Roger Marsh: Children of alcoholic parents endure a tremendous amount of hurt and heartache and yet despite the emotional baggage they carry, there is a chance for redemption and peace. Today on Family Talk, we're concluding our classic three part series about this difficult subject. Our guests will continue sharing how they've been picking up the pieces of their lives and finding true healing. Now one of our speakers is a licensed marriage, family and child counselor, Dr. Curt Grayson. The remaining panel members have asked to remain anonymous so we will continue to refer to them as Ann, Chris, and Joe. As has been the case the last couple of days, the content discussed is intended for mature audiences, so parental discretion is highly advised. As we rejoin this discussion, Dr. Dobson asks how an alcoholic parent can impact a household's day to day responsibilities.
Dr. Dobson: In addition to all the other things that it means to have alcoholic parents, chaos must be somewhere near the top of the list, right? Because it takes a lot of order to run a family right. Who's doing the taxes, who's keeping track, who's going to the grocery store, who's running the family and when you have people checked out a great percentage of the time, there must be total disorder there.
Joe: It takes a lot of creativity to run a family that's in chaos, when you're not.
Dr. Dobson: How's it done?
Joe: Well, I suppose my sister and I ran our family when my parents were checked out and basically we took care of our younger sisters and we took care of the house and the cleaning and the cooking and the like. All of those things that parents typically do we did, we didn't do everything.
Dr. Dobson: At what age, Joe?
Joe: I can remember cleaning and working around the house and not just chores, I mean things that needed to be done daily at 6, 7 years old. I was responsible for the cooking from 11 years old on.
Dr. Dobson: Now the common wisdom would say that would have made a responsible person out of you because you learned to work early.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I learned how to work and work very hard. What I didn't learn how to do is to work at things that were pleasing to me. I learned how to do things that were hard and tough.
Chris: What my thoughts go to are the responsibilities that especially my sister and I had that were beyond our ages, beyond our capabilities and the tremendous fear when it didn't turn out right, and we did not want to upset mother because then mother would upset dad and dad would start drinking and then the chaos would just build and build and that terrible feeling of being responsible. I grew up on the East Coast and having the clothesline break and all the clothes would fall into the dirty snow and it was our fault. Being asked to help in a project and holding onto a piece of wood that was way too big for us and that was going to cause danger, that was going to cause more drinking, more chaos.
Dr. Dobson: Chris, your father went to MIT, didn't he?
Chris: Yes, he did.
Dr. Dobson: And so, you kind of grew up at a different socioeconomic level than most alcoholic families experience, is that correct?
Chris: I don't believe that's true today. I believe that- ...
Dr. Dobson: It's at all levels.
Chris: It's at all levels. That alcoholism, like a lot of other diseases, does not pay favoritism in terms of any kinds of people.
Dr. Dobson: It can obviously strike anywhere.
Chris: I believe that alcoholism strikes every family of any culture, race, creed, socioeconomic level. The thing that makes it hard or made it harder for me was there was a family myth. We came from a good family and that both my parents graduated from the top institutions of the United States and we were the up and coming family in our little community and that's how we presented ourselves to the outside and no one knew the horror of what was going on on the inside. And you put that together with not knowing what is normal until later.
Dr. Dobson: You experienced incest you told us on the first program Chris, you want to say any more about that?
Chris: There are so many rape and incest victims from alcoholic, drug abuse families. And I think the tears are for myself as well as for others of the lost childhood and believing and growing up that something inside you was taken away that will never ever, ever be replaced and I believe that's the reason why I did not know that I was an incest victim until after I came to the Lord because very slowly but very steadily he's teaching me it is fixable.
Dr. Dobson: You didn't remember it until then?
Chris: I had no memory at all. The first memory I had was when an outsider raped me at age four because my parents weren't around to keep their eye on me and because I was raped at age four and outsiders knew, then that broke the family myth, so that made me the scapegoat. And then I thought that I became an incest victim because I already was defiled. I already was dirty and one of the hardest things for me to deal with, and I put that in the present tense, is that my father molested me and raped me before age four. The devastation of what that does to a man or to a woman is just incredible.
Dr. Dobson: Chris, you've never married, is that related, you think?
Chris: 100%. It is a desire of my heart to be married. I have always wanted to be married. I've always wanted to have that fantasy family life that I never had. I praise God I did not get married because I'm in a whole different place than I am now and I think out of my tremendous brokenness as a child and as an adult, it brought me to the Lord.
Dr. Dobson: You hold any bitterness at all against anybody, but especially against God?
