Addiction and Recovery
By Bob Gaydos
I recently closed a column on the effects of living with an alcoholic by noting, “It’s not just about the drinking.” In other words, contrary to what many people believe, removing active alcoholism from one’s life does not automatically remove all the effects of that alcoholism. Far from it.
In fact, many of those effects may become deep-seated, behavioral and psychological problems that follow the non-alcoholics into adulthood, They may be unaware of how the exposure to someone’s alcoholism in the past -- especially that of a parent or close relative -- is affecting their lives on a daily basis. Unaware of the root of the problems and unaware that they may be treatable, untold numbers of adults struggle with issues throughout their lives, figuring, in essence, that’s just who they are.
That’s true, but it’s not necessarily a life sentence. Change is possible. Awareness is the key.
That earlier column included a 20-question quiz offered by Al-Anon, outlining certain traits to help non-drinkers decide if they are carrying the effects of someone else’s alcoholism into adult life. These effects have been well-documented by researchers.
Common symptoms of children of alcoholics -- even as adults -- are low self-esteem, guilt, feelings of helplessness, loneliness and fears of abandonment, chronic depression, high levels of anxiety and stress and a feeling that they created whatever the problem is, so they have to fix it.
Perfectionism may become an issue. Some develop phobias. Trust can be a major problem. Intimacy can be threatening.
Adult Children of Alcoholics, which is not affiliated with Al-Anon, has what it calls The Laundry List, which contains 14 traits of the adult child of an alcoholic. The list is similar to Al-Anon’s 20 questions.
A couple of Items:
- Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
- Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.
Again, many people struggle with these feelings and behaviors for much of their lives, blaming themselves for not being able to handle things in a more “grown-up” manner. They’re married, they have families, good jobs. They’re respected members of the community, serve on boards, volunteer for good causes.
Yet, inside, unseen, waiting to appear at the most unexpected moment, are behaviors learned many years ago as the result of living with active addiction. If healthy behaviors have not replaced the unhealthy ones learned in living with an active alcoholic, they can become deep-seated.
The good news is that people are capable of change. They can learn, adapt, grow, no matter what age and how long the effects of living with alcoholism have been ingrained in them. The process begins with honestly looking at one’s past and deciding whether or not someone else’s active addiction was a major part of it. Then comes looking at oneself honestly and seeing if any of the common traits associated with growing up with alcoholism are present.
Finally, comes the big decision -- whether or not one is willing to do what is necessary to change, to begin to escape the grips of being exposed to alcoholism. That can be done in a variety of ways.
Groups like Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics offer opportunities to learn that other people have struggled with and are still struggling with similar problems. You’re not the only one. Being anonymous, they offer a safe place to talk about one’s feelings and they offer ways to begin healing. They offer hope.
Private therapy with a professional trained in the effects of alcoholism is another way to begin the process of self-awareness. A combination of approaches may be useful. There’s no one correct way. The important thing is to begin.
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