her husband had a problem with drinking. She spoke with the priest at their church, who advised that Al-Anon should be contacted. That was done and as husband and wife they began attending counselling sessions. She says that he went to one meeting but then continued drinking.
She remembered attending her first family support group of Al-Anon, which was made up of those who were the closest to the alcoholics but don’t drink, at the Brickdam Presbytery. She still attends meetings.
As Roselyn reflects, she says that she continued attending the meetings alone for two years and learned a lot. She said that among the most powerful educational tools for her was the Twelve Steps, which the group adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous.
She says attending the meetings taught her that she had to take care of her husband’s physical well-being and to be more supportive. She notes that they also taught her about all the damage alcohol does to the body, including the depletion of brain cells. “I had to try to reach his intellectual level, which was far below mine, and even as I try to make those amends I had no connection between the alcoholism and the abuse,” she notes.
However, she eventually concluded that all the abuse she was enduring would go away if she could get her husband to stop the drinking. She says over time she began to realise that he was regressing in knowledge instead of progressing.
Roselyn says the church they attended at the time turned a blind eye to what was happening, saying that they had “to learn to endure these things; it was a test.” As a result, she describes the church as unkind.
“I kept striving to hold the family together. I was a minister in the church and we did not believe in divorce. I raised the subject of divorce with my mother but she was silent. The marriage lasted 17 years until my son raised the chopper. I told him that was the end,” she says, while adding that she applied for legal separation which lasted 10 years before the divorce was finalised.
“My experience is difficult to put into one sentence. I can use one word: horrific. It was like living in a dark hole with actually no sign of light anywhere and it was like you were clamouring to get out of this dark hole and while you are sinking deeper, you are still trying to get up,” she adds.
For Roselyn, curbing alcohol abuse and finding support mechanisms for both alcoholics and those affected by their dependency should be a top priority for government.
Expressing disappointment that government has done very little, Roselyn says that those in high office should be looking at living examples of the destruction alcoholism leaves behind to guide the way. “They should be looking at people like me to head whatever programmes they create. They should find the people who have the experience… no amount of textbook knowledge can contribute to remedying these social issues. They should have had programmes for my children. Now it has stretched into my second generation and might stretch into the third,” she says, having noted that her daughter is now an alcoholic and is seeking help. Her husband’s father, she points out, was also an alcoholic.
“Government should look at consulting with people like us and forming task forces with survivors… to find remedies. Until then they are going around in circles. This government and the previous one need to go through the Twelve Steps. They don’t just have to acknowledge that there is a problem but they need to move off,” she stresses.
Roselyn is now a trained counsellor, although she does not counsel children as she says she will always be a mother whose children endured a lot of hurt.
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends
to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so
would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with
God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the
power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry
this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.