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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.

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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.

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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.

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    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.

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    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

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    Last Updated on April 11, 2019

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

    I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

    I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

    Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    How Communication Skills Help Your Success

    Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

    Create a Positive Experience

    Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

    When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

    What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

    Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

    As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

    Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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    Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

    Help Leadership Skills

    It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

    Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

    As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

    Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

    If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

    Build Better Teams

    Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

    In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

    If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

    When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

    Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

    Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

    1. Listen

    Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

    Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

    People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

    Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

    Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

    2. Know Your Audience

    Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

    Here is a good way to think about it:

    Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

    You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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    3. Minimize

    I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

    He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

    Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

    State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

    The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

    4. Over Communicate

    So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

    What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

    Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

    Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

    Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

    There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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    5. Body Language

    The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

    When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

    In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

    When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

    Conclusion

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

    Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

    There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    Now go communicate your way to success.

    More Resources About Effective Communication

    Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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