46. Sex And Addictions: What It Is Like To Have To Live With Someone Who Is An Addict Or Who Has Had Parents With Drug or Alcohol Problems?
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In Blog 45 I wrote, ‘Once the addict becomes fully focused and obsessed on where their next drink or fix will come from, any connection or relationship slowly becomes lost as they search for their next drink or fix’.
This can have a detrimental effect on both the children and the partners of addicts or alcoholics.
But what is it like to have to live with an addict or indeed a child of an addict, when the connection or relationship is or has been lost in favour of alcohol or drugs?
I have broken this topic into 7 sections:
1) Children Of Addicts.
As I have written many times over, parents and their relationships are our behavioural blueprints. Parents teach their children not only about intimacy and relationships, but through their behaviour, they also usually provide a child with a sense of inner security and belonging. This helps a child build self-worth and confidence. Children absorb this teaching either consciously or unconsciously.
This teaching is however not always positive or effective – especially when one or indeed both parents are addicts or alcoholics.
The impact of living in the shadow of a parent/s with addictive behaviours can have vast emotional implications that may ripple into all aspects of a child’s (later adult) life and this is usually not constructive.
The child of an addict learns very quickly that the parental addiction will always come first and that they, the child will always come second.
Whilst parents are high or drunk, their children are often expected to take responsibility not only for themselves but also possibly for the other parent or younger siblings. As a result, a child may have to grow up a lot quicker than other children of the same age.
Although they may have to fend for themselves and although they may seem competent, many land up feeling a lack of security and self-worth – always feeling not good enough or indeed unloved. And as a result the cycle of addiction may repeat.
Many may themselves become addicts or alcoholics in order to take the pain away of what they feel deep within (especially if there was violence or if they were abused in any way). But these aspects are generally understood and widely recognised.
What is less understood is why children do not always mirror the exact addiction of their parents. Or why children born after a parent has addressed their addiction and no longer considered an addict, yet the child still manifests addictive patterns of behaviour – even though they may not have become serious addicts or alcoholics themselves. Another example is when a parent with addiction issues gets divorced early on in a child’s life, then never sees their child again – yet the child still becomes an addict or alcoholic.
This is when the case for genetics is strong. Or indeed, this is a good example of how a family carries their particular emotional issues from one generation to the next, often unconsciously and without much or any discussion. I wrote about this in the section called “The Family” and I recommended a book called, “The Secrets in the Family” by Lily Pincus.
In other words, a child of alcoholic parents may not become alcoholics themselves, however they can still participate in the family system and although they may never become addicts themselves they may still choose a career or a hobby and so on, that by it’s very nature remains addictive.
Also, children who have watched their parents get drunk or high, and then drop into dark days of being sober as they try get their next fix or drink, often ‘become drunk with the alcoholic or drug addict’. This refers to how the rest of the family have to manage and adapt their own lives around the life of the addict. And as they watch a parent or parents slowly sober up and recover – they too get drawn into the addictive roller coaster behaviour or the cloudy chaos of destructive emotions.
Unfortunately, when there is so much focus and attention placed inwardly, children of addicts and alcoholics can be:
- So focused on the addict or alcoholic that they become less aware of their outer surroundings and what may be going on around them – outside of the family. When this is pointed out, it can come as quite a shock at how little attention they are able to place on the goings on outside themselves. As a result, others may accuse them of being selfish or unaware.
- But they can also be, highly sensitive to danger and therefore they may be on the constant lookout for whatever may happen next. This is because many a drunk or drugged up parent may turn violent and as a result, the family will have had to constantly be on the watch and prepared to walk on egg shells so as not to become the brunt of the horrendous outbursts.
Consequently, from the learned experiences and observations occurring over many many years, children will absorb the inconsistent behaviour, the ups and downs, the all or nothing behaviours and emotions – which in turn may become part of a child’s world – whether they are fully aware of it or not. And they can carry this into and right through adulthood.
And sadly, even if a child of an alcoholic or drug addict never drinks a drop in their lives or never has a high, the learned parental behaviour can be very powerful and it can seep into all sorts areas – their friendship and relationship choices, even career choices. They would be especially attracted to anything that would require their every ounce of being and focus. They would often be quite willing to shut out every thing or person – so as to concentrate on one area or project as they consciously or unconsciously mirror what they are used to or what they grew up with.
