Alcoholism and Family: Subject matter I know well. I know the fears, the uncertainties, the anger and the anguish. Whether the family alcoholic is a parent, a grandparent, a spouse, child, sibling - whatever the relation, family life usually isn't much fun with a drunk in its midst. It certainly isn't very wholesome.
Growing up, I don't remember a social event when my parents and their friends were not drinking. It's just what they did. At every holiday, every picnic, every dinner party, drinks were served. The liquor cabinet was stocked full, as was the built-in bar in the basement. The frig in the summer house was full of cold beer. This was what was normal for me growing up as a child.
Funny how young children who grow up in this environment (innocent as it may seem) don't have a clue that they are surrounded by drunkenness. This was how it was for me.
As I grew older, I began to realize that something was out of the ordinary with our family. During the course of my childhood, I began to learn the not-so-subtle difference between when my mother was sober and when she was drunk.
Or I felt the tension in the air when my grandmother had too much to drink on Thanksgiving day. Or I heard the hushed conversations about my grandparents' drunken behavior the night before.
As is characteristic of most cases of alcoholism and family, confronting the problem just isn't likely to happen. In our family, especially where my mother was concerned, my family epitomized the adage, "There's an
in the living room, and no one's talking about it. The unwritten rule was that no one was to say a thing the next day about Mom's "scene", as we called it. Don't acknowledge. Don't tell. Don't feel. Life as usual.
You may have read in my Home Page that my family tree was full of alcoholics, and for the most part, very functional alcoholics. My early life was shaped in large part by this connection between alcoholism and family. Combined with the genetic component that existed, it is the reason I became alcoholic myself. How much of my alcoholism was "Nurture" and how much was "Nature", I wouldn't begin to guess.
I do know that a life in which alcoholism and family are merged is certainly not very nurturing for a child.
My mother was a true "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" when she drank. She was an irrational, belligerent drunk - sometimes an absolutely ridiculous drunk. Invariably, she would get some issue (real or imagined) firmly planted in her mind and would not stop harping on it until we were all infuriated and miserable. I look back on those times now and realize just how emotionally abusive she was to us as children, especially after my father died and we were left to fend for ourselves with her.
Alcoholism and family life are a toxic mixture indeed, and it is often the children who are most negatively affected. They are truly helpless and vulnerable.
But wives, husbands, parents, siblings, and extended family members are affected, too, by the chaos, confusion and pain of alcoholism.
There is help, however. For those who live within the context of alcoholism and family, Al-Anon Family Groups is a tremendously helpful program. It has helped countless relatives and friends of alcoholics to cope with the problems of dealing with the alcoholic.
How To Tell The Kids About The Divorce. A Create-a-Storybook Guide. A Great Resource...
There is some great information at this link about family and alcohol abuse. It chronicles one family's personal journey through alcoholism and drug addiction.
Al-Anon believes that alcoholism is a family illness and that changed attitudes, brought about by working through the Twelve Steps, are the key to recovery.
Those of us who live with alcoholism in our families develop coping mechanisms that help us to protect ourselves emotionally. When the conditions and our feelings about alcoholism and family seem too much to bear, we may suppress, minimize, rationalize, or ignore them all together.
We may be well aware of the alcoholic's denial, but we aren't willing to accept that we, too, are in denial. If we don't acknowledge the extent of the problems with alcoholism and family, maybe they don't really exist!
A wonderful component of the Al-Anon program is Alateen, for younger members. Please click on the link below, and read more about the
Al-Anon/Alateen program and how it can help untangle the complexities of alcoholism and family.
There is hope, because there is Al-Anon.
Books That Bring Hope
If you grew up or are living in a dysfunctional family beset with alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, or similar problems, here is a book with an interesting twist called The Dragon In Me. It will help you understand the dynamics of living in this situation and what to do about it.