6 thoughts on “When Childhood Drives Us to Drink

  • September 12, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    Very interesting post. It also seems for someone who grew up as a victim of ACE in a dysfunctional family, you still managed to go to college and obviously did well in college, you must be very intelligent and had to have worked very hard becuase you got into medical school and became a doctor. Most people I know who grew up in highly dysfunctional, alcoholic families who experienced ACE (including my partner) have not fared so well in life and most are high school drop outs with low paying jobs who still drink and/or do drugs well into their 40s and 50s. What was it that made you go on and do something wonderful with your life? Good luck to you and I’m sorry about your sister.

    Reply
    • September 13, 2013 at 8:52 am

      Karen–

      An earlier entry in this series discusses how many with ACE backgrounds enter helping professions. Another discusses the draw of creative fields. But of course many traumatized children grow up so confused and impaired that success in ordinary society eludes them. My sister fell into that category. I believe the only safe generalization is that those who have been badly hurt as children are seldom well-rounded and easeful as adults. My own (unconscious) strategy was to emphasize intellectual development to compensate for social discomfort. Others might become popular with peers at the expense of academic success. And so on. The fact that many highly accomplished people came from troubled pasts is testament to the power of early trauma to force us into extremes. When one reaches later life, and if one manages in the end to find contentment, the dramatic uproar of early pain can come to appear beneficial. In my own case, I would never, ever wish my past on another child, but so much of who I am today depends on what happened that I no longer wish things were different. This would be much harder to say, of course, if I’d landed in prison or if some other terrible outcome ensued. So we need to do what we can to end childhood adversity. But we also need to offer hope to those who endured it.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment,

      –Will

      Reply
  • September 14, 2013 at 10:37 am

    There is a common phrase, not one that I particularly like, however seems to fit here. To me, childhood abuse leading to addictions is, as they say a no-brainer.
    I don’t know how anyone, with your history, could NOT become addicted to substances of any kind. How is an adult, who as a child, expected to sort out and understand all that is going on with them.

    As children we believe that everything that is said to us is true and I imagine, in your case, that it was implied that you must have deserved the treatment that you were receiving (on some level – I am assuming – I apologize if I am completely wrong.)
    I have always been amazed by the overwhelming success of those who have had such horrendous childhoods. I look at my own life, and as emotionally neglected as I was, my childhood wasn’t all that bad – so I give myself heck for not achieving more with my life like those who have had it far worse.
    I’m glad you survived your childhood and able to get clean – I can’t imagine the challenges that you have faced.

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    • September 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm

      Sheila–

      Keep in mind that despite the harrowing trauma I endured as a child, I also enjoyed some key advantages.

      It’s been pointed out that kids can grow up to do well even in the face of great hardship, provided at least one adult offers consistent love and support. Every summer growing up I was shipped away from Southern California to spend time with relatives in the Middle West. During those months away, I escaped cruelty and oppression and was treated well. My maternal grandfather, in particular, mentored and guided me. Later on, I realized that these relatives could have done more to protect me from abuse. But as a kid I was happy just to spend some time away from Hell.

      Further, my father was a university professor, so I never doubted the value of education. I didn’t excel as a student until nearly my senior year in high school, but in the nick of time I recognized that my best chance for a better life lay in the direction of college and advanced training.

      And, as a consequence of my dad’s success, I was raised in an affluent area. This was a mixed blessing, because my stepmother insisted on imposing a cruel, false poverty upon me. I ate the cheapest foods she could buy, and some of it she wouldn’t even store in the house (it was kept in the garage). So my economic circumstances suffered from certain paradoxes. But it’s hard to deny the value of living near beaches and mountains in a Mediterranean climate, poised between Santa Monica and Malibu.

      I should also point out that despite professional success in my young adulthood, my career collapsed in my early forties. My neck couldn’t sustain the physical stress, and my psyche was near implosion, too. And although I did well (for a time) in terms of occupation, I performed poorly socially. I burned through intimate relationships and made few friends. Today, I am settled in a marriage that’s endured more than two decades, but I’d have to say the main reason for that long duration is my wife’s patience with my many problems over the years. Other than that, I have almost no family, and just about every friend of mine has been met within the past six or seven years.

      Until very recently, I regularly alienated those who tried to get close, which explains my lack of friendships left over from high school, college, medical school, and so on.

      It is obvious there have been challenges. But there have also been opportunities. Isn’t that always the case? We make do. If we are graced with the capacity to forgive, to let go of selfish desire, to accept, and to appreciate beauty, we find contentment. Such satisfaction comes not from career success, or popularity, or status, or wealth. It comes from love, pure and simple. Love for humanity (including one’s own humanness), love for nature, love for the cosmos at large.

      Thank you for the comment, which prompted me to muse on these important truths.

      Warmly,

      –Will

      Reply
      • September 15, 2013 at 10:51 am

        I know that it’s true – your history has made you who you are today. I also know that it is true that you wouldn’t wish it on anyone – but it has provided you with strength that you never knew you had.
        My MD which I have been living through for the last 19 years has taught me many truths about myself and like you I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It is truly hell on earth and the strength required to survive it is tremendous. It has been more clear to me these last 5 years than ever before. Every time it rears it’s ugly head it is different than the last time.This time it was not only in it’s difficulty and severity but also it’s lingering. It affects every aspect of my life. However much I detest the challenges and misery that it brings me I also know that it has a message for me – something I must learn from, another growing opportunity, another moment to gather strength and courage from it.
        It strengthens my empathy for the suffering of others, a respect for a strength that I assume is even greater than my own, it reminds me to see that every person has their own story – and that story is often one of pain, loss or suffering. It encourages me to look beyond someones actions to the motivating factors behind the actions (this isn’t ALWAYS easy to do, I am human too after all 🙂 ) It motivates me to speak for those who do not yet have the strength to speak for themselves, it encourages me to have the courage to write to the local newspaper to enlighten people about what living with depression is truly like in a way that people who aren’t living with mental illness can understand. This letter, I have learned from a friend, was cut out from the paper and posted in the out-patient waiting room of the psychiatric department of our local hospital. My voice is being heard and it resonated with someone. This gives me more strength, more courage to continue signing my name to articles that I write to the paper.
        So I do agree that the road through life, although filled with many potholes, twists and turns, has many things to learn along the way. And as we climb to the top of the hill and find our true selves waiting patiently for us – we can acknowledge that there was a reason for such a strenuous journey.
        I know this may be off topic to what you were discussing – that is just what my fingers wanted me to type this morning.

        Reply
      • September 15, 2013 at 10:55 am

        Sheila–

        Sounds quite *on* topic to me. I’m glad you’re find the way to your true self.

        Blessings,

        –Will

        Reply
 

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