By Alexa M.
#Fearless Family Writer
I am 26 years old, and a full blown millennial. I shared my wedding pictures on Facebook the day I got them, my snapchat is approximately 99% my dog and 1% my anxiety attacks, and I wanted Bernie Sanders to win the election. Part of the territory of being my age (and any age after me, really) is having friends discuss their longing to return back to the “good ol’ days”.
You know, the days when their biggest worry was finishing their math homework, or whether that birthday invite was coming in the mail. Not working 40 hours a week or trying to pay the bills on time. After all, “adulting” is hard. But I can’t identify with that. Despite my mortgage, car insurance and student loan payments, I would never wish to go back to my childhood.
You see, I’m an adult child of alcoholics. Both of my parents are alcoholic/addicts, and even though they are in recovery now, the events of my childhood still affect me to this day.
Just before sitting down to write this article, I picked up my phone and checked Facebook. I saw a post on an Al-Anon group I’m in about their alcoholic staying up all hours of the night, being belligerent and loud. For whatever reason, memories of my childhood came flooding back to me. Long nights of alcoholics partying until all hours of the night, blaring their music and keeping every light in the house on.
At the age of twelve, I didn’t know what to do, so I laid in my bed and cried myself to sleep. That was a common occurrence for me – crying. Crying because I was scared. Because I was angry. Because my alcoholic was up partying. Because they yelled. Because they were sick without the alcohol. Because it was midnight and they still weren’t home, and I didn’t know where they were. Because they slurred their words. Because they talked down to me and ignored me. Because they existed, really. And because I existed, too.
I cried a lot – I still do, honestly.
Being an adult child of alcoholics is something that has affected every inch of my personality, and every second of every day of my life for as long as I can remember. The situation causes you to grow up far too quickly. When you don’t have stability, especially emotional stability, surrounding you as a child, it leaves you in a situation where you are the only one you can trust. You rely on yourself to make sure you’re safe. At 7, 8, 9, 10 years old, that’s not an easy task, yet somehow it just becomes like second nature to you.
Suddenly the roles are reversed. You are the parent, while your parent is the child. You constantly spend your time worrying about whether they’re happy, whether they’ve been drinking or abusing their medicine, where they’re going and who they’re with, whether they’ll be happy when you get home or angry or just plain emotionless. You feel like it’s your job to make sure they’re making proper choices in life to keep themselves alive. Because you have to – they are your lifeline as a child.
It’s a terrifying experience watching your parents – people you should be able to lean on for anything, people who you should trust with your whole life – do things that you know aren’t safe. You’re desperately trying to control their actions and their moods and their thoughts and their reactions, so that they will make the choices you think are right for the family. To make you the family you know you should be. So you can finally have trustworthy, stable, loving parents. So you can keep them safe so you can stay safe.
Unfortunately you can’t control anything about the addict. That’s something that I’m actively trying to learn now, but as a child, that is one of your only survival mechanisms. Keep them safe to keep you safe. Unsurprisingly, this left me with extreme control issues and crippling anxiety as an adult.
People often ask me – if I could go back and change things, would I? Truthfully, I don’t have an answer to that. My answer changes depending on what mood you catch me in. Some days I lie on my bed crying hysterically, cursing my parents for even having me. Questioning why they would be so stupid and selfish bringing a child into this mess that they knew they had created. KNOWING that it would affect me. KNOWING what a dangerous disease addiction is, and KNOWING they had a plethora of their own issues that were not worked out.
On those days, yes. I wish I could go back and change everything. Sometimes, on the really bad days, I wish that I would have been born to different parents. I feel a twang of guilt just writing that, but it’s the unfortunate truth sometimes. I love my parents, but I’d be lying if I said I sometimes wish that I would have grown up in a totally different house, different town, different state, with different parents.
But that’s not how you heal.
Living in a constant state of day-dreaming, regret, what-ifs, and I-wishes will not help you heal and live your life to the fullest extent possible. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Al-Anon, it’s that some things in life you just have to accept. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” I cannot change my parents. In both the literal they-are-biologically-my-parents-and-I’m-stuck-with-that-fact, but also in the I-can’t-change-their-thoughts-emotions-feelings-actions fact. The only thing I can change or control in this life is me, my thoughts and my reactions.
Which leads me to this: Most days, I’m inclined to say that I wouldn’t change my story. It’s my story, and it happened for a reason. Was it terrible and miserable? Yes. Did it create this huge uphill exhausting battle for me in my teens and 20’s? Absolutely. But my story made me the person that I am today, and I am slowly – very slowly – learning to love that person.
My childhood affected me negatively in a lot of ways. It turned me into a short-tempered, controlling, don’t-give-a-fuck-but-in-the-bad-way, but-also-cares-too-much-because-of-low-self-esteem, overly sensitive and emotional person with extreme anxiety and abandonment issues who is afraid to love and be loved in return.
But somewhere deep, deep down, hidden underneath all the shields, all the masks, and all the hard-ass layers I’ve put up, my childhood made me a devoted, caring, strong, resilient, empathetic, stubborn-as-fuck woman who will stand up for my beliefs until I can’t stand anymore. It gave me the strength to take the steps I needed to recover from this, from my anxiety, from my illness, and to stick with it even when it feels difficult.
Do I cry and complain a lot while I’m doing it? Most definitely – ask my husband. Some days I feel like I’m way too burnt out and weak to even contemplate walking this path to recovery, but then that strength, determination (and mostly stubbornness to be honest) comes through, and I take one more step forward. Being an adult child of alcoholics made me strong whether I believe I am or not. It just comes with the territory, you have no choice but to be strong because that is the only way you can survive.
If you are affected by alcoholism in any way, whether it be a family member, friend, coworker, etc. Please consider going to your local Al-Anon or Alateen meeting. It can and will change your life if you let it. It works if you work it. For more information, you can visit the Al-Anon website.
Thank you to Alexa M. for sharing this moving story!
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