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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Silence of the children...

Most of the people who contact me are spouses of an alcoholic. But the alcoholic family extends far beyond the wife or husband. The children of the couple become damaged just as much as the spouse. A blog follower contacted me about her son’s acting out. She was in tears because she didn’t know or understand what the problem his adolescent mind was addressing.

Way, way back when Riley was in his very first ever rehab center – a Navy mandated and operated facility – I was fortunate
enough to attend the family program. It was an intensive four-week program and I learned more than I ever thought possible. In several of our classes, I learned about the dynamics of the alcoholic family and how children might present themselves in their own course for survival. There were these titles for the possible personalities of the kids. There were:

The HERO – This child is the “perfect” one. He/she is the envy of other parents. Good grades, well-mannered, always helpful and mature beyond their years. This child silently hopes that by being “good” will ease the stress on the alcoholic and possibly instill the desire to not drink any longer.

The SCAPEGOAT – While the Hero is trying to resolve problems, the Scapegoat is creating problems in order to deflect attention away from the alcoholic parent. This child spends a lot of time in the principal’s office due to misbehavior, bad grades and may even begin abusing substances.

The LOST CHILD – Ignorance is bliss for this child. This child may spend may be found alone, in the bedroom, reading, or doing hobbies and isolates himself from the rest of the family members. He avoids stress by ignoring the problem.

The MASCOT – This child often grows up to be a comedian. He/she is the life of the party, the jokester, making light of the situation, no matter how serious it is. What this child is really trying to do is to ease the tension and keep the peace through humor as a distraction.

No matter what the title or role of the child in the home, the main purpose is the same. That is to Keep the peace, avoid confrontations, and generate the opportunity for everyone to be “all right.” They are all a means of survival until they can just “get out” of the situation. That is, for some just a temporary solution because many children return home after moving out to “help” the sober spouse take care of the alcoholic.

I believe the children are the least recognized group of individuals in the entire scope of the alcoholic family. They don’t write comments to blogs. They don’t go to their school counselors and tell on the alcoholic. They seldom confide in friends about their disappoints and hardships created by the alcoholic. They deal with it as best they can – almost in silence.

As the non-alcoholic parent, it is our job to protect our children as much as possible. It is my contention that VERY young children should not be around an alcoholic parent. But, as the children grow into adolescence, we must take special precautions so that they do not feel responsible for the addiction. It is extremely difficult, but the child must remain the child and not take on the burden of any adult responsibilities as they relate to the alcoholic.

I’m reminded of a movie I saw where the alcoholic parent leaves his son in the car while the father goes into a bar and get totally smashed. He returns to the car and demands that the son drive him home. The boy was only about 12 years old. He could barely reach the gas pedal. Yet, the drunken father demanded that the boy drive him home. The young man complied – after all it was his father and he didn’t disobey his father.

I don’t remember the circumstance of why the boy was even in the car with the father at all. But, this is a situation that could have been avoided if the child had felt enough confidence to say “NO” to his Dad. It could have been prevented even before that if the mother had established  with the child that he was not to get into a car with his father.

There are a million different scenarios that could explain why the boy was in the car. It’s easy for me to sit back and say “Well… (humpf) I would never let that happen to my kid…” But the reality is I may not have been able to prevent it. I certainly would not have prevented it if I never said to my kid – “Don’t get in the car with Dad… or if Dad goes into the bar, call me to come get you… or something to let that child know, he does not have to put himself in danger to appease his Dad.

The boy was a good kid – probably a Hero.


I think I have a point here somewhere and it’s this: Let’s not let our kids try to take on the role of solving our problems, easing our tension or deflecting our attention from the real issues created by the alcoholic parent. As non-alcoholic parents we owe them a childhood.

7 comments:

ADDY said...

I found in my experience of others at Al-Anon meetings that somehow once a child of an alcoholic grows up they go on to have alcoholic problems themselves or marry an alcoholic. Quite why this happens, I don't know.

Sarah said...

Addy,
IMHO it is because that this their "normal". It is what feels comfortable and like home to them.

afterthefire1964 said...

My children were both the LOST CHILD. They would isolate themselves to be away from the problem. Actually I would take my boys and myself away from the problem as often as possible. Vacations, outings, other activities....my boys had a lot of together time with ME.

My husband is dead now and the "problem is gone." I put both of my sons into therapy immediately; the youngest, who was a very angry child, responded really well to cognitive therapy and for all intents and purposes is 'fine.' My oldest son said he didn't need therapy (a bit of a HERO there) but completely fell apart in high school and is now in intensive therapy otherwise he has panic attacks. So there....

One thing that I did do was - throughout the entire time - I would talk honestly with my sons about what was happening and elicit their opinions, ideas and desires. We stayed until the bitter end because we - as a family group - decided to stay. But we have been in recovery ever since....

It is so hard to know what to do - not often as cut and dried as outsiders might think it is.

afterthefire1964 said...

My children were both the LOST CHILD. They would isolate themselves to be away from the problem. Actually I would take my boys and myself away from the problem as often as possible. Vacations, outings, other activities....my boys had a lot of together time with ME.

My husband is dead now and the "problem is gone." I put both of my sons into therapy immediately; the youngest, who was a very angry child, responded really well to cognitive therapy and for all intents and purposes is 'fine.' My oldest son said he didn't need therapy (a bit of a HERO there) but completely fell apart in high school and is now in intensive therapy otherwise he has panic attacks. So there....

One thing that I did do was - throughout the entire time - I would talk honestly with my sons about what was happening and elicit their opinions, ideas and desires. We stayed until the bitter end because we - as a family group - decided to stay. But we have been in recovery ever since....

It is so hard to know what to do - not often as cut and dried as outsiders might think it is.

Anonymous said...

I was the hero, until I was 53. Growing up in a home with an alcoholic parent stays with you for your entire life. Not until I was able to stop playing the hero, could I gain control over my own alcoholism. Insightful post. Thank you very much.

Gerry said...

I was the oldest daughter of an alcoholic who was suicidal, and I saw it as my job to try to keep my dad from committing suicide since he was a binge drinker and a hard worker and good manager during the week when he was sober. I feared we would know absolute poverty if he succeeded in killing himself, and my mother, although not an alcoholic, became a very angry person apt to take out her frustrations on his kids by whippings since she was not strong enough to whip him. She knew it upset him for her to whip us for no good reason. I also kept secrets I thought would put my mother at higher risk if I told her as there was often violence when he was drinking.

Jared VanMeter said...

I grew up the only child in an alcoholic house hold and in my experience I represented all of these personalities with the main emphasis on the hero.