Adult Children of Alcoholics: Distance Yourself When Possible
All adult children of alcoholics (ACoAs) are at different stages of recovery. What you or I need is not the same as the next person. But once we become aware of the effects our parent’s alcoholism has had on us, our common primary concern now becomes ourselves.
Distance is a Viable Option
Once we realize the psychological, physiological and emotional issues that have developed due to being raised in a home with an alcoholic, our lives can begin to change if we make that choice. Distancing ourselves from the dysfunctional people and surroundings is one way to begin freeing yourself from the hurtful past so you can move forward into your awesome future.
For our own physical, mental and emotional health, we should create space between ourselves and the parent with the alcohol problem. If that is not possible, I strongly recommend you develop a plan to gain your physical freedom. Don’t do anything rash, but develop a healthy plan. It is very difficult to make headway in your recovery when you are immersed in the chaos daily. When I made the decision to distance myself, I quickly discovered that it would not be well received. Prepare yourself for that.
It’s Time to Be All About You
A therapist explained that alcoholics don’t want anyone to rock the boat. Each member of the family has a role to play in their disease, and they want things to stay the same. However, the time has come, and it’s perfectly acceptable, to be “all about you.” You need to be free to gain perspective, to acknowledge what has gone on in your life, and to begin your journey to a different way of life.
Prepare Yourself for Drama
An awful thing happened to me which turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. If you know anything about families being raised by an alcoholic, you know there is an array of problems and unhealthy dynamics going on. I was tired of it, and on occasion I mustered up the courage to stand up for myself. Like me, you may reach the point where you don’t want the drama anymore, you don’t want the negative energy, and you take a stand. Well, my taking a stand totally upset the family applecart. They chose to separate themselves from me. Despite my efforts to contact them, there was nothing – zilch – silence – for eight years.
The first two years were devastating and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Talk about lack of validation – if my own family didn’t want me, who on earth would love or want me? A therapist explained how I had really shaken the family status quo — so naturally I would be seen as public enemy number one. But during the separation I began to feel free! I wasn’t swept up in the negative conversations, manipulative behavior, the guilt, fear and the enabling. I could focus on me, and I reached out and up to God. I missed having a family, but I didn’t miss having MY family – if you know what I mean? And I prayed that God not send me back into that family situation until He had worked on me, strengthening me and healing me. I didn’t want to go back into the un-healthiness until I could stand strong, and perhaps be a blessing to others in my family, eventually, if it was in God’s plans.
Separation is a Opportunity for Growth
I share all this to say that being apart from the chaos can be a huge blessing! There can be waves of emotion, personal triumphs, healing, learning and growing. I have met ACoAs who are well into their 50s and 60s and still living with their alcoholic, abusive parent amidst the dysfunctional dynamics. If they are healing, and some are, it is sometimes at a snail’s pace. It can be very difficult to heal when the wounds are reopened on a daily basis.
Honoring Our Parents?
Maybe you are thinking – but our parents are our parents! God calls us to honor our mother and father, and I obey God’s commandments as best as humanly possible. But honoring them isn’t the same as allowing them to treat us badly. It doesn’t mean sacrificing ourselves, our happiness, or our pursuit of normalcy. I am not an expert, but I have researched and experienced quite a bit. To me, honoring our parents means respecting the fact that they brought us into the world. It’s a commandment to “honor,” not a commandment to love, adore, enable, cower or endure abuse – none of those are honor.
Consider the Source of the Guilt
If you are still living with alcoholic or dysfunctional family members, I encourage you to find a safe way to get out on your own. If you are living outside the alcoholic’s home, yet you feel obligated to have contact with them every day or be with them every day, please re-think that. In my experience, guilt trips by the dozens were laid on us every week. In my opinion, we don’t owe our parents nearly as much as the dysfunctional ones seem to think we do. Don’t stay because you’ll feel guilty leaving – think about where that guilt originated, please.
Prayerfully consider distancing yourself from the dysfunction. Call upon others in your support network to help you with this decision. And if you don’t have a support network (which I did not), please try to develop one that works for you. This is a big decision, and there will most likely be ramifications – brace yourself for them. Love yourself enough to live the life God intends you to live.
- Daryl Quick, The Healing Journey for Adult Children of Alcoholics (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, ).
- Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden, Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., ).
- Janet Geringer Woititz, Ed.D., The Complete ACOA Sourcebook, (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., ).
- Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, Adult Children of Alcoholics (aka, The Big Red Book), .
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, a doctor, or any type of medical professional. I am by no means an expert. I am an adult child of alcoholics whose heart’s desire is for all ACoAs to break the bonds of their childhood and live the life God intended for them. If you are experiencing serious emotional pain or behavioral issues, please also seek help from a professional counselor or psychologist, or seek out an ACA support group. You owe it to yourself.