I'm The Child Of An Alcoholic
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Politics and Activism

I'm The Child Of An Alcoholic

For people who don't have loved ones that suffer from addiction, it may seem odd how big a part this has played in making me who I am.

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I'm The Child Of An Alcoholic
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I'm the child of an alcoholic (COA).

For people who don't have loved ones that suffer from addiction, it may seem odd how big a part this has played in making me who I am. Saying alcoholism or addiction is a family disease barely scrapes the surface of how deeply our childhood experiences have shaped us. I only realize now as an adult how much it truly has impacted me, and I'm discovering different things about myself everyday. I cannot speak for all adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) as we come from all different walks of life with all different experiences. This article is a discussion of my personal experiences. As of now, this is what being an ACOA means to me:

It means I'm not "normal". I always felt like I was different from my peers, and life experiences have only contributed to this. My dad got arrested for a DUI when I was in middle school. Catty preteen girls and neighborhood moms gossiped about it openly, like it was the newest celebrity tabloid. During college, I'd prefer sitting at home doing school work instead of going to a party; it made my skin crawl to even think about watching people binge drinking to the point of puking, falling down the stairs, or passing out. I would drive home on breaks wondering what I was going to find: my dad who I loved more than anything or a stranger drunk out of his mind. Even when my father passed away and I stepped away from Al-Anon and ACOA meetings, I realized I still didn't feel "normal". I was walking this weird line between the normal world and the ACOA/ Al-Anon/ AA one, even though I was no longer actually in it. I still felt "different" from my peers and even now I can't pinpoint the exact reason why. I know part of it is my own choosing; I don't partake in what people my age are interested in doing (drinking, getting high, partying, etc.). I have plenty of friends who are in that scene. I don't judge them for their choices, if I didn't have the experiences I did I may think it's fun too, but once you see people's lives destroyed by these activities it just loses its appeal. At least that was the case for me.

It means I live with the statistic that 33 to 40 percent of COAs develop an alcohol use disorder themselves. Genetics account for 40 to 60 percent of a person's susceptibility to alcoholism, and there's nothing I can do to change that, so I change my actions instead. I hesitate before drinking a glass of wine at dinner, often only having two or three sips before pushing it aside. I don't touch recreational drugs. If I am prescribed a controlled substance, I only take it when absolutely necessary or exactly as prescribed. I do everything in my power to prevent what may be the inevitable. I will never know for sure if I am an addict or not unless I become one. It's a reality I live with daily, and a question I really don't want to know the answer to.

It means I connect best with fellow ACOAs. They are my lifeline and my family. There's a strange unwavering bond between people who have experienced similar traumas and life events, and I am blessed beyond belief to have these people in my life. However, the statistic mentioned above applies to them as well. I have ACOA friends who are active addicts, in recovery, and those, like me, who have never struggled with addiction thus far. I know people who have ended up in institutions or jail after relapses. I've been forced to detach at times for their well-being and my own. It sounds incredibly cold, but if you haven't loved an addict you just don't know. I can hate the disease, know it's not safe for me to be around them when they're using, but still love them and want what's best for them.

It means I'm consistently in recovery. People will say "Wait, but you said you don't drink or do drugs... how are you in recovery?" Addiction and alcoholism impacts everyone around the person who is using. It's not a healthy environment, and you develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. As an ACOA, these coping mechanisms allowed me to survive when I was growing up or living with the person who was using. However, in the real world these same "skills" can be detrimental and harmful to me or the people I love. I mention a few throughout the article, and all of these are things I am working on. I work daily to better myself and to be the person I want to be.

It means romantic relationships are incredibly challenging for me. I have to be very careful when choosing who I date, because I'm very likely to be attracted to people who are alcoholics (even if I never know they are drinking) or some other compulsive type of personality, such as a workaholic. It's not something I consciously do, I just tend to be attracted to people like this. When I've sat down and taken a good long look at my track record of past relationships, I've realized I'm consistently picking people who are not good for me. This is especially dangerous since I'm still working on myself and figuring out who I am. Being in a relationship can take my unhealthy behaviors that I usually can control, intensify them by about a million, and completely throw me off kilter. It means while in a relationship I have to consistently be working in overdrive just keep myself healthy. I've come to the conclusion that I am not ready for that right now, and I'm completely okay with that (Side note: I highly recommend the single life. Not having to shave my legs everyday or share my chocolate stash is freaking great).

It means I picked the perfect profession for me: nursing. I'm ridiculously responsible, level-headed in a crisis situation, feel the need to excel at everything I do, and am good at reading people (all of which are identified as common ACOA traits). Analyzing my patients and being able to sense their emotions allows me to connect quickly with them, establishing a rapport that can help them recover more quickly, and at times save their life.

While I have had many challenges being an ACOA, I've also had an equal number of blessings. I'm aware and open about my struggles, imperfections, and vulnerabilities, which allows me to learn more about myself. I try to help others going through similar situations, like so many have done for me. Because I know how quickly life can change, I am consistently grateful for so many parts of my life, especially my amazing friends and family. My knowledge of addictions has led me to writing resolutions and presenting them at student nursing association conventions where I'm able to educate other future nurses on how to best help patients suffering from addiction and their families; I plan to continue my work regarding addictions throughout my career. I look in the mirror at night and, more often than not, I'm content with the person looking back at me. If I wasn't an ACOA, I wouldn't be the person I am today. So honestly, I wouldn't change a thing.

This is a very quick summary of what being an ACOA means to me. Once again, these are just my thoughts and experiences. Currently, in the United States alone, an estimated 6.6 million children under the age of 18 years live in households with at least one alcoholic parent. This does not include people who are currently adults that grew up in alcoholic homes. Therefore, you cannot group us all into one category, nor can you say we all have the same personality or experiences. We tend to have some common characteristics, discussed in Al-Anon or ACOA related literature as well as in healthcare journals, but we are not the same. My story and feelings are mine and mine alone; therefore, take what you like and leave the rest.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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