can having an alcoholic parent ever not lead to dysfunction?

Old 01-13-2023, 11:43 AM
  # 1 (permalink)  
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can having an alcoholic parent ever not lead to dysfunction?

I'm not sure if I'm in denial or if things were really not that bad with my alcoholic father, as my memory and current feelings suggest and I'm hoping you folks might have some insight that I am missing or not seeing. Sorry about the length - I thought this post would be much shorter.

I experienced a bunch of childhood trauma (ACE score of 9) and have spent my entire adult life either suffocating from under the weight of the trauma or actively fighting tooth and nail to recover from it. I have undergone extensive psychotherapy (individual and group) treatments during the past 8 years following my separation from an abusive husband (we were married for 20 yrs, he was physically and emotionally abusive the entire time). I feel like I have confronted every ugly truth about my life, leaving few stones unturned. I went no contact with my mother (narcissist) and brother (golden child) 7 years ago and no contact with my oldest sister and her family in 2020. I am still in contact with my sister who is one year older than me and who experienced the same crap as I did growing up. I am not in contact with any other relatives and feel at peace with my decision to sever those ties permanently.

One aspect of my childhood that I haven't really explored in therapy is my relationship with my father because I don't feel any negative emotions related to his parenting or his alcoholism. He died of stomach cancer/severe liver disease when I was 8 and I know I have a bunch of abandonment issues and complicated grief stuff related to that loss, but I don't hate him and I feel like he was the only adult in my life who actually saw and understood me, the only person in my life who cared about me and who tried unsuccessfully to protect me. If anything, I resent the people in his life who failed him and who ultimately robbed me of my one chance of having a stable, loving parent.

While he was alive, my mother would yell at him constantly about his drinking and after he died, she yelled at her children about him. I resent her lack of compassion and general inability to empathize with anyone, but especially with him, far more than anything that growing up with an alcoholic parent might have done to me. I was over 40 yrs old before I realized that his drinking and her outbursts were not related to anything I did or did not do. Up to that point, I firmly believed that the dysfunction in our family was all on me. I've been reading about codependency lately and can see tendencies towards that behaviour in my life. But, I tend not to get close enough to people to bring out that behaviour and I am constantly on the lookout for attempts by me to control things that are outside of my control. I also volunteered for a while at a women's homelessness and addiction centre and found it easy to embrace their harm reduction principles and philosophy of meeting people where they are at without trying to fix them. I know I am heartbroken that this horrible disease took the one person who literally meant the world to me and who I should have had in my life. As weird as it sounds, I think it might have been easier for me if he hadn't died when I was so young because I never got the chance to be angry at him or the disease and I'm kind of wondering if maybe I need to be.

This has all come up as something I want to deal with now because I met someone a few months ago who has struggled with chronic alcoholism and who is actively drinking with no plans or desire to stop. He was sober for 10+ yrs but hasn't been sober for a long time now. He has expressed a desire to slow down and is working with a doctor. He has said that he will never drink around me (he volunteered this as a boundary that would help him early on - I didn't request it). Having someone in my life who is actively drinking when I've spent my entire life brushing off the impact that alcoholism has had on my own life feels like a recipe for disaster. I have learned to manage my trauma symptoms by limiting exposure to known triggers and working towards actively and intentionally prioritizing feeling safe and present as often as I can. It's hell when some stupid trigger pops up and derails my nervous system - I don't like being surprised about anything, least of all from my own brain. I don't want to wait until something in this new relationship triggers some deep, unresolved, and unknown wound but I just feel like all the other crap in my life was more traumatic and I'm hoping that maybe I've already dealt with the impact alcoholism has had on my life even though I haven't explicitly focused on it.

Do I sound like someone who has dealt with the effects of an alcoholic parent? Can someone just not have been impacted negatively by having an alcoholic parent? Could other trauma be obscuring this wound, and if so, how do people untangle a mess like this? I've been diagnosed with complex PTSD, major depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder. I've had issues with eating disorders, suicide ideation, and self-harm that are currently well managed. I sometimes drink, but I place a lot of rules around my own alcohol consumption because I tend to binge drink when I do, and then become very depressed and suicidal very quickly. I'm asking these questions here because I'm looking for truth and willing to listen. I don't think I've really needed to identify the source of the trauma in order to make the progress I've made so far, but now I'm wondering if maybe I need to dig into this more specifically to continue healing. Any insight would be appreciated. Also, I'm not suggesting that my life has been great or that I've escaped life unscathed. I'm more concerned that I feel like this hasn't been an issue when maybe it has been a massive issue and I just can't see it as such.
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Old 01-13-2023, 01:07 PM
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Hi cerid, glad you decided to post. For context, I also had an alcoholic Father.

Can a person grow up in a household with alcoholism and not be affected? I'm sure there are some who can, or who realize the affect and take care of that early on.

Doesn't sound like that is the case for you though? I'm going to guess your Mother's treatment of you in relation to that probably had far more impact that your Father's alcoholism did though.

As for not having him live longer and being able to be angry at him and at alcoholism etc - well every experience if different but I don't know that it really helps. Far better to get to the root causes of any struggles you are having now than looking back.

As for your current relationship. In childhood we learn how to treat people and how to be treated. You mention that you resent your Mother not having more compassion for your Dad. That kind of suggests that maybe, just maybe, you are playing that out right now.

Does he treat you well? Does he disappear for days? Can he be moody and erratic? Your current relationship is in fact a recipe for disaster. Alcoholism is progressive. Him "working with a doctor" sounds like just putting it off. Until he actually quits using any drugs and gets totally sober and goes through recovery, you don't really know him.

You know him as an alcoholic, he may be quite different when sober. Even if he goes a day or two without alcohol, that's not the same as being really sober and in recovery.

You might also want to check out the Friends and Family of Alcoholics forum:

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Old 01-14-2023, 06:06 PM
  # 3 (permalink)  
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Thanks for your reply Trailmix! I want to say he treats me well, but between reading your reply and the post about "who they really are," as well as reading through other posts on this site, I'm thinking that's irrelevant now. I joined an online dating site back in the fall with the intention of meeting someone with who I could have a sober first kiss and a healthy relationship because I've never had either. I couldn't have landed farther from the mark

I made an appointment with a therapist to sort through this with a professional and I've looked into Al-Anon groups in my area. None of the Al-Anon groups are nearby but they have some online options and I will check them out next week.
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