Chris: I'm in that process of healing. More than once I would scream out to God, "Why? You say you knew me before you put me into my mother's womb, why did you put me in that mother's womb?" The answer that God would give me is I put into you what it would take to survive this kind of thing. And I would say, "God but why?" And he took me to John 9, where the disciples asked Jesus about this blind man. Why is he blind? Did his parents sin? No. Did he sin? No. Then why is he blind? And the answer is so the glory of the Lord, so the work of God can be shown through this. So the healing can be to the glory of God. My first response has been, what an honor Lord and my second response was how dare you. And I am in the process ...
Dr. Dobson: Both of those emotions bubbled down there some place.
Chris: Yes, yes. And I am in the process of trusting God with my anger.
Dr. Dobson: Ann, is anger or something you've had to deal with too?
Ann: Yes. I mentioned a few years ago having the memories of Christmas and I was very angry at my dad, angry for not being there for me, not being there to meet my emotional needs, that his own needs were so great that he couldn't possibly fill any needs that my mother and I had. And I worked through that anger and recognize that my response today, I'm responsible for me and my actions and that I forgave my dad and I can get on with my life with God now.
Dr. Dobson: Have you forgiven God?
Ann: Yes, I have.
Dr. Dobson: Did you have to forgive God?
Ann: Yes, I did.
Dr. Dobson: You were angry at God. Joe, were you angry at God?
Joe: Oh, sure. One of the things that was so difficult for me to turn my life over to God was that I looked at God much in the same way as I looked at my earthly father and I was fearful, absolutely fearful and angry and so, it was very difficult to trust God.
Dr. Dobson: Curt, how about yourself?
Dr. Curt Grayson: I feel in my relationship with God the issue is as a Christian, I'm supposed to trust my heavenly father and love him and let him be over my life and be able to rest in his arms, but my experience growing up as a child was there was nobody's arms to rest in. So, I know what I struggle with now is I struggle with how do I trust God and be able to separate out what happened with my earthly family. I'm learning in part of my recovery to trust God and to separate out what happened in my family with my earthly parents and recognize that my heavenly Father loves me and wants me to have healing so much.
Joe: I think something that was real interesting that I found out is that if I give God 1% of the chance that I gave my earthly parents, he works every time.
Dr. Dobson: You kept going back to them, didn't you? You needed them even though they failed you.
Dr. Dobson: Is this inability to trust God common to children, adult children of alcoholics?
Chris: I believe so. I believe it's very strong. I still struggle with Father's Day and every time that that comes once a year I remind myself it is my Father's Day, Abba Father in heaven. The biggest difficulty I have and I'm working through is my heavenly father is not inconsistent. My earthly father was horrendously inconsistent, and when my earthly father would give me something nice, I never knew when the rug would be pulled out from under me and that's how I perceived God. When God would discipline me, when God would purge me, when certain things would happen, I'd immediately go back into that old kind of thinking and say, God's interested only in what I do and I've done something wrong and he's punishing me and he's pulled the rug right out from under me.
Dr. Dobson: Isn't it interesting how we confuse our earthly father with the magnificent God of the universe? It's a very old illustration for me but when our son Ryan was two years of age he had heard us all say grace many, many times but he'd never been asked to say grace because he was too young. And I was out of town at the time and Shirley sat down at the table and just spontaneously turned to Ryan for the first time and said, "Ryan, would you like to pray for your food today?" And it startled him and he looked around and he hadn't ever thought of doing that and he bowed his head and he said, "I love you daddy, amen."
He was praying to me because he identified me with God. It scared me to death when I came home and Shirley told me the story because I don't want to stand in God's place for him or for Danae. That isn't something I would choose. It's too big a job. I can't represent God adequately. He's perfect, I'm imperfect, but I don't have any choice. The kids put me in that position and you put your parents in God's place too, even the mothers to a lesser degree, but certainly the fathers and they let you down. Therefore, it contaminates the relationship with God Himself.
Joe: Not only does the child naturally place their father or mother, parents in a high position but that parent who is sick begins to behave and believe themselves that they are God, unconsciously if you will, and sometimes consciously. And it's just crazy, so it isn't all the kid's fault by any means.
Dr. Dobson: Joe, tell us how you found the Lord. You did not grow up in a home where you were taken to church.
Joe: Well, I grew up in a Catholic environment. We went to church a lot. However, it was more a regimen, and I went to parochial schools and the like but as far as really knowing God, I didn't.
Dr. Dobson: You found him through Alcoholics Anonymous.
Joe: Yes, what happened there was, as I say, I became an alcoholic and really, honestly the reason why I went to AA is not out of some religious zeal or anything like that. It was because I was almost dead. And I knew that that organization was known to help some people and they introduced me to a 12 step program, which to encapsulate it, basically as a way to get to know God. And they told me that if I was alcoholic, truly alcoholic, that I had an incurable disease and that unless I got, their experience was, unless I got God in my life, I was a goner.
