I was young so I really had no clue what was going on with him. I just knew he would come home drunk every day, fight with my mom and ruin everything. I always tried to keep the other kids out of the way. I would make dinner for them and then take them upstairs to do homework – out of sight, out of mind kind of thing. The fighting would go on until he eventually fell asleep. I would hear my mom on the phone with her sister afterwards, she would cry and swear she was going to leave him, but she never did.
In the morning, the house would be very quiet. My mom didn’t get out of bed so I would have to make breakfast, pack lunches and get everybody out the door on time. All this while trying really hard not to wake up either my mom or dad. This went on for years. My dad never did quit drinking and my mom never left him.
When I grew up, a friend convinced me to go to an Ala-non meeting. I really didn’t want to go and didn’t think I needed to talk about any of this because my dad was no longer around. Boy was I wrong, I had a lot to say and a lot of feelings about my having to pick up the slack for my parents. It really did help simply to tell someone else my story.
Me: Anonymous is what we call the "Family Hero".
“This is the child who is “9 going on 40.” This child takes over the parent role at a very young age, becoming very responsible and self-sufficient. They give the family self-worth because they look good on the outside. They are the good students, the sports stars, the prom queens. The parents look to this child to prove that they are good parents and good people.
The hero is the fixer-upper, the glue that holds the family “in place.” The hero keeps the wounded family functioning (at least on the outside) and takes up the slack where the parents don’t have it together. The hero may get the laundry done, fix meals, mind the smaller kids, perhaps even nurture a disabled or dysfunctional parent (as when the hero child tends to the needs of an alcoholic mother or father). The hero may or may not receive praise and support within the family, but from the outside, the hero is acknowledged as the trustworthy, conscientious, mature, capable kid. A born negotiator, a placater (sic), that recognizes in advance the waves that might rock the family boat and tries to still them, and may even use an occasional white lie to keep the family friction to a minimum.
The Hero is the one who needs to make the family, and role players, look good. They ignore the problem and present things in a positive manner as if the roles within the family did not exist. The Hero is the perfectionist.
As an adult the Family Hero is rigid, controlling, and extremely judgmental (although perhaps very subtle about it) – of others and secretly of themselves. They achieve “success” on the outside and get lots of positive attention, but are cut off from their inner emotional life, from their True Self. They are compulsive and driven as adults because deep inside they feel inadequate and insecure. The family hero, because of their “success” in conforming to dysfunctional cultural definitions of what constitutes doing life “right”, is often the child in the family who as an adult has the hardest time even admitting that there is anything within themselves that needs to be healed.
This child provides the self-worth for the whole family and keeps the secret the best of anyone. However, the shadow or inner feelings of the HERO are related to their feelings of guilt and inadequacy, which they cover up by overachieving and people pleasing. The stress and responsibility of their role is incredible. The task they have set up for themselves is way beyond them but they keep plugging away thinking that they will eventually be able to make everything in their family ‘all better’.”
The shadow, underlying or unconscious feelings are fear, guilt, powerlessness and shame.
Adult Children of Alcoholics
That was me. Or, more accurately, I guess, that is me.
Adults, watch for kids like this; the super-responsible ones. They're too young to be so responsible, and they deserve to be kids.
Let's try to not let this endless cycle repeat and repeat. Nobody can shake the alcoholic and the co-dependent to make them concentrate on what they're doing to their own kids, because they're too enmeshed in their own circumstances to even think about it.
Somebody needs to step in.