Our Parent’s Worst Nightmare

I was just thinking that my detractors see me as a braggart when I mention being in martial arts since 1960 at age 12, they neglect to remember my statements that I learned to defend myself after seven years of abuse at the hands of mean and intolerant people, I was bullied because I was basically shy and passive in nature. When my father abandoned the family due to his alcoholism in the 1950’s, our family became targets for all kinds of unfortunate circumstances, my mother was so busy being a working single parent she couldn’t attend to all her four children’s needs. Paradoxically my father while “divorcing us” still tried to exercise some authority over us, by supervising us in outside chores or inspecting our progress in our massive garden, which we were expected to cultivate after school and on weekends. Our Alcoholic family was vulnerable to gossip and condescension, considered the poor divorced wife who whose husband had become a drunken nightmare, with four young kids left to the mercy of a broken home. Other child were less charitable and had bad and nasty expressions for our devastated family; usually made by a large loud energized group, and on their faces condescending snickers and disapproving looks of self-righteous arrogance.


When I turned aged 12 I had enough of this maltreatment, as the oldest male child it was constantly expressed that I was “The Man Of The House’, and therefore expected to watch out for my mother and siblings. We were expected to grow up to be proper Ladies and Gentlemen, be socially appropriate in any given situation, and always be respectful to elderly people regardless of their race or social circumstances. Black children were schooled to believe that young men and women were adults at age 12, yet still responsible to obeying their parents and elders. We were then accountable for our sins, and now if we died in a sinful state we could possibly go to Hell, and we had a series of Sins and Transgression to observe; Lying seemed to be the number one sin that would send us straight to Hell, Don’t Put Anything On Top Of The Bible, followed closely by tale bearing even though I heard more gossip at my church than at home or our party-line telephone, mistreatment of Black women and not guarding them from harm, a lot of our code of conduct came from the Old Testament of the Bible. We also had Colored Rules of Conduct to protect us in White Racist 1950’s Seattle, our elders didn’t believe politeness and civility would deflect racist treatment, but at least it might mitigate some of the anger paranoia and unsolicited violence against the Black victim.

Even to this day I will be polite without being solicitous, partially because that is my usual manner, but specifically because my elders would have beaten my behind today if they caught me acting ugly in public. So if you saw a truly Bad Black Kid they were almost beyond redemption, and I met one who threatened to take my life at a 12 year old girl’s birthday party. I conned my mother into believing I was sleeping over at a friend’s, we left from there to go a junior high school girl’s birthday party, my buddy and I wanted to meet up with some cute girls from school. Everything was going great but this party had more of an adult theme, with dimly lit red and blue bulbs and older adult records, some meant for bumping and grinding rather than youthful frolicking dances I knew. Then in walks the neighborhood Bad Guy and a murmur races through the party, this drunken menacingly large fellow who was about 18 or 19, sneered as he drunkenly staggered through the crowd and fixated directly on little 12 year old me. Bad Guy took out a revolver and put it up to my temple,

“I’m going to kill him!” he drunkenly barked.


“Please don’t kill him, he’s in my class at school!”, and a little  junior high girl pleaded,


”Yeah. Listen to her, Please Don’t Kill Me!”, I quickly and loudly interjected.


Bad Guy lowered the gun and started chatting up the little girl, I instinctively ran out into the back yard and made a beeline for home, sprinting over the medium size backyard fences to the howls and laughter of the young kids.


Bad Guy was in a blackout like the ones I’d seen affect my father and other drunken adults (and later experienced myself over 12 years), I swore I’d never drink like that or become a drunken monster, who unconsciously one minute was willing to destroy the world, and the next oozing happiness and maniacal sentimentality. I further resolved to listen more closely to my mother from now on (like all teenage boys do), and heed her warnings to stay away from undisciplined, unruly boys, unfortunately after I started drinking at 17 I became “one of the kids our parents warned us against”. If I had continued on my drunken rampage I would have remained The Bad Guy, an embarrassment to my family, friends and community, possibly dead but even worse the living embodiment of a child of an alcoholic who self-destructed.


Alcoholic Parents in Recovery Need To Apologize To Their Children


I always asked my clients in a non-confronted manner, expecting denial and a drawn out excuse about them “only hurting myself”, during and after their active drinking phase. If you want to see an alcoholic client go temporally insane and amnesic, ask them how their drinking affected their partner and immediate family, they usually respond with: “They were too young to be really affected by my drinking”, “My drinking wasn’t that bad until after I separated from my spouse”, “I did all my drinking away from the home, when I was at home I was the perfect parent”, “What’s my family life got to do with my drinking, I put a roof over their heads and gave them the best money could buy!”. Some clients genuinely couldn’t make the connection between their alcoholic misbehavior, and the subsequent affects alcoholism had on their love ones, they refused to believe their alcohol/psychotic lifestyle was ever an issue. Sure there was some domestic violence that occurred over accusations of infidelity and money management, but these happened when the client was completely sober, so the partner couldn’t blame these arguments on drinking or alcoholic behavior. Coincidentally if the abuser didn’t end up in jail that night, they usually stormed off to their favorite watering hole to spend more money on a lover and bar mates who really understands them.