Dr. Dobson: They call it a higher power and they've been criticized for that, for not calling him Jesus Christ and the Lord of our lives and so on, but they led you to Jesus in kind of an indirect way.
Joe: I don't know. I thought about that a lot and I can remember the day I went to AA, I remember getting down on my knees, agnostic me getting down on my knees and saying, "Jesus, please help me," that's the truth. Then I went there and got a little well and then I said, "I don't need this Jesus stuff," okay? And finally it came, there came a day when all of the AA program, the AA meetings, the steps, the sponsorship, all of that program I had done to the best of my ability, and I was going crazy. I wanted to drink again or commit suicide quite frankly, the pain was that intense. At that point in time, having been exposed to the solution, which is God, I turned it over and it was over.
Dr. Dobson: The Lord really took that desire away from you.
Joe: You bet and it hasn't come back yet. And I just visited back East last, a couple months ago, and people who've known me for years didn't know me. They knew that I looked the same but my heart's been changed, my soul's been changed.
Dr. Dobson: Praise the Lord, Joe. Has he also taken care of some of those memories? Some of the other characteristics, not only alcoholism as an adult but some of the phenomenon we've been talking about here?
Joe: With the help of God and a lot of people, the truth heals, the memories have come back and I have a way to heal them and the way is to turn them over to God and he heals them, period. I don't hurt the way I hurt and I'm not stuffing things. That doesn't mean that the memories aren't there, it means that the pain is gone.
Dr. Dobson: Chris, you found the Lord through your misery too, tell us how.
Chris: That's right. Out of my sickness I crawled, emotionally crawled into AA. I had no belief in God and as I mentioned before, I said, "how do you not drink?" And they said, you come to these meetings and you say these words, "please God keep me sober." And that's exactly what I did. Like a parrot I said, "please God, keep me sober." That's the only two things I had done differently. And then a few years later in the 11th step of a 12 step program it says, 'sought through prayer and meditation to improve your conscious contact with God as you understand him.' And I started seeking God. What was my idea of God and I thought I was being very unique and my favorite prayer was "God, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear who you are." Well, later when I came to the Lord and found those exact words in the Bible and realized that the Holy Spirit had given me those words, those weren't my words.
Dr. Dobson: He was reaching for you.
Chris: Now I look at, and I go to the 12 step programs, I go to AA and I go to ACA and if people come up and say, "Chris, we like what you have spiritually." Then I look at that as a point in terms of being an ambassador of Christ. If they say, "who is your higher power?" I can say "the Lord, the Lord Jesus."
Dr. Dobson: Ann, you found help through Al-Anon, which is a program for the families of alcoholics, yet the first Al-Anon experience you had was very negative, I know. You were in with people who were cursing and didn't understand your faith at all.
Ann: That's right. The first meeting I went to was an ACA meeting and there was a lot of bad language and I realize today that having grown up in a home, hearing all that bad language, hearing my dad come home at two in the morning and waking up to hearing this violent language in my home was what I was probably identifying with when I attended that meeting, and I couldn't cope with that.
Dr. Dobson: But eventually you found an Al-Anon program that really made a difference in your life.
Ann: Right. I found an Al-Anon program that was a spiritual based program that believed that their higher power was Jesus Christ and there was a lot of recovery in the meetings that I attended weekly and I identified with a lot of things going on there.
Dr. Dobson: Well, as we have a devoted this third program to the healing that you all have experienced as adults and what the Lord has done for you, we need to turn that just here in the last few seconds and talk to all those people out there in the listening audience who have not found that healing yet. Is the Lord available for them? Does he care as he did for you, Joe? Does he care for other people?
Joe: Of course. And I have a message for maybe some people out there that have quit drinking yet haven't got into those emotional issues. There is healing available. And don't sit around and hurt, God doesn't want that and there is help and I know it takes some courage but take God with you and go for it because it'll work.
Dr. Dobson: What do you recommend to those who can't find such a supportive group?
Dr. Curt Grayson: Well, first of all, I think the very thing that we're doing here in the studio today is simply talking and sharing our stories and I find there's a very healing part of just sharing your story and having somebody accept you and acknowledge that what you went through was true. So if you can find anybody else that's an adult child of an alcoholic, maybe talk to your church, maybe your church could possibly start a support group and hopefully we'd like to see that happen.
Dr. Dobson: Well, that's a worthy objective because there are millions of people who need it.
Dr. Curt Grayson: Amen.
Dr. Dobson: If it cannot be found in a group situation, some people may have to look for individual counseling ...
Dr. Curt Grayson: That's right.
