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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 August 16, 2018

    10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

    10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

    The ability to take risks by stepping outside your comfort zone is the primary way by which we grow. But we are often afraid to take that first step.

    In truth, comfort zones are not really about comfort, they are about fear. Break the chains of fear to get outside. Once you do, you will learn to enjoy the process of taking risks and growing in the process.

    Here are 10 ways to help you step out of your comfort zone and get closer to success:

    1. Become aware of what’s outside of your comfort zone

    What are the things that you believe are worth doing but are afraid of doing yourself because of the potential for disappointment or failure?

    Draw a circle and write those things down outside the circle. This process will not only allow you to clearly identify your discomforts, but your comforts. Write identified comforts inside the circle.

    2. Become clear about what you are aiming to overcome

    Take the list of discomforts and go deeper. Remember, the primary emotion you are trying to overcome is fear.

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    How does this fear apply uniquely to each situation? Be very specific.

    Are you afraid of walking up to people and introducing yourself in social situations? Why? Is it because you are insecure about the sound of your voice? Are you insecure about your looks?

    Or, are you afraid of being ignored?

    3. Get comfortable with discomfort

    One way to get outside of your comfort zone is to literally expand it. Make it a goal to avoid running away from discomfort.

    Let’s stay with the theme of meeting people in social settings. If you start feeling a little panicked when talking to someone you’ve just met, try to stay with it a little longer than you normally would before retreating to comfort. If you stay long enough and practice often enough, it will start to become less uncomfortable.

    4. See failure as a teacher

    Many of us are so afraid of failure that we would rather do nothing than take a shot at our dreams.

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    Begin to treat failure as a teacher. What did you learn from the experience? How can you take that lesson to your next adventure to increase your chance of success?

    Many highly successful people failed plenty of times before they succeeded. Here’re some examples:

    10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

    5. Take baby steps

    Don’t try to jump outside your comfort zone, you will likely become overwhelmed and jump right back in.

    Take small steps toward the fear you are trying to overcome. If you want to do public speaking, start by taking every opportunity to speak to small groups of people. You can even practice with family and friends.

    Take a look at this article on how you can start taking baby steps:

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    The Number One Secret to Life Success: Baby Steps

    6. Hang out with risk takers

    There is no substitute for this step. If you want to become better at something, you must start hanging out with the people who are doing what you want to do and start emulating them. (Here’re 8 Reasons Why Risk Takers Are More Likely To Be Successful).

    Almost inevitably, their influence will start have an effect on your behavior.

    7. Be honest with yourself when you are trying to make excuses

    Don’t say “Oh, I just don’t have the time for this right now.” Instead, be honest and say “I am afraid to do this.”

    Don’t make excuses, just be honest. You will be in a better place to confront what is truly bothering you and increase your chance of moving forward.

    8. Identify how stepping out will benefit you

    What will the ability to engage in public speaking do for your personal and professional growth? Keep these potential benefits in mind as motivations to push through fear.

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    9. Don’t take yourself too seriously

    Learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes. Risk taking will inevitably involve failure and setbacks that will sometimes make you look foolish to others. Be happy to roll with the punches when others poke fun.

    If you aren’t convinced yet, check out these 6 Reasons Not to Take Life So Seriously.

    10. Focus on the fun

    Enjoy the process of stepping outside your safe boundaries. Enjoy the fun of discovering things about yourself that you may not have been aware of previously.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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