Life Experiences: An Alcoholic Parent

Certain positions you’re in are able to teach lessons you never really wanted to learn.

Case in point: Being the child of an alcoholic parent.

When you have a parent who is an alcoholic, there are a lot of hushed words that are never cleared up. Direct communication is waived as a way to avoid conflict, which could actually help the situation if used correctly. Hurt feelings go without elaboration, and wounds become scars that somehow break and fester in the wake of new offenses. It’s tough when the other parent is not alcoholic, because they have had to struggle with this experience years before you were even thought of. You may refuse alcohol, because what if I turn out like them?

As a child of an alcoholic parent, you become used to broken promises. Wild dreams and crazy adventures fizzle into nothing, and hopes are dashed quicker and quicker each time. The world is out there, but your world is consumed by navigating life in a house where the mood can change in an instant. Contentment can transform into contempt, and quiet can be violated by harsh tones, enunciated by confusion: What did I do?

Even though the problem has been around for longer than you’ve been alive, you may feel like you should be able to fix things somehow. When you’re learning how to navigate difficult circumstances outside the home, you think your newfound knowledge can help inside the house. Time passes differently in a house with an alcoholic parent, though. No matter how many trips around the Sun have been made, time reverses and settles on troubled times and heated moments repeatedly. No amount of new can bring light to the old, and you’re likely to feel like a failure. If I can’t help, what what can we do?

Growing up as a child of an alcoholic parent means your eyes are open to reality in chunks. There are memories you have faint recall on, stuff that never made sense in the moment. Something in the present day may remind you, and suddenly you understand all that you were blind to because you were a kid. Comparing notes between ages becomes depressing, and if you could meet your kid-self, you would battle between warning them and encouraging the illusion. Would I rather feel hurt from the beginning, or let the naivete raise me?

It feels hopeless. You look at your hands and wonder how they could have failed you. You look inward and wonder why you could never come up with the cure for the situation. You want to clear the toxicity, but haven’t figured out how, and you start to feel useless.

When you reach this point, you feel more alone than ever. Depending on how many of your friends know, you could talk to them. However, you likely reject the opportunity because what would the neighbors think? What could they do that you couldn’t? You travel to a dark place and lock the door behind you, inviting all sorts of unpleasantness to join you. You think of all the ways you could punish, maul, and degrade yourself for your shortcomings, the list of which lengthens daily. Whereas you once fought to change things, you become complacent, empty. One is truly the loneliest number until you willingly forget to exist. There is no problem when there is no one to worry.

Being the child of an alcoholic parent is crippling, and yet one hides it with a smile. There are times when you think you might be able to fix things after all, even though the hope dies out soon after. What is important to remember is that the alcoholism is not your problem personally, but the problem of someone else. One must learn to accept what they cannot change, and realize that the lack of change is no indicator of personal worth.

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