Around these parts we talk a lot about the challenges that Adult Children of Alcoholics face.
And we typically take it from the view point of being a kid that grew up with an alcoholic parent(s).
But I often get emails from people that aren’t sure if they fit in the typical ACOA box because their parent’s drinking didn’t kick off until they were much older.
I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately and what I realized is that we ACOAs, regardless of when our parent started drinking, deal with much of the same shit.
But of course there are some differences.
For example, when you’re a kid growing up with an alcoholic parent, your choices are limited simply because you depend 100% on your parent to take care of you and keep you alive.
However, if you’re an adult that’s financially independent, possibly with a family of your own to care for, you have different choices when it comes to how to deal with an alcoholic parent.
But please don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that it’s easier for an adult – not at all.
Just as a kid, with an alcoholic parent, often ends up taking on an adult role in the family – adults with an alcoholic parent may find that suddenly they’re parenting their parent.
Either way, we’re all in the same boat even if how we got in the boat is different.
So if you’re, what I like to call, a later-in-life ACOA this post is for you.
Today, we’re discussing some of most common characteristics that show up in an alcoholic family system – regardless of when your parent’s drinking became an issue.
My hope is that after reading today’s post you’ll not only have a better understanding of the alcoholic family but you’ll also see that you’re not alone. That you’re supported, understood and that we have more in common than you think.
The most important piece in this discussion is you. So, once you’re finished reading, head on over to the comment section and share your thoughts, ideas and insights on today’s topic.
If you are a later-in-life ACOA, what do you struggle with the most when dealing with your alcoholic parent? Where do you find you need the most help?
Remember, your voice, experiences and insights are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
As always, thanks for reading!
#1 It’s Time To Meet The Big D aka Denial
In order to truly understand the many quirks of the alcoholic family system you have to understand the role that denial plays.
To put it simply, denial is the superglue that holds the system together. It’s what creates the clichéd elephant in the room that you may have heard other people with alcoholism in their family talk about.
More than likely, it’s the alcoholic (your parent) that’s in denial that they have a problem. But denial can also impact not only how you see the situation but it can confuse your siblings, if you have any, as well as any extended family members.
Once you recognize and accept how durable and persistent denial can be, your job – instead of trying to get your parent to see that their drinking is an issue or trying to convince other family members that mom or dad needs help – is to take care of you.
Your job isn’t to lead people out of their denial. Your job is to get the help and support you need to cope with the unfortunate reality that you’re now facing.
Understanding that denial exists in the alcoholic family system can help keep you sane in an otherwise insane situation. It will keep you from second guessing yourself as perhaps other members of your family and the alcoholic, refuse to take the leap into reality.
That doesn’t mean it can never happen but if you meet reality before they do it’s helpful to understand how big of a role denial can play.
Denial, in all of it’s lovely forms, is something I’ve written about before. So, if you’d like to do more exploring, check out these posts:
#2 The Alcoholic Is King Or Queen
I’ll be the first to admit that simplifying something that’s as complex as the alcoholic family system is not easy to do.
So, if what I’m discussing here doesn’t match your experience exactly, don’t worry. I understand that every family is unique. That’s why it’s your job to take these concepts and think about how they might apply to your situation.
For example, in a majority of families with an alcoholic – the alcoholic is king or queen.
That means that the alcoholic is, what some professionals in the world of addiction would call, the organizing principle of the family.
The alcoholic is calling all of the shots. They are the reason that every rule is made. They are the reason that lies are told. And they are the main character in every story that’s shared.
So, just as a kid, growing up with an alcoholic parent, would have to adjust their life and personality to cope with the forever changing mood and behavior of the alcoholic, so does the adult who’s parent becomes an alcoholic later in life.
You may find that you have to devote more of your time and attention away from your own life because your parent’s drinking consumes you.
You may have to cancel or shift plans constantly. You may find yourself running to your parent’s rescue when they’ve had too much to drink the night before and now they can’t function because they’re hungover.
It can get even trickier if you have a family of your own. For example, if you have kids, you may worry about leaving them alone with your alcoholic parent.
The point here is to recognize, in your own life, just how all-consuming your parent may have become as a result of their drinking.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, even burdened, by the needs of your parent know that this is normal in the alcoholic family system. It’s normal because they may just be wearing you out emotionally, mentally and even physically.
#3 Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number
Whether your parent’s drinking became a problem when you were 5, 35 or 50, it’s important to remember that age is just a number.
In the crazy and chaotic world of addiction – the pain, frustration, disappointment and even trauma we experience doesn’t discriminate because of age.
Going forward, it’s important to remember that one of the most important pieces of your recovery is the community you keep. Especially with addiction, a topic that can still feel taboo at times, it’s so important to surround yourself with people that “get” what you’re going through.
Whatever you do, don’t isolate and please for the love of God, don’t ever buy into the belief that you’re alone or that you have to handle it all on your own. Even if you’re a later-in-life ACOA, we have more in common than you think and plenty to learn from each other.
As this African proverb says:
If you want to go quickly go alone. If you want to go farther go together.
And yes my friend, we are all in this one together.