The Guilt Carried by Children of Alcoholics

One of the great tragedies of alcoholism is that so many children of alcoholics carry a great burden of guilt well into their adulthood.  Especially when they are young, they can’t understand why their usually nice mummy or daddy sometimes behave so differently.

Sadly, the normal way of protecting the children is to tell them stuff like “Mummy has a headache” or “Daddy is very tired”.  And , when they do discover that the change is due to alcohol, they can’t understand why the obviously love that they share with that parent doesn’t make them change their behaviour,, so that they are always nice mummies and daddies.

This is an article written by our daughter, Cassia, bravely talking about her experience as the daughter of an alcoholic.

I Couldn’t Save My Father From Alcoholism

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.   —  Mary Schmich


There are countless times in my life where I refer back to this quote by Mary Schmich. Some of you will probably recognize it better as a song by Baz Luhrmann and without this song, I would have never known about this essay either.

Today, I quote it from a very serious place. I suffer from anxiety and I worry about a lot of things, often silly things. This includes convincing myself that if I don’t have my feet under the quilt, I will be attacked by the monster that lives under my bed. I don’t believe in monsters; it’s just something about which my irrational brain tries to convince me.

My brain also, on occasion, has tried to convince me that if I had tried a little harder or fought a little longer, my dad might have stopped drinking. He might have looked into my tear-filled, sore eyes and have actually meant it, when he told me he was going to stop.

I would even believe him, not once or twice but over and over again…until the next bottle showed up in the outside bin or tucked at the back of a bedside table. Then the slurred speech, the arguments, the slamming doors would all re-emerge, and the cycle would begin all over again.

I’m 28 now, and of course, life has moments that get me down or leave me feeling teary-eyed, but nothing leaves me in a crumpled mess of tears like remembering my dad, drunk and changed. This man was my everything. I trusted him with all my fears. He was the first I went to when I was upset, and his knee was the one I sat on when I felt alone.

I felt like a princess, his princess, yet somehow, I never made the connection that his destructive behaviour hugely contributed to my childhood anger, which I projected onto my dear, darling mom instead.

As someone he treasured so greatly, I felt like I was failing him. If I could not stop him drinking himself into oblivion, who could? I felt my one job was to save my dad and I couldn’t do it.

I know now I’m not to blame. Everyone copes with things in their own way. I eat. He drank. It was his choice, albeit a bad one. I genuinely believe he wished he could stop, but it was his choice of coping mechanism and it took a hold of him.

I could no more have driven him to sobriety at 8, 12 or 15 then I could solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. It’s ok to ask for help. In fact, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I implore you to seek help. I am only just seeking help for my past — 18 years of repressed feelings.

My story with my alcoholic dad doesn’t have a happy ending, he died of cancer, but all stories don’t share the same endings. There are people who can and will help and people who want to help.

And if there are any children of alcoholics reading this or the parents of children of alcoholics, I hope that by sharing my experience that it will encourage you to seek help, NOW.

Written by Cassia Davis

3 Replies to “The Guilt Carried by Children of Alcoholics”

  1. Hi Cassia
    I am 59 and still feel the incredible pain of not being able to make my mum ok.
    She died two years ago – she drowned high on valium and alcohol in her swimming pool. The terrible thing was that her autopsy showed that she was an incredibly healthy 86 year old – but what it didn’t show was her life long addiction to valium and booze. Now I mourn my nice mum and feel confused, sad and terribly guilty that most of my memories of her are bad ones. Of anger and abuse. I had two mum’s a loving, caring good mum who would do anything for me and an abusive, angry, hurtful mum who often put me in danger. Even though I know I was an innocent in all of this I also know that in a way I was complicit and part of a pattern that I often felt powerless to break. My brother didn’t make it – he died of a heroin overdose when he was 26 years old. So I feel the pain and firmly tell myself that I am not to blame. I turn my face to the sky and choose to celebrate my survival and my life. I also choose to celebrate my mother’s and brother’s lives and all that was good in them. I feel the goodness and accept the bad times. There wasn’t really a why it just was that way. But I am here I feel them and carry them within me with each breath that I take.

    1. Hello Jane,
      To begin with, I would like to start with thanking you for such a positive message. Taking tragedy and working to see the brighter side is a major accomplishment!
      I have been looking into this site for a week now. I haven’t had a drink since, nor have I felt a real need for one. However, I have see the fact that I was using it as a coping mechanism and it has negatively affected my wife and especially my daughter. Neither have as of yet seen why I was self medicating. In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s up to me to decide how I will deal with stresses.
      That’s all for now.
      Best wishes

    2. I’m 57 and still have issues with the psychological ramifications of growing up with a morbid alcoholic father. He died when I was 18, but I still suffer the pangs even if just subconsciously. It has affected every aspect of my life to date…especially relationships with men.

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