I played video games quite a bit as a kid, especially several MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online roleplaying games, for you non-gamers). It was an escape for me where I could be someone else in another world and another life. These games were a place where I was actually someone who mattered, where people cared about me and asked how I was feeling. I could talk to the people online more than the people in my real life because I would be devastated if anyone I knew personally found out the truth about my family. I thought I would be made fun of at school, or that my parents would get mad at me for telling the truth, or that no one would even believe me because half the time I didn’t even believe myself anymore, although that is a story for another post.
Many of my close friends in those games though knew the truth. I didn’t have to worry about them making fun of me because if they did, I could just block them in-game. Thankfully, no one ever made of me. They accepted me as I was and didn’t question whether I was sane or not. It was liberating since I didn’t feel like I was carrying around this great secret from everyone anymore. My guilds welcomed me with open arms and some even gave me their cell phone numbers so that I could call them when it got really bad or if I just needed someone to talk to. As I reflect on this, I wasn’t ever really suicidal but I think I might have been without their support.
Even now, in my adult years, there are very few people in my real life who know what I have gone through, perhaps less than five. There is just such a stigma around alcoholism and alcoholics even though there are an estimated 15 – 32 million adults* in the US alone who have an alcohol abuse problem of some kind. And then you wonder how many of those people have children, children who are now going through the same things I did and even worse in many cases.
More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking, and more than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol.**
I don’t know if there is a solution, or if there ever will be. I simply don’t want anyone to go through what I did and yet there is so little that people can do to help these children. Many of us mask our pain behind an aura of confidence, happiness, humor, and generosity. Many people, even our close friends, have no idea that anything is amiss. “She looks happy and seems happy; therefore, she is happy!” This is a common perceptive fallacy that we ACOAs try to perpetuate so that we don’t have to confront our painful and dysfunctional childhoods.
On the inside, we are just a broken mirror. We spend our lives trying to fit the pieces back together so that we ourselves might be able to see who we truly are. Looking back at us from the broken pieces are the split faces of our young, fearful selves that our parent or parents smashed to pieces. Every piece of the mirror is a memory that must be relived and revisited, then ultimately set back into place after careful cleaning and care. I am thankful that my own mirror is almost restored but I hurt for those whose mirrors are being broken now, and those that are still shattered across the sands of time.
It is never too early or too late to start setting your mirror back into place. It will be a slow and painful process and sometimes your hands may get cut on the sharp edges of the glass. It is worth the temporary pain and suffering in order to see not your broken child self but rather your true adult reflection, one which you have control over so that you might be able to start on a new path toward happiness, forgiveness, and understanding.
* Depending on which source you go with, estimates on the number of alcoholics in the US can vary greatly. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates there are 15.1 million adult alcoholics in the US. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence puts the number at 17.6 million adults with an alcohol abuse disorder. A psychiatric study by JAMA Psychiatric puts the number as high as 32 million adults who admit that they have struggled with a serious alcohol problem in 2014 alone.
** Facts About Alcohol. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. July 2015. Web.