In this blog I’ll be sharing the typical characteristics of families of alcoholics.
When we think about alcohol misuse, it isn’t just about the drinker but the family. This post is about the impact of someone’s drinking on the family members. It could be that you lived with a drinker as a child, are a parent of or partner to an alcoholic.
Impact on families of alcoholics
As a child I only really remember the bad and had very few good memories of my Dad. Recently I’ve realised that he was a strict person but this mixed with alcohol, at times was scary.
Like any kid I wanted to play with my friends, go to their houses, explore and do fun things. It felt like this was always a battle with my Dad. Everything felt like hard work and was usually met with ‘No’.
At times it felt like I couldn’t have fun. I just wanted to be like other kids and be free. Be free to be a kid and not limited, well at least not to the degree that my Dad thought was reasonable.
Fear, Disappointment and Uncertainty
When he was in the throws of his drinking, which did change over time. He became very unreliable, I remember expecting him to a family meal for my birthday and he just didn’t turn up. I couldn’t understand it and wondered what I’d done. It was always me, always something I’d done wrong or so I thought.
Fear and feeling unsafe in my home was very prevalent for me. Anticipating my Dad’s actions became ingrained in me. Walking on Eggshells is a common term used in a home with addiction, mine was no different. Waiting for him to come home with a sense of excitement but also apprehension. I was desperate for a positive welcome, a proud Dad that couldn’t wait to greet his child. That was just a picture in my mind and not of reality.
Usually I was met with “I’ve only just got in the door Joanne, go away” or something along those lines.
Talk about rejection, I was so hurt and didn’t know what to do. I had no control over the situation. Didn’t know how to respond, so I probably just ran away feeling very upset. The problem was the ‘hope’ was still there, which really didn’t help me but I lived in hope that one day he’d react the way I’d dreamed of.
My typical characteristics as a child of an alcoholic
It wasn’t until I’d done a lot of self-development and got some distance between myself and my past that I could see things more clearly. My Dad was no longer in my life as he passed away 2 months before my 21st birthday.
The damage of living in an alcoholic home for me was pretty severe. I’d experienced disconnection, loneliness, feeling de-valued and unloved, physical and mental abuse and much more.
Trying to make sense of things as a child is really hard, now I can see what happened and can only guess at my Dad’s reasons. Sadly, he isn’t here to find out why. It wouldn’t change anything but it would be good to understand what he was going through.
Examples of how my Dad’s drinking affected my life
It’s probably helpful to share some examples of my experiences and give some context.
In my late teens, early twenties my friendships became very difficult. I struggled to make and keep friends and usually said or did the wrong thing. I opened my mouth without thinking and didn’t really have much tact. I had and to a degree still have black and white thinking, it was either right with my Dad or it wasn’t.
Because of my lack of love and affection as a child, I became very promiscuous and had a lot of one night stands and generally didn’t respect myself or my body. I craved the attention and I was lucky enough (that’s how I felt at the time) to get it.
My main challenges and characteristic flaws (as I saw it)
I had no boundaries and I let people mis-treat me
I feared people in authority
I had no idea what feelings were or how to express them
I kept everyone at arms length because I couldn’t trust people
I saw the world as Black and White
I became hyper-sensitive (which I still struggle with now) to my surroundings
I feel unsafe
I disliked the unknown as it didn’t feel safe
I experienced anxiety
I couldn’t cope with change very well
I attracted partners that mistreated me
This is just a few of the issues and this meant I needed a lot of support, although I didn’t realise it until years later. Those affected often kept things secret, try to bury the past and not face what’s happened. In my experience this rarely helps, now I work to raise awareness about the impact on families of addicts. I focus on helping others to learn self-care, build self-esteem and confidence.
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Remember you aren’t alone and you can always join my Change Your Mind Facebook group, where other families of alcoholics support each other with challenges they experience from the past or present. You may have lived with an alcoholic in your past, but it’s still impacting you in the present.