First, I should tell you that I’m a lifelong atheist…
Hello, my name is Allie Kraska, Content Creator for Royal Life Centers. Member of ACOA since 1996. Between sips of caffeine and railing at god, I write for your entertainment and insight. Since I’m here every day, I figured it might be nice (if not a tad egotistical) if I share a bit about myself.
Aside from the immense enjoyment I receive from drinking piña coladas and getting lost in the rain, I love browsing for obscure books of poetry to decorate my bookshelves and collect dust. When I’m not filling a shopping cart full of tchotchkes at the local thrift store, I spend my time staring into a mirror, manifesting a reflection I can take pride in.
I strive for emphasis on the obvious– poking fun at the irrationalities of addictive thinking– while impressing upon the importance of recovery.
The Impact of Alcoholism on Children
I’m going to preface this by saying I don’t drink– much. Let’s say I imbibe once a month, for reference sake, but even that’s a stretch. I allowed myself, for far too long, to live with the belief that my drinking wasn’t a problem. My story is one as old as time, but that’s what makes it relatable. There’s a comfort in knowing you’re not alone when you were under the impression that alone was all there is.
My mother drank a lot as I was growing up. It wasn’t until high school I saw her alcoholism for what it was. It took even longer to admit that she had passed her struggles with alcohol down to me. I would’ve rather my mother gift me a sweater or a few extra inches to my legs (I’m 5’3), but we don’t get to choose the cards we’re dealt. Join me, my fellow adult children of alcoholics, as I recount my personal journey with alcoholism.
Side Effects of Growing up in Alcohol Infested Homes
Growing up with an alcoholic parent is damaging to a child’s developing mind. The parent’s actions are sporadic and unpredictable while under the influence of alcohol. Children need a stable, loving family (nuclear family or not) to reach the optimal social and emotional milestones.
It is impossible for a child’s mind to grasp the motivation behind the rollercoaster of abuse during the erratic episodes of rage, depression, and elation of the alcoholic parent. Young minds have yet to learn the comprehension skills necessary to understand their parent’s emotional spirals. As a result, the adult children of alcoholics develop maladaptive coping mechanisms and a penchant towards toxic approval-seeking behaviors as a response.
Developing Trust Issues at an Early Age
My mother rarely drank in public, and my family treated her outbursts as routine. No one addressed my mother’s alcohol-induced tantrums and my young mind started training itself to doubt reality. I questioned the validity of my memory– maybe the fights weren’t as toxic as I remembered. When I attempted to verbalize the pain my mother was causing me, my family dismissed me. The mantra: it’s over, it’s in the past, let it go. I’ll admit, I am a very stubborn person by nature, and I refused to help shove my mother’s actions under the rug. I devised written records of my mother’s blow-outs immediately after they ended. I needed to prove to myself, and anyone who doubted me, that I wasn’t lying or over-exaggerating. Often, I find myself continuing this coping mechanism in my adult life whenever I fear my version of events may be put into question.
People-Pleasing and Codependency
Knowing I couldn’t find love and support from my family, I looked elsewhere. In school, I became a big talker and a bit of a class clown. Debilitating anxiety resulting from years of verbal and physical abuse kept me from acting out overtly in classroom settings, but I found that I couldn’t stop myself from gabbing once I found a friend. I became obsessed with the concept of friendship: “Wait, so you’re telling me I can receive approval from people outside of my family? No way.” So, I studied up. I binged movies and television shows, read books and articles; I taught myself the humor and bonding methods I never learned at home. In no time at all, I became codependent– shocking, right? I had an intense need to prove myself. My personality was an amalgamation of approval-seeking behaviors that I tried, and failed, to charm my mother with.
Those books look so heavy– can I carry them for you?
Having a hard time in Social Studies? I’ll be your study-buddy.
Need someone to help you with that English essay? Why don’t I just do it for you?
There’s toxicity hidden under the skin of codependency, and it’s layers start to peel back once you put others’ needs before your own. Once my grades started slipping, too busy doing my friend’s homework instead of my own, the beatings I received at random seemed to find a purpose. My mother began acting under the guise of tough-love– I deserved to be beaten, it was the only way I would learn to shape-up. I didn’t care if the “reason” behind my abuse went by a different name. My only concern was ensuring my friend’s happiness. As long as they were happy, they would remain my friend, right? Wrong.
