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The Children of the Alcoholic Family

Posted Oct 21 2008 12:55am

Outside the home, no one knows of the prison we live in. As mothers, and fathers, we know the feeling of being trapped. We know the gloom of the home of the raging alcoholic. We can take comfort in our tools we learn from Al-Anon. We can learn to detach, stop engaging, focus on ourselves.

But our children.

For them, it is a different matter. How can they possibly understand that something is wrong? How can they understand that mommy's and daddy's bickering and fighting is about one person trying to fix and control the chaos and other - the alcoholic - someone who has no control of what they are doing.

In fact, with the alcoholic, it is like dealing with two people. Except, you are mostly if not always dealing the alcoholism. Remember, "cunning, baffling and powerful."

Our children do not understand this. And we, if we grew up around it, we also did not understand. But we tried to cope (we didn't call it this). We were too young to learn real coping mechanisms. Often the alcoholic took it out on us. In some cases, the sober parent lashed out at us, only because of the frustration and not knowing who to turn to and how to relieve their frustrations and stress.

It is not called "the disease of the alcoholic." It is called and known as the "the disease of the family." It is unlike any other disease on earth. It affects the entire orbit of the family. The enitre family system. All the children and the grandparents and others who come in contact, were and are extremely affected, without their even knowing it.

I read to you from the book, From Survival to Recovery, an Al-Anon book. I was asked to chair the meeting Sunday, and was asked to find something in this book. So I did. I never had such a response from a group of grown men and women before. Every one of the people were moved. And they spoke up, so candidly, about the affect the alcoholic and the alcoholism played on them or their children.

Here are the passages I read this past Sunday, written by those who struggled in the home as children; (from page 14)

In the alcoholic family, the need and demands of the alcoholic frequently dominate all other needs. Preoccupied with the alcoholic, the other family members may be too exhausted, irritated, or overwhelmed to provide for the children;s needs as well. Some children try to help their families cope by being quiet, good, and asking for nothing. While mastering the art of disappearing into a remote part of the house, or going to a friend's home, or becoming invisible in the midst of a crowd, those of us who "got lost" also lost a sense of self and the belief that our own needs had any validity. Some of us became human chameleons who changed our personalities to fit whatever social and personal environment we encountered.

Growing up with the chaos and unpredictability created by alcoholism cause many of us to mask our confusion, anger, and shame by trying to be perfect. To prove to ourselves and the world that there was nothing wrong with us or our families, we scrambled hard in school to get straight A's, or work feverishly at home to keep everything neat and tidy. We became star athletes, artists, corporation leaders, humanitarians, and outstanding citizens. Inside, however, we feel driven, terrified by failure unable to relax or play, and lonely. Toward less responsible people who seem to make our efforts at perfection harder, we often became self -righteous and angry. Convinced that something terrible will happen if we lose control, we run ourselves ragged trying to take charge of everything and never know how much is enough. Until we begin to recover, many of us are trapped in a compulsive need to give more, love more and do more.

Now I skip to page 17 in the same book.

Each member of an alcoholic family tries to adjust to the problem in his or her own way. Our adjustments depend on our situation in the family (whether we are a spouse, sibling, child, relative) and on our individual emotional temperaments. We have in common the tendency to keep changing ourselves to try to fix something that is not in our power to fix, someoneelse'salcoholism.

I add these words, to the final sentence instead of "someone else's alcoholism" - " that we did not cause, cannot change and cannot and should not take responsibility for. We are not responsible."

I think about that passage as it relates to my daughter.

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