Thursday December 8th 2016

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Growing up with alcoholic parents

There is so much about alcoholism that brings us to grief: not being able to have the relationships with our parents that we need and that we want, not being able to change the course of the disease, ultimately just not being able to understand ‘why.’ But it is in accepting that which we cannot understand that allows us to create room to feel, to live and to thrive even with the pain of this horrible disease.

How can you grow out of alcoholism and its impact on your family? We explore here. And invite your comments, questions, and feedback about having an alcoholic parent at the end.

Growing up with alcoholism

When you grow up in a home with alcoholism there are a lot of ‘why’s.’

Why does my dad drink?

Why can’t s/he see what this does to us?

Why can’t s/he just stop?

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Why won’t my mom just leave?

And on and on and on. Questions that haunt many children from alcoholic homes are, ‘Why don’t they love me enough to take care of me?’ and, ‘Why is drinking more important than I am?’

These questions don’t have answers, and many of us who have grown up in alcoholic homes spend many, many precious hours of our lives trying to understand what is not understandable. The key to living with a parent who is an alcoholic is acceptance: acceptance of the situation, acceptance of our feelings, and acceptance of our independence.

1. Accept what you do not understand

To accept the situation, you have to stop trying to understand the reasons why. This seems strange because we are taught that through understanding we come to recognition of the meaning, knowledge of the process and the components of most things in life. But self-destructive compulsions like alcoholism defy the ability to truly understand.

Science can tell us more than ever before about the function of the disease, but, ‘Why can’t they just stop?’ is beyond what science can explain. It is beyond what anyone can explain, though we have been trying to understand this for thousands of years.

TIP: Even if it doesn’t feel comfortable, every time your brain starts to go to a ‘why’ about the alcoholic situation, stop the question and instead say to yourself: I just don’t understand. This is the beginning of acceptance and letting go of something that takes up too much room in our lives that we won’t ever be able to understand.

2. Accept your feelings

Accepting your feelings follows letting go of trying to understand the reasons for or the cause of the disease. Once you let go of asking, ‘Why?’ you leave room to experience your feelings about the situation. As long as you keep asking, ‘Why?’, you are trying to solve a problem, and as long as you are trying to solve the problem, you are distracting yourself from experiencing how the problem makes you feel.

Accepting your feelings – actually experiencing what it true for you – is what will eventually create an emotional freedom and an opportunity to fully experience your independent life.

TIP: Pause four times a day and say, write, draw (whatever works for you) what you are feeling in that moment, whatever it is. Don’t try to understand or explain the feeling, don’t justify it, just acknowledge what it is and then move on. Try doing this when you wake up in the morning, at lunch, at dinner, and then right before you go to bed, try it for at least a week!

3. Accept your independence

Finally we want to accept our independence. Being able to accept the situation, the ‘what is’ of our family life and then accepting what we feel allows us to ultimately accept who we are, independent of the alcoholic and the alcoholic situation. Independence doesn’t mean that we remove ourselves from the alcoholic situation. It can mean that, but it doesn’t have to. It doesn’t mean that we have to like the situation. However, it does mean that we are able to live our own emotional life, in our own reality, independent of the experience of the alcoholic.

TIP: Everyday do something that is just for you, even if it is only five minutes to start with make sure that you are making a choice for something for yourself every single day!

Create room to feel, live, and thrive

There is so much about alcoholism that brings us to grief: not being able to have the relationships with our parents that we need and that we want, not being able to change the course of the disease, ultimately just not being able to understand ‘why.’ But it is in accepting that we cannot understand that we create room to feel, to live and to thrive even with the pain of this horrible disease.

Photo credit: Jane Rahman

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About Maggie Harmon

Maggie Harmon is a writer, speaker, leadership coach and business consultant who approaches every engagement through a holistic understanding of the situation. Her consulting practice focuses on deeply understanding who or what you are and what you want to achieve, and from there helping to create a plan, develop tools, and access resources that let you get where it is you want to go, and do what you do, better! You can connect with her here or via Maggie's Blog.

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