Dr. Dobson: ... if the symptoms are severe enough.
Dr. Curt Grayson: That's right.
Chris: What I was just thinking of is the person who feels very alone and has symptoms and wants to work but is not close to any support group, but if there is just even one person of the same sex that you can talk to about your past and have the love of the Lord shine through that person on discipling and leading and that kind of thing, healing can happen that way also.
Dr. Dobson: Sharing one another's burdens.
Chris: Because we ACA's and never been parented and we need to see the parenting of those people who are mature Christians and that's why with someone like me who's known the Lord for seven years, that those of you who've known the Lord and grown up and are stable Christians, that's what you have to give to us.
Ann: One of the valuable things of a group though is that some people can't talk yet. It's too painful. They can't share their experience. But in going to a group and hearing others share, you begin to get little glimpses of yourself. You begin to identify and say, "That's me. I had that feeling too." And you begin to be able to identify your own feelings, which you've suppressed so long. So, I found the group very helpful to me. And Curt, while ideally having that Christian support group is our first choice, I'm sure there's people out there that live in areas that they will not find that. But Al-Anon, AA, ACA I believe is all across the country.
And while you may have an experience such as I did, of going to a meeting and feeling that this isn't for you, don't give up. It's just like going to a church and coming away feeling, "well that didn't quite hit the mark." You go to another church until you feel that love and warmth and welcome. And so, I would encourage people to visit other meetings, ask around, ask for recommendations of where people have attended and find recovery themselves.
Dr. Curt Grayson: Yeah, they say it takes, that's a good point, they say it takes about six meetings in a row to come out of denial and to really recognize what's happened to you. So oftentimes I find people come and they get nothing out of it the first two or three times and then the third time, bam, it'll hit and the whole picture becomes clear to them.
Dr. Dobson: All the emotion floods right out the eyes.
Dr. Curt Grayson: That's right. And the other thing I was going to say too, I think it's a good idea, there's a lot of secular ACA groups around and maybe what you might want to do is to go to one of those groups and I'm willing to bet there's one or two other Christians there that might be interested in starting a group.
Joe: Dr. Dobson, we call ourselves adult children of alcoholics. I think it's helpful to rephrase that. There's a little child walking, around if you will, inside this adult and for those folks out there, if they're anything like me, going to their first meeting can be a very scary thing. And what I can say is this, do that little kid inside of you a favor that your own parents wouldn't do, take him someplace where it can get cared for.
Dr. Dobson: Al-Anon and AA have been very effective programs. They've been criticized sometimes, especially within the church, but they are getting it done ...
Roger Marsh: ... in many instances aren't they?
Ann: As Chris said, many people such as herself have been led to Christ there through those 12 steps.
Joe: And in defense of AA and Al-Anon, sure I've been to those smoke filled rooms and heard the cussing and the like, but not all meetings, not by a long shot. And I look at Christ, did he go into the synagogues? No, he was out there where it was happening and I think that's what's happening.
Dr. Dobson: Well, I thank you all for sharing your wisdom's, your knowledge, your emotions, yourselves with us these last three days. This has been very meaningful. I know we'll get a lot of mail from people who are experiencing what you all have experienced. Is there a certain fraternity, a certain comradery between those of you who have been through the same thing? Do you feel a oneness with all those hurting people out there who as five year olds and six and seven year olds saw the drunken father come through the door and saw the fights, the violence and the foul language and all the rest of it, do you feel a oneness with all those people?
Dr. Curt Grayson: I really wish that we could have everybody who's listening to the broadcast for the last three days, I wish we could have had them in here so we could be with them as they cried, as they felt because what helps us is to be with each other and to go through what we go through and know that we care.
Dr. Dobson: Well, we'll hear from them and Curt we're going to send all the mail to you. Thank you everybody, we love you in the Lord.
Dr. Curt Grayson: Thank you.
Ann: Thank you.
Roger Marsh: A touching end to this highly emotional three-day broadcast here on Family Talk. Our panel of guests have spoken very openly about the hurtful pasts that they've experienced in dealing with alcoholic parents. Every time we re-air this discussion, we hear how meaningful it is to those who can relate to it. I know my own children are resonating with this right now. We trust that this has been the case for you as well. Visit our broadcast page at drjamesdobson.org to request a CD copy of this entire three day interview. There you'll also find a link to our friends at the American Association of Christian Counselors, they can refer you to a counselor in your area who can help you with whatever you're facing regarding being an adult child of an alcoholic parent. Find all of this content and more when you go to our broadcast page at drjamesdobson.org. Well, that's all the time we have for today. I'm Roger Marsh. Thanks so much for listening. I hope you'll join us again on the next edition of Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk.
Announcer: This has been a presentation of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute.