Shame has proven to be a generational curse in my family; although because of denial, shame in my family was normalized.
I inherited shame from both parents. My father suffered shame due to family abandonment. He was born out of wedlock, and his entire parental side of the family refused to acknowledge him. To cope with his pain, he abused alcohol and tobacco. The shame that followed him throughout his life greatly impacted the lives of my brothers and me. My mother, like me, was also a child of an alcoholic – so my life literally has mirrored hers.
It’s helpful to now be aware of how the shroud of shame has shaped my life but change does not come easy. So my struggle continues.
I know many people who grew up without either their father or mother in their lives. Childhood loss such as the death of a parent or divorce can result in inadequate physical or emotional care. I learned that these early-childhood experiences can lead to a fear of being abandoned by the significant other in one’s adult life. And abandonment trauma may include mood symptoms such as debilitating anxiety and chronic feeling of insecurity.
Because I tend to think in literal terms, I failed to see that my alcoholic father and ACOA mother provided very little emotional support. In my household there was no room for expressing sadness or disappointment. It was looked on as weakness; you had to buck up and be strong. My father was very self-absorbed. He was there – yes, but he only concerned himself with what he wanted or needed. He made sure he always had his liquor and cigarettes. Don’t get me wrong now – he took care of the family in terms of paying the mortgage, utilities and buying the food – but there was little emotional support or interest in what we as children were interested in.
This can make a child overly sensitive to any perceived distancing by her loved ones. I realize as an adult I have been in relationships that I felt I had to hold onto when the other person seemed like they were becoming disinterested or distant. I suffered from depression, anxiety, and compulsions when a relationship ended. I realized that I too suffer with abandonment issues even though I grew up with both parents in the household.
In overcoming my abandonment issues I am learning to first remember that I am not alone; to acknowledge the depth of my hurt, identify my symptoms, and take action. Some actions I take include: accepting this fear as a part of being human, and giving myself unconditional self-love and compassion rather than judge myself as “weak.”
Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins and I’m a recovering Adult Child of an Alcoholic.
For those of you who lived with an alcoholic parent during your childhood and teen years, your life may have been chaotic, emotionally turbulent, and sometimes frightening. But the feelings of anxiety, grief, and instability may not have ended when you left home. These feelings can last well into adult years and manifest in many different ways.
Some common characteristics include:
- We are chronic people pleasers who constantly seek out approval and affirmation from others.
- We have problems regulating and achieving balance with our emotions. We are either overly emotional or we shut down our emotions because of the overload.
- Our fight or flight instincts are amped up. We are hypervigilant about looking for threats or danger in our environment. We tend to over react to any sign of what we feel to be impending danger whether that threat is real or not.
- We can easily become involved with people who we feel need “saving” as this mimics our relationship with our parent figure. We may choose to live with another alcoholic or someone with an addiction and replay that history out all over again.
- We are terrified of abandonment. We will cling onto unstable relationships even when they are unhealthy for us because we can’t stand the thought of being left alone.
- We have great problems with trust. We either trust too much where it is not warranted or we trust too little. We lack the emotional history of understanding how trust works.
- We may feel guilt and shame as though our parent’s problem was our fault. We may have learned as children to keep secrets and not discuss what was really happening in our family.
- We may be overly responsible in some circumstances but in other situations we may be deemed as very irresponsible.
- We may be addicted to drama and excitement in our lives leading to high risk behaviors.
- We may self-medicate through food, sex, work, spending money, drinking alcohol or doing drugs as a way to deal with our emotional pain.
The key to moving on is not to blame but to be conscious of the role our parents had in shaping our current life choices. It is possible to break the family patterns by coping in healthy ways such as reaching out and gaining support.