Collateral victims of addiction

By Sarah RaparoliLex KlerenAnouk Flesch Switch to German for original article

When it comes to alcohol addiction, the focus is usually on the addict, although the lives of several people can be affected. This article aims to give a voice to relatives who are often overlooked and don't really know where to look for help.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), almost seven per cent of the population in Luxembourg have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and around 18,000 – or almost three percent – are considered alcohol dependent. Last summer, the statistics institute Statec published a report on the consumption habits of Luxembourgers. According to the report, spending on alcoholic beverages has increased the most compared to other goods, with an average increase of 56.9 per cent, or from 414 to 727 euros per household. Alcohol addiction is a problem, even in small Luxembourg. However, it does not only affect the individual, but also family and friends.

All of them have a specific relatin to alcohol, although they did not slip into addiction themselves. The addiction of a person close to them has had an impact on their lives. This is also the case with Tami Sondag. In an interview with the Lëtzebuerger Journal, the 31-year-old looks back on her childhood, youth and more recent periods. "These experiences shape you. They can be an explanation for why you are the way you are. They are psychological wounds that can have an impact on your life." When she was 20, she would have liked to have had a clue, "something I stumbled across", so she would have known what was going on. "You feel like you're at a dead end." It took her a few years to understand, to come to terms with it and to gain distance. Tami has now reached that point.

Learning to function in the construct

Her experiences do not match the typical portrayal in films, she says. "It was a gradual process. I don't remember a defining moment when it started." Her father slipped into alcohol addiction. He went to work early in the morning, she says, so his working day ended early in the afternoon. "When he came home, he would drink immediately. Even on an empty stomach, he would lie down afterwards." Alcohol was always consumed at family gatherings, which of course was never questioned. Tami remembers one Christmas dinner where things escalated, without going into detail in her recounting. "We were never invited again. It was just accepted by my parents, that's just the way it was."

As a pupil, she gave her best, she didn't want to disappoint her parents under any circumstances. "Performance was everything. If I didn't shine, it was shoved in my face." She describes herself as a geek ("School was my safe place as opposed to the powder keg at home") who never did anything stupid. "I took refuge in my homework. " As a child, she trained herself mechanisms to function in this "construct", as Tami calls it. "You disguise yourself so you don't stand out. You never know what's coming, so you're cautious. You try to get through the day. Over time, I learned to be invisible. " This way of behaving, she says, has shaped her to this day. "I always have to be in control and I have zero spontaneity", she admits.

At some point she wanted to get her driving licence. In part because she wanted to be independent like every teenager, but Tami was also driven by another reason. "I didn't want my father to drive me anymore. He got behind the wheel drunk, once he wanted to drive with me over the train tracks. That scared me." His behaviour showed itself more in extremes: aggressive and irascible on one side, maudlin and generous on the other, according to herself. "I never knew if this was the 'real' person or just a façade. However, I knew that no matter where we went, it could escalate at any time. I could never gauge what was happening. I was always on my guard."

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