An old statistic about divorce of recovering alcoholics said that 90% of recovering women sought divorce, while only 10% of recovering men sought divorce, no information on martial partnership where alcoholics were recovering simultaneously. It does seem that a lot of alcoholics get unsuccessfully married in early recovery, those who have ongoing participation in alcoholism recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon Family Group, fare much better but both programs discourage impetuous unions until their members have matured and become less needy. Detoxification from the devastating effects of long term drunkenness, can physically take a couple of years and gaining confidence and true self esteem similarly is long process. Both groups support possible counseling and returning to previous religious affiliations, to help members lift their spirits, and find useful constructive ways to fill their time. I am a big fan of the AA/Al-Anon 12 Steps approach, other therapist and treatment facilities embrace programs which adopt the AA 12 Steps but are more Religious orientated and acceptance of Chemical Dependency as part of their triage and recovery focus, and others who modify the AA’s 12 Steps plus add R.E.T.(Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) or S.M.A.R.T. Therapy and even believe that modified controlled alcohol drinking does make one an alcoholic.


One of the cornerstones of any viable treatment modality for rehabilitating an alcoholic, is to help them become honest and accept responsibility for their errant behavior, drunks never want to admit that they were wrong about anything. You can catch a drunk spending the kid’s milk money on booze, and they’ll admit that they are doing it but offer up some lame excuse, or try to shift the blame on being effected by the economy or war in the Antarctic. We, declaring myself a sober alcoholic are masters of manipulation, guilt-tripping our parents, friends, and nuclear family members, in fact we use them as scapegoats to intensify our addicted drinking and progressively psychotic behavior. I’ve had clients and recovering alcoholic cronies try to peddle sympathetic excuses, that their happiness in recovery depends on others and failure could lead to relapse, I know these are excuses because in early recovery I‘ve use them on myself. We drunks usually want a family back we never actually had, the white picket fence with cookies in the oven and our angelic children playing in the yard fantasy, we grandiosely proclaim; that would have been our family ,“if only “ we hadn’t been unlucky, if God had been better to us, or our enemies hadn’t prevailed. Now that my clients are abstaining from alcohol, and have begun realizing their past was a self-imposed train wreck, I want them to look at some of the damage they’ve caused others, “That’s just what they said to us at those meetings and in treatment!”. Of course that’s also what they tell the alcoholic who returns to church, it can be very helpful to the alcoholic if they again join their nuclear family as regular church members, socialization and community service personally enrich the alcoholic’s social and spiritual life.


The 12 Step recovery programs patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous, practice a threefold reflection and restitution; first in their 4th Step inventory and 5th Step confidential confession of misdeed, later in their 8th harms list and making apologies and amends in the 9th Step and finally in their daily/and instantaneous assessment and correction of negative actions and attitudes in the Step 10 Maintenance step. In the 70’s therapist used to use a similar approach to minimize “Gunny Sacking” the Dr. David Burn phenomenon of storing up all your anger and resentments in a mental gunny sack, and eventually dumping them on a unsuspecting target. So if a client is progressing in therapy and needs to look at their past misdeeds to family, they should feel comfortable knowing that therapist will not judge their past behaviors by personal values, and hopefully trust the therapist enough to begin honestly and openly looking at past family transgressions. This is the point again where we hear the make believe dog barking in the front yard, smell the freshly bake cookies cooling in the window sill illusion, I should have said “Ideally, hopefully trust the therapist enough admit to past misdeeds”, paradoxically what the clients hears is,”Let’s talk about all the times you were wrong and hurt your family and proved to the world how bad you really are!”. There is an instantaneous brain melt down of the client accompanied by a furtive glazed over look, signifying that this line of conversation is temporarily closed, of course your client may also be thinking of you as a 24 karat so and so…but their deeper feeling are those of shock and fear.


