When I lived with my father, there were alot of things that I couldn’t do, because he told me that I couldn’t. I obeyed him mostly because of low self-esteem and fear. The primary reason why he told me that I couldn’t do these things was mostly due to the fact that my father was an extremely abusive alcoholic who made my childhood, teenage years and my adult life between the ages of 20-31 years of age, a living hell. I am 36 years old now and haven’t seen my father in over five years. These have been the happiest five years of my life.
While growing up, I had come to hate many things about my father but one of the things that I hated the most about him was his constant use of the word, “don’t”. He used that word so many times in my youth, that I had no tolerance for the word. But lately, I have come to realize that the word, “don’t” doesn’t have to be a negative word that it can actually be a powerful and positive educational tool.
As an adult child of an alcoholic, I feel that it is my responsibility to share some of my knowledge with other adult children of alcoholics that I think would be beneficial to them. Below are some “don’ts” that they might want to consider.
1. DON’T be afraid to cut off all contact with your alcoholic parent. I absolutely had to! There was no other choice for me. I just got so sick of living in fear and the constant lying that I was always doing, just so that I could appear like I came from a normal loving family. It was just too much for me. I got the hell out.
2. DON’T be afraid of intimacy. I know from experience that children of alcoholics can be very secretive when it comes to their personal lives, more so than a child who grew up with a non-alcoholic parent. Unfortunately, because of this secretiveness, it makes it harder to open up to people. And if you can’t open yourself up to a person, you can never really build lasting and loving relationships. Do yourself a favor and open up your heart, mind and soul to others even though there is a chance that you may get hurt. But, always remember the old saying, “No Pain, No Gain.”
3. DON’T be afraid to get counseling. I was terrified because the thought of anyone knowing that my life wasn’t “normal” like everybody else’s, embarrassed me. I was too ashamed to get counseling for a long time, but when I did, I learned that there were more dysfunctional families like mine out there than I ever imagined. I finally realized that I was not alone and that made me feel good. Whether it’s individual or group counseling, just go.
4. DON’T be afraid to tell your alcoholic parent that you don’t love them. At one time in my life, I did love my father. But my father has done so many terrible and hurtful things that I stopped loving him a long time ago. For quite a while, I felt very bad about this because in our society, there is an unspoken rule that children should love their parents. But the reality of life is that not all parents are good. Some of them are bad people and make it impossible to love them. Remember, that just because you don’t love a parent doesn’t make you a monster. You are not going to hell because of this. You are just being honest with yourself and the parent.
5. DON’T be afraid to try new things. Throughout my childhood, my father always told me that I would fail at certain things even though I hadn’t even tried them. As you can imagine, this left me with a profound fear of failing. But through counseling, I learned that it’s okay to fail. Just be proud of yourself for trying and making an effort to do something new.
6. Don’t be afraid to question God about your alcoholic parent. All my life, especially in my childhood, I would often ask God questions like: “Why me?” “Why couldn’t I have had a father like Bill Cosby from The Cosby Show?” “What did I do in my mother’s womb that was so terrible that I had to be born into such a dysfunctional family?” “Don’t you love me God? If you do, why do you let my father hurt me so terribly?” I did this because I had a right to and most importantly I needed answers. In God’s own way, I believe he has responded to alot of the questions that I have asked. Some of the responses I have liked, some I have not. But I had to ask. And I did.
To the many adult children of alcoholics: I really hope that you consider some of the things that I have said in this article. You don’t have to agree with them, or even like them, simply consider them. That’s the only thing that I ask you to do.