I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel exasperated with the emphasis on problems tied to being the offspring of alcoholics. I can recite the (negative) characteristics of children of alcoholics more accurately than I can say the Pledge of Allegiance! If it exasperates me, I have to believe that you sometimes feel exasperated too. If I had to print t-shirts for a group of ACoAs, I’d put a fist of strength on there, or a symbol of resilience – not a sad face, symbol of silence, or a chameleon.
“…children of alcoholics tend to lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth, don’t cope well with change, have a hard time expressing their needs, tend to be indecisive, tend to suffer from learning disabilities, think in absolutes…” Enough! We are well aware of our hardships. Well aware. Yet how much time have we spent thinking about what positive or beneficial characteristics, emotional and psychological traits that we have, which are actually assets? That kind of emphasis is long overdue.
Today I need to hear the B side of the record, to think about our other characteristics.
I’ve brainstormed a number of talents and traits, which I’ve grouped into five categories. Those are: Independence, Creativity, Resilience, Empathy, and Calm.
I think a sense of humor is another asset that rarely gets acknowledged. I know I needed it in order to survive with my mind intact.
I used to read my horoscope. Once I read that Virgos were meant for “big things.” Really big things. Like changing the world. They said Virgos have remarkable personal traits. But, there’s one little problem. The problem is, Virgos are notoriously self-doubting. So, despite all of their assets, their inability to stop second-guessing themselves seems to get in the way all too often – and that’s why they’re not running things and changing the world.
I can’t help remembering that as I write this. In thinking about all that children of alcoholics have going for them (read on), it’s hard not to think, “Wow. We could really change the world if we wanted to – we’re tough, imaginative, sensitive, and creative.” If anything is in our way, it’s us.
YOU CAN EMPATHIZE
We’re good listeners. Rather, we’re exceptional listeners. We’ve spent so many years thinking about the feelings of others, before ourselves, that we’re deeply talented at putting ourslves in other people’s shoes. Our ability to empathasize is a talent that makes us great freinds, partners, coworkers, mothers, aunts, etc. It also makes us great teachers, counselors, or professional advocates. (And more!) It’s also a great asset in negotiations. We’re likely to speak up for the underdogs, who can’t speak for themselves.
Do you have issues with authority figures? What’s new? So, be your own boss. Because we didn’t think highly of the authority figures in charge of us for so many years, we’ve got lots of opinions about how to run things. And we hold our opinions about those things in high regard. And, of course, we tend to like to be in control. So, run things! We’re well-suited to be entrepeneurs, or – to work in jobs where we might have bosses, but we work autonomously most of the time. Since we raised ourselves in many ways – and many of us took responsibility for raising the rest of our families, too – we tend to be strong and often more able than others. We can handle hard work, paying our dues, and pushing our limits. We’re good with our hands. We’re strong!
So many children of alcoholics go into the arts. They’re actors, writers, and painters. Our sensitivity – to animals, to people in pain – gives us a third eye and ear that allows us to see and hear the realities of the human condition. We’re brave enough not to be scared off by the discomfort of raw emotions, absurdity, intensity, or oddity, which allows it to inform creative work. Creativity and art also allow people to speak truthfully, which is something that children of alcoholics didn’t get many opportunities for growing up. Creating art contributes goodwill to society and it is also, by its very nature, an act of healing.
We are surviors. Not just that, but (if you’re reading this post) we clearly don’t want to repeat the past. Which means we’re doing much better than just surviving, which is the bare minimum. Rather, we’re growing, healing, and redefining our futures. The definition of resilience is synonmous with ‘children of alcoholics:’ “Resilience: the ability to recover from insult or injury.” In physics, resilience means the ability of a chemical or compound to successfully absorb a foreign or bad element and then purge it – to recover. Sounds like us. Resilience is also a term used often in ecology study – to describe how nature copes and revives itself. We’re a lot like that. Our drive often stems from an unconscious urge to heal, to recover. To uncover our real self.
(Or seem so!) Children of alcoholics would make great emergency room doctors, nurses, technicians, paramedics, or fire fighters. We’re hard to shock, and we can stay calm in the midst of chaos. It’s hard to gross out the child of alcoholics. We’ve witnessed so much bizarre behavior that we’re pretty tough folk. We’re far from naive when it comes to what human beings are capable of. I’ve been called “well-wrapped.” While I took offense to that label at first, assuming it meant ‘impenetrable,’ I’m at peace with it now. Much of the time I feel it’s an asset. It’s hard to see nervousness, shyness, anxiety, or fear in a person who’s well wrapped! An accidental benefit of having pretended everything was okay (which most of us did growing up in alcoholic families) is that we can appear as if everything is okay. Now, this does obligate us to share ourselves more than we’d tend to, as well-wrapped people, so that we don’t become isolated. You may need to remind your friends and loved ones that you’re actually highly sensitive and emotional. In the workplace, a calm exterior is an asset. You can even learn to become that relaxed, together person you appear to be.
Five assets, at least. We’re just scratching the surface.