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Dealing with an alcoholic parent

At the time I became a Christian (twenty years ago) my mother started to drink. It was very difficult, and I felt very lonely because hardly anyone in our church was going through anything similar. It’s a miracle that God has pulled me through, but I still struggle to love myself and to open up about my mom’s life.

In your book, you talk about having an alcoholic father. How is your relationship with your father now? Is there anything you could share from your experience?

Robin's Response

Thanks so much for opening up about your experience. Although there were only a few sisters you knew in your church with the same situation, I can tell you that there are women all over the world with the same type of experiences.

With my dad's alcoholism, my hurt, anger and loneliness came out in so many ways—including an eating disorder in college and in codependent kind of tendencies.  As the oldest daughter, I was always "protecting" our family by cleaning up after everyone and by being strong and holding things together.  This hurt me in many ways.  I guess most of all I learned it wasn't safe to be who I really was.  I learned to compensate for despair by performing well.

I also took this mentality into Christianity. I quickly learned to be "the strong one."  The problem was that when I did fall, I didn't know how to handle it.  Making simple mistakes could bring up a panicky feeling in my heart.  All of this performance was only increasing the hidden shame I had buried deep within.  Ultimately, it gave me a place Satan could attack, whispering to me that I was an imposter and that if other people really knew me they wouldn't love me.

Although finding a new security in God has taken time, it's been a beautiful process of learning to trust and throw my heart at my heavenly father.  Establishing a deep intimacy with God has allowed me to see my own mistakes, imperfections and even sins in a different, more gracious, light.

Personally, I've found it very healing to open up about my dad's alcoholism and other losses that I've experienced in my life. There was also a time in my church where it wasn't always safe to do that (someone might think you weren't taking responsibility for who you are).  But now I've learned to mourn my losses, surrender them to God, and then entrust myself to him.  And I've found that increasingly, that I'm ok with other people not always understanding my journey.  After all, they have their own journey.

In this process, I've seen much about myself and even more of how much God loves me.  As I've opened up, I've found so many women who not only feel the same way, but who find hope and encouragement from my story.

One of Satan's biggest tools with women (and men!) is to get us hiding from each other and especially from God.  So refusing to hide is one way that I can stand up and fight for my security.

Now (I am 50) I am the closest I've been to my dad.  He calls me "sweetie" and other things that he never said when I was growing up.  But since he's in his eighties, his hearing is not too good, and it's hard to have the kind of conversation I'd like with him over the phone (he lives across the country).  Like you, I look for opportunities to share my faith in God with him.

I realize that however my father responds to God doesn’t have anything to do with me. It’s his decision and I don’t have to take responsibility for whether he chooses to place his faith in Christ or not. I certainly pray for him and love him, but surrender his own faith journey to the Lord.


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