I’m not naïve enough to think that I am the only adult child who has ever lived with an alcoholic mother. I am not naïve enough to believe that this is the worst thing that could happen to a person. I do however believe the people fighting this battle fight it silently. We are adults now. We want to be treated as such. But part of our emotional growth is stunted. A very important part of our childhood is missing. We don’t want our past to define our futures. Most of the time it doesn’t, but it always shows up in the details.
Being the child of a broken and addicted home isn’t a thought that you recollect every day. You don’t walk around on tip toes avoiding anything and anyone that may trigger a thought about addiction, about divorce, about single fathers. Instead, you unintentionally walk around on tiptoes everywhere. Into grocery stores where you see mothers asking their daughter’s opinion about how many avocados to buy, “what kind of wine do you like, sweetie?” When it rains you cannot control your heartbeat.
Something bad happened in the rain, though you cannot remember what. You tip toe around people who have had a bad day because you know what bad days mean. Being the child of an addict means you live with the reality that anyone could abandon you. In fact, in your brain that has never fully emotionally developed you believe that each person you meet will eventually leave you. Call it low self-esteem, call it hero child syndrome, call it PTSD. It’s all unresolved pain with clinical names.
The unresolved pain pushes itself into other moments. You get caught in a traffic jam and all of a sudden your stomach sinks. You find yourself in an argument and afterwards you can’t shake it, it plays on repeat in your head for weeks. You are rejected for a job and you believe it is because of your circumstances. Change happens as a natural part of adult life, and you do anything in your power to stop it. You want to be in control during bouts of change. Bouts of change often mean bouts of sadness and insecurity. Being an adult child of an addict means you can be troubled for days because the laundry wasn’t folded right.
Lying awake in your bed, counting hours, counting sheep, counting failures. No amount of expensive therapy can totally cure you of your anxiety, your abandonment, your need for constant control. You can spend thousands and thousands of dollars, but in the end, you are still an adult child of an addict. It’s your label that you carry around quietly. In the end, a substance was more important than you.
Addiction is shrapnel. It lodges itself deep. You either have to live with it inside of you, or amputate. Even upon amputation, phantom limb syndrome still exists.