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Don’t forget effects on alcoholics’ children, families

Mr. Atwater: Have you forgotten that for every alcoholic or addict there’s about five other people who are significantly affected?

I grew up in an alcoholic home. My dad was a regular, old fashioned, blackout bar drinker. He wasn’t physically abusive, more verbal and neglectful, but his alcoholism left its mark. I’m a 52-year-old ex-heavy equipment operator and a far cry from a complainer or a “pillow-hugger.” I like to think of myself as a pragmatist.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned. Some of us go “hero” and get perfectionistic. We try to rescue everybody’s self-esteem and usually crash and burn under the weight of our own expectations.

Some of us rebel and make our life’s goal to have an oppositional-defiant personality disorder (my younger brother). Most of these end up going toward chemical dependency.

Some of us never learn to have a core self and are always acting in relation to others. We then become extensions of other people, get resentful and implode. These guys usually marry addicts.

Others of us have deep abandonment issues and are in constant need of others’ approval. We become actors, lose track of ourselves and often end up in the “cracker factory” trying to figure it all out.

Some of us just become bitter and angry, especially at alcoholics. We isolate, avoid relationship entanglements and live unhappily ever after.

There’s recovery available for us, too. I was a “hero” type, so I guess, to some extent, writing this letter means I still am, but the good news is in recovery I’ve learned I can keep the good stuff and let go of what’s harmful. I never imagined what happened in my family would affect me this way, but it did, and it nearly took me out. It’s not my dad’s fault – he has a disease. He’s in recovery now, too.

I started in therapy quite a few years back and ended up in an ACA group. That’s “Adult Children of Alcoholics” groups. It changed my life. I went back to school and am almost finished with a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor Certificate now myself and hope to be able to pass some of this along.

Dear Reader: Congratulations on both your recovery and your CADC. I really can’t say it any better than you have. I’m a supporter of recovery in all its forms and have aimed more than a few people to ACA groups. There aren’t as many in our area as there used to be, and I hope your letter will help spark a resurgence of awareness for adult children of alcoholics.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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