I often take it for granted that I sobered up before I had children. It could easily have gone another way in my life, and lately my work both in sobriety and outside the rooms has placed the needs of children of alcoholics smack in the middle of my attention.
Next week is Children of Alcoholics Week,
and it’s an excellent opportunity for those of us in the program who have kids (and those who don’t) to acknowledge those who suffer most brutally from active addiction, the children of alcoholics and addicts. These kids lives are filled with the chaos of addiction (almost 1/8 kids is living or has lived with a practicing user of illegal drugs, more live with addicts of prescription pills, even more live with drunks) and they live in a world where they are generally invisible & voiceless.
Many of us came from alcoholic homes, so we have a powerful experience of knowing what it’s like to have the most significant people in your life put the pursuit of substances ahead of the pursuit of a child’s needs. Nothing comes before a drink. It’s no surprise to us that kids of addicts suffer more depression, anxiety and suicide risk. They also end up more frequently in the juvenile justice system, or dropping out of school.
It’s no surprise because we realize that it’s a heavy burden to be invisible. The pressure that comes with being the child of an alcoholic, caring for a drunk, taking on unnecessary and inappropriate responsibilities, it’s a crushing blow. So being a parent just adds another dimension to my sobriety. I know how much is at stake when an addict/parent walks in the room. I know there’s a kid (or multiple kids) at home who have more than likely been (at one time or another) hungry, dirty, woken in the middle of the night, left standing on a corner somewhere, put in the middle of dishes flying across a room–and worse–because we all know that it gets much much worse. So when I see a drunk mom or dad trying to get this thing, I know that there’s a kid sitting at home hoping that this time they finally will. And I identify so strongly with that longing…that longing to just have your parent be your parent. Not even necessarily a great parent. Just to show up once in a while.
I think each of us when sober can put a dent in the damage that this disease causes families. And I’ll go a step further to say that I think it’s a moral imperative. You don’t have to be a parent to simply hold the space open for another alcoholic to walk through the doors, or to carry the message of Alanon to someone who needs it. You don’t have to put on a cape and save the planet. You might be a sober parent and commit your service work to reaching other addict parents. Or you can be someone who works with and around kids and looks for the symptoms of addiction in the family: anger, shame, embarrasment. Sometimes you can just be a friend. Where is our willingness to reach into our community in some way…just starting wherever we are…each one reaching one, and creating space and hope for these children to find a path towards a recovery of their own?
Because we all know that this disease isn’t going anywhere. And that means a lot more vicitms will fall in its wake.