Growing up with addiction in the family is tough. Even if an addict achieves and maintains sobriety, growing up in a dysfunctional family leaves deep emotional wounds. Many adult children of addicts have difficulty understanding how to find healing and freedom. The bulk of attention focuses upon the addict – “What will happen next?” “Don’t upset them.” “What kind of mood will they be in?” – while the children grow up with their most basic emotional needs being ignored, unmet, or even worse, discounted or trampled. Here are five tips to help you navigate from stormy, dangerous waters to calm and peaceful waters.
- You are not alone. 45% of our population has been directly exposed to alcoholism – mostly as children – and 78% of the U.S. has a primary relative (parent, sibling, child, spouse) suffering from an addiction. Often the child of an addict grows up feeling left out of their own family, ignored, and neglected. This feeling carries over as the child grows up; always feeling not quite included, or on the outside looking in, not part of the inner circle. If you are the child of an alcoholic parent, don’t be afraid to let people know. You will be amazed how many share your experiences and have similar feelings, thoughts, concerns, worries, or struggles.
- You are worth more than you have been taught to believe. Having that ‘outsider’ feeling leads to a belief in the lie that you are not worthy enough. How one person treated you does not determine your worth or value. Your addicted parent was wrong about many things and their view of your limited value and importance was also one of their mistakes. Don’t you believe their lie; God loves and values you and sacrificed His Son to redeem you and give you hope. You do have value.
- End the cycle now. Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), or children of any addicted parent, are prone to develop addictions themselves and/or be attracted to and marry someone with an addiction. Even though we might have made a pact in our soul to never become like our addicted parent or marry someone like them, many psychological reasons propel us toward this seemingly irresistible fate. But you do have a choice, but you need to work on some of the hurts and lies you absorbed and lived by during your tumultuous childhood.
- Learn healthy rules. Because of the addiction, most families need to lie and keep secrets, and act as if everything is normal. So the children grow up not trusting anyone, being good pretenders or chameleons, and perfecting the art of hiding the truth. To engage in meaningful relationships, trust, being open and vulnerable, having confidence to be yourself, and being honest are essential. Again, you learned to play the Game of Life under very bizarre rules, but they were the only rules you knew. Now, you don’t want to play that losing game anymore, so you need to learn some new and much healthier rules leading to transformational living.
- Use your emotions effectively. In order for a young kid to survive in the crazy addiction home, you need to learn how to detach from or hide your feelings way deep inside you. Being young and having so much anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, loneliness, detachment, rejection, hatred, embarrassment, guilt, and shame is overwhelming. Self-preservation demanded you stuff, ignore, or bury your feelings deep inside. Not just your ‘bad’ feelings, but also your positive ones. You were even afraid to be happy or get your hopes up because when you did, the addict would twist them or burst that bubble quickly. As an adult, moving on and growing up in life demands you to be able to feel, understand, and use your emotions effectively as they are a great resource for our decision-making process and enjoyment of life.
If you have been struggling with an addicted parent, help is available. Contact one of our Lighthouse Care Guides to find out about treatment programs or for support for yourself in dealing with your parent. Contact us at 844-LifeChange (543-3242) for help today.