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Young Living: My Parents Drink Too Much
by Abigail Wood
I’m seventeen, from a good home and I love my parents,
but they drink--to excess. I can’t stand seeing my
mother stagger around and babble like an idiot every evening.
I might not care so much, but when she’s sober she’s
person, intelligent and lots of fun. After six at night
I really hate her. And my father is so impossible when he’s
drunk I don’t even talk to him. If I sound bitter,
it’s because I am. Everyone knocks the younger generation
and many parents are ashamed to be seen with their children
for fear their long hair won’t please someone they
meet. In my case it’s the other way around. I die
a thousand deaths when we go anywhere and my father thinks
he should take drunken command of the whole place. I never
bring friends home because I don’t know what condition
my parents will be in. My mother has had some accidents
driving, but so far only the car has been smashed. When
I see them both driving down the winding road to get more
beer, I know that one day they won’t make it back.
I did talk to my father once about my mother’s drinking.
He agrees she has a problem but can’t help her because
he doesn’t realize he has one. My mother has promised
to stop, but to no avail. I feel my patents aren’t
alcoholics because they can stop sometimes. I can’t
talk to anyone about it because everyone thinks they’re
the greatest. But sometimes I feel I can’t bear it
Compulsive drinking is painful to live with under any circumstances,
but when you’re still struggling with the standard
turmoil of the teens, it’s especially agonizing to
see your parents skidding toward self-destruction. They
were your first heroes, your earliest source of support
and guidance. When those trusted guides seem incapable of
managing their own lives, you feel betrayed. Their alcoholic
abandon seems abandonment, rejection. (If they loved me,
how could they do this to me? And why me? What have I done
to deserve this?) Inevitably your heartbreak and fear get
mixed with anger, hate, bitterness. . . which only increase
parents are not just mentors for their children. They’re
human beings, subject to all the frailties, irrationalities
and weaknesses of the human system, including those which
brought them to their present state.
drink for many reasons. Most can stop when they want to,
if they want to. But when drinking reaches the pattern you
describe, it’s no longer mere overindulgence. It has
become an illness that cannot be consciously controlled,
any more than diabetes -or tuberculosis can be stopped with
good resolutions. The fact that they function some of the
time can be deceptive; it may mean only that the illness
is not at its deepest stage. Whether it’s called problem
drinking, habitual excessive drinking or alcoholism, what’s
involved is an abnormal sensitivity to alcohol combined
with certain compulsions that create a desperate craving
for it--so desperate that those who have it are quite unable
to stop themselves. And the only treatment that works so
far is a rigorous one--total abstinence.
down every compulsive drinker knows he has a problem, however
much he tries to deny or conceal it even from himself. Your
parents don’t want to have car smash-ups or cause
you pain; inside, they are full of shame and guilt. It’s
partly to drown those feelings that they continue to drink.
is nothing you can do to make them stop. Only they can take
that step when they’re ready to face themselves. Their
promises and your pleading, reasoning or reproaches can
do no good and will only make things worse by increasing
there are things you can do to help yourself. Learning all
you can about alcoholism in order to understand what they’re
up against will make it easier to be patient and less resentful,
less judging. (Young people often demand, “Accept
me as I am”; can you try applying that idea in reverse?)
Love cannot exist without compassion and self-discipline.
As you work to change your attitude, you’ll be able
to see your parents as persons, to separate your problems
from theirs. You’ll discover that you needn’t
die of shame when they’re drunk. You are not your
parents; when they stagger, no one will point a finger at
you. (Although people do hold parents responsible for their
child’s actions--and hair length--no one holds the
child responsible for the parent!)
isolate yourself from friends—see them away from home
if it’s easier. And do seek outside help. It’s
really too much to try to handle alone. An excellent source
is Alateen, an organization formed by and for teens with
a compulsive drinker in their family to help one another
cope with their troubles. The national office (Al-Anon Family
Group Headquarters, Box 182, Madison Square Station, New
York 10010) will tell you whether there’s an Alateen
chapter near you (or look in your phone book). If not, they
will send you literature and provide member pen pals. The
service is free and confidential and has been immensely
helpful to many young people in your situation.
I’m fifteen and am having a real hassle with my father.
My father is an alcoholic. He has lost countless jobs and
causes unbearable embarrassment for our family. He picks
on me for everything from cleaning my room to curfews. He
insults me, tells me how to organize
my life--as if he was an example! After all I’ve seen,
heard and had to take from him, my resentment shows and
instead of swallowing it calmly, I’m always on the
defensive, ready to lunge back. I’m not wild, I don’t
drink, smoke, experiment with drugs or--well, I don’t
even date. And my mother sides with my father! I used to
think she did it just to keep peace but she agrees with
him and then punishes me. They’re constantly arguing
and yelling, but the minute I talk back to my father she
gets all uptight. If he really wanted to do something for
all our good, he’d leave. God only knows why my mother
hasn’t thrown him out long ago. I’ve tried to
talk to her but she won’t -understand. My father gave
up listening to me long ago. I’m so afraid it will
be like this for my younger brother, too; he has already
started to show his resentment. Are other kids in my position?