The Family Crucible by Carl Whitaker ,AA’s Big Book in Chapter’s 8 (To The Wives) and 9 (The Family Afterward) and Alberti’s /Emmons Your Perfect Right, are three of many references I found helpful in having blameless dialogue about family, most importantly your client may have legitimate fears if their disclosures conflict with your personal value system. Values Clarification (S.B. Simon-1972) is a great reference to help therapist evaluate their value, and learn how to separate their values system and that of their work environment, from the beliefs and actions of the client who often times has a similar set of values distorted by alcoholism. Legal questions and moral situations are not the focus, but rather “What kind of pain and suffering did your addictive alcoholics behavior cause your family, can you see any residual effects in the behavior of family members?”. While drinking and early in recovery people are often told that drinking is only hurting them, especially if the alcoholic continues to drink after awareness of their disease, and uses the guilt induction excuse of drinking because of they have family problems. Unfortunately family members as well as the alcoholic harbor a lot of Unreasonable Guilt, similar to grieving people who feel somehow guilt at the death of a pet or love one, even if they had no responsibility for the demise of the victim.


Alcoholics unfortunately commit many misdeeds in states of unconsciousness, saying and doing hurtful things, even spontaneous urinating or walking around in an immodest or partially nude fashion. Alcoholics have been removed from the family home by police or emergency services for various offenses;

Threats of injury to self or others,

failed suicide attempt,

physical fight with family or neighbors,

paranoia and grave depression episodes,

hallucinations due to dehydration and delirium tremens,

Potentiation (overdoses) adverse reaction to mixing alcohol with strong medication.

The Dreaded Secrets

The alcoholic drinking away from the home has “secret affairs”, it’s a small world after all and kids talk and ridicule the alcoholic’s children, the children learn more about the alcoholic parent’s extracurricular sex life then the offending parent.  Drunks often have assignations in a Blackout state, their range of affairs are usually close to home, other parents and neighbors gossip. The only ones keeping the Dreaded Secret ,are the alcoholic’s family in their transparent fishbowl, ” Poor Mrs. ____and the kids….etc. . “.

Run-ins with the Law become more frequent, and the family gets fewer birthday invitations and visitations from ,  the alcoholic is bailed out of jail at 2am with his frightened shivering kids blankly staring at him. All the money disappears, the family starts shopping at “hand me down stores”.  The alcoholic gets sick and the family secretly wishes they’d die, then feels also guilty , then the alcoholic recovers and rampage s again and they pray for their death…then guilt sets in.


A great fear of family member is their love one will die before they get the help they need, family members unwittingly help the alcoholic continue self-destructive behavior (Al-Anon calls Enabling) ,by walking on eggshells around the home and doing everything humanly possible to placate their family maddened  by liquor abuse. Family members have legitimate grievance and after rescuing the drunks over and over again they begin to hate them, PBS’s Bill Moyers candidly admits that after recuing his son William C. Moyer. repeatedly, he told his addicted manipulative son “I wish you were dead!”. William got it together and has been sober for over 12 years, has the support of his family, but has also done a thorough job of examining and dealing with past family wreckage. Personally I spent almost 12 years from age 17-28 plus as an active alcoholic, and realized after a year sober and receiving a degree in Alcoholism counseling, that I needed some sort of personal discipline and group, to remain alcohol free and totally rehabilitated. My beginning apology to my family came after I was two years sober, working in Texas as an alcoholic counselor and still in the initial phases of my personal recovery, I did attend a few AI-Anon meetings and realized how dreadful I had made my love ones existence. After I wrote my love one letter stating that I was still sober 2 years of abstinence from alcohol, and greatly appreciate everything the family did for me and how lovingly and supportive they’d been, and I would try to be a better family member from now on. I was a better family after my second year apology, but I wasn’t the Best brother or son at that time, but I did feel a closeness to my family and loved being around them. I also learned that we alcoholics who do not deal with our inappropriate behavior are doomed to relive it, and cause more fear, anger and resentments within our family, a deja vous right back where our past undisciplined non-sober lives were floundering.


I strongly suggest that family members attend Al-Anon for at least 10 consecutive sessions, Al-Anon is there to help the family members of alcoholics, by providing needed support so the family members can help themselves. Let Go With Love and Detach With Love are Al-Anon mottos, allowing the alcoholic to stop holding the family hostage, and instead join other supportive alcoholics to become self-sufficient . Al-Anon’s detachment statement is:

”What I Do or Don’t Do doesn’t keep the alcoholic sober,

What I Do or Don’t Do doesn’t make the alcoholic drink,

What I Do or Don’t Do makes me The Best Person I Can Be,

Then and Only Then will I have something to give to another”.

The Family Crucible “78”/ Carl Whitaker

Values Clarification “72”/ Dr. Sidney B. Simon

RET “11” Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy/Albert Ellis

Alcoholics Anonymous 4t Ed. ”10”/Chap. 8 and 9

Your Perfect Right “08” Alberti-Emmons

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy “08” David M Burns MD.

One Day At A Time In Al-Anon “78” Al-Anon Family Group

Broken: My story of addiction and Redemption “07” William Cope Moyers