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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 June 24, 2019

    Why Social Media Might Be Causing Depression

    Why Social Media Might Be Causing Depression

    A study [1] published in Depression and Anxiety found that social media users are more likely to be depressed. This was just one of the huge number of studies linking social media and depression[2] . But why exactly do platforms like Facebook and Instagram make people so unhappy? Well, we don’t know yet for sure, but there are some explanations.

    Social Media Could Lead to Depression

    Depression is a serious medical condition that affects how you think, feel, and behave. Social media may lead to depression in predisposed individuals or make existing symptoms of depression[3] worse explains[4] the study above’s senior author Dr. Brian Primack. So, the problem may not be in social media per se, but how we use it.

    Signs You’re Suffering From “Social Media Depression”

    If you feel like social media is having a negative impact on your mood, then you may be suffering from “social media depression.” Look for symptoms like:

    • low self-esteem,

    • negative self-talk,

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    • a low mood,

    • irritability,

    • a lack of interest in activities once enjoyed,

    • and social withdrawal.

    If you’ve had these symptoms for more than two weeks and if this is how you feel most of the time, then you are likely depressed. Although “social media depression “is not a term recognized in the medical setting, social media depression seems to be a real phenomenon affecting around 50% of social media users. As explained in a review study[5] published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, if a person has a certain predisposition to depression and other mental disorders, social media use may only worsen their mental health.

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    Social Media Could Crush Self-Esteem

    We know that social media and depression are in some way linked, but why is this so? Well, according to Igor Pantic, MD, Ph.D.[6], social media use skews your perception about other people’s lives and traits. To explain this further, most people like to portray an idealized image of their lives, personal traits, and appearance on sites like Facebook and Instagram. If you confuse this idealized image with reality, you may be under the false impression that everyone is better than you which can crush your self-esteem and lead to depression. This is especially true for teens and young adults who are more likely to compare themselves to others. If you already suffer from low self-esteem, the illusion that everyone has it better off than you will just make you feel worse.

    Causing Social Isolation and Other Negative Emotions

    Another commonly cited reason for the negative impact of social media on mental health is its link with social isolation. Depressed people are more likely to isolate themselves socially and chose only to interact indirectly through social media platforms. But communication online tends to be superficial and is lacking when compared to real-life interaction explains Panic. What this means is not that social media leads to isolation but the other way around, possibly explaining why we find so many depressed persons on these sites.

    Lastly, social media use may generate negative emotions in you like envy, jealousy, dislike, loneliness, and many others and this may worsen your depressive symptoms.

    Why We Need to Take This Seriously

    Both depression and social media use are on the rise according to epidemiological studies. Since each one has an impact on the other, we have to start thinking of healthier ways to use social media. Teens and young adults are especially vulnerable to the negative impact of social media on mental health.

    Advice on Social Media Use

    Although these findings did not provide any cause-effect explanation regarding Facebook and depression[7], they still do prove that social media use may not be a good way to handle depression. For this reason, the leading authors of these studies gave some suggestions as to how clinicians and people can make use of such findings.

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    One suggestion is that clinicians should ask patients about their social media habits. Then they can advise them on how to change their outlook on social media use or even suggest limiting their time spent on social media.

    Some social media users may also exhibit addictive behavior; they may spend too much time due to compulsive urges. Any compulsive behavior is bound to lead to feelings of guilt which can worsen depressive symptoms.

    Having Unhealthy Relationship with Social Media

    If you feel like your relationship with social media is unhealthy, then consider the advice on healthy social media use provided by psychology experts from Links Psychology[8]:

    Avoid negative social comparison – always keep in mind that how people portray themselves and their lives on social media is not a realistic picture, but rather an idealized one. Also, avoid comparing yourself to others because this behavior can lead to negative self-talk.

    Remember that social media is not a replacement for real life – Social media is great for staying in touch and having fun, but it should never replace real-world interactions.

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    Avoid releasing personal information – For your safety and privacy, make sure to be careful with what you post online.

    Report users who bully and harass you – It’s easy to be a bully in the anonymous and distant world of social media. Don’t take such offense personally and report those who abuse social media to harass others.

    The bits of advice listed above can help you establish a healthy relationship with social media. Always keep these things in mind to avoid losing an objective perspective of what social media is and how it is different from real life. If you are currently suffering from depression, talk to your doctor about what is bothering you so that you can get the treatment you need to get better. Tell your doctor about your social media use and see if they could give you some advice on this topic.

    Reference

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