Living with alcoholic parents

by on November 12, 2010

in Stories

I recently found your website and read with interest many of the comments that echo my own experiences as an only child. That was most helpful. Many of the stories were wonderfully optimistic and portrayed loving parents who nurtured and supported their only children. I loved these stories.

My particular situation, however, was rampant with dysfunction that I truly think compounded the only child circumstance. Both my parents were alcoholics. We were not poor, did not live on the wrong side of town, my parents were not criminals and I did not go without the essentials of food, clothing and shelter during my childhood.

As I have come to know after years of trying to understand alcoholism, an alcoholic puts the “condition” ahead of all else in their lives. That is to say, meeting the need of the alcoholism comes before the children, the home, the extended family, everything. Therefore, in addition to being an only child and having the normal emotional/psychological conditions associated with that condition I felt somewhat alienated from my metaphoric umbilical cord, my parents, or one step removed from the core of my immediate family because of the
 alcoholism. I think this compounded the detachment related problems and possibly created some larger abandonment and trust issues as well. I would be interested to know if others have experienced this same unique situation as only children and how they have learned to grow from that situation.
Kate USA

  • Purplesun777

    I would like to talk further with other only w an alcoholic parent.

  • SiD

    Only Child with rich parents who don’t need to work. The drinking for them begins at lunch-time in a restaurant many times a week and probably works out to be a bottle of wine each over lunch. They then have a drinking-break and drink coffee. However, drinking will then resume at about 18:00 and won’t stop until they go to bed drunk EVERY night at about 23:00. At LEAST another two bottles of wine will be drunk in the evening session. They even make their own wine from bought kits due to consuming so much of it.  I was sent off to boarding-school at 8 and due to having no social interaction with my parents, or anyone for that matter, I didn’t really fit in.  Then came the senior school (ages 13 to 17) where I also boarded. The social disparity widening as the years progressed. Add to that the fact that I wasn’t particularly clever (due to no social interaction etc) and was struggling academically. So what happens to a pupil that isn’t performing? well they get shouted at and ordered to work harder….So despite being depressed anxious etc, no one gives a shit unless you get good grades. Went off to Uni to study Mechanical engineering, suffered depression and failed. Changed courses to electronic and electrical engineering and managed to pass with a 3rd despite being stressed and depressed. Parents proudly boast that their son has got an engineering degree to all of their acquaintances, but they don’t really care about my happiness… I have  never really been in a job for more than a year since graduating. I don’t have any close friends (I don’t trust anyone to invest emotionally and I have no life experience) and I am resigned to the fact that I will die alone. If I walk around  towns and cities I see people, but I can’t relate to them, I am like an outsider, I feel like I don’t belong….Its almost as if I buried myself in education as escapism….I can have conversations with people, but its learn’t behaviour, I don’t get anything out of it and I don’t know why people do it….Small talk about the weather etc… I am aware of social cues I am aware of peoples feelings emotions etc but I lack empathy, I am emotionally cold, I respond because I don’t want to be rude, but thats about as far as it goes. I am still a child and haven’t grown from the situation. I am academically knowledgeable but I lack 30 years worth of socialising.

  • Deanna

    Hello Kate,
    I found your post moving. I was an only child of a single mom. She lost a child before having me and kept me very close to her rarely letting me play with other children or families. My aunt told me only a few years ago that my mom never bonded with anyone in her family and found it very difficult to relate emotionally. Though her family lived near us, they never visited or offered to look after me during holidays, weekends or after school. Because she moved to a new country when I was 6, my father and his very large extended family were only a part of my life on some summer holidays. Soon after moving, I fell and broke my arm at a babysitter’s house. My mom decided to make me stay home after school from 3pm until ten pm, alone on most nights. At about this time, my mom found it harder to relate to me as a growing child when she had found it easy and pleasant to relate to me as a baby.
    I hated being an only child but I bonded with some friends at age 10 and we are still close, 38 years later.
    At the time I was very lucky to have stayed indoors after school until I was 17 or else I may have fallen into drugs or bad company to soothe the emptiness I felt. At 10 I decided to become a psychologist and at 12, I suffered my first panic attack at school during a presentation. I became a truent, missing many days off of school finding it difficult to leave the house. I fell behind in my academic work.
    I struggled but pursued my dreams. Every step of the way, I lacked confidence, self esteem and I felt empty inside and always separate from others. A common experience was having people tell me how strong and incredible I was, but not being able to link my experience of myself with their experience of me. I could not understand why I suffered from social phobia when I was so competent and socially outgoing. I found it very difficult to understand at first however I learned what empathy was and how it felt in my late twenties.
    Finally, after several degrees a divorce and an only child and many hours of existential therapy I realised that I was traumatised by emotional neglect and a further lack of mirroring and validation by a mom who loved me in her way but never bonded with me. Fortunately, I bonded to some degree with my father when I spent some summers with him and his family and I moved back to live near him. I decided to stop calling my mother and shortly after I was called and told that she had dementia and it came just at a time when I didn’t want to spend much time with her. I miss having a mother but I now see my father once a week. Being an only child and experiencing emotional or physical neglect when your parent has to work was traumatising but I really am strong and while life is so difficult at times; I run marathons, look ten years younger than my age, rarely get ill and I have long interesting conversations with my child who is her own little person and full of opinions, beliefs and emotions that I not only respect but admire. It is important to share stories especially when we had a lack of sharing as only children.
    Thanks for listening, D

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