The biggest factor in predicting resiliency (the ability to move on from childhood trauma) for the children of addicts (COAs) is whether they had some support in their early life either from another compassionate adult or a friend that they could confide in.* If the COA had a supportive person in their life, they are more likely to be able to heal from the effects of their childhood trauma.
I am lucky enough to have had one such friend in my life through middle school and high school, during the worst of my mother’s drinking years. He and his family were the only ones who knew. I was too afraid to tell anyone else and I thought that the other children would make fun of me if they knew the truth.
He didn’t, though.
He didn’t question me or accuse me of lying or manipulating him when I would tell him what happened at home. He would just listen and let me talk and in getting it out, I often felt better even if nothing about my circumstances had really changed. When I went over to his house, I got a glimpse of what a normal family life could be like, or at least whatever normal front his parents put up while I was there. I wasn’t afraid of being yelled at or threatened, of being called stupid or worthless. I was treated with respect and for once in my life I felt like there were people who really cared about me.
When things got really bad at home, I knew I could call him and he would listen. When I got my driver’s license, I could drive to his house and spend some time there while my mother raged at home. Soon my mother accused me of liking his family more than our own and of course I did, though I never told her that.
Like any teenager, I had my faults. I could be rude or irresponsible and I understand that it is the parents’ job to correct such behavior. However, being constantly accused of lying, of manipulating others, of being called worthless or a waste of space had taken its emotional toll on me. I started to believe her. I began to think that I was selfish and stupid, that I was this horrible person that she made me out to be.
But he didn’t let me slip into that mentality. He grabbed my hand and pulled me back from the edge of the abyss. His family gave me hope that perhaps one day I could have a normal life, or at least not a dysfunctional one.
It’s been a long time since those days, but I am grateful every single day for him and his family’s support of me. To be honest, I’m not sure if they even remember all that much about those times, or if he even knows the extent to which he has impacted my life. Regardless of whether they remember or not, I am confident that I would not be where and who I am today without their support.
I am forever grateful and humbled to have had such a friend and family who believed in me, who helped me to see that my life does have meaning. They are forever in my thoughts and well-wishes and I will never forget what they did for me in my times of need.
* High self-efficacy individuals persist longer in the face of difficulty and are extremely resilient in the face of failure (Bandura, 1982; as cited in Redmond, 2010).