Advertising
Advertising

8 Crucial Lessons You Can Learn From an Alcoholic Parent

8 Crucial Lessons You Can Learn From an Alcoholic Parent

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

The ability to break down weighty emotional experiences and vital life lessons into smaller, recognizable bits is a job that poets do well. Many people who have had difficult childhoods, as Oliver did, know how empowering it can be to turn our past experiences upside down and inside out so that we can view them from a different angle. Adjusting our perspective can help us let go of anger, which is toxic when we hold on to it for too long.

Being raised in an unhealthy environment, surrounded by alcoholism or substance abuse, can turn us into fearful and untrusting adults, or people who think of themselves as damaged. Well sure, we are all damaged, if not by addiction, then by some byproduct of it along the way—but not broken. If all you have is this one wild and precious life, do you want to waste it being torn apart by the past? This is not to say that you can just shake off the damage of addiction. It’s not that easy. Young children are especially vulnerable to having their developing sense of self disfigured, and those of us who’ve been through the healing process know that it can take years of hard work to undo.

Advertising

In your one life you can’t go back and rewrite your childhood, but you can look at what some of the distressing stuff has taught you. You could look at your unfortunate “role model” as a teacher of how things shouldn’t go. You can decide not to be envious of people who have had “easy” childhoods, and to think of yourself as stronger and wiser for having pulled through. You’ve been offered the chance to see the world differently. These are eight things that growing up with an alcoholic taught me about being a parent and a human being.

1. You don’t get another chance to be a parent

Addicts and alcoholics, just like everyone, get one life, and there is no do-over option for parents. That two, three, or five-year drinking or substance problem may have been just an unfortunate blip in your adult life – but those years were monumental and formative for your child. While you were numbing out, your child probably missed out on a lot from you, and went through some important, personality-shaping experiences. Guess what, you missed out on those. While you were snappy, explosive, and easily pushed over the edge because of you addiction, your child was ingesting all of your behavior, learning from it.

2. Disappearing into addiction robs everyone of the chance to know you—and help you

Addicts and alcoholics are people who can’t deal with their mental or emotional pain or stress, and they self-medicate with substance abuse. They also excuse themselves from being fully present in their lives. Their loved ones get to experience a different version of them: the angry, depressed, violent, emotionally checked-out, or entirely absent version. This means your kids don’t get to know who you really are as a parent. They only know the cantankerous you, or the passed-out you. Or worse, they see you go back and forth constantly and don’t know who you are. Are you an honest, reliable person or an unstable person who says or does regrettable, unhealthy things? If you hide your substance abuse problem from your loved ones, they never get a chance to help you with it, and you miss out on the chance to have a deeper connection with them. We all have weaknesses, so what good does it do to pretend that you don’t?

3. Children of alcoholics don’t learn how to deal with their emotions

One of the most important jobs of being a parent is teaching your child how to deal with their emotions, many of which can be overwhelming. You don’t teach them by slapping them or punishing them for having emotional reactions (would you slap yourself every time you reacted strongly to something?), but by helping them understand why they feel hurt, afraid or angry and how to transform those feelings. You teach them these things because you want them to be well-adjusted adults who can handle all the trials and tribulations of life.

Advertising

A mopey or an angry drunk or a numbed-out and high parent isn’t teaching their kids anything more than “Look, this is what mommy and daddy do when they can’t handle their feelings.” They teach them that when life isn’t going the way they want it to, or when they are in a bad relationship, grown-ups “fix it” by having six beers or four glasses of wine.

4. Depression is most likely the real problem

Behind addiction and alcoholism is, more often than not, untreated depression. Some people find it easier to drink or use than to face their depression. Others don’t even realize that depression is the real issue, and spend 20 years battling addiction instead working on their mental health. They just prefer feeling “nothing” to feeling “too much.” Alcohol temporarily dulls the effects of stress hormones, making you feel better for a couple of hours. But once the substance wears off, you’re back—not to one, but zero. This is because alcohol has been found to lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels, which means you feel worse than before. Chronic alcohol consumption can reduce available dopamine, which can increase impulsivity and intensify suicidal feelings. How’s that for fixing things?

Having an alcoholic parent made it painfully obvious to me that something deeper must have been going on to compel a person to drink too much. It forced me to learn more about depression, which was important because it is often hereditary. Once depression is identified, it is treatable and manageable. There are many resourcessupport groups, and people who struggle with addiction and depression who can help you get on a healthier path.

