The title may surprise some, especially as coaisathing has become a platform for sharing experience, but hear me out on this one. Talking about a parents drinking is not a betrayal in any shape or form. I absolutely believe that talking to someone you trust is important for any child of an alcoholic, and the people who have managed to share publicly about their experiences as COA’s have been a part of bringing about change. However, before we start to push people into ‘speaking out’ let’s consider a few things…..
1) We are not witnesses to some kind of crime that we should give evidence against.
My dad committed crimes. He spent time in prison for them, but his alcoholism was not a crime. He was my dad, and will always be my dad. I have the same love for him as any other son or daughter would have for their parent. His alcoholism made me feel a whole number of things, but it never stopped me feeling that love. So I care, I care what you think about him, I want to protect him. So speaking publicly is way more complicated than you think.
I can speak publicly about this today, not because I am any more brave than the next child of an alcoholic, but simply because my life has reached a certain point.
A lot of time has passed since my dad died, and circumstances in my life mean I’m in a place where I can share. But there is a lot of factors outside a COA’s control in reaching this point.
If or when people are ready to share on a more public level, then we should be ready to listen. Until then, just managing to speak to someone you trust would make you as brave as anyone I know. Nacoa can be that someone.
My dad died 20 years ago because of his alcoholism. In that instant, I lost the last of what alcoholism had left of my dad. But I did not lose the shame of his alcoholism. I still find shame crippling today. But time has moved on, and it’s taken a long time to reach a place where I feel ok with sharing publicly the effects of my dads alcoholism. I couldn’t have done it as child, regardless of any situation, and would not want any part in trying to persuade a child to do so. The shame when speaking of my dads drinking is not necessarily caused by the listeners reaction to what I say, rather a feeling that’s stirred from within. So sharing on a much more personal level with someone I trust, in itself, can be hard enough.
The feelings of shame will probably never disappear, but reaching a stage where they were more manageable has been essential in me being able to share publicly some of this stuff. Reaching that point has taken a lot of personal sharing with people I trust, my wife, close friends, family and of course Nacoa.
3) The importance of anonymity.
Please never underestimate the importance of anonymity. I totally understand the benefits that society as a whole has in people talking publicly, but that does not mean that children of alcoholics should feel pushed towards doing so. More important still, COA’s should not feel like they are failing in any way in remaining totally anonymous. Anonymity is a gift, a lifeline to some, and it’s one we should be careful not to snatch away. Nacoa understand this, and that’s why anonymity has remained a central point to the Nacoa community alongside taking opportunities to raise vital awareness. Everyone has their own way of processing and dealing with their situations, we should respect this and remember that a persons happiness and emotional freedom is what’s really important.
4) We can make use of an ever-growing community.
Coaisathing.com is proof that there are plenty of people who are willing to share their story. It’s proof that doing so anonymously is just as powerful as not doing it anonymously. And it’s proof that thousands of other people are finding freedom in remaining completely anonymous and reading along. This is exactly what the ever-growing Nacoa community is about. We absolutely believe that having the opportunity to talk about this stuff is vital, but with all the resources under the Nacoa umbrella, children of alcoholics have the opportunity to do be at the heart of a community, while making their own choices. 1 in 3 people who contact Nacoa, are speaking ONLY to Nacoa, showing just how essential Nacoa’s lifesaving community is. Weather you’re speaking publicly, or only talking to the Nacoa helpline, talking is what’s important. Together we give each other a voice, and together we are heard.
5) Is society even ready to listen?
Weather we like it or not, stigma remains an issue around alcoholism and addiction. Speaking publicly about a parents alcohol issues can have huge ripple effects for the family. When talking pubicly about anything family related, we are automatically representing the whole family. While any stigma remains around this illness there is always a risk of a backlash. People have opinions and are willing to voice them. After talking on BBC breakfast about my dad, a man at work told me all alcoholic parents ‘needed shooting‘. This type of comment would be soul destroying to a COA, but unfortunately it is the reality!