Experiences of an alcoholic's child

Ewa Krupniewska

'God, make me cheerful so that I can accept what I cannot change; give me courage so that I can change what I can change and grant me wisdom so that I can distinguish the difference between these two.'
Adam told me his sorrowful story with difficulty and hesitation: 'As far as I can remember my father liked alcohol. My younger siblings and I always worried about my mother. When my father returned home drunk, he always reproached her, and then the nightmare began. He beat her terribly. I witnessed her severe pain. I awfully hated my father. Since I am the eldest child I always stood by my mother. I watched him and tried to prevent her being killed. This horror lasted ten years. My mother is very nervous, tired of life and I cannot help it. I cannot trust people. I am afraid of future. I fear this situation may again happen in my life. I avoid marriage, break down in difficult situations and sometimes drink in order to forget about everything'.
I wanted to help him get rid of these painful experiences so that he could talk about them with God, find peace with him and find healing of his childhood wounds. When I first met him, he was very distrustful and closed. After having talked to him I saw that his behaviour was characteristic of a co-addicted person. Children from families having alcoholic problems experience disturbances resulting from feelings of insecurity decisively more often than other children. They also experience greater tension, fear, disorientation and loneliness. These experiences made them adopt a defensive attitude towards life, which is contrary to an attitude of openness and trust.
Adam says, 'I was afraid of my mum. I was afraid of losing her and that we will be alone'. A person adopting the attitude of defense lives in a state of emotional emergency, constantly on alert, concentrated upon his fear of lost. He finds it difficult to take some risk of change. His philosophy for living is 'to survive'.
A child in an alcoholic family experiences total chaos and lost. He feels nobody wants to listen to what he wants to say about his difficulties because everybody knows in advance what he should do. 'I was terribly at a loss and lived in a great chaos. I never knew what I could count on since everything depended on my father's mood at the given moment'. This chaos caused the child depart from reality, which seemed unpredictable and aroused fear and isolation. It is easy to get lost in such a world. It is also difficult to find a proper way in the most important matters of life. A child learns trust from his parents and through his parents and when he finds no support in adults he feels insecure and disoriented. Unfulfilled promises and broken agreements shattered his trust in father and consequently in other people.
'You must not talk what is going on at home', his mother often told him these words. Since you cannot talk evil about your father (that he has just got drunk and beaten mother), how you can comfort a desperate mother. How can you ask about tomorrow without hurting the most painful sphere? 'When I came back home I used to sit at the table, then did my homework and said nothing. I did not talk because I did not want to worry my mother, I did not want her get nervous. After all, she had so many concerns. She had a difficult life with my father and we did not want to burden her with our problems. There were only some commands, some orders. Nobody talked to anybody - that was the best solution!' The lack of conversation means being closed to other people and unable to talk about family issues. Everyone knows very well that children can keep their family secrets of alcoholism and resulting incidents. Adam says he did it out of fear and in hope that it would get better, and after all, the situation was not really the worst of all. All taboos paralyzing the sphere of open and intimate family communication condemn people to loneliness.
The effect of callousness is the motto 'no feeling'. Man should control his feelings so that they do not take control of him. When someone represses and rejects his feelings he is in danger of losing the truth. The atmosphere of an alcoholic home is full of special tension. It refers to the unpredictability of what might happen, to the expectation of an outburst and the condition of the drunken parent who returns home. 'My family functioned quite differently when my father got drunk and when he was sober. When he was sober he gave us money for sweets but I was never happy about it, unlike my younger brothers, because it was already then that I hated my father'.
With time anger, regrets and grievances accumulate in family. Quarrels break out more and more frequently. At this moment a child feels deep discomfort because he emphatically assumes the attitude of the person he is related to. He feels that parents do not need a child but someone who can help them in what they are helpless. Therefore, he represses his feelings and needs and learns how not to show them, which means he does not show his own personality. He tries to become the person his family wants. And what are the results? Children who are brought up in alcoholic families almost always experience anger or hatred towards their parent. Some say about a feeling of loneliness, some admit they fear their parent and are ashamed of him/her. Every fourth child bears guilt feeling responsible for the bad situation at home.
After years the grown-up children of alcoholic parents, when they are asked about their childhood, they say about anger, wrath, aggression or rebellion as well as fear, inner pain, sometimes about inner emptiness. In their childhood they form negative opinions about themselves: I am worthless, stupid, weak. These convictions are not adequate to real features but to their childhood feelings. Then they decided: I would never have a family and I would never have children so that they would not experience what I did.

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl