For many children away at school, alcohol becomes the go to form of entertainment at weekends. At the age of 12, I recall drinking stolen alcohol from jam jars, and booze runs became a regular thing on a Saturday when older pupils would go to a nearby off licence and bring back alcohol for younger children. The boys used to make homebrew in milk bottles, which would then be consumed rapidly in between the hours you were allowed out on a Saturday evening. Ethanol was stolen from the science labs, and although drinking was forbidden, many a blind eye was turned.
Alcohol in the UK is widely consumed by teens all over and used as a method to ease insecurites, increase confidence and as a salve to emotional pain and stress. In boarding schools, where suppression of feelings and emotions is encouraged, is it any wonder that many turned to alcohol whilst at school, and then continued to turn to alcohol to soothe themselves as an adult? In loco parentis.
For many children, when they leave boarding school they feel lost. Although having been incarcerated and now relishing their new freedom, this can also be overwhelming. They have lost the routine and structure they had, the attachments they have grown up with and now have to set foot in the world and adapt to being in society with everyone else, yet with no knowledge of how to do it it. Having left home so young, there can be a bravado at being so grown up, independent and resilient and no longer needing parenting and guidance.
It stopped when you were 11, so why would you need it now? You can manage on your own.
Or you can find a substance to aid you...
As a mother to a 20 year old, I feel the last two years have demanded more of my parenting than ever before. Helping my daughter to navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood. From leaving home to University. To navigating friendship disputes, and relationships. As a therapist I have worked with many young people, supporting them with this transition and often felt like a surrogate parent enabling them to find their feet as they leave home, detach from their family and set out on their own. They need support and guidance to work through all that they have to navigate at this stage of life.
So, is it any wonder that there are a large amount of ex-boarders who show up in AA? One of those ex-boarders has recently written a book, in which she shares her own reflections and journey with AA and has given me permission to share some of those below.
Author “Person Irresponsible” and her journey to recovery.
"I never set out to write about my boarding school experiences – until I had my ‘Road to
Damascus’ moment. Suddenly, everything about my life went into 20/20 vision. The
provisional synopsis of my latest book, “Everywhere I NEVER Wanted To Go,” had me
intending to pinpoint why I had become so phobic about driving for much of my adult life whilst I careered about in a van, along with my cat, visiting every rude or ludicrous-sounding hamlet, village and town in England.
The day before this earth-shattering revelation, I had attended a meeting of Alcoholics
Anonymous – in a sleepy little town in a nondescript kind of place. There were just six of us that night and five of us had attended boarding school. I was the only woman present.
I love happening upon anomalous statistics – they ignite my curiosity. Within a day I had
learned that fewer than 1% of English children are sent to boarding school and if one
extrapolates out the children of overseas parents, approximately 0.7% of English pupils
attend English boarding schools. It also means that one third of children currently in boarding school are estranged from their country of origin, their families, their communities, as well as any friends, pets and the nuanced familiarity for the vast majority of their developing years.
I feel especially concerned for their welfare, given I am a “TCK”: a third country kid. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, and haven’t done so since I was sent away from the only place I have ever called home when I was still at primary school.
I have always loathed that most innocuous of questions, “Where are you from?” because
how on earth am I supposed to answer that when I only ever lived in England when locked up in a stately home, without access to family, friends, community or television – the typical sources via which one acquires their culture, the very essence of one’s ‘way of being’.
I don’t assume that everyone who attends boarding school turns alcoholic – it’s just that
having spent a year travelling around England in my van, “The Shitron”, along with just a
prematurely grey cat for company, I have noticed there is a heavy over-representation of ex-boarders supping rank coffee from chipped cups in dingy church halls around England.
I don’t know how well we fare in other recovery-based systems so I can’t comment on that. But trying to find out the relative proportion of ex-boarders in the UK, had Google’s bots bring forth, “The Making of Them,” by Nick Duffell. As I journeyed around, I listened agog. As soon as I had put my history of alcohol-abuse through the prism of Joy Schaverien’s ABCDs of Abandonment, Bereavement, Captivity and Disassociation”, something clicked for me.
And as night follows day, I was beset by yet another blast of depression, episodes of which have plagued me my entire life, even after years of sobriety. Whilst bed-ridden, I happened upon podcasts on, “Boarding School Syndrome”. That’s how I found a counsellor who not only knew about Boarding School, but had also been a girl in a boy’s boarding school herself. She understood the subtle degradation of life in an over-boiled patriarchal stew, and she accepted me as a client. I have seen many counsellors since I was nineteen, and not one of them ever asked about my life in two of Britain’s boarding schools. Happily, with Amelia’s support, this is now being corrected.
And so the book changed course, as have I."
Person Irresponsible has authored two books: Everything You Ever Taught Me: charting her hiking from Mexico to Canada during the pandemic, relying on nothing but the wise words of her fellow twelve-steppers during the days, weeks and months of isolation. It has 4.6* on Amazon and is also available on Kindle.
Everywhere I NEVER Wanted To Go: In the latest iteration of her midlife crisis, the author
bought a Citroën Relay van complete with bed, dining room, kitchenette and toilet - hence it was quickly dubbed “The Shitron”. They started a year-long expedition around England at Shitterton and finished at Weedon, and if it had a cock in it, she went there too as she sought to discover the Englishwoman’s history and culture.