As a recovered alcoholic and drug addict who grew up in an alcoholic home, my greatest fear is that my daughter will turn out like me. I think a lot about how to stop her from walking down a path that seems predestined.
My paternal grandmother died of cirrhosis when my father was just a boy. From the few stories I’ve heard, she was the stereotypical, neglectful drunk. But my father is different. He has demonstrated a kind of control over his drinking that I was never able to, which is why I found myself in rehab at age 26, while he’s never even contemplated quitting in his 60+ years. My father has never missed a day of work, he’s never gotten angry, he’s never disappeared. He just drinks — every night.
I discovered alcohol in college, and it was love at first sip. Drinking filled a hole I’d always had in my soul and, from the first time I tried alcohol, I knew I had found what I’d been looking for. I was a blackout drinker from the beginning, and was never able to prioritize important life commitments over drinking. I spent most of my time chasing parties, and when I discovered cocaine a few years later, it completed my bread and butter.
Today I consider the lack of control I had over my drinking and drug use to be a blessing. It led me to an early bottom, when I was in my mid-20s. Now sober for more than four years, I still have my entire life in front of me. But I’m afraid my child will go down the same path.
When I discovered I was pregnant, my joy was quickly replaced by terror. Alcoholism runs not only in my family, but in my husband’s, as well. I felt guilt at the fact that I was choosing to bring a child into this world, and that she may have to spend her life fighting the demons that I fought, feeling the feelings that I felt, struggling with the disease that I have.
For many years, I told myself I didn’t want children at all. I thought I was too selfish to ever be able to put someone else’s needs and well-being above my own. In reality, I think I knew that I was incapable of being someone’s parent. It was easier to convince myself I didn’t want kids at all than it was to admit that I couldn’t take care of myself, let alone another human being.
But sobriety and recovery brought a sense of responsibility, stability and selflessness that allowed me to start to toy with the idea of having a child. I knew I was finally in a place where I could be a good — even great — parent. I saw my pregnancy as a gift of my sobriety, something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I hadn’t gotten well.
Yet I couldn’t stop the nagging fear and guilt that permeated what should have been a joyous time. I spent hours thinking about how I could prevent my daughter from drinking or using drugs, how I could scare her away from the path I had gone down. I thought about what I could tell her to make her believe that she was enough, so she wouldn’t turn to substances to try to fill an internal void the way that I had.
I thought back to my childhood and asked myself what my parents could have done differently to ensure that I wouldn’t have become an alcoholic, and that’s when the answer became clear: Absolutely nothing. From the time I was small, my alcoholism was written in my bones. The -isms were there before the alcohol was, and I always felt awkward, out of place, like my skin didn’t quite fit. The first sip of alcohol was, for me, medicinal. And there was no way my parents could have prevented me from taking a sip of a substance that is perfectly legal.
Nor do I want to stop my daughter from drinking alcohol or trying drugs. I don’t think that drugs or alcohol are the enemy — it’s why some people can use them recreationally and others cannot. The problem is not the substance — the substance is a solution to the problem for those of us suffering from alcoholism or addiction. I don’t think scare tactics are necessarily effective, either. If they were, D.A.R.E. programs would have higher success rates and the halls of Alcoholics Anonymous wouldn’t be filled with people who grew up in the back of the rooms swearing they would never be like their parents.
What I can do is always be open with my daughter about my past. I can have candid conversations with her about alcoholism and what it looks like. We can talk about healthy coping mechanisms and what non-problematic substance use looks like. I never want her to feel afraid to tell me anything, even if she begins to experiment with alcohol and drugs. If I don’t know it’s happening, I can’t be there to guide her, support her, or reassure her.
If my daughter ends up being an alcoholic, it will not be because of anything I do — or don’t do — as a parent. But because I have been there and found my way out, I’ll know what to do if and when she ever needs help herself. I’ll know how to avoid enabling her and how to point her toward a life-changing solution, because I found one myself.
And honestly, if my daughter ends up anything like me, I guess it won’t be so bad. I may be an alcoholic and a drug addict, but I’m one who has found a beautiful life — not despite my disease, but because of it. I don’t regret my past, because it made me who I am today. Some of my favorite people are fellow alcoholics.
I hate the fact that my husband and I have had to have conversations about how we’ll handle it if we find out our daughter is following in our footsteps, but that’s our reality. We’ll tackle that issue if and when we get to it. Hopefully we never do. But I do know that my life — and my family’s life — will not be used as a tragic or cautionary tale. Instead, I hope my daughter sees me as an inspiration. I have come back from the brink to find a happy life, and it’s possible for anyone.
Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @britnidlc.
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