What can I do? Please don’t pass this off as a minor
matter because it gets worse every day.
Your problem is far from minor, and you are not alone with
it. It’s estimated that there
nearly eight million alcoholics in this country and since
many have children in their teens, you can see that countless
other young people are going through the same torments--and
worse. Remember, too, that some of your differences and
battles you’d be having anyway as a part of the ordinary
teen experience; growing up is never easy, and disputes
over curfews, room cleaning and the like erupt in most families.
(Is your record faultless in those departments? Or might
there be legitimate cause for complaint?)
alcoholic in the family does, of course, greatly multiply
the difficulties. But the key to coping with them remains
the same--understanding, in even larger doses. Read the
answer to the letter just above. Now, realizing that your
father’s condition is really an illness, do you still
feel he should be treated with indignation and expulsion--or
with the patience and solicitude you’d offer anyone
else who is ill? Whenever there’s a prolonged and
serious problem, it’s natural to become confused,
angry and rebellious over the hardship it causes. But both
your parents need your help more than most and you may have
to grow up faster than usual, to a maturity beyond your
years. One way to start is to take a fresh look at things
from a completely different point of view.
You’ve been thinking of your father at the five-star
troublemaker. But like all alcoholics, he himself is an
unhappy, guilt-ridden, frustrated, self-hating, lonely man
who needs the best in you--your loyalty and affection and
courtesy. And like all of us, an alcoholic tends to take
out his hostilities on those he loves most. It’s especially
important not to talk back or fight back. If things get
too heated, just move out of contact. When you’re
angry or upset, make yourself pause before you speak and
hold back the caustic, provocative words. Or simply take
a walk. Remember, he’s ill and not in control of himself.
That’s why you must make an effort to control yourself.
Compulsive drinkers are supersensitive and react quickly
to hurt; don’t criticize and don’t be scornful.
A brilliant sally may relieve your feelings momentarily,
but it will only intensify the battle. Try to become the
soother, not the irritant.
about the pressure that’s on your mother too--emotionally,
socially and probably financially. She can use the support
of your affection and consideration. You can contribute
to family peace also by helping your brother to understand
the situation more clearly.
is a large order. It will surely be hard to do an about-face
toward your father when you are so filled with anger. But
if you can change your attitude toward him, you’ll
be surprised at what a change it will make in you as well.
For one thing, it will save now-wasted energy for other
uses . . . such as developing outside interests. Do get
in touch with Alateen too. Meanwhile you might take as your
own watchword the essence of their serenity prayer:
I have the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the
courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the
My father drinks all the time and my mother yells at everything.
And I’ve never had a date in my life. I’m not
bad looking, an honor student and I’ve had leads in
school plays. Because I’m always smiling, people think
I’m happy. But whenever a boy asks me out, I have
to refuse because I’d die if anyone outside the family
found out about my parents. When I keep refusing dates,
boys think, mistakenly, that I don’t like them so
they stop asking. It hurts me to have to do this but how
could I possibly introduce anyone to my parents? My mother
often asks why I don’t go out. But I never know when
the two of them will be fighting or my father drunk. Next
year my brother will be away and I’ll be all alone.
I don’t know what I’ll do.
Are you being completely honest? Its often easy to deceive
yourself by using one problem as an excuse for not facing
up to another.
every boy who asks you out because you don’t know
how your parents will behave sounds as if you’re not
ready to risk a date without their presence! Surely if your
father isn’t presentable, you can ask your mother
to do the honors alone when the boy calls for you. If she
wants you to go out, she won’t yell at him. And you
can say your father is sick--it will certainly be true.
is it possible that you refuse for more obscure reasons--because
you fear you won’t live up socially to your high standards
in other areas? Or that since your father has disappointed
you so deeply, you’re afraid to put your faith in
any other male? Or could you just be having an exaggerated
case of the trepidation most girls feel about dating--with
its sexual implications? A little self-probing may help
you find the nitty gritty, and a dash of courage will probably
help you cope with whatever it is, through learning by doing.
is not to say it isn’t difficult and embarrassing
to have parents who fall short of ideal. But almost everyone
does. And if you speak of yours with respect and affection,
and make only a simple explanation when necessary, you’ll
discourage discussion and your friends will respect you
prepare for your brother’s absence next year why not
start cultivating some boys to take over? In other words,
try the other words--“yes, I’d love to”--next
time you’re asked.
Seventeen, April 1971)