Adult Children of Alcoholics or Addicts: How to Live Happy and Free!
Are you the child of an alcoholic or addict parent(s)? Did you grow up in a home surrounded by chaos and fear? Are you ready to move forward in your life but don’t know how?
In this article, we’ll look at how to move through the achievable practices of Repentance, Forgiveness and Boundaries so that you can aware of what is true and simultaneously create your best life possible.
Repentance, Forgiveness, and Boundaries
Words like ‘repentance’ and ‘forgiveness’ can be very provoking. They come with a religious connotation of a punishing, angry God. And, if you have grown up with alcoholism or addiction you have probably already had plenty of punishing, angry parent-figures. Adding one more in the form of an omnipotent being can feel unbearable. But the words themselves, stripped of religious meaning are powerful foundations for a solid recovery from abusive, crazy-making situations.
Let’s take a look at a quick formula that can transform your past and future relationships to addicts or alcoholics. It’s a 1-2-3 that you can apply immediately. Then, you can start to change the way you do relationships. You can feel fully functional, emotionally stable, and healthy.
In a word: free!
The word ‘repentance’ does not mean you are a bad person or you did something bad. What is means, very simply, is that you feel regret or remorse for something that has occurred.
Fundamentally, feeling repentant or wanting to repent is about honestly looking at a situation and feeling some regret for how things happened.
When you live in a home with addiction and you are not the addict it can feel like victim-blaming to suggest that you have something about which you should be repentant. But I like to think of this as an opportunity for me to reflect on my part of the relationship, how I may or may not have contributed to my own discomfort, and how I can change behaviors that did not work in the past so that I have a different experience in the future.
This is true repentance: looking at what was, assessing the reality of the situation, and committing to a different way of being in the future.
The challenge with repentance and the act of looking back with regret, is that it is easy to get stuck there. It can quickly become a self-destructive loop of regret and self-punishment that does nothing to help improve the future. That is way forgiveness is so important.
“Forgiveness” is another one of those heavy words, full of what feels like power and judgment. But again it doesn’t have to be negative.
Forgiveness should be empowering and freeing, especially when it starts with forgiving yourself.
As the adult child of addicts/alcoholics it is easy for me to feel regret for so much of my experience in childhood, but what frees me to have a different attitude today, and a different relationship with my own children is the act of forgiving myself for the would-have, should-have, could-haves of my youth, and forgiving my parents for their failings.
Forgiveness is hard because it comes with no expectations, no clear resolution, no justice for wrongs. When you have been the victim of abuse, just letting go of that might feel unfair. The alternative, however, is much worse. Holding on to that resentment and anger just poisons your future.
So, forgiveness becomes the act that frees you so move on with your life, and that lets positivity flow-in.
The third step here is about boundaries. How do you create the life you want, and give yourself room to live fully, serenely, and joyfully in the present?
You acknowledge what was (repentance), you let go of the past you cannot change (forgiveness), and you define clear boundaries for the relationships you have today.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again here: forgiveness does not mean forgetfulness and it should not mean letting the same thing happen over and over.
Forgiving is about letting go of things that cannot be changed, it does not mean you don’t learn from that experience. The alcoholic who again and again relapses after you give them money or shelter or support should not be given endless opportunities to try again. You may feel like you are forgiving them by giving them another chance, but you are not repenting with a commitment to change your actions.
This is why you need boundaries: conditions based on learning and experience keep you healthy, functional, and emotionally stable.
Putting It All Into Practice
I have an addict in my life that I care about deeply, who wants to have frequent contact, and a close relationship. But I have learned, by looking at our relationship that frequent contact quickly results in a pattern of emotional abuse.
How did I respond?
- I have felt repentance for the ways in which I contributed to anger and hostility by engaging in frequent contacts and I have committed to creating a different way of being close that is not harmful for me, or for the other person.
- I have forgiven this person for the pain they have caused, because that’s over and nothing is going to change the past.
- Now I get to decide how to move forward by creating boundaries that keep me from being abused, but also allow me to express my love for this person.
It’s not a fairy-tale relationship. It’s not exactly what either of us would ideally like it to be. But it is a relationship based on learning, commitment to positive action, and clarity about what I can do to keep myself healthy.
Ultimately that is what Repentance, Forgiveness and Boundaries should be about: being aware of what is true and affirmatively acting to create your best life possible.