Finding Approval in Alcohol
At first glance, having a codependent friend may seem fine, even mutually beneficial– their needs are met by meeting your needs– but the relationship can turn toxic in the blink of an eye. Lacking the supportive environment necessary to cultivate a healthy sense of self during childhood development, codependent people rely on others for approval and a sense of identity. When I perceived any negative emotions coming from my friends, I would irrationally place blame onto myself. In desperation and fear of losing a friend (a support system), I would go to any length to fix the “problem”. Have you ever tried to fix something that wasn’t broken? If not, I’ll tell you what happens: you end up breaking it. My compulsive pattern of fix-it-until-it-breaks would continue until my friend’s patience dried up.
Acknowledging that my ritual of self-induced alienation would inevitably drive me insane, I stopped making connections with people. Superficial relationships were effortless. Effortless and everywhere. The catch: when you have nothing in common with the people you surround yourself with, you ended up with a lot of downtime and nothing to do. Worry not– my “friends” and I found a solution: alcohol. Alcohol was easier to get a hold of at fifteen than a library book. Our alcoholic parents came equipped with liquor cabinets. We raided our houses and, once we ran out of bottles to water-down, we befriended college kids for their IDs and access.
Hitting Rock Bottom
Waking up in a hospital with little to no memory of the events prior should’ve scared me, but hear me out. Picture this: a mother, the alcoholic parent, gets a call that her daughter has drunk herself into the ER. Stay with me– that same mother shows up to the hospital in a drunken rage. By the time the daughter finally comes to, the first thing she sees is her mother escorted out of the building for disorderly conduct. I’d never laughed with such genuine mirth in my life. A few months and another hospital stay later, I sat in a waiting room lobby, about to meet the first person that would finally validate my experience and explain how alcoholism had taken hold of my life.
Big Thanks to Therapy
My first therapist (Grace) was, if I’m to speak without embellishment, a real-life, walking, talking angel equipped with a notepad and the kindest smile known to both god and mankind. I remember her patented velvet chaise lounge, its cushions seemingly molded in my image.
One session in particular stands out in my mind. Insisting she must “assess my progress,” my mother joined my appointment. Grace had asked how I was managing. My alcoholic parent cut me off mid-explanation to rant about my inability to meet her expectations. I kept pleading “Mom, stop. Please, stop,” tears starting to fall. For a moment, Grace remained silent. My mother continuing to rave through my pleas, and then my silence, and I thought the pedestal on which I placed my therapist was about to crumble. When Grace spoke, she just asked a question, quiet and thoughtful, “Do you see what you’re doing to her? Can you even see how your actions affect your daughter?”
The first time someone genuinely sees you and stands up for you is simultaneously the most challenging and effortless thing to express. The moment when your alcoholic parents lose their hold on you. There’s difficulty in summarizing such a visceral memory. The description your brain offers is encoded in poetics and color. It’s a feeling that remains inside your marrow until you die. It presents itself in fleeting images and an all-encompassing warmth. I finally existed.
Where Do We Go From Here?
While there are many schools of thought regarding the treatment of mental disorders and trauma. I encourage everyone, especially adult children of alcoholics, to seek any and all forms of help. Don’t allow the negative stigmas around mental health to keep you from finding treatment that will help in your recovery. Depending on the individual experience of the adult child of an alcoholic, some may have mental blocks keeping them from considering all avenues of treatment. I respect the motivations behind airing on the side of caution but I feel obligated to stress the importance of researching each type of treatment with an open mind.
I’ve come to the conclusion that a healthy balance of therapy and medication works best for me. It is my hope that any adult children of alcoholics who are currently struggling with mental health or substance abuse discover the willingness within themselves to pursue treatment.
I’m excited to recover alongside you.
Tips and Tricks for Healing
If I were to list off every type of therapy, medication plan, and treatment that aids in the healing of adult children of alcoholics, this article would never end.
What I’ll leave you with is a list of the most poignant schools of thought and habits I have learned in my years of therapy:
- Positive Self-Talk
- Learning and Controlling Introspection
- Master the Art of Patience
- The Four Agreements
- Be Impeccable with Your Word
- Don’t Take Anything Personal
- Don’t Make Assumptions
- Always Do Your Best
If you or someone you love is struggling with the repercussions of growing up with alcoholic parents, check out these resources: