It was a big day! My twin brother, Sammy, and I perched ourselves on tiptoes in front of the lace-covered picture window. We peered expectantly outside, checking the street below for a little grey Plymouth we were expecting any minute. There it came! It was rolling slowly to a stop at the curb of the street below. We watched him get out of the car and start up the steps toward the front door. We didn’t know him all that well, but we had spent occasional weekends with him and Mama and our two older brothers.
It felt like we’d spent most of our lives with Grampa and Gramma Wanner (not our real grandparents). We had lived with them as foster parents for the last two years, from ages two to four. I studied the approaching figure, looking for something familiar. I recognized the newsboy cap Daddy always wore pulled low, close to his warm brown eyes. He was slim-built and seemed taller than I remembered. In his arms were two stuffed black Scottie dogs—one for each of us. Daddy opened the door and gathered us into a big hug, tucking a Scottie dog into each of our arms. Butterflies filled my tummy. I was very happy to see Daddy—we were going home! But I was sad to leave Grampa and Gramma too. How could I feel so happy and so sad all at the same time?
Children of alcoholics (CoAs) are ACoAs (Adult Children of Alcoholics) in the making. Wayne Kritsberg in “The Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome” describes how children in alcoholic families learn four general rules: (1) rigidity, (2) silence, (3) denial, and (4) isolation. Claudia Black in “It Will Never Happen to Me” describes those rules as “don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel. Kritsberg indicates that even when active drinking may no longer be occurring, the four general rules mentioned above will continue to operate and will be passed from generation to generation. Because these codes of conduct become so ingrained, when these children grow up, they have a tendency to search out people who follow the same rules—and they often marry alcoholics or drug users or, at the very least, other children of alcoholics. ACoAs are four times more likely to become alcoholics than the general population. Four out of five ACoAs will marry an alcoholic. Christine Adams said in an article in ‘Marriage and Family Living” that only five percent of ACoAs get help. I was one of the lucky ones who married a wonderful, non-drinking man who had inspired and encouraged my journey toward wholeness.
I am an ACoA. When I graduated from high school and could at last leave the alcoholic home, I thought I was able to leave all that chaos, abuse, and unhappiness behind. But it took me some time to realize I carried all the above carefully-learned survival techniques right along with me. They impacted my view of the world, of people, and of myself and my dreams. It impacted important life and career decisions and dramatically shaped my future. When I saw some of those self-limiting qualities showing up in my daughters, I was aghast. They were growing up in a peace-filled non-alcoholic home that my husband and I had lovingly created. . . . why would they act like children in a alcoholic home do? Then I got it: I was their model—my behavior and actions had spoken louder than words! The cycle was in full swing and would go on repeating itself. I wanted to break it if possible.
If I could say one thing to anyone living now in an alcoholic home or who lived in one as a child, read some of the phenomenal books out there on this topic……you owe it to yourself to know what happened to you because of what you experienced. Talk to someone who knows about these things or is a therapist who can help. Do it as a favor to yourself and your future….but especially as a favor to any children you might have. Do all you can to stop the cycle, or you may see it live on in the children, the grandchildren, and more.
Two books mentioned above are good and there are many, many others…just google “children of alcoholics” or “adult children of alcoholics.” Reading the stories of ACoAs can be enlightening too. I am presently writing mine…..it’s nearing completion. I’ll write some vignettes in coming posts. Blessings and perseverance! It is a journey worth taking! Sonvy