Behind every alcoholic parent, there is a child of an alcoholic. And, with over 7.5 million people in the UK showing signs of alcohol dependence, that’s an awful lot of children who will be affected by their parents drinking (one in five UK children, to be exact.) Something that ties these people together is the certain personality traits that are prevalent in all adult children of alcoholics, with these traits being based on the fear which they were subjected to in their childhood. This fear is something that I know I certainly experienced first-hand in my own childhood.
Such fear causes me to grieve for my younger self who was, ultimately, denied of an opportunity to just be a child, for I constantly felt like I was just waiting for the arguments to start. It felt inescapable, so much so that, even when I was in bed the fear would still be there. I felt like I was always listening out for raised voices, at which point I’d jump out of bed and run downstairs, screaming for them to stop. It was experiences such as these which is why I had to learn to be an adult before I was ready, and why that same sense of fear is still ingrained in me, even today. It causes me to feel extremely anxious if I am away from home for longer than a day without both my Mum and Dad present, because I worry that something will have happened to one of them, this being the reason why I used to hate going on school trips, too.
In addition to experiencing the above- an unwavering sense of lingering fear– growing up, I also experienced a sense of helplessness/powerlessness, a result of everything in my life feeling very much out of my control. Why did I feel so out of control? Because I existed in an unstable environment as a child, one that was centred around unpredictability, with heated arguments, (to put it lightly), being an all-too-common occurrence, and something that caused me a great deal of emotional harm.
Because of the unpredictable, chaotic, and all-round frightening nature of my childhood, and because of the subsequent lack of control such a childhood caused me to feel, my adulthood sees me craving the opposite for my life- predictability, and control. The latter- my desire for control – is something which I believe played a big part in the development of my eating disorder. I am certainly not alone in this belief, either, as statistics highlight how children of alcoholics are in fact five times as likely to develop an eating disorder compared to children without alcoholic parents.
It is my desire for predictability and routine that also sees me being quite ‘obsessional’ in my ways. The reason why I obsessively seek out a routine is because doing so makes me feel ‘safe’, with this- safety– being a feeling that I was denied of in my childhood.
When I break out of my routine, even if its to do something that should be considered ‘fun’, the build-up to whatever it is that disrupts my routine causes me to feel intense anxiety as a direct result, this tying into my fear of change, of any type.
On the topic of ‘fun’, this is something that I struggle with a great deal. By that, I mean I find having fun ‘difficult’, and when I do try to relax and be more ‘care-free’, I find myself feeling excessively self-conscious and undeserving of ‘fun’, this belief contributing to my low self-worth. Instead, I resort to taking myself very ‘seriously’ all the time and being overly ‘rigid’ in my ways, my intense need for perfection and overpowering sense of responsibility combining to make me feel ‘different’ from other people who can have fun so effortlessly.
The difficulties I face in ‘having fun’, as I have referred to above, exist to hinder my social skills, with this- my poor social skills- being another personality trait of mine that I believe arose due to my exposure to an alcoholic parent. Such ‘poor’ social skills translate to me favouring being alone, hence why I have always struggled to make friends, this being perceived by some as evidence of me being ‘antisocial’, particularly since I tend to avoid social situations at all costs…
Instead of putting my energy into making friends, I have spent my lifetime putting it into my efforts to achieve an ‘over the top’ sense of independence, with this search for independence having seen me taking on an ‘adult’ role before I was even a teenager.
I have never really spoken about my experiences with an alcoholic parent before, other than very briefly to explain why I don’t drink alcohol, mainly because I choose to ‘stuff’ my feelings from my childhood away because it hurts too much to relive the memories. The issue I have in doing this, however, is that whilst yes, it allows me to pretend that everything was ‘normal’ (a.k.a. be in denial about my childhood), it means that even now in my adulthood, I still find myself ‘stuffing’ away my feelings. This is because doing so is all I have ever known, and so, I feel as though I have lost the ability to feel or express my feelings all together.
The only emotion I ever really feel is ‘numbness’, which isn’t really an emotion, is it, but rather a lack of one. I recognise that these difficulties I have, not just in expressing my emotions, but also in all the other personality traits that I have mentioned in today’s post, have arisen due to the ‘brave face’ I have had to force myself to put on throughout the entirety of my life. No matter how bad things got, I never wanted to admit what was going on at home because I was so scared of being ‘taken away’ by social services. And so, even now when I do want to feel things, the good emotions like happiness and joy, I just can’t. The years of teaching myself to remain silent by not speaking up, saying how I feel, or showing emotion, have led me to this place, and I so very much want to break free from it.
Today’s post is, I hope, the first step in doing this- in breaking free from the memories of my childhood that I have suppressed for far too long.
From today then, I vow to be the adult my younger self needed, and I will make sure that this cycle of addiction ends here, with me. It will not be passed on to future generations, I refuse to let it.