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LAST REVIEWED 25 April 2023

Living with a family secret – how stigma and stress became part of my daily life

Sarah Drage is a passionate mental health advocate, and founder of WarriorKind CIC, a not-for-profit mental health support organisation. In this blog, Sarah talks about her experiences growing up as the child of an alcoholic, the stigma around talking about this and how it impacted her mental health.

Headshot of Sarah Drage, CEO of WarriorKind

Sarah Drage

Founder and CEO, WarriorKind

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My name is Sarah and I am the child of an alcoholic. Since it’s Stress Awareness Month I want to talk about how stressful it is loving someone with an alcohol dependency. 

It’s hard for me to put into context just how frustrating and anxiety fuelling it is watching someone you love being sucked into the depths of addiction. I liken it to watching someone you love drown and you’re powerless to do anything about it but watch until the inevitable happens. 

I spent my entire teens and early adult life right up until my dad’s inevitable death from alcohol use disorder worrying about him every day. I worried so much about him that I developed anxiety. I worried so much that it became my normal and I forgot what a stress-free life felt like. 

You see I loved my dad so much and I was determined to “fix” him, I wanted to help him, and I so desperately wanted control of the situation. But the reality of this situation is that I had as much control as he did. Which was zero. 

My stress levels ended abruptly when we switched off his life support machine following an excessive alcohol binge. When my dad succumbed to his addiction, I felt relief. I was relieved that he was no longer suffering, and I was relieved that I no longer had to live with the constant worry and stress about my dad’s unpredictable addiction. 

Despite the relief, it wasn’t quite that simple, because with relief came a gut-punching and overwhelming sense of guilt. I genuinely believed that I killed him, and I felt awful for feeling relieved.

I lived a stressful life when my dad was alive, and I never knew how to manage it. The stigma attached to addiction and mental health caused me to keep a family secret, and the stigma attached to talking about our stresses caused my dad to drink. My dad struggled with his mental health but was too embarrassed to ask for help, so instead he chose to drown out the noise with alcohol. We practiced this outward-facing facade that everything was “perfect” and I was consumed with worrying about what others would think of my dad and us as a family.

This is why when we did lose my dad I decided to never hide my stresses again. I realised that brushing our stresses under the carpet with alcohol and pretending everything was fine was actually toxic for us. I now talk openly and embrace my mental health and this has aided my own recovery. I realised that we weren’t alone and that millions of others share similar stories to ours. I am now unapologetically honest about my experiences and discuss my stresses with no shame, I manage them in a healthy way, and I accept that there will always be elements of stress in my life.

I have now committed to advocating against the stigma attached to mental health and addiction, and I am determined to ensure that my dad’s death can become a catalyst for positive change. 

A note from Good Thinking

Sarah’s experiences growing up with stress as part of her everyday life and struggling with the stigma around talking about alcohol addiction and mental health have shaped her mission to de-stigmatise alcohol addiction.

Sarah is a passionate mental health advocate and founder of WarriorKind CIC, a not-for-profit mental health support network devoted to advocating positive conversations around mental health and committed to quashing the stigma attached to mental illness experiences.

Find out more about Warriorkind.

Need help starting those difficult conversations?

Opening up a conversation about mental health can feel difficult for a number of reasons; many people are uncomfortable talking about their feelings, and mental health issues are often stigmatised so people are worried that they may be judged for talking about their concerns. Sometimes we simply don’t know where to signpost people to for help.

Good Thinking has partnered with Thrive LDN to create practical guides with three simple steps to help you check in with people regularly to see how they are – the more open everyone can be about their feelings, the better.

Support for alcohol problems

  • Alcoholics Anonymous – free online, phone and in-person support with drinking problems
  • Mind – tips to help someone with their drug and alcohol use, including how to look after yourself
  • Mind – find support options for drug and alcohol problems, and for your mental health
Good Thinking's stress resources

If you're stressed about work, money or something else, use the advice and tools available on Good Thinking to help you feel calmer and more positive.

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