This week two stories made a ripple in the news that weren’t related, but I believe share a common message.
On Thursday this week Jon Ashworth MP, Shadow Health Secretary, made an emotional speech about being the child of an alcoholic father. He was speaking in a Parliamentary debate on alcohol harm, and spoke movingly about his parents’ divorce, of being effectively his father’s carer on visits, through to how his father didn’t show up for his wedding.
Ashworth said he was inspired to speak after Liam Byrne MP, former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, recently spoke about his experiences of having an alcoholic father. Byrne founded and is Chair of the APPG of Children of Alcoholics. Jon Ashworth’s speech prompted the Health Minister Nicola Blackwood to commit to discussing a strategy to support children of alcoholics. This is Parliament working at its best: personal experience and informed thinking resulting in action that can actually do some good.
Meanwhile, an 18-year-old from Dundee called Chelsea Cameron wrote an open letter to her parents on her blog. Her parents were drug addicts, whom Chelsea lived with until she was 14 years old. The letter is articulate and moving:
“Life is not sunshine and rainbows and thank you for teaching me that life is unfair, people disappoint you and there’s sometimes nothing you can do about that. A lesson well learnt from the both of you.”
I didn’t live with my parents when I was growing up, although I saw both reasonably regularly. I wouldn’t say my father is an alcoholic, but alcohol is a gravitational pull for him, affecting the pattern of many other aspects of his life. When I read the experiences of Ashworth, Byrne and Cameron, I don’t see my own childhood reflected. However, I can recognise some of the sentiment. Alongside a warmth of feeling there can also be a distance, an anger in your teenage years, and ultimately you know deep down that you have to kind of build your own support network, that whatever you do with your life, it’s on your own dime. As Rancid’s Tim Armstrong wrote about his father in ‘Radio’, “he gave more love to his bottle of wine, so I had to go out and find love of another kind”.
These people all have in common the experience of living with parents with addiction, of course, but they’ve also all channeled their experiences into a different path: Ashworth and Byrne into politics, Tim Armstrong into punk, and Chelsea Cameron is apparently a high-achiever at school. In her words: “Someone else’s choices weren’t going to determine my future.”
I don’t know any of these people, but I applaud them for saying what they did. They, like many sobriety blogs, are stories of imperfect beginnings. If you can take any messages from these stories, I’d say they are that people are resilient, that things can get better, and that you should never underestimate what others take from the things you do.