Being a daughter sometimes is not easy, but being the daughter of an alcoholic? Throw out everything you think you knew about growing up and get ready for a whole new set of lessons in life. While some of us have relatively happy childhoods, and a parent or older siblings to shield us from the brunt of a parent’s alcohol abuse, others are not so lucky. Regardless of the weight we bear throughout our childhood, adolescence, teen years, and even adulthood, being an alcoholic’s daughter is not easy, and some universal lessons are learned along the way.
Some are easier to learn than others. Some even make the rest of life of little easier to live. We learn how to accept and validate ourselves, and plan our own path in life. Other lessons are not so easy. We learn how to put others first during years when selflessness should not even be a part of our vocabulary. I am talking sometimes as young as five-years-old. Despite all that separates us, we are bonded by one thing; sometimes we had a douchebag for a dad.
1. Men do not validate who you are as a person.
Maybe it happens when you’re seven, or twelve, or sixteen. It doesn’t matter when, really. Eventually you will realize based on your father’s drunken behavior and insincere compliments, sometimes followed by crying or unrelated angry remarks, that men do not validate you. Their comments mean nothing. Subsequently, sometimes you will realize that your looks do not necessarily mean anything either, because they will fade, and it is your personality and intelligence that are meaningful.
2. You are not doomed to become a stripper because your father was an alcoholic.
Despite the multitude of jokes floating around the internet and popular culture, because your paternal parent was an alcoholic and did not lavish you with what is deemed as necessary and positive male attention, you will find as you grow this does not mean you will seek it elsewhere.
Specifically, having a father for an alcoholic does not mean you will become a stripper, prostitute, whore, etc. It does not mean you will have a revolving door of men in and out of your life, or establish unhealthy sexual and emotional tendencies because your father was too busy cradling a bottle instead of you. Unbeknownst to many individuals making these jokes, we are strong who learn to take care of ourselves.
3. Not all men are evil.
Though turmoil is expected, and some men may rub you the wrong way for legitimate reasons, you will not hate all men forever. Some may just drink too much. Whether your dad was an alcoholic or not, it’s likely you would have ended up hating these guys because they are, in fact, just bad news. Some may yell too loudly, or grab you too hard during a fight. Despite your parental history, these boys are also probably just that, boys. You’re looking for a man, and you’ll find one. You’ll find one who makes you realize there was something broken in the guy your mom fell for, or had a passing fling with, the guy who floated in and out of your life, or was firmly rooted in your home for years with a bottle of scotch. Whatever the case may be, there will by guys who make you realize every person is different and worth getting to know outside of their gender, and outside of your own history.
4. Parenting is second nature.
As the child of an alcoholic, and depending on how close you are to your parent, you are always a parent. For whatever reason, these parents cannot seem to take care of us in the way we should have been taken care of. Sometimes we kick and scream about it because it feels unfair, and it is. If they didn’t want kids, they shouldn’t have had us, right? Sometimes they even give us siblings, and we end up parenting them, if we’re the oldest and becoming nurturers long before we should be. In the end though, taking care of them only makes you stronger. And while you maybe don’t want to admit it while you’re taking care of them, answering another phone call at 2AM, or driving to another hospital, it’s made you a more patient person than most.
5. Walking away does not become easy, but it becomes necessary.
This is perhaps the hardest lesson being the child of an alcoholic has to learn. Sometimes it becomes too much, especially when your parent follows you into adulthood. The incessant relapses, and that is if they even try to get sober, become exhausting. You hope for their sobriety, to catch a glimpse of the parent you had or could have, only to have it snatched away when the texts mysteriously stop for two weeks, or they call drunkenly, asking to borrow money.
Sometimes, it’s just too much.
You have to remind yourself that while you have parented for as long as you can remember, whether it has been taking care of your parent or taking care of yourself, that does not mean you owe your parent anything, and you can walk away. It may be the hardest day of your life, but it may also be necessary for you to maintain your sanity because if there is something else many children of alcoholics learn it is…
6. You do not get your hopes after the, “I’m done drinking,” speech.
This sounds pessimistic. Maybe it is pessimistic. It absolutely is pessimistic to have this attitude the first, and perhaps even the second time a person attempts sobriety. Some may even argue a person should maintain optimism on the third or even fourth attempt. Children, however, who grow into adult-children of alcoholics, having seen the cycle repeat for years learn not to get their hopes up. It is safer sometimes, you realize, to simply hope they do their drinking at home and pass out comfortably on their own couch instead of driving drunk for a third time and possibly ruining another person’s life instead of only their own.
7. You realize you are not damned to follow in his footsteps.
This is important, and goes for men and women. You are not your parent, and while genetics supposedly plays a part in alcoholism, there is a fair amount of research that suggests there are no genetic factors linked to chemical dependence. Moreover, over half of children born of alcoholics do not take on their characteristics, and many individuals who do become alcoholics do so based on environmental factors. With a little will-power and some common sense, you can go ahead and have a drink at dinner, and even the odd, guilt-free night out any problem.
8. You learn to take care of yourself.
Maybe your dad was there to lend money, or was sober long enough to help with a problem or lend a sympathetic ear after a tough day. Maybe he started drinking later in your life and you have entire months or years where he was a coherent parent who legitimately guided you through life. Either of these scenarios is great, and provides powerfully positive memories to help you in dark times. The fact still remains that, when you needed him the most, he was probably drunk and unreachable. Maybe your mom, older sibling(s), friends, and anybody else you may have turned to were busy too. Maybe you did not want them because they were not your father. This forced you to learn to take care of yourself and while it was likely one of the most difficult, painful, and unfair things you were ever inclined to do, it has shaped you into the strong woman you are today. It does not mean you have to decline his help, should he be so inclined to offer (and be sober enough), but it does mean that whatever does come up, you’ve got your own back.
9. Your lifetime’s worth of experience with him has taught you about forgiveness.
He may never have asked for it, but you probably understand the true meaning of the quote, “Staying angry is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Maybe you stayed mad at him for months, or even years, and finally you realized he was too drunk, or selfish to notice or care. If he did notice, he probably got drunk to forget his guilt. And then one day, all of a sudden, it hits you and you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this to myself? Who gives a fuck if he asks for my forgiveness?” And you forgive him because it just doesn’t matter anymore and, frankly, isn’t worth your time anymore. You have happy memories with him in your past or you don’t, but he’s definitely shown you there won’t be any happy memories in your future if you stay miserable waiting for him to notice that you’re mad. And this is something that you use over and over again with different people, because if you can let go of somebody ruining your childhood, you can let go of pretty much anything.