Pat came to see me a year ago. He described having difficulties in relationships, being possessive and jealous, struggling to stay on top of his job as he was unable to complete projects, being super critical on himself. What transpired was that Pat’s mother was a alcoholic. He could be described as an adult child of an alcoholic. There is a growing debate in Irish society about the impact of alcohol. Here is a view from the therapy room of those impacted by the alcohol addition of a parent.
Growing up in an environment where alcohol is prevalent impacts on the individual as children but also when they are adults. Dr. Janet Woititz identified particular issues associated with Adult Child of Alcoholics (ACOA). I being these potential themes to you to consider if you grew up in a house where alcohol was prevalent. I would also like to remind you that you have resilience, skills and resources that can and have overcome many adversities. These issues may help you to become aware of some blind spots in your life and how they have played out in some of your relationships.
- You guess at what normal behaviour is.
The home of an alcoholic is not “normal.” Life revolves around the addiction and most family members learn to keep their family going, as they know it. Children of alcoholic parents do not live the same life as their “normal” peers.
- You may have difficulty following a project tghrough from beginning to end.
In the home of an alcoholic there is a high level of unpredictability and disruption. In ayou’re your role model did not complete tasks, hence you may find this is a hard skill for the adult child of an alcoholic to learn. If you have completed education eg Leaving Cert, Trade Skills or Third Level it shows your resilience coming through.
- You may lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
As a child of an alcoholic, you have learnt the art of lying to make excuses you parent. Lying becomes part of the norm in an attempt to keep the alcoholic family intact
- You may judge yourself without mercy.
As a child no matter what you tried to do you could not fix the addiction or the family dysfunction. Throwing yourself into excellence in football, school and achieving excellence you don’t know how to enjoy and are super critical on yourself.
- You have difficulty having fun.
Growing up with an alcoholic parent is not fun. As a child you may constantly worry your alcoholic parent or compensating in some way for them. As a child the fun was not on your agenda.
- Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
At too young an age and because of your role in the family responsibility was put on your shoulders. With the weight of the family and the world you take things on in a serious way.
- You may have difficulty with intimate relationships.
Having no “normal” perspectives on relationships or family roles you may struggle in relationships particularly in areas of trust. Your heart has been broken may times when you were a child with false promises of reform. As a result you know how to shut yourself off from others to protect your feelings.
- You may overreact to changes over which they have no control.
Life as a child was very unpredictable you did not know when your parent would be drunk, predict what will happen from one day to the next. All you wanted was to feel safe. As an adult you want control. You need to know what is going to happen, how it is going to happen, and when. In the real world control and predictability is not always possible. When palsn change you struggle, feeling angry or anxious.
- You may seek approval and affirmation.
As a child you naturally sought approval and praise, In your house rules, roles and routines were not present. In adulthood you may experience indecisiveness and unsure of yourself.
- You may be super responsible or super irresponsible.
You may want that control and predictability and may struggle with anxiety or perfectionism.
The opposite result is the adult child may develop an alcohol, problem until get their life together, with appropriate support.
- You are are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.
People may ask “Why do you put up with him?” For you, you are used to dealing with just that, the alcoholic parent.
These characteristics may seem daunting, but they are simply a description, they DON’T set the course of a person’s life. Recognising and understanding the impact of growing up in a house where alcoholism is present then you can heal. It’s also important to add that despite this impact there was most likely one good role model in your life, another parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt. They have a great impact on us and allow us to understand healthy boundaries and healthy relationships.
This was the case for Pat. With some counselling he was able to discover the maps that had guided pats of his life. He took control and embarked on a journey of discovery and healing. He became aware of his blind spots. Imagine these like tripwires. Before he crashed through them! Now he is aware and is able to step over them. Are you aware of the tripwires in your life? Have you the awareness and skills to step over them? Together I hope we can figure some of them.