My grandmother was a wise woman. She said, “If a person fails at being a parent… nothing else they do will ever really matter.” She was so right.
I desperately wanted to be the “cool” parent…. the one that was a “friend” … not a dad. I was neither and truthfully might be the worst parent my kids could have possibly had. I brought nothing but uncertainty and anguish into their lives. Addiction damages everything it touches … our home was often a battle field and they were the casualties of a disease I couldn’t control. In reality, they would have been infinitely better off without me in the picture. Anyone raised in an alcoholic/addict home knows the carnage and turmoil of daily life. It’s a nightmare for every member of the family.
I know with certainty that my children love me. They are grateful for the changes in my life since I’ve found sobriety. Today, we are defining healthy boundaries that are loving and safe and are moving forward with our lives. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to be in their lives.
One misconception that many alcoholics and addicts seem to have is that their drinking or substance abuse is not affecting anyone else. Many times they will make statements like, “I’m not hurting anyone but myself!”
In reality, children raised by substance abusing parents have characteristics that will continue to damage them long after the addicted parent is out of the picture …
- Have to Guess What Normal Is
Because they did not have a example to follow from their childhood and never experienced “normal” family relationships, adult children of alcoholics and addicts may have to guess at what it means to be normal. They sometimes can’t tell good role models from bad ones. Some are not comfortable around family because they don’t know what to do or how to react.
- Judge Themselves Without Mercy
Many adult children of alcoholics or addicts find it difficult to give themselves a break. They do not feel adequate, and feel that they are never good enough. They may have little self-worth and low self-esteem and can develop deep feelings of inadequacy.
- Take Themselves Too Seriously
Because they judge themselves too harshly, some adult children of alcoholics may take themselves very seriously. They can become depressed or anxious because they have never learned how to lighten up on themselves. They can get very angry with themselves when they make a mistake.
- Have Difficulty With Intimate Relationships
In order to have an intimate relationship, one must be willing to look to another person for interdependence, emotional attachment, or fulfillment of your needs. Because of trust issues or lack of self-esteem, adult children of addicts may not be able to let themselves do that. They don’t allow themselves to get close to others.
- Have Trust Issues
After growing up in an atmosphere where denial, lying and keeping secrets was the norm, adult children of alcoholics can develop serious trust problems. All the broken promises of the past tell them that trusting someone will backfire on them in the future.
- Feel They Are Different
Many children who grow up with an addicted parent find themselves thinking they are different from other people and not good enough. Consequently, they avoid social situations and have difficulty making friends. They can tend to isolate themselves as a result.
- Can Become Super Responsible
Perhaps to avoid criticism or the anger of their alcoholic parent, many children from alcoholic homes become super responsible or perfectionists. They can become overachievers or workaholics. On the other hand, they can also go in the opposite direction, becoming very irresponsible members of society.
As a counselor, I see these characteristics in clients, as well as, my own children. Fortunately, there is hope and help for anyone suffering. Organizations such as Adult Children of Alcoholics (www.adultchildren.org) offer vast amounts of information on how to live life on life’s terms. Anyone can access the information for free online.
I can’t change the damage that I brought into my family’s lives, but I can direct them to sources that may improve their lives. If someone you know is suffering with addiction … there is hope.
This is my journey… this is my life!