Archive for February, 2010

Celebrating the Resiliency of Children of Alcoholics: Week of Feb 14th – 20th 

Last year an eighth grade boy in Oregon told researchers that he felt he could trust the adults and kids in his Boys Council and it helped him find the courage to go home and tell his mom that he wasn’t going to drink beers with her anymore.

One out of every four children in the U.S. has a parent with a drinking problem, or alcoholism. Kids and family members of alcoholics often hurt but their suffering isn’t apparent. They suffer silently and usually with explicit or implied instructions not to tell. It’s a family secret, and a family shame.

Annie was one such family member.  She was a 15 year old sophomore referred to a high school Girls Circle by a dean who noticed that she seemed burdened, but didn’t know why. One day after group she stayed behind until the others cleared out.  She asked if she could talk with me, and we scheduled a time.   Slowly she revealed her daily life to me, and in doing so, seemed to be as torn and distressed in telling as she was desperate and seeking for answers.

Annie left home every morning while her single mother was still asleep, usually checking  to see if she was breathing. By then she’d made her breakfast, packed lunch, taken something from the freezer to thaw for dinner, fed the cat, folded laundry, straightened up. Each day after school, she wanted to hang out with friends, but feared for her mother’s afternoon condition, so she’d get home instead.  “I could NEVER have my friends over to my house!” she stressed, with deep embarrassment all over her face.  “When I get home, the curtains are drawn, it’s all dark inside, and my mom is on the couch with the t.v. on. She might be asleep or anyway, she’s been drinking since she woke up. She would never eat if I didn’t bring her food, and she doesn’t do anything.  I don’t know if I’m relieved she’s alive and hasn’t burned the house down, or if I’m more upset because every day is so bad. If my mom knew I was speaking to you, I couldn’t deal with it.”

Annie was so brave to talk with me.  It took tremendous courage for her to come forward and ask for support. Thankfully, we were able to continue meeting for the semester, gradually working together to increase her resources, such as Ala-Teen for children of alcoholics, and to talk about how her mother’s illness is not her fault, nor does it reflect on her own value and love-ability as a young women. We spoke with CPS together to discuss the neglect and, of more concern to Annie, her mother’s safety. It took Annie a while before she wanted to share the situation in the circle, even though I knew she’d be accepted and not judged by the other girls.  When she did briefly talk about it, there was real kindness, prompting another girl to talk about her older brother’s addiction.  When we concluded our work, Annie had not been removed from her home. Her mother was undergoing assessment for treatment. I don’t know what the end result was, but I know that Annie had acted with courage to seek support and express herself – huge resiliency factors that increased her connection and reduced her isolation and internal stress level.

Alcoholism really sucks. Alcohol is the number one most abused drug in our country, and that impact has deep and profound influence on kids’ development. Children of alcoholics are at increased risk of developing substance abuse problems themselves, mental health problems, and physical illnesses. They can develop skewed relationship patterns as emotional caretakers who don’t stand up for their own needs and boundaries at risk of loss of relationship. Neglect, emotional abandonment, lack of structure and unpredictability, broken promises, secrets, chronic anxiety, shame, humiliation, poor communication skills, boundary violations… all these experiences influence children and teens’ development.  Kids tend to assume responsibility prematurely, to protect their alcoholic parents while relying on their own undeveloped minds and bodies for strategies and coping. Claudia Black, author of It Will Never Happen To Me and several other recovery books, emphasizes the rules that these kids suffer under: Don’t Talk (about it); Don’t Trust (anyone); and Don’t Feel (the pain). It was clear to me that Annie was in a real relational bind, having to break a family secrecy rule in order to find help. Yet, without seeking help, she knew that both she and her mother were at risk of even more harm.

Girls Circle, The Council for Boys and Young Men, and other youth groups are safe places for kids to find healthy voices, break isolation, and find strength.  Annie did, and so did the eighth grader in Oregon.

Let’s keep listening as much as we can to kids, and trust their capacity for resilience while also offering some important information and resources –

  • they are not at fault or responsible for their parents drinking
  • they are not alone- literally millions of kids every day are in this same situation
  • help is available to them

For a fact sheet about Children of Alcoholics, and other resources, see:

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics can offer further resources and support, call 1-888-55-COAS or go to:

Thanks! Stay well! And contrary to the old broken alcoholic rules, do let yourself and the kids in your circles to talk to others, trust your inner voice, and allow emotional pain to guide you toward healing whenever you need to.



February 16, 2010 at 8:12 pm 4 comments

When Love Isn’t Love – Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month

February – the month of Valentine’s, sweet tarts, little hearts, chocolates, flowers and romance – has a shadow side – Teen Dating Violence (TDV).

Sad but true, teen dating violence is common in February and around the year. Both girls and boys are engaged in acts of physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual violation in heterosexual and same sex relationships. A National Institute of Justice report at shares statistics (from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2007 and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health): 1 out of 10 youth report being victims of physical violence in romantic relationships, and 2-3 out of 10 youth report being victims of psychological abuse.

Results of a State of Carolina survey found that while the rates were similar in girls and boys who report acting aggressively, the rates of female victimization for severe injury were much higher.

The Federal government has named February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.

We need to promote girls and boys’ awareness of the types of behaviors that are “over the line” as well as encourage the development of the skills they need to set healthy boundaries, communicate feelings and wants, address conflicts, and tolerate the full range of emotions that come along with dating and romantic feelings.

Raise this issue with girls and guys in your groups.  Ask them to define TDV and what they see going on amongst their peers, siblings, and in their own relationships. Explore the issues with them of how they learn these behaviors and what their beliefs are related to power and control, gender roles, and also, what family and society tell them to do.

One key prevention is to develop a DATING SAFETY PLAN with the girls and with the boys.  The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence, has information on components of a good plan, plus a Dating Bill of Rights.

In our Girls Circle Facilitator Activity Guide, Paths to the Future, Weeks 4 & 5 provide attention to girls’ empowerment, awareness, and safety around teen dating violence: Being the Queen of Your Own Body, and Dating Violence / Abusive Relationships.  These sessions are rich with exploration, decision making and communication skills building, and recognition of red flags.

In our Council Facilitator Activity Guide, Living a Legacy, Week 6, Healthy Relationships, invites boys to explore the meaning of healthy relationships and begins to breakdown roles and expectations, pressures, and communication skill building. Throughout each Council week, there are questions related to healthy masculinity and gender roles that challenge the need for boys to always feel control over their partners while providing boys more skills and awareness of emotions and communication skills.

As you work to raise awareness and prevent relationship harm, we extend to you our greatest appreciation and recognition.

This February, have a Happy Valentine’s Month of relationship well being.


February 2, 2010 at 5:28 pm 2 comments

Girls Circle