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Beline Obeid

Get help for the children

April 18, 2013
Dear Jeff and Debra:

My husband has just completed treatment for his alcoholism, and I am happy to report he is going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly. We are all so proud of him. We have a nine-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter. I’ve always thought I did a pretty good job protecting them from their father’s drinking. But I’ve been talking to women who grew up with alcoholism at home and wonder if I’m kidding myself.

My daughter is the perfect child, so I never thought the drinking made an impact on her life. I’ve been told, however, her perfectionism may be a symptom of living with an alcoholic. She holds herself to high standards and has frequent stomachaches. Our son is a good kid, but he’s the class clown and his grades aren’t what they could be.

I’m beginning to realize my husband and I may not understand the extent our children are affected. We believe, however, my husband’s recovery will change the course of our family’s future. But, still, I think our kids might need some attention. Are age-appropriate resources available in our community?

-Searching for Answers

Dear Searching:

Children living in alcoholic homes often take responsibility for a parent’s addiction and attempt to make up for family problems. Being perfect or acting the clown are two common survival skills. Over time, playing these roles can take a toll on a child’s wellbeing. Children quickly learn the three rules of living with alcoholism: don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel.

As a result, beneath the roles they play, is a child who is increasingly disconnected emotionally. Whether it’s the perfect child or the clown, they use the mask to hide feelings of isolation.

In Michigan, we are fortunate to have the Betty Ford Center’s excellent children’s program at Brighton Center for Recovery. Designed for kids ages 7 through 12, it is available at no cost. The program teaches children how to cope using age appropriate activities — art, games, storytelling, written exercises, role-play and recreation. Parents need not be patients at Brighton Center for Recovery for their children to attend the program. We highly recommend it for any child who has an addicted parent, grandparent or sibling. Children will learn they didn’t cause the addiction and they are not to blame. The program helps them open up, express feelings and begin to trust. For more information call (810) 227-1211 or (877) 976-2371.

There are several books written for children of alcoholics. We suggest Claudia Black’s book, “My Dad Loves Me, My Dad Has a Disease,” and Jerry Moe’s meditation book for children, “Kids Power Too!”

“Just for Kids” is a webpage for children of alcoholics and can be accessed at nacoa.org. The PBS documentary “Lost Childhood: Growing Up in an Alcoholic Family” is also available for purchase on the website.

Children who grow up in alcoholic homes have a higher rate of marrying an alcoholic or becoming alcoholic themselves. Providing your children with help now can help break the generational cycle of family addiction.

Jeff and Debra Jay are the authors of “Love First: A New Approach to Intervention for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction,” and Debra Jay is the author of “No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action.” The Jays are professional interventionists who live in Grosse Pointe Farms. For more information, call (313) 882-6921 or lovefirst.net.

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