An Open Letter to Children of Alcoholics
To All The Children Of Alcoholics,
You watched other families with insatiable envy. You studied their ‘perfectly normal’ lives and routines with intense fascination. A thousand times, you asked yourself, why can’t my mom or dad just act that way? Why can’t they just stop?! You fantasized about a distant, new life, one that matched these parameters of normalcy.
Maybe you developed an intense hatred or fear of alcohol. You avoided it like the poison that it was to your parent. Or, maybe you grew up and fell in love with it yourself, despite the vows you continuously made to never walk down that path. Maybe you fell somewhere in between.
Please know that your voice matters. Your feelings matter. Your needs matter. Even if your parent was incapable of such validation, you can still validate yourself. You can still live a fantastic life. Most of all, you can still have love to give- even if your parent never surrenders the bottle.
As children of alcoholics, you grew up in your own unpredictable chaos. Whether it was chaos that existed behind closed doors or chaos that was exposed to the rest of the world, it all felt exhausting. You felt like a hamster running on a wheel caught on fire- living in a cage that was far too small.
Perhaps you mastered bartending drinks at a young age, and you learned the excuses to tell your teacher when you were late for school. Perhaps you spent years cowering in fear, hiding away from your parent, terrified of the ‘anger’ emerging during a drunken rage. Or, perhaps, your home life felt normal- you just had a tipsy, happy, and spontaneous parent who lovingly just seemed “out there.”
To survive the chaos, you probably mastered reading body language and interpreting nonverbal cues. You likely sought solace in friends, other family members, teachers, and neighbors and reveled in their ‘normalcy’. You learned to distract yourself with hobbies or school or sports- and maybe you threw all your attention in those directions.
Still, You Experienced Shame
The shame cut deeper than any other emotion you ever felt. It was an indescribable shame, one that sat there like a lump in your throat that never went away. Maybe it’s still there, hurting and distracting you.
Maybe the shame is so intense that you don’t know how to function or love or cope. Maybe you use alcohol yourself. Maybe you overeat or gamble or find yourself falling in love with emotionally unavailable partners. These distracting or addictive behaviors can provide some relief. They can distract the trauma- for a while.
However, the shame still wears on you like a backpack full of bricks. You wander around the world like a defenseless child- wondering why everyone else received an instruction manual for this process called life.
You Were, Are, And Will Be Enough
The children of alcoholics don’t hear enough validation. Even though the parent loves them, they question this love constantly. They may blame themselves for the drinking, may feel unworthy of love or attention. They grew up scared and confused, and arbitrarily entering adulthood doesn’t necessarily ease those feelings.
Know that you are allowed to be angry and upset- no matter how old you are. You are allowed to have needs- big needs and little needs, and those needs are allowed to change.
You are allowed to heal because you are loved, and you are enough. This is true regardless of your childhood and regardless of your family dynamics. Whatever your healing process looks like, you are allowed to start at any time.
Alcoholism hurts everyone, but children are especially vulnerable to its devastating impact. Take care of your recovery and cherish it with love. You deserve all that and more.