an old paper/presentation from my Speech class at SMC, 1996…..
Growing up in an alcoholic home has been characterized as similar in stress to being in the Nazi Concentration Camps of WWII, according to Dr. Vaillant. Alcoholism is like living with an air raid a day says authors, Middleton – Moz & Dwinell. Under these conditions chronic stress becomes normal.
This is how the majority of my life, all of my childhood, has been. Today, I want to tell you a little bit about Children of Alcoholics. I want to first begin to read you a poem written by Jane Middleton – Moz from 1980, that reminds me of my mother.
She Was My Mother, Bless Her Soul
I sometimes sit
in the corner
in the dark
and recall my mother
with a brown bottle in her hand
or the sounds of clanking ice at 2a.m.
she’d call me baby if she wanted another beer
or a slut if she hadn’t had enough
she’d make me cookies on Christmas
before she’d get too drunk.
she would fall asleep on the floor
I’d cover her with a blanket
and put a pillow under her head
I’d awaken in the morning
to the sounds of her screaming
she wasn’t an easy woman to please
most of the time
we didn’t get along
Sometimes I miss her
and the loneliness
Alcoholic families live in a state of crisis which has become normalized. Maybe the most pathogenic factor in alcoholic families is the denial of the reality of the deviant drinking and its impact on the children. In many situation the parents are not only suppose to be the “buffer” – standing between the child and the trauma, being a protective shield, but in these families the parents are the agents inflicting pain too. Living with both the constant unpredictability of the alcoholic parent and the detachment of the co-dependent parent – who is preempted by the stress, is difficult enough for any adult who has a fully developed defense system. But, a child needs to employ massive amounts of energy merely to survive, so this puts their “normal” development process on hold. Which the end result will leave a child who is 5 feeling like they are 30, and 5 years old at 30. They find 3 outcomes of Children of Alcoholics: 1) individuals who literally succumb to their destructive influences of their childhood through suicide, insanity or through being incarcerated most of their lives, 2) is individuals who use massive amounts of denial, repression, projection and other defenses to function but do so in a restrictive way. Their lives replicate their lives of their childhood, and 3) is the ones that can re-experience the pain of the original trauma and work it though.
This tells you that victims can become alcoholics themselves, also workaholics or drug addicts. They tend to have low self-esteem, feel isolated and lonely, will have trouble with relationships and difficulty trusting people. Usually, children of alcoholics can’t just go and have a “normal” life, they get bored because there is no chaos or that horrible excitement. Most of them only feel something when there is a crisis, when no crisis appears they create one. Some believe that once they leave that environment their troubles will disappear, as Suzanne Somers thought. It isn’t true; it is just repressed. Everyone’s childhood is their training ground for life. Silence is deadly. Emotional freedom depends upon breaking the bonds of silence and to gain this freedom victims, such as myself, must find the courage to speak truthfully about their experience. When Suzanne Somers wrote her book, Keeping Secrets in 1988, there were an estimated 28 million Children of Alcoholics in the U.S. alone. As Suzanne, I also wanted to speak for the millions of children that hide in their closets late at night, the millions of children who suffer violence, emotional and physical abuse because of alcohol, the millions of children who feel ashamed and who don’t learn at school because they are exhausted physically because the alcoholic kept the family awake the night before, the millions of children who endure the humiliation and embarrassment of living with a drunk they also call “mom” or “dad”, and the millions of children of alcoholics that have not yet found their way to move on and break the cycle and code of silence of alcoholism.