In her book, "Adult Children of Alcoholics," Dr. Janet G. Woititz listed several common characteristics shared by many children who grew up with an alcoholic parent. One of those characteristics is the feeling of having to guess what normal is, due to the fact that they never experienced a "normal" family life.
Visitors to the About.com Alcoholism site in answering the question, "How Do You Feel Growing Up With an Alcoholic Parent Has Changed You? explain what it means to have to guess what it's like to be normal:
Didn't Learn 'Correct Behavior'
I do feel I never learned 'correct' behaviors or reactions to situations, am very scared of angry people, authority or any kind of conflict, am easy for bullies to walk all over as I seem to exude a scent of 'weak' and 'victim' that they can smell a mile off. -- JoJo
Never Feel Normal
I grew up not trusting my husband of 25 years for the first 15 years. I had very major issues with that, and I still struggle with being accepted. I never feel normal. I always feel like all of my security will vanish at any moment. That is what it feels like to grow up with a really hardcore alcoholic. -- Kathy
Having to Watch Others
No family is perfect but abusive families are soul destroying. Having to watch others to learn the right way to behave, sometimes you don't know good role models from bad. Dealing with mental health issues and the shame that comes with that. Can you ever overcome the feeling that you are not good enough, the feeling down deep inside that hurts. Does it ever go away? -- Sandie
Very, Very Withdrawn
I think because in school I was very, very withdrawn to the point of not talking in class. I think this being a very deep fear of not being normal and everyone finding this out or worse finding out my secret. I also relate to the feeling of still being a child maybe because at times I couldn't be a child. -- Invisible
Can't Express True Feelings
I realize that I still carry that burden of not being able to express my true inner feelings. I hate to cry in front of people, like it's some kind of weakness. -- E.W.M.
Years to Begin to Know Normal
It took years of counseling for me, when I had two children, to begin to know normal. I am glad to know that it has certainly helped me to be more compassionate and understanding towards people. It has been a long and arduous journey. -- Better Now
Don't Feel Like an Adult
I never feel like I can do anything right, so I don't try. Relationships, forget it, and I am struggling as a parent. I always guess what normal is. I don't feel like an adult. -- Kitten
Never Feel Comfortable
I have a hard time getting close to people and I never want a family. I am uncomfortable around families because I'm not sure what to feel or what to do. Put me in the middle of a dogfight and I might feel more at home. -- Saully
Families Are AffectedIf you are a heavy drinker and you have children, you may want to rethink how your drinking may be affecting others and try to find help to quit or cut back on the amount of alcohol that you consume.
If you grew up in an alcoholic home you may want to take this quiz to see if you have been affected by the experience in ways that you may not even realize. If so, you may want to seek professional counseling or find support in either Al-Anon Family Groups or the support group Adult Children of Alcoholics.
Return to: The Effects of Growing Up with an Alcoholic
Sources: Janet G. Woititz, "The 13 Characteristics of Adult Children," The Awareness Center. Accessed November 2010. Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, "The Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic," (Attributed to Tony A., 1978). Accessed November 2010.