Dating child alcoholics
Not the suave chain-smoker who drinks whiskey from die-cut glasses, nor the sardonic barfly in khaki trousers whom everybody keeps around because they're just so loveable.
My dad was the kind of alcoholic who fell over in the street, kicked down the front door, and woke the neighbours. Every morning his alarm would wake us up, followed by the "pssst" of a can being opened (a sound that still freezes my heart, years later).
Researchers have found that adult children of alcoholics sometimes struggle in relationships because of lack of trust, loneliness, emotional denial, feelings of guilt, shame and rage, sadness, being unsure of their identity, needing control, having issues asserting themselves, being desperate to please others, and overreacting to criticism.
In addition, it’s thought that ACOAs are more likely than the general population to constantly seek approval and validation, feel that they are “different,” be super-responsible, judge themselves harshly, be extremely loyal, and plunge into action without considering consequences.
Everyone has one too many and kicks a door in occasionally. But living with an alcoholic is life within a hall of mirrors, of warped reflections and dead ends. You go to school, you see your friends, your dad is drunk, you come home, you have your dinner, your dad is drunk, there's a massive fight, you go to bed, you lie awake, the staircase creaks, your dad is drunk. I started to second-guess every emotion I had – every time I cried or felt sad, I told myself I had no reason to cry or be sad.
It was no confession – just an excuse for why he could continue drinking. That maybe if I didn't cry and if I wasn't sad, he wouldn't drink. There were nights my dad would wheel his bike into the house (when he could still cycle) and hanging off the handlebars with a four-pack of beers would be a takeaway for everyone.
Most of the adult children of alcoholics that I know underestimate the effects of being raised in an alcoholic family. If you’re an adult child of an alcoholic, you feel different and disconnected.
More likely it’s shame and simply not knowing that adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs), as a group, tend struggle with a particular set of issues.
Part two of this story is what happens if the alcoholic parent is still abusing alcohol and your partner is still involved with their family.
He was the kind of alcoholic who hid his cheap beer in the bedside cabinet. The image of Ireland being a nation of pissheads is largely a stereotype. Everyone we grew up with drank, and we mostly saw them in situations where drink was plentiful – weddings, funerals, Christmas. He'd drink in bed, then brush his teeth, get on his bike, and cycle to work.