The most poignant casualties on the journey through addiction and recovery are children and grandchildren who have been emotionally and/or physically abused, neglected, and over all made to feel “less than” their peers who appear to hail from “normal” homes of love and acceptance and home-made cookies after school with an icy glass of milk.
Estrangement from parents can happen within the home, if children are forced to leave home for safety or well-being, or in adulthood where there is no longer a nuclear family context, only a vacant spot of what-might-have-been.
Twelve-Step literature is replete with accounts of twisted, stunted and mangled souls who somehow emerged from an alcoholic family system as upright and breathing adults. I am continually amazed when I hear these people talk at an Al-Anon Family all who attend have been affected by the drinking of a relative or friend.
How did they get through it? And how, in some cases, have they managed to forge a relationship with their parents? A good 12-Step program shows us the way.
Al-Ateen offers that lifeline for children and grandchildren, generally between 13 and 19 years of age who are impacted by drinking in their families at close range or from a distance. That young people can manage to live with the active addiction of those responsible for their care is a miracle in action. That the rift can be healed that grows between children and addictive parents shifts the axis of the earth.
I was privileged to witness this recently, a teenager who had not seen one of her parents 9 years, since before she entered first grade. The custodial parent forbid communication between them until the addict was in recovery, working, and had a place to live — i.e. be on a tangible path of recovery. (Amen to that!). Having been in a similar situation myself with a father I had not seen for 19 years (addicted to a quasi-religion), I offered my perspective. After fumbling at trying to bridge the chasm with what-happened-when, we relaxed into being together. The OMG-I can’t-believe-this-is-happening factor melted, and we went from there. Being in the moment worked.
This young person, who in nine years had grown from a little girl into well-formed adolescence, remained present. The parents remained present. What transpired was a family visit. Afterwards, a no longer estranged parent and child joined other family members for an afternoon of rides and carnival games at the State Fair.
I discuss some of the ramifications of family, specifically talking with children, in Chapter 3, “Whodda’ Thought?” of IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU — EXCEPT WHEN IT IS. First and foremost, children need to know that the addiction within their family is not their fault. Period. This alone sets a foundation for the healing process. A good Al-Ateen group can help a young person understand this as no other resource can, and the multitude of dynamics that they live with every day.
Young people, GET THEE TO A SUPPORT GROUP! Parents, grandparents, let them know that Al-Ateen and other groups are available and where to find them!
On a beautiful summer day, I watched three family members come together in present time. As simple as that. And the earth moved. A fault line had shifted into place.
There is a great line in THE PRINCE OF TIDES by Pat Conroy that I have no doubt mentioned before, but bears repeating, “In families, there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.” Boy Howdy!