I am an adult child of a violent alcoholic, and I resent my father and every other alcoholic in this world being referred to as a drunk, as Wayne and Tamara did in their recent response to the letter from Kitty…
Claire, last week we suggested two reasons for your defense of your father. First, children of abuse, like you, often defend their abuser, and second, children of abuse cling to the few good memories as a way to stifle the many bad ones.
Let’s look at this another way. Children have a strong, biological need for parental approval. That makes them vulnerable to accepting whatever their parents do. That biological tie makes it hard for them not to defend their family. But your defense, and the reality of life with a violent alcoholic, simply do not go together.
Kitty, at 49, said that learning normal competence “has been my life’s work.” You said you were never given “a healthy template to go by,” and you admit growing up with an alcoholic can require “years and years of therapy to deal with the issues.” Clearly, you are both talking about child abuse.
To ask the question, what do children need in a parent? is to answer the question why they don’t need a parent who is a drunk.
Parents lay down the emotional, social and neurological tracks which will last a child’s lifetime. When one or both parents are alcoholics, the tracks get laid down in the wrong place. Neurological tracks are as immovable as railroad tracks. Imagine trying to move a mile of track 10 feet to the right by yourself. That’s what children of alcoholics are faced with.
Some things, like child development, have to happen at the right time. When they don’t, they will occur in a stunted way if they occur at all. Having a drunk in a child’s life is a blight. A blight doesn’t kill, it impairs. The tree grows misshapen because of the actions of the two who planted it.
That’s the price of living with someone on the nod.
Why do we sometimes use the terms “drunk” and “drunkard” instead of alcoholic and alcoholism? Because those terms are euphemisms and we detest euphemisms. That’s why we call our column Direct Answers. We believe in facing up to reality as the surest way of solving problems.
Do you see that sanitizing a problem masks it and masks the severity of it? We will not be a party to masking the severity of alcoholic child abuse. Not by the drunkard, not by the enabler of the drunkard, not by the organizations which defend the drunkard while glossing over alcoholic child abuse.
We are unable to coddle people who ruin other people’s lives. Especially when those people are children. We use the words drunk and drunkard because it expresses the unvarnished truth about living with an alcoholic.
We don’t want a child’s daycare provider drunk, we don’t want a child’s teacher drunk, we don’t want the child’s school bus driver drunk. We don’t want women drinking while they are pregnant. But allowing a drunk to raise a child for thousands of days is far worse.
You mention Alcoholics Anonymous and their related organizations as solutions. Multiple studies indicate their rate of success is equal to or less than the rate of spontaneous remission. We cannot recommend approaches which are no more successful than the approach of doing nothing at all.
What adult children of alcoholics need is not related to the field of alcoholism at all. Your natural allies are those who deal with the adult victims of child abuse and childhood trauma.
You had one take on what Kitty might say to us. What she actually said, in a thank you email we did not publish, was, “Thank you both from the bottom of my heart. Clarity is a beautiful gift…”
~ Wayne & Tamara
Column for the week of October 13, 2014
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