As a child of an alcoholic and drug addict, I can speak from personal experience when I say wounds created from an upbringing marked with fear and turmoil still leave me with scars to this day. Recovery, in the mental health sense, for children of alcoholics and addicts can be a long and winding road. However, there are steps one can take to help alleviate some of the mental burden a child carries when growing up in a household with parents who struggle with addiction. The experience and healing for a child of an addict can be a very difficult time.
I think worst for me, and maybe others can relate, was the constant struggle of just never knowing exactly what to expect day in and day out. To give you a quick glimpse into some of my daily thoughts as a kid, I’d wonder: “Is mom waking up today?”, “How am I getting to practice after school?”, “What if I’m forgotten at the bus stop again?”, “Am I coming home to sober mom or drunk mom?”, “What if mom drinks with me in the car?”…to name a few. No ten year old should have to contemplate these kinds of scenarios on a daily basis, but, the reality is that a countless number of us recognize the aforementioned plights as the picture of our “childhood”. The sad part is, that’s only the tip of the iceberg, I could go on and on about numerous times cops got called, violent outbursts ensued, and family was torn apart either through divorce or separation.
The bottom line is, almost all children in such tumultuous households experience far too much heartbreak in a matter of months than anyone should in an entire lifetime. This begs the question, how do these young ones heal the wounds and recover to become healthy adults?
What It’s Like
It would suffice to say that one word can sum up what we as children of addicts experience in our upbringing, and that word, is trauma–simple as that, it’s traumatic. Needless to say a lot of us end up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as adults and the PTSD has a direct correlation to what we experienced as children with addicted parents. These experiences could contain verbal, emotional, or even physical abuse. Because of the fact that we as children in those situations were incapable of bonding with our addicted parent, we experience extreme anxiety, and feel that our home is missing key elements like love, boundaries, and stability—all trademarks of the kind of healthy environment we longed for.
The Aftermath Experience
Due to the aforementioned experiences, we have a tendency to become “survivalists” from a young age. When a child lacks discipline in their lives this can sometimes lead to them having a lack of self-control in adulthood. Furthermore, once we truly feel we can’t rely on or trust our very own mom or dad, we pretty much lose all hope of being able to trust any other person who comes into our lives. Additionally, although it is so sad and completely incorrect for us to feel this way, we have a tendency to feel responsible, or even put blame on ourselves for our parents’ addiction.
We as children are forced to grow up far before we were supposed to, thusly forcing ourselves to accept responsibilities that children in healthy surroundings would never be expected to take on. Sadly, when children of alcoholics and addicts grow up, they are more likely to become addicts themselves or to marry an addict or alcoholic than children who’ve not had this upbringing.
Suggestions for Healing – First Suggestion
For me, the trifecta for effective healing comes in the form of support, therapy, and self-care. I remember being a child and just feeling so alone. If you are an addict with a child, or are somebody who knows a child of an addict, I implore you to help get them into some kind of support group. Well known groups include Al-Anon & Al-Ateen, in addition to local support groups you can find on sites like meetups.com or even by checking out postings at your local community centers or churches. Children need to come into contact with other children who’ve gone through similar life events as them. They need to understand they are not alone. I would recommend when they get to be 18 years of age and older to maybe consider ACA meetings as well (Adult Children of Alcoholics).
My second suggestion is a child or family therapist. I think it’s important that the child is able to have sessions by themselves where they can feel safe with the psychiatrist, to say and express every emotion they have about the hand of cards life decided to deal them. They need to have a safe space where they can speak freely without the influence of mom or dad nearby. However, a family therapist is just as vital, because this will help the family come together as a unit, and to ensure that the addicted parent fully comprehends the exact repercussions of their behavior and the toll it is taking on their child.
My last suggestion, self-care, is super important, but will come in all different forms depending on the age group. Children need a healthy outlet, and, they need something to not only boost their confidence, but to also help guide them in finding out just who they are. Self-care for children, in my opinion, would be any kind of activity, hobby, or pastime that allows the child to express themselves, release some pent up emotion through the activity, and feel content with themselves and with the end result of the activity. For some, this could come in the form of sports, for others, it might be art classes, voice lessons, playing piano, after school clubs, etc… Self-care is in its simplest form when it comes to children. However, once we grow up, we must continue the art of self-care. We must explore all the options available to us and find the ones that we most connect to and stick to a routine. Some suggestions I would have are yoga, cooking classes, running, hiking, biking, swimming, acupuncture, massage, etc…
The Main Objective
Key takeaways are that we need to learn how to trust again, how to feel and express our emotions, and how to connect with others. While our childhoods may have fallen under the category of abnormal, we have the right to consider ourselves “normal” and to love the person we’ve become. I want every child, adolescent, and adult who has been raised in a similar situation to mine, to know that you don’t have to simply survive anymore, it’s time to embrace life and experience joy. If you’ve made it this far you have resiliency and the ability to inspire others. Healing doesn’t always come easy but success and happiness are within your reach if you put in the work.
By: Samantha F.