With this post, I’m starting a new series called “5 Questions for” to highlight authors who write about disorders, addictions, abuse, or any topic that would affect family relationships. There is much wisdom to be gained from each other and our experiences.
First up, I am honored to introduce my friend Michelle O’Neil, who writes the blog Full Soul Ahead and has published a memoir, Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar. Michelle’s book, an engaging, coming-of-age story, reads like a novel as it takes us through a first-person account of what it’s like growing up in a home with alcoholism and coping with a family member who drinks too much. I asked Michelle a few questions about how this experience has affected her both positively and negatively, and what she would recommend to any adults who know or suspect that a child is in a similar situation.
1) What strengths or positive character traits are there to be gained from growing up in a home with an alcoholic parent?
Growing up with an alcoholic parent, I learned young to question authority. This has helped me immensely as a parent of children with special needs. I am their advocate, and I have often had to go against the advice of medical professionals, educators, and even family when it comes to rearing them. Had I not been raised by an alcoholic, and realized early that authority figures are fallible, I might not have made the best choices regarding my kids. I’m not looking for approval.
2) What sorts of fears might an adult child of an alcoholic take with them into their adult relationships?
For a long time, I didn’t feel worthy of speaking up in relationships, because I didn’t feel like I deserved anything. I would swallow a lot of my feelings and then when I couldn’t take it anymore get what appeared to be “irrationally” angry at the person I was with, or just leave. When I met my husband I had a lot of fear of relying on someone else. The thought of needing someone and being vulnerable was hard at first. It took me a long time to really let my guard down all the way.
3) What would you say to your childhood or teenage self?
I would say, “It’s not your fault, and you don’t deserve the shame that goes along with your parent’s alcoholism.” I would say, “Your destiny is a good destiny and you are going to have a good life.” I would say, “Hang on sweet girl. You are going to be okay.”
4) What advice would you give to the other parent in a home with alcoholism?
Many “other parents” think they are staying with the addict for the sake of the child. I call bullshit. My mother didn’t think she could make it financially without my father, but she actually did much better after he left, because he was spending all our money at the bar. I think her excuse was a weak one by the way, and that she was addicted to him, and afraid of being alone. Her only option at the time was moving back in with her mother. The thought of crawling back home and being under the thumb of her own controlling mother was unbearable to her, but we would have been much better off had she done that. She chose the alcoholic over the well being of her children. Of course she was a teen when she got married, and had the weight of the world on her shoulders having three kids by the time she was 23, (and living with an emotionally abusive addict, who constantly wore her down). I have not walked a mile in her shoes and can’t say I’d have made better choices under the same circumstances.
5) What can/should people – teachers, other relatives, parents of friends – do or say if they know or suspect a child is living in a neglectful, abusive family situation, to help or support that child?
One thing my mother did right, was this: Whenever my father was raging or abusive, or neglectful or nasty, she’s take us aside and say, “Remember how this feels. Remember it, and don’t ever do this to your own child.” She was too scared to stand up to him, but she knew abuse ran in families, and she was intent on us breaking the chain. There are five of us kids in the family and none are abusive to our own children or partners. I credit her with that.
If I were wanting to help a child living in a home dealing with addiction, I would just keep reminding them of their goodness, and their potential. Let them know it isn’t their fault and that they have God given value. They may have come through their parents, but they come from the Divine. Tell them their childhood isn’t forever, and their life is up to them. Tell them you see their strength, and if you love them, tell them that too.
Of course if you suspect physical abuse or sexual abuse I would suggest reporting it to the proper authorities.
Michelle, thank you again for your openness and generosity in answering these questions.
Everyone, thank you for reading this interview, and please be sure to check out Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar, available as an ebook or paperback.