On one level, any obsessive behaviours can produce champions in many areas. But it can also have its downsides. Careers can be chosen that have addictive leanings. For example financial traders working in the stock market will tell you how quickly trading can turn into a form of gambling which in turn can become addictive.
And furthermore, one minute they can feel elated and joyous, yet the next moment they can feel sad or even depressed. They can seem dazzled and overawed by a person or project, money or a career, whereas the next minute, they could become bored, distracted and then disinterested.
The ‘enthusiasm to lacklustre behaviour’ often mirrors the emotional ups and downs of the addictive parent.
But for children, any changeable behaviour can be very scary for children – who mostly need contained secure environments in order to develop and feel safe.
Consequently, when these children feel threatened or when their lives are in turmoil, usually they find concentrating at school very hard and many may ‘play up’ as a way of crying out for help. They may learn to live in worlds of their own – in a kind of dreamland that only they themselves understand.
And as a direct result of observing a parent, clouded over by their addiction and unable to focus on a recovery process or daily living for that matter, many children find that focusing and working towards their own goals or finishing their own projects very hard.
Yet, they can be super responsible yet super irresponsible too. And although they often seek constant approval – many judge themselves harshly for failing or for not coming up to scratch.
As a result, their own lives become filled with opposites, up and downs, feeling good, feeling bad, and so on. Many don’t really understand what ‘normal’ behaviour is. And why would they? It’s not what they know and it’s clearly not what they’ve observed!
Always focusing on their own family or parents often results in not understanding little things like etiquette, or what to do to make relationships or friendships work. Many find it hard to give of themselves emotionally or indeed financially in ‘normal’ give and take relationships. Paying for their way and being generous can be hard – when they themselves have had so few of their childhood needs met.
2) Families Living With Addict Or Alcoholic:
Addicts and alcoholics can swing from deep depression, non-activity, even disappearance from the family home for days on end, through to vicious temper tantrums and violence. And usually they can undergo massive mood swings from depression and silence then loving sweetness to obnoxious outrageous behaviour.
But, the ‘dry drunk’ (an alcoholic trying not to drink) can be very difficult to live with too and they can resort to vicious vitriolic outbursts interspersed with ‘sulky silences’.
The complete giving over of one self to an addict is often required – so as to keep a kind of sanity in place. But unfortunately, addicts often use this to bully their family into submission. And in order to keep the peace, often the family chooses the ‘path of collusion’ and so the addict continues to get away with their addiction.
This is also called, ‘becoming drunk with the alcoholic or addict’. It involves the whole family cooperating in a system to facilitate the addict.
3) Getting Support.
But what does colluding or ‘becoming drunk with the alcoholic or addict’ actually mean?
There are a number of different ways friends and family members can enable an addict to continue what he or she is doing.
One of those ways is to collude with the individual. Colluding with an addict only encourages him or her to continue their behaviour rather than getting the help they need to overcome their addiction.
Families or friends can collude by helping the addict lie or blame everything else on all sorts of extenuating circumstances in order to excuse the behaviour of the addict.
They can also help hide evidence or they can indeed help supply the addict by giving them money and so on.
Many hope that by putting their heads in the sand the problem will go away. Nothing ever goes away until it is addressed.
This is why families living with an addict often need and require a support group to help them cope better.
Unfortunately in some cases, little is known about the procedures or help available.
If you need help please do contact a support group. You are not alone. Addiction or living with an addict is very hard and you can get help even if it’s via support groups, help lines or on the Internet.
But why would you need support?
4) The Consequences Of An Addict or Alcoholic’s Denial.
Throughout an addict’s life the most devastating aspect not only for the addict but also those who live with an addict – is the extreme lengths an addict will go in order to deny their addiction.
They will hide bottles of alcohol, or they will hide their problem with money, or they may even steal in order to feed their habit and so on.
Worse still, are the lies that get told – lies which help keep the addict in denial. And addicts are experts at deception!
Unfortunately, colluding with these lies, usually only helps delay the addiction.
This is a further reason why getting support is so very important.
Most people find dealing with addicts, very exhausting and draining. So please, please ask for help – there IS plenty of help out there.
5) The Relationships Of A Child Of An Addict Or Alcoholic.
