Thursday, December 20, 2007

Children are victims of parents' drinking

When life with alcoholic parents became too much for a 10-year-old girl to handle, she sought the help of a trusted counselor and found a way to manage what previously had gotten out of hand.

The support she received from that counselor and from the Alateen program she subsequently attended molded her into the successful adult she is today.

She has asked to use the name Lanie to maintain anonymity.

“Tell your story,” she advised others who may be in a similar position today. “It’s not a secret that you have to keep. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It is a disease that can be treated and managed.”

Lanie grew up with two alcoholic parents and, while they were not physically abusive, life was not easy for the child, and the holiday season was worse.

“With alcoholism, there’s always the unpredictability of every day, not knowing what each day is going to hold,” she said. “Then when you add the holidays to that, when things should be good, I think it makes things even worse. I think it’s overwhelming. ... They do have the expectations that holidays will be a wonderful time.”

And for some, it is, she added. Occasionally alcoholics make the effort to behave better during the holidays. They are more likely to go to church or attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because of the season.

For most, though, the holidays are a struggle, often because of balancing the cost of Christmas with finances already tight from feeding the alcoholism.

“It can make for a very difficult time,” Lanie said.

And while her parents did not abuse her and her younger sister, siblings of both her mother and father also were alcoholics, which exacerbated their family get-togethers.

“I still remember an incident,” she said, describing a Christmas celebration when her father and his brother got into an argument.

“(The uncle) ended up putting his fist through a window and knocking over a Christmas tree,” Lanie said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is not normal. This is not the way holidays should be.’”

Because both parents were busy with alcohol, some of the responsibility of tracking finances rested on Lanie’s shoulders. She tried to monitor money and make sure the bills had been paid, with enough left over for Christmas. During the season, it seemed, her father tended to drink even more and money was tight.

“It’s real hard for two kids to live with two alcoholics living together,” she recalled. “It was always like, ‘Who’s the parent here?’”

Finally, the girl decided she needed to talk to someone about the problems at home.

“When I finally talked to my school counselor at the time, that’s what finally got my mom to treatment,” Lanie said.

She had gone to counselor Robbie Hill for advice, and Hill had called in Lanie’s mother.

“It wasn’t a good confrontation,” Lanie said of the meeting. No one threatened to take the children away, but Hill made it clear that the environment was not good for the children and something had to be done.

The result eventually was worth the effort.

“(Hill) is a big supporter of Alateen,” Lanie said. “She’s definitely one of those people that’s easy to talk to and is a big support for families.”

So Lanie, at 10, began going to Alateen meetings.

“I would really, really encourage kids to seek out Alateen,” Lanie said. “That was my saving grace through my childhood.”

She could not leave her year-old sister at home to be taken care of by her alcoholic parents while she attended meetings, though.

“If I wanted to go to an Alateen meeting, I had to take her with me,” Lanie said. “ ... She learned to read from Alateen books.”

Lanie began to learn, too, and by the time she was in her teens, she became a speaker for the organization.

“Alateen really, honestly, provided me with so many opportunities. I’ve been to 48 states and seven countries as an Alateen speaker,” she said.

It was not unusual for her to speak to crowds of up to 10,000 youths, all children of alcoholics going through much of the same life she had experienced.

“One thing I think was really helpful as a kid was trying to keep in mind that it wasn’t because of me and it wasn’t about me,” she said. “Even though it was affecting me, it was nothing I could control.”

As a teen, Lanie also served as one of a seven-member national Alateen committee that created literature, bylaws, and similar guidelines for the organization.

Lanie maintained that connection to Alateen until, at 20, she aged out of the program and began going to Al-Anon. Though she still goes to meetings, she doesn’t attend as frequently as she did the Alateen group.

“It really defined my life and me as a person,” she said. “The traveling alone gave me so many experiences, and then to be able to be part of an organization and a planning committee like that, I think really enabled me to be part of the business world. ...

“I know I definitely wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t have parents who were alcoholics and if I didn’t have Alateen.”

Lanie’s mother got into recovery and started attending AA meetings when the girl was 14. Her parents divorced, and her father continued to drink, though he made seven failed attempts at treatment.

“I learned how to love him and have a relationship with him in the context (of alcoholism). I was okay with that,” Lanie said. “I think it taught me, especially with my dad, never to give up hope.”

Two years ago, unexpectedly, her father began going to AA meetings and has been sober since.

“His health has improved considerably. He’s just really become a nice guy. It’s been a nice opportunity for him to be a parent and a grandparent,” she said.

The end of her uncle’s story was not so happy. He and his wife divorced, and several years later, he died in a motel room out-of-state. It was several days before anyone found his body.

“In AA they say it’s a cunning, baffling disease, and that is so true,” Lanie said. “ ... You just never know what’s going to happen. There’s definitely some power greater than us that makes those decisions.”

source: The Emporia Gazette

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