Growing up in a house where one or both parents suffer from a substance abuse disorder can be incredibly challenging. I know this because both of my parents were alcoholics for as long as I can remember. There was uncertainty, shame, embarrassing moments, and isolation my entire childhood. At the time, I did not realize how much I did not know about what I was facing. Forty years later, I am here to talk to you and share some things I wish someone had told me when I was a child.
This is a guest post by Tammy Vincent of Tammy Vincent Coaching. She is a author, certified life coach, wife, mother of three, and a THRIVING ACOA (Adult Child of Alcoholics). Her books are Surviving Alcoholic Parents: A Teens ABC Guide to Thriving In A World Of Chaos and Helping Children of Alcoholics and other At-Risk Students.
1. You are Not Alone
You are absolutely not alone. According to NACOA (the National Association of Children of Alcoholics), it is estimated that 1 in 4 children is living with one or more parents with a substance use disorder. That is over 18 million children under the age of 18. When you sit in your classroom of 24 peers, feeling that you are all alone and nobody else could possibly understand you, there could be five others in the same situation.
That should give you a little comfort knowing that your situation is not unique and there are people out there that understand what you are going through. You do not have to do this alone, and you should not.
2. You did not Cause Your Parents’ Addiction
You did not cause it: Family members and friends often feel guilty or responsible for their loved one’s alcoholism. However, addiction is a disease that the individual is not able to control, and you did not cause it.
I was told repeatedly that I was the reason my mother drank. The comments such as “If it wasn’t for you and your brother and sister, I would not have to drink.” or “You three make me want to drink” were common statements that we heard time and time again. I know now that I did not cause it, and neither did you.
3 You Cannot Cure Your Parents’ Addiction
You cannot cure it: Family members and friends cannot cure their loved one’s addiction. While they can offer support and encouragement, the individual with the addiction must take responsibility for their own recovery. All the begging in the world is not going to help. When and if they are ready, they will seek help.
4. You Cannot Control Your Parents’ Addiction
You cannot control it: Family members and friends cannot control their loved one’s addiction. Trying to control or manage their behavior often leads to frustration and disappointment.
I used to hide my parents’ keys so they could not go to the liquor store, hide liquor bottles from them, or even sometimes pour liquor down the toilet in a wasted attempt to control the amount of alcohol that came into the house. None of that worked, and it left me more frustrated than ever.
An addicted person must want help, and until they do, you cannot control that aspect. What you can focus on, however, is your own well-being. It is most important at this confusing time in your life that you learn to take care of yourself; whether they seek treatment or not.
5. It’s okay to set boundaries
Even if you feel like you have no control over your situation, it is important to know that you can set boundaries to protect yourself or the people that you care about. This may include setting limits on the amount of time spent with your parents, or refusal to participate in unsafe situations.
I can remember walking home in the middle of the night because I was afraid of getting in the car when my mom was drinking. That is ok, and you have every right to keep yourself safe. You should, however, learn to communicate these boundaries in a respectful but assertive manner.
6. You Are Loved and Valued
Right now, it may feel as though you are not loved, valued, or appreciated. Your accomplishments go unnoticed by your parents, and it hurts.
I understand. It is important to understand that you are indeed loved and valued, but your parent/parents are at this point unable to show you. The best way to describe this, and how I saw my parents’ behavior after I was out of the house was this…
Your parents are fighting their own demons, and that takes time. Time and energy. They are not themselves. They are fighting something that drives them to inconsistent parenting, incorrect prioritization of responsibilities, and a lack of emotional availability even to the ones that they love (you). This, of course, can lead you to feeling unloved, unvalued, and mistreated.
There are a few things that you can do to help with this feeling. One is to repeat mantras to yourself whenever you are feeling sad. When my mom told me she hated me, I would remind myself that “I am lovable”.
When my parents forgot my birthday (again), I would say “I am important.” I still do this to this day when I am feeling anything less than worthy, and it really seems to help. However, I am here to tell you now, YOU ARE LOVED AND VALUABLE.
7. There is Help Available
You probably feel as though there is nowhere to turn, or no one to talk to. That could not be further from the truth. There is support for you out there. You need to trust in the people around you and know that it is ok to talk to them.
You have grown up thinking that there is shame in what is happening, or that you will get in trouble if you seek help. You owe it to yourself to talk to someone.
Reach out to a counselor, a coach, a friend. People at church, school, outside activities. There is support everywhere.
There are many more resources there. Just talk to someone. I encourage you to get the help you deserve.
8. Your Present Situation does NOT Determine your Future – You DO
So often when I talk to students in your situation, they feel beaten down. They are sad, confused, angry, and alone. They wonder if it will ever get better. I am here to tell you, YES it can. It did for me. I was exactly where a lot of people your age are today. I had two alcoholic parents, little support, absolutely no good role models. I did all the things that I thought I should, and it was all turning out wrong.
Luckily, I got help. At 25 years old, I realized that there were traits I had developed, and patterns I had formed. Not out of wanting to, but out of survival. I did not have the support I am encouraging you to get.
You create your own future, and it is a bright one. You can choose to be a victim, or you can choose to be a victor. It is up to you. There is support out there, and an amazing future if you go out and seek it. I encourage you. If you do not already know it, you are amazing and will do amazing things. Do not let anybody tell you differently.
I had to wait until I was 25 to realize that I could have a better life. We are giving you this information NOW. Do something with it and get the life you deserve. You owe it to yourself. You were not able to choose your family, but you most certainly can choose your destiny.