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Alcoholism, Adult Children, And Mental Health

Updated on August 8, 2017
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more daily than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, & LGBT advocacy.




I grew up as the child of an alcoholic.

I didn't understand that when I was small. I do, however, have some vivid memories. Coming down the stairs to find my father sprawled in the corner of the kitchen, snoring with his legs flat out in front of him as he slept is a pretty potent one. I remember being strangely excited about the fact that my dad was not where he should have been, and I remember feeling as though some sort of illicit secret was being presented to me, and I didn't understand what, exactly, that was.

I remember that Dad would routinely leave a bottle of beer on the fence post while he was mowing the grass, and Mom got a kick out of the fact that whenever he'd finished a spot and I was in the backyard with him as a toddler, I was tall enough to take small swigs from the bottles he would leave behind. Every Christmas, he would argue that my mother was not putting anywhere close to the required amount of brandy in the Christmas cake or the Christmas pudding. Of course, the one year, Dad nearly ended up setting fire to the house; Christmas pudding is supposed to be lit until the alcohol in it has cooked off, but he'd dosed the puddings with so much brandy there seemed almost to be a small explosion of flame. It was an incident that we'd all sort of laughed about at the time and over the subsequent years, but it was one that could have had very different - and dire - consequences.

I don't think that my father would have ever envisioned the challenges that I would have growing up as the child of an alcoholic, and what, exactly, his behavior could ultimately mean into my adult years.

As parents, we all want what's best for our kids - or at the very least, most of us do (there are some who are parents in cellular offerings only). One would think that as a child of an alcoholic grows up, we would be very much aware of how our own parents' behavior might affect us and do everything in our power to avoid the trappings of perfectionism, anxiety, and all the other "gifts" that our parents' alcoholism and addictive behavior might have bestowed upon us.

It's not so easy, though; several national and international organizations devoted to helping Adult Children of Alcoholics can attest to that.

Each day can unsuspectingly pose challenges to those who are adult children of alcoholics. Something goes wrong at work that we may only have peripheral involvement in? We will self-blame and do everything possible to set things right.

Relationships? We will either seek out the person with the same traits as the alcoholic parent, or will become so self-sufficient that it will seem that we are determined to need no one. Mental health issues? We will either strong-arm ourselves until the issues are so buried we need a jackhammer to get them out or we will look for ways to numb ourselves to the pain that the issues we have spent a lifetime unraveling bring, whether that means exercise, work or just any sort of pastime to keep ourselves so occupied we literally can't stop for fear of actually having to deal.

Most days are great; my kids are awesome kids, I have a job I love and co-workers that are funny, inspiring individuals that make me laugh and think daily, and I have a host of friends and family (or friends who are family) that are a valued source of support.

There are those times, though, when sometimes moments of quiet reflection turn darker when I don't expect them to, and I need to wrestle with them a bit in order to bounce back towards lighter thoughts. Thoughts that tell me I am enough, or that I am able to really figure things out that I never thought I was before - that could apply to whatever sport I'm doing or something academic - are always far better than the shades of my father that sometimes come back to threaten.

Mostly, I need to work on understanding that while I am my father's daughter - and he was a deeply troubled man, in many ways - I've inherited a lot of his good traits, as well as those of my mother. That isn't always easy, but taking that with the knowledge that at 44 and a half years old, I've accomplished far more in some ways than some members of my family have done, I get to understand that with all that's happened over the years, I'm far stronger than I realize.

That's more potent than any addiction.

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