Relationships are based on trust. Trust develops as a result of consistent behaviour. However, the erratic behaviour of addicts certainly does not bode well when it comes to consistent behaviour.
And sadly, if a child of an alcoholic is unable to develop a suitable trust within the parental relationship, they may find it very hard to trust or bond with anyone later on in life.
They may struggle with trust issues and they may be very suspicious of people’s behaviour – irrespective of the intention.
Unfortunately, if a parent’s behaviour is a child’s blueprint, the child of an addict may mirror the behaviour of the parent. They may also lie, they may also refuse to face up to issues, they also may hide their feelings and they may find it hard to understand how the ’emotional and financial give and take’ works within a relationship, and so on.
But also, if parents and their relationships are our relationship blueprint and if ‘birds of a feather flock together’ and what we know we attract (as written in my previous Blogs), then children of addicts will generally attract people with addictive tendencies, even though they may be hidden initially.
And this I have observed time and time again: That although children of addicts may not present any visible addictions, in other words, they may refuse to drink alcohol or they may refuse to take drugs, but the learned parental addictive behaviour will emerge as time goes on – mirrored in different every day attitudes or behaviours patterns or even obsessions, and so on.
6) Unravelling The World Of A Child Of An Addict or Alcoholic.
The scars of growing up with addictive parents go very deep and the addictive behavioural patterns often gets mirrored in the behaviour of their children. And often, these children who are the victims sadly go on to live as victims through various conscious or unconscious behaviour. And just like addicts who find it hard to give up alcohol, drugs or even smoking, children of addicts often find healing and letting go (of the past) just as hard.
As explained earlier: Children are like sponges and they absorb belief systems, behavioural patterns and habits from their parents. If a parent or parents have addictive issues, a child will pick up on these too – albeit unconscious. And even though a child may not directly emulate a parental addiction – their behaviour might. Addictions are powerful – and they can leave vast ripple effects behind them, merging and linking a child to a parent in all sorts of ways.
And the saddest side effect that I have observed, is how children of parents with addictive issues can hold on vigorously to their childhood – no matter how hard they say they are trying to let go and heal it.
Many even find solace in creating an identity out of their struggle.
By writing about it, talking about it, fixating and spending vast amounts on therapy, and so on. Yet letting go and actually moving on becomes harder the more they focus on their past issues.
Many spend years trying to find a relief and/or a replacement parent, family or community – and in so doing they continue their parents behavioural pattern of addiction due to their focused grip on the past.
Unable to let go, many spend years preoccupied, tormented, even haunted and utterly consumed by their childhood – and unaware that by doing so they are actually repeating the addictive behaviour.
And sadly, so many are afraid to heal because their identity is locked into the trauma they experienced as children – that they have no idea who they are outside the trauma – and that unknown can be terrifying. (And this is of course true for anyone allows their struggle to become part pf their identity).
As a result, many can lose years, trying to find answers whilst losing friends, relationships, and jobs – as they continue to mirror their parent’s addictive behaviour in all areas of their lives.
Also, when they are focused on their past either consciously or unconsciously, having to participate in real life or indeed adult life can prove difficult. Sometimes it can seem that they’re trying too hard to fit in or get it right, as they struggle to find their place in the world of adults.
And this can be exhausting and often they can feel misunderstood or not seen, because what they project is often not an adult – but a needy child in an adult’s body. But this isn’t always obvious. It can take a while to get to know a person to fully understand the reasons behind their behaviour.
However, it is by becoming aware of our habits and patterns, that we can begin to make different choices to suit our life goals. But it starts with this first step – awareness.
In therapy often I have stated that we are unfortunately not computers. No therapist can ‘re-install’ you. This means that what you have experienced as a child can obviously not be changed. So the best you can do is to learn to understand your childhood inside and out, so that you can get to grips with how and why you behave as you do. How you repeat patterns and where they came from.
Doing this will allow you to make better life and partner choices.
If the parental relationship is not constructively consistent, it can have adverse affects on any child and their relationship and career choices later on in life.
If a child has not learnt to develop trust and so on, they may find it very hard to develop intimacy and a trusting bond with others in adulthood.
It is therefore important that a child of an addict begins a journey of self-awareness – but that the healing process does not become become part of their identity as this is not healthy and it will stop emotional growth or further progress.
© 2017 Information Copyright Deidré Wallace
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