A child with an alcoholic parent is one who becomes familiar with pain, both psychic and physical, at a tender age.
The conflict and chaos of everyday life in a alcoholic home robs children of their childhoods, security and self-esteem.
Children who make it through the isolation, beatings, lies, broken promises, embarrassment, guilt and fear grow into adults with a formidable set of coping skills and a tremendous backlog of pain.
Often these adults are successful, competent, seemingly healthy individuals who realize that they aren't happy. Maybe they have difficulty maintaining intimate relationships; maybe they are having problems with their own children; maybe they have become alcoholics themselves. In many cases they aren't able to make the connection between their troubles and the alcoholism of their parents.
Judith S. Sexias, a certified alcoholism counselor, and Geraldine Youcha, a journalist who has written extensively on teen-age drinking and women and alcohol, estimate there are 22 million adults in this country who have grown up in an alcoholic home. For these adults, they have written their book.
Much has been written in the past five years on children of alcoholics, mostly distributed by small specialized publishers or government institutions. Sexias' and Youcha's book is the first offered by a major publisher and is part of a general increase in public awareness about the issue.
The book is divided into three parts designed to help adult children of alcoholics understand what happened to them, to explain what it is doing to them as adults and to tell them what they can do about it.
The interviews with children of alcoholics provide a vivid pictures of their experiences. "Come into the house where alcoholism lives," the book begins.
The adult children tell of holidays and birthdays that were spoiled by a drunken parent. They talk about the isolation that resulted from embarrassment, and about the elaborate fantasy worlds they created to escape from their dismal reality. They describe violence and incest and their childish convictions that if they were better, Mom or Dad wouldn't need to drink.
One college student remembers that when he was a child he saved all his pennies, believing that if he could buy his mother a bottle of her favorite perfume, she would be so pleased she would stop drinking.
In the next section, the authors discuss the physical and emotional aspects of alcoholism, and attempt to help those who worry that their drinking is a problem. They deal with the issues of marriage and parenting and attempt to provide some guidelines to help those who've grown up with inadequate role models. They also discuss present relationships with the parents.
Since many adult children of alcoholics need and want outside help to sort through the emotional tangle, Sexias and Youcha also describe the kinds of therapies and support groups that are available and list of resources for more information.
The book is clearly written and moving, although the documentation is a bit thin. Youcha acknowledged on a recent radio talk show that the authors didn't intend their book to be an exhaustive scientific study. There is a bibliography for those interested in delving more deeply.
The approach might seem simplistic to those who are very familiar with the issue. But for adult children of alcoholics who are just realizing that their past is a problem in the present, this book will provide comfort, information, hope and, most of all, the assurance that they are not alone.