Kids of parents with "scary problems" - How did you cope?

This thread is inspired by QtM’s thread about parents using their kids as therapists. My experience, described below, was not so much the “kid as therapist” problem, but more just the day in and day out of dealing with a parent with significant problems. Reading the thread brought back some fairly unpleasant memories I’ve mostly avoided or ignored in my life, and do to this day, as I really don’t see much upside to probing that emotional wilderness.

I’m interested in doper’s experiences with parents who might have had substance abuse, mental problems or other “scary” problems. How did you cope? What did it do to your relationship with your parents? Has it affected your relationships with other people?

My story-

My mother was chronic alcoholic, and my father was a project manager with the State Department’s Agency for International Development (AID). Several times in my early teens he had to go away for 6-12 months at a time, and during age 11-15 in the early 70’s, I was often the default eldest child on site in a family of three with a drunk mother. She was a weekend and after 5PM Jack Daniels and wine drunk, and did manage to hold down a fairly responsible job as an executive secretary, but her previous career as real estate agent was a disaster as she would drink during the day. When my father was around it was less intense, but then they would have their fights, mostly about her drinking, and possibly other stuff I wasn’t privy to.

When she was drunk she was a maudlin mess, and a mean drunk if you tried to keep her from drinking. “Hide the bottle” was a regular game I played without much success. This escalated to open warfare at times with occasional struggles over a bottle of whisky she wanted. Imagine a person at age 13 or 14 wrestling with their mother over a bottle of whisky. My father once had to break down a door and haul her (drunk and unconscious) out of a room where she had set a mattress afire with a lit cigarette.

I loved my mother, and I know she loved us, but she never really climbed out of the bottle, although some times were worse than others. She was a complete denier that she had a problem, and if she did it was the stress we kids put her through. She was always (when drunk) going on about how she was going to die of one ailment or another, or that she was paralyzed (she called the family doctor over once for that), causing us kids to to panic and fret.

Having said this, she was an attractive and intelligent woman who did love us, and was open handed and generous with what she had, but her drinking was more important to her than anything else. She did taper off in her later years, but you have to be careful to call her in the morning or early noon if you wanted her to make any sense.

When she died several years ago. I felt sad on hearing the news, but I also felt oddly “numb”, as if there was sadness, anger, and for some reason, a vast feeling of emptiness and tired resignation all fused into one ball. I was so numb I did not give a eulogy rememberance at her funeral, and left that to my sister and brother, although I’m probably the best writer in the family. I didn’t really deal with that bundle of emotion at the time, and I have pretty much ignored it to this day. I think some of my difficulties in managing my anger under stress, or when I am embarrassed or frustrated may stem from those childhood experiences, but who can tell at this point? Probably best to let sleeping dogs lie.