The Legacy of Alcoholism in the Family

Jaie's Recovery Story

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Benefits of Recovery. © Getty Images

Growing up in an alcoholic home can affect children in ways they may not even realize. For Jaie, it took a string of failed relationships and three divorces before she realized that her attitude might be part of the problem. Here is her story.

Jaie's Recovery Story

My name is Jaie and I represent part of the legacy of alcoholism. I'm not an alcoholic myself and am grateful that somehow the dreaded disease of direct consumption passed over me but unfortunately the affects and legacy of alcoholism did not.

Some of my earliest memories were of my dad drinking tall cans of beer. From the age of two I can remember the white and gold cans. I vaguely remember my mom drinking too but knew somewhere my fragile little mind couldn't handle the concept of both parents being alcoholic so my alcohol radar focused on my dad for years.

Growing Up With Alcoholics

Growing up with two alcoholics is tumultuous to say the least and a nightmare to say the worst.

I did not suffer the insidious physical or sexual abuse that some others have growing up with the disease running rampant in their homes. For the most part, I didn't suffer over much. We always had a roof over our heads and food to eat. What I suffered in my family was emotional abuse, neglect, misunderstanding and words that caused me to betray, stuff down and ignore my own feelings to the point that all my thoughts rendered me confused and helpless for most of my life.

Trying to Become Invisible

As the oldest of two children, I took great pains to be invisible, take care of things as much as a child could, deal with being ignored for the most part and just trying so hard to do well enough in school not to draw attention to myself but then again, not doing so well that I would draw attention to myself.

I grew up learning the sky was green and the grass was blue and feeling the inherent conflict that brings because a part of me somewhere knew different. I had to grow up fast, I had to learn understanding of human nature and I had to become so strong and independent I needed nothing and no one. I also learned to see behavior and automatically excuse it because I understood what was wrong.

Rescuing Everyone Around Me

That served me well in business but it made me an island unto myself with no way for anyone to truly reach me, the real me inside. For years I believed I did not have a problem. The alcoholics in my life had the problem. I searched and acted in ways to win the love of the alcoholics in my life, learned to be anticipating of everyone's needs and fixing or rescuing everyone around me even those who were not alcoholic but in need of rescue.

This behavior deepened the chasm of forced independence inside, it made me force myself to be strong and to prove myself worth by being an indispensable helpful child, friend, girlfriend and employee.

These things served me well except with romantic relationships. Those always left me longing because I kept attracting to me those things I knew as familiar - that sense of needy people that I could never really come to trust and be myself with.

I Was Part of the Problem

When I knew they loved and needed me, I fixed them and then when they needed me less or they needed me so much it consumed and exhausted me, I left. I left wounded, torn apart and miserable and still I did not connect the fact that I lived and breathed the legacy of alcoholism.

It wasn't until I went through divorces two and three within a two-year period that it dawned on me that I really was part of the problem. Growing up in an alcoholic home may have created unhealthy defenses in me necessary to survive but it was me who held those defenses and employed them as an adult to the peril of 3 marriages and countless other relationships. Through Al-Anon and counseling I have learned so much.

The Fantasy Failed Me

I now see my own hand in my romantic undoing time and time again. I see how I created a fantasy of "everything is fine" around people and relationships that were not fine for me. The folks I was involved with were good people but they were not right for me in such an unenlightened state.

I blamed them and felt the hurt and pain of disappointment each time the fantasy failed me. I grew tired of that feeling and realized truly for the first time ever, the only person I had the power to control or change was me.

The Legacy of Alcoholism

Al-Anon lead me back to myself and helped me to see how my defenses interfered with my relationships, my gut level reactions and feelings. You can't truly share love from behind mile high impenetrable hardened steel walls. You can't learn about love when what you're really seeking is reciprocal narcissism.

I didn't know that was happening and I don't want to diminish the feelings I felt for the loves I had in my life because at some level, I did love them deeply and knew that at heart these souls were good souls who, like me, had developed unhealthy aspects of their personalities through the filter of the legacy of alcoholism.

Trying to Stop the Legacy

So, the legacy of alcoholism is strong and my goal now is to heal that, connect all my feelings, learn to love and trust myself and undo so much of the damage I've done, make amends where that is possible and do my best to stop the legacy of alcoholism from being passed down through my children and grandchildren.

I pray it's not too late, but if I see that it is in some cases, I'll gently point my own children to the rooms of Al-Anon where they too might gain wisdom and understanding. They will be as I made them to be and the negative aspects, I hope, they will learn to transform or transmute into something wonderful.


Getting Help

If you grew up in an alcoholic home, you may have been affected in ways you don't even realize. Please see these Support for Families articles.

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