Adult Children of Alcoholics

When new stressors present themselves…

When I first met Alisa*, she was very confused. As a highly successful 32-year-old attorney, she was used to feeling strong and capable. She spent countless hours at work preparing for cases, as well as extra prep at home.

But lately, she had begun feeling very anxious. She had a new boss, whom she thought was “micromanaging” her. She was having trouble sleeping, starting to doubt her abilities at work, and even having times when she visibly shook in the courtroom.

This made her perceive herself as “weak.” As a result, she had begun drinking a bit more alcohol than she was comfortable with to help her nervous system calm down. She feared becoming like her father.

The specter of a child having gone through abuse…

Alisa didn’t understand why she was feeling anxious and was deeply ashamed by her vulnerability.

Alisa’s father had been an alcoholic throughout her childhood. When he was drunk, which was most nights and some days, he frequently raged his frustration at Alisa’s mother. Sometimes this went on all night.

Alisa’s mother cried and begged her father to stop. Originally frightened by her mother’s responses, Alisa took on the job of comforting her mother and coaching her on what to do and say in response to her father’s verbal abuse. Eventually her father began to verbally assault Alisa as bad as he did to her mother. At times, Alisa’s father appeared to be watching and waiting for Alisa to make some mistake. When this happened, he would scream at her and insult her competence.

Connecting to what’s beneath your current struggles…

In therapy, Alisa was able to connect the recent anxiety she had been experiencing with her new boss to the previous trauma with her alcoholic father. She was able to work through the physical sensations, emotions, and maladaptive beliefs these memories with her father had created.

In doing this, Alisa was able to realize that, although she had experienced significant danger in the past with her father, she now had options. Her boss was not her father; therefore, she could decide whether to accept the situation and stay in her position, leave her job for another opportunity, or even negotiate new dynamics with her boss. Her anxiety had dissipated.

Alisa decided to talk to her boss to see if he could alter the way he manages her. Not only did he honor her request, but he thanked her for pointing out his tendency to micromanage. Now Alisa was able to experience peace at work again.

Alisa’s story is not uncommon.

As an adult child of an alcoholic, you may have been emotionally or physically abused… or just experienced chaos and unpredictability.

You may have been embarrassed by your parent’s behavior when drunk. Maybe you couldn’t have your friends come over… or maybe you were confused and frightened by your parent’s change in personality “without reason.”

You may have even questioned your own sanity if you’ve spoken about your concerns with other family members and were told that you were just overreacting—that nothing was wrong.

If one of your parents was not an alcoholic…

… chances are he or she was consumed by your alcoholic parent and you didn’t get everything you needed from that parent either. Often the non-alcoholic parent is exhausted by worrying about the alcoholic, or from tending to all of the family’s needs that the alcoholic is not attending to, and there just isn’t anything left.

You may have even been asked to step up and fill in ways that your alcoholic parent isn’t, such as helping to raise your younger siblings or obtaining a job if your alcoholic parent isn’t working. So you have to grow up fast.

You may have been frightened by the behavior of your non-alcoholic parent, as well. Maybe there was fighting between the two parents, and you saw your non-alcoholic parent crying or yelling. You had to take care of that parent’s emotions by becoming their confidant.

It is often very frightening for a child to witness their alcoholic parent behaving in unpredictable ways. You may have even wanted your non-alcoholic parent to protect you from this by leaving the alcoholic and, when this didn’t happen, believed yourself to be unlovable or unimportant.

Adult children of alcoholics often taken themselves very seriously…

… and have difficulty letting down their guards to have fun and be silly.

They may fear criticism, authority, and angry people.

They tend to be hard on themselves and overly responsible and sometimes develop their own addictions… or partner with someone who is an addict or alcoholic.

They frequently minimize the trauma that they experienced.

Let’s work together… there is hope.

EMDR therapy and somatic psychotherapy are considered two of the most effective therapeutic approaches to address the trauma. And growing up in an alcoholic home is traumatic.

In therapy…

We will choose a specific memory related to the trauma to work with. Then we will home in on the various components of this memory- associated body sensations, emotions, images, or negative beliefs.

I use tappers that provide a light, gentle vibration that alternates left and right. You will hold one in each hand as you recall the distressing memory. This is a neurobiological intervention. This left-right pattern works to lower distress as you recall the disturbing experience. Once the distress is lowered, your brain automatically, with continued right-left vibration, will begin to associate the memory in a different and less traumatic way.

Periodically, I will check in with you to inquire what you are noticing. You might report various past memories about your alcoholic parent, and/or emotions associated with this. Or you may report physical sensations in your body. These may be associated with memories you cannot explicitly recall but are expressed in your body.

I will, at times, bring you back to this somatic awareness by directly pointing out your gestures or facial expressions, inquiring as to what body sensations you are noticing, or by mirroring your non-verbal expressions myself in my own body, enhancing your awareness of your nervous system’s response to the memories.

Healing that occurs

Just like Alisa, you can heal. Imagine…

…no longer fearing authority figures, being able to stand up for yourself as necessary with bosses, potential bosses, mothers and fathers in law, etc.. If they don’t accept you, then it is their loss in the end. You will find others who do.

…being able to let loose and actually have fun-you can run and jump, laugh and joke no longer afraid that life will fall apart if you don’t pay constant attention to it.

…being gentle with yourself when you make mistakes-acknowledging you are just human and don’t have to be perfect. No one else is perfect, so why would you have to be?

…letting go of the misguided sense of loyalty you feel for people who are toxic to you. You have a right to your own feelings and desires, even if they don’t match up to what other people expect of you.

You may have been alone back then, but you’re not now.

Although we can’t change the past, together we face it with less anxiety and fear.

It’s time to start living out of the shadow of past alcohol abuse…

Don’t put it off any longer. I’m here for you. Let’s get started today. Call me for a free consultation: (562) 375-4389.

*Names changed to preserve client confidentiality.