What do you think it’s like growing up in a home in which one or both parents have an alcohol or other drug problem? These are homes that may look fine from an outsider’s perspective but for those children living in it that home can be a living inferno.
Alcohol andor other drug abuse adds a dimension to a family in which the mom, the dad, the kids, and anyone else living there learns to live by certain rules. These “dysfunctional” rules have been written about and analyzed by a number of authors but none so succinctly (in my opinion) as by therapist and author Claudia Black.
Dr. Black says that the rules of an addicted household boil down to three. These are 1) don’t talk, 2) don’t trust, 3) don’t feel.
“Don’t talk” means, “Don’t talk about the problem.” Don’t bring up anything that might make the family look bad or that might divulge the family secret. So, the children carry on the charade that everything is just fine and dandy when it’s not. Mom gets drunk while you’re all out to dinner one night and the kids know not to talk about it, not to describe it, not to ask about it. “What was wrong with Mom last night?” is not a permissible question. Keep the family secret!
“Don’t trust” means that you learn not to trust what you see, hear, and experience. For example,when Dad is intoxicated, he promises his son a fishing and camping trip but when sober, he either doesn’t remember or just breaks the promise. The son learns over time to disengage from Dad’s empty promises and sees his father as an unreliable person not worthy of trust. Over time, this lack of trust is really about learning not to depend on anyone, not to share, not to feel safe. It can be very isolating.
“Don’t feel” means that you learn to deny or shut off your feelings in the midst of turmoil and trouble. A 12 year old girl drives her intoxicated mother home from the bar every Saturday night. When the girl protests, her mother says, “Do it and just get over it.” In time, the girl learns to “stuff” her feelings so she can accommodate her mother’s unreasonable requirement. Over time this rule of “don’t feel” can develop to the point that this person may not even know how she feels when hurt,angered, or even joyous.
Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel are rules that evolve in an addicted household. These rules can be debilitating and damaging to those children that live under them. But they can be countered. Just like the addicted person, the people living with that person can benefit from counseling and treatment.
February is Children of Alcoholic’s Month in recognition of the fact that those that grow up in an addicted family are at risk for being harmed in many ways,especially emotionally. This month is also a celebration of the fact that children that grow up in an addicted family need help and will benefit from help. If you’d like to know more, contact us at JTNN at 775-324-7557 or call the Crisis Call Center at 775-825-HELP.