”I saw the signs, but I didn’t want to see”

Living with an alcoholic means denial for yourself and lying to the world. Johanna, who was with Mattias for 11 years, knows this full well.


Photo: Emma Danielsson

Mattias and Johanna were childhood friends, but did not see each other as teenagers as Johanna moved away. She eventually returned to Huddinge, and she saw Mattias again in the crowd at Huddinge Jazz och Blues in Sjödalsparken.

“He was drunk as a skunk, but I didn’t think about it much. It was a festival, after all, and everyone was drunk and happy, me too.

They went out a few times and gradually became a couple. Johanna was working as a croupier at this time, so she was out in bars and partied a lot. When she became pregnant, she broke this pattern herself. Mattias found it more difficult, and he carried on partying.

“I gave him an ultimatum: either sharpen up your act or get out. So he sharpened up his act and was sober throughout my pregnancy.”

The drinking continued

When their son Emil was born, Mattias’s alcohol consumption gradually increased again. He drank a few beers now and then and believed that he had learned to manage it. Johanna did not react either as everything was just about OK.

“Looking back, I know that I began to see signs that things weren’t right but I didn’t really want to see them.”

One evening when Johanna had been working late, she came home to find their son sitting beside his father, who was in an alcoholic stupor in bed.

“I packed a bag, took Emil and went to stay with my Mum. But after a few days, Mattias persuaded me to return. He promised he would improve. And things did improve for a bit, for quite a while.”

Mattias was sober for over a year. During this time, Johanna became pregnant again. And their daughter Elsa was born. Unfortunately, her happiness was short-lived as Mattias once again showed signs of drinking.

“I caught him sitting in his car drinking before he came in. We were in the process of selling our flat at the time. “Now we’ll each buy our own”, I said. But I didn’t stand my ground and we ended up buying a house. Now, of course, I realise I was stupid to let myself be persuaded.”

Love provided fresh courage

Mattias’s drinking continued to fluctuate, which led to several loud rows. Their son Emil was now old enough to start to understand what was happening. This made Johanna realise that the situation was unsustainable. At the same time, she met Axel, another old childhood friend.

“We started to spend time together. I was so happy and felt so good when I was with him. I soon realised that my feelings for him were more than just those of a friend.

Her feelings were reciprocated, giving her the extra strength and courage needed to leave her destructive relationship with Mattias. Johanna was lucky to find a rented flat for herself and her children quickly.

“When I said that I wanted a divorce, Mattias’s drinking escalated. We tried sharing the childcare but it didn’t work. I had to have the kids all the time.”

Mattias continued to abuse alcohol and he became in increasingly poor shape. Johanna then decided to request sole custody of the children, which she describes as a relief. However, things were tough financially and she had to apply for help from the social services to cope with the situation. This was how she first made contact with Fridlyst, the municipality’s support group section for children.

“It was perfect for Emil. Elsa didn’t seem to be as affected at the time, but this has changed recently.”

“How can I rely on Dad again?”

Mattias wanted to start seeing his children again. He had to take Antabus and give samples to obtain documents showing he was clean. For a while, it went well and he was allowed to have the children every other week. This worked until last summer, when it was found that he had taken drugs on a number of occasions, including when the children were with him.

All of these events gave Johanna much to ponder over. Her thoughts are mostly about what is best for her children.

“Emil has asked me how he can rely on his Dad again. It is difficult to answer. I know that I will never be able to rely on Mattias again.”

Emil and Elsa have different approaches to their Dad. Emil wants nothing to do with him, while Elsa really misses seeing him. They continue to visit the support groups in Fridlyst to work through their feelings.

But all is not doom and gloom. Johanna and her new love Axel now live with her children and his children in one big family, which has been a journey in itself, of course. Seven months ago, their first child together, a son, was born.

“He has somehow brought the family together. It is wonderful.”

Footnote: All names have been changed in this article.

Text: Emma Danielsson