You certainly looked like a child and dressed like a child. Other people saw you as a child, unless they got close enough to that edge of sadness in your eyes or that worried look on your brow. You behaved much like a child, but you were not really frolicking, you were more just going along. You didn’t have the same spontaneity that the other kids had. But no one really noticed that. That is, unless they got very close, and even if they did, they probably didn’t understand what it mean.
Whatever others saw and said, the fact remains that you didn’t really feel like a child. You didn’t even have a sense of what it’s like to have a child’s feelings. A child is very much like a puppy…offering and receiving love freely and easily, scampering, somewhat mischievous, playful, doing work for approval or a reward, but doing as little as possible. Most important, being carefree. If a child is like a puppy, you were not a child.
Others could describe you in a very simple sentence, probably related to the role you adopted in the family. Children who live in alcoholic homes take on roles similar to those taken on in other dysfunctional families. But in this kind of family, we see it very clearly. Others are aware of it, too, only they don’t recognize it for what it is. For example, “Look at Emily, isn’t she remarkable? She’s the most responsible child I have ever seen. I wish I had one like that at home.” If you were Emily, you smiled, felt good and enjoyed getting the praise. You probably didn’t allow yourself to think, “I wish I could be good enough for them.” And you certainly didn’t allow yourself to think, “I wish my parents thought I was terrific. I wish I could be good enough for them,” or “Well, if I didn’t do it, who would?”
To an outside looking in, you were simply a remarkable little child. And the truth of the matter is, you were. They just didn’t see the whole picture.
You might have taken another on another role in the family. You might have been the scapegoat, the one in trouble all the time. You were the family’s way of not looking at what was really happening. People said, “Would you look at that Tommy, he’s always in trouble. Boys will be boys. I was the same way when I was his age.”
If you were Tommy, what did you feel? You might not allow yourself to feel. You’d just look at the person and you’d know that they really weren’t like you when they were your are. If they were, they wouldn’t be so flip about it. Yet, you couldn’t allow yourself to say, and probably wouldn’t even allow yourself to wonder, “What do I have to do in order to get them to pay attention to me? Why does it have to be this way?”
You might have been more like Barbara and become the class clown. “Gee, she should really be a comedienne when she grows up. How clever, how funny, how witty!” And if you were Barbara, you might smile, but underneath you wondered, “Do they know how I really feel? life really isn’t that funny. I seem to have fooled them. I can’t let them know.”
And then there’s little Margaret, or is it Joan? Somehow I can never really get her name straight. That little child off in the corner. That withdrawn child — the one who never gives anyone any trouble. And the little child wonders, “Am I invisible?” That child doesn’t really want to be invisible but hides in a shell, hoping to be noticed, powerless to do anything about it.
You looked like a child, you dressed like a child, to some degree you behaved like a child, but you sure as hell didn’t feel like a child.
Pages 3 to 5, from Adult Children of Alcoholics, by Janet Geringer Woititz.
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