The words I overheard that moment sent me under my big, black bed where I often went to be alone, to figure things out, to hide. I didn’t know exactly what the repercussions of the words were, but I knew that they were about what my family was going through. I couldn’t even put it into words. I just knew something was happening to us, and until I overheard my mother talking to our neighbor, I had nowhere to put my sadness except deep inside my lonely heart, hiding it away from everyone, just like I was hiding under the bed.

The space under the bed was a refuge for Amanda Russell during her childhood in an alcoholic family. Suzanne Tucker/

“Peter is drinking again,” my mother whispered to our neighbor.

Peter was my father. I grew up in an alcoholic family.

I told my brother what I had overheard. Soon after that, one afternoon he and I went grocery shopping with Mom and Dad on their weekly Friday trip into town. Driving home, my brother suddenly rolled down the window, grabbed the liquor bottles from the brown paper bags and threw them out the car window. We all heard the glass breaking. No one said a word, not Mom, not Dad, not me and not my brother, but for that brief moment – for that fleeting moment – that little boy had helped his family the only way he knew how. I thought him terribly brave.

It inspired me to begin asking Dad on the nights when he was headed to town, “Are you going to drink again?” Sometimes Dad stayed home and sometimes he left. Whichever way it turned out, the asking lent me a sense of control over my world that I craved. I carried that control throughout my later years until counseling could help me sort it out – together with the hardness and the fear I held onto – so that I could find the soft spot inside me that allowed me to feel and forgive.

I didn’t know what alcoholism was back then, and I sure couldn’t begin to define its devastation on our family. Like each of my brothers and sisters, I worked on survival. We all had our roles and coping mechanisms so that, somehow, we could function amid the emotional chaos that each one of us lived with.

At times, I still feel that devastation today, but I don’t need that big, black bed anymore. I’m not lonely or scared or angry. I am whole and healthy and happy and always, always, always working to stay that way, because it is a lifelong endeavor to face those old habits and deal with those ancient fears so that I can keep being whole and healthy and happy.

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