Hannah – 10 years old
When my daughter recently asked me that question, I had no idea how to respond. My first impulse was to reply that she should ask her Dad, but then I remembered that she can’t. She can’t because as a functioning, in denial alcoholic, his response, if he chose to answer and not just walk away, would not be honest and would only lead to further confusion and hurt.
Instead, I directed her to an online Alateen Chat Site where she was able to connect with other kids who are struggling with an alcoholic family member. She is not yet a teenager, but because of how fast she has already needed to grow-up in order to understand how and why her life is different from most of her friends, Alateen is a safe place. There, she can express herself amongst other kids in a way that she maybe can’t with me as an adult.
Having worked through online Al-Anon programmes for several years, I know the importance of finding a safe haven. The relief of breaking through the mystifying fog of going it alone to realise that your story is only one of thousands, each as similar, or more heartbreaking than your own. I am aware that as I type this, there are millions of children who suffer in the stranglehold of silence. The most recent global statistics of severe alcohol abuse and its effect on children are staggering. Even now, in 2015, for thousands of households, alcholism is still the disease “that dare not speak its name”.
Living in secrecy with shame, embarassment and guilt – only a few of the toxic feelings most strongly associated with alcoholism – deprives children of the ability to mature into emotionally strong adults, severely reducing their capacity to deal with the eventual ups and downs of their own future lives.
Children do not want to be different. They want their lives to be as normal as their pals. They do not want to be taunted in the schoolyard or left out of activities because they have an alcoholic father or mother. They instinctively love their addicted parent, desperately wanting him or her to recover because of their innate need for a strong role model and nurturer.
Children cannot understand that their parent has been so fundamentally changed by their addiction that they are no longer able to function in a healthy manner; that they use blame, denial, lies and manipulation in order to continue their habit and that they are often oblivious to the damage which they inflict.
Children of Alcoholics week gives us all a chance to raise awareness, to reach out and help, to break the silence.
These kids are your nieces and nephews, cousins, children of friends, neighbours or co-workers. They are all around us, many too scared and ashamed to ask for help. They are hurting.
Children are so tech savvy now. Most own, or have access to, computers. If they are suffering, a nudge in the direction of some of the websites linked to in this text could be a lifesaver for them.
By breaking the silence we can break the cycle.