Helping children and adults understand the secondhand drinking (SHD) impacts a child experiences when growing up with a parent’s alcoholism* is essential to helping a child (or an adult child) heal from the SHD-related ACEs s/he likely experienced.
Secondhand Drinking (SHD) refers to the negative impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors on others. Drinking behaviors include verbal, physical, emotional abuse; neglect; blackouts; unplanned/unwanted sex, sexual assault; breaking promises to stop or cut down; shaming, blaming, denying; unpredictable behaviors; and driving while impaired, to name a few. Drinking behaviors are caused by a number of drinking patterns, including: binge drinking, heavy social drinking, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism. People engaging in these drinking patterns are referred to as alcohol misusers. The negative impacts a person coping with SHD experiences are related to toxic stress.
A Daughter’s Letter to her Alcoholic* Father
I’d like to share the words of a high school girl who wrote a letter to her alcoholic father but never mailed it. It’s the rawness of her hurt, so many years into her life, that drew me to share this letter in the hope we can better understand the devastating impact on the children in a family with alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism.
The scars go far deeper than what/who we treat — namely the person with the alcohol use disorder. These scars shape the next generation — their sense of self-worth, their coping skills…. They form the bases of at least 4 of the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) measured in the Kaiser-CDC ACE Study, such as: emotional/verbal abuse, physical abuse, neglect, alcohol-related violence against one’s mother/step-mother, and parental divorce.
We must work to enhance our alcohol awareness, education, prevention and intervention programs to include the impacts of secondhand drinking – especially on the children.
…Was there a time in your life when you sat down with yourself. when you found yourself looking at me and thinking, “Wow, I love her, I love her with all my heart.” Because dad that’s what I think. I could never love you more because my heart is only so big. Because you are my father, my only dad, I will always love you. Always. And even when you can’t will yourself to call me, or when I’m not important enough to see, please remember that I am always here. I always want to hear your voice. Even when it is touched with sweet drink. Because you are my father — my only dad.
And even when you are not present I think of you. I hate you you but I always think of you.
Why can’t you think of me? Why can’t I win your heart and mind and fill the hole in your heart that is lacking the passion a father feels for his child — his daughter.
I miss you, and I will never stop loving you.
When I was young, how could you play with me. Was I too small and niave to notice that the few times I entertained your fancy were marked by alcohol. Why did I think you always were asleep? Why don’t you stop drinking? Will you ever? Am I important enough to you? Will I ever be?
Although I have these many questions I know they will never be answered. I know you will never admit your fault because you fail to believe it is a problem. You fail to think that your drinking has made me the way that I am. And for that, I will never forgive you….
The extreme useless feelings I possess are because of you. The way I suppress my feelings comes from the rejection and absence of caring that you showed me at such a young age. It is because of you that I am writing this letter to tell you that you have not only hurt me, but that you have changed me. Although you have remained significantly absent in my life, you have contributed to my development. But don’t take pride in this because it is my faults you have created.
I am writing to you as my first attempt to suppress these faults as I do with my feelings. I’m telling you that although I love you, I hate you and there is only one thing you can do to change that.
I need to feel the love of a father. Experience the adoration that I have never had. I wish I only knew what it was like because it seems so good.
Why don’t you love me? Why don’t you care enough to care?
I miss you forever because I don’t know what it’s like to have you.
I love you.
And I hate you.
*Note: in the addiction treatment field, the term alcoholism is being replaced with the term, alcohol use disorder, and the term alcoholic is being replaced with the phrase, “a person with an alcohol use disorder.”
Help for Children of Alcoholics
Below you will find her video, 7 Things Children of Alcoholics Should Know,
and her article, “Forgiving my alcoholic mother and my co-dependent father.”