5. Drinking won’t make your anger, shame, regret or fear disappear

Alcoholics and addicts convince themselves that their fear, anger or stress is being muted while they drink or use. Perhaps the volume on their emotions is turned down a bit, but that response is like telling the yelling guy to scream quietly instead of asking him to sit down and have a rational, honest discussion about what’s bothering him. The truth is, feelings don’t go away when you drink, they just get pushed down, which means they’re going to resurface eventually, or get funneled into something else. Watching an alcoholic or addict fool themselves with their disappearing act is frustrating, but it also teaches you a bigger truth. Sooner or later we all have to face our underlying issues—anger, fear, shame or low self-regard—no matter how carefully we thought we’d packed them away.

Advertising

facesCOLREDMASKS

    6. Having your life cut short by addiction means not knowing your grandchildren (or children)

    Not only do you rob yourself of the chance to have real, sober relationships with the people you love, your addiction may rob you of a full life. Addiction changes the brain, making it harder for you to stop once you’ve given into it. Your life can be shortened by 10 or 20 years because of your addiction, which is compromising or destroying your health. Liver disease, diabetes, digestive problems, heart problems, increased risk of cancer, neurological problems and a weakened immune system are often the result of excessive drinking. These are serious health conditions that may mean you will not live long enough to see your children get married, or know your grandchildren, or to see things in the world change the way you want them to. You’re gone (literally or figuratively), and out of your pain, but what about those little ones who never got the chance to meet you or learn anything from you? They might well have been the light of your life.

    7. It can take several—or many—generations to heal the damage

    Parents who are alcoholics or addicts pass on many things to their children. Among those are unhealthy ways of relating to others, poor problem-solving skills, low self-esteem, the practice of denial, poor anger or emotional management skills, and possibly the genetic markers for addiction and depression. If you were raised by an alcoholic, you may have missed out on healthy parenting practices. This gap will become more obvious when you step into the challenging job of being a parent. Many children of alcoholics follow in their addict parents’ footsteps, seeing the problem as a family thing they have a handle on, though they may not. There can be several generations of life-wrecking habits held in place by denial before things get better and the adult kids are able to repair the psychological, spiritual or physical damage. Mariel Hemingway’s family story is a perfect illustration of that.

    Even those who heal from the experience and decide to do everything “the right way” may find themselves looking through the holes of their past and seeing how many problems or unfortunate experiences could have been avoided. Self-esteem takes a long time to grow back. Kids who grow up with a damaged or false sense of self may not ever recognize or understand what’s underneath their pain.

    Advertising

    8. Think beyond yourself

    In that same poem by Mary Oliver she writes, “Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” That line reminds me, just like having an alcoholic parent taught me, that there are things we should do with our one wild and precious life. We should be fully present in it, treat others with compassion and kindness, and care for and respect ourselves and our bodies so that we can imprint those qualities on our kids, and their future.

    If you suffer, or someone you know suffers from addiction – try visiting the American National Institute on Drug Abuse or contacting your local health authorities

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash, Leon Ephraim via ununsplash.imgix.net

    More by this author

    How Being More Creative Improves Your Mental and Physical Health 8 Crucial Lessons You Can Learn From an Alcoholic Parent 10 Things You Can Do To Improve Your Anxiety In Social Situations

    Trending in Communication

    1 50 Unique and Really Fun Date Ideas for Couples 2 Take Back Your Personal Power (Part 1) 3 Take Back Your Personal Power (Part 2) 4 When You Start to Let Go of Your Past, These 10 Things Will Happen 5 How to Learn to Let Go of What You Can’t Control

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on January 24, 2021

    How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

    How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

    Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

    For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

    But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

    It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

    And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

    The Importance of Saying No

    When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

    In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

    Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

    Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

    Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

    “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

    When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

    How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

    It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

    From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

    We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

    And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

    Advertising

    At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

    The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

    How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

    Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

    But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

    3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

    1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

    If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

    2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

    When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

    Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

    3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

    When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

    6 Ways to Start Saying No

    Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

    Advertising

    1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

    One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

    Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

    2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

    Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

    Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

    3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

    Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

    Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

    You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

    4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

    Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

    Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

    5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

    When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

    Advertising

    How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

      Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

      Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

      6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

      If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

      Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

      Final Thoughts

      Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

      Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

      Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

      More Tips on How to Say No

      Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
      [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
      [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

      Read Next