Addiction in the family can be like a sledgehammer or like a distant whisper. For “Denise,” it was a sledgehammer. When she was a little girl, it was a punishment to go to grandma’s house. Grandma was a vodka-slinging, late-stage alcoholic who had no time for kindness or children. She was either drunk, getting drunk or in another medical crisis. She died a painful, unhappy, alcoholic death.
Denise’s mom pretty much followed suit in the drinking department. She was a heavy drinker and a bit of a brawler from as soon as the bars would let her in. She was never much of a mother to her three girls, and Denise, the oldest, generally was tasked with being the babysitter.
With no supervision for herself, she went off the rails pretty early and never looked back. Her drinking was much like her grandmother’s and mother’s. Some would say she never had a chance. The alcoholism was easy to see, started early and was about as easy to stop as a freight train.
It was her third DUI and her second stay in jail that finally got to her. After three years of fits and starts in AA, Denise finally got it. She’s been sober for seven years.
“Danielle” was a quiet kid from a respectable middle class family. For her, the alcoholism in her family was like a distant whisper. She never thought of her dad as an alcoholic. In fact, it never would have entered her mind. He was a reasonably successful business man and rarely drank in public, but was a secret drinker. He would hide small bottles and close the door to his home office in the evening so he could “work.”
Danielle could never understand why her dad sometimes would sleep in his office and why her mom seemed so angry all the time. Drinking was never talked about, and she assumed her parents were having problems and, like several of her friends’ parents, were headed for a divorce. Her parents started marriage therapy. Then her mom started to see a psychiatrist for “anxiety.” Danielle figured the problem was solved.
As time passed and things deteriorated in Danielle’s house, she became more withdrawn and more confused. Her parents suggested she see her mom’s psychiatrist, and Danielle soon was on medication similar to mom’s, to little effect.
Although Danielle wasn’t a drinker, she subtly was affected by the alcoholism in her family. She knew there was something wrong, but couldn’t figure out what it was, felt crazy and somehow to blame for “it.” The alcoholism was manifested by the secrets, her mom’s denial and anger and her own inexplicable shame.
It wasn’t until many years later and a few years of therapy that Danielle was able to identify her core issues.
Even though her dad had passed away, she started in Al Anon and finally found the sense of truth and peace she had been looking for.