Lately I have been having a hard time with labels. I know theoretically, people are not “supposed” to have labels, but when I was in 8th grade I was slapped with the label: “Child of an Alcoholic”. This label became a part of who I was, how others saw me…it became a part of my identity. However, in my case, this label was not a bad thing. After I was given this label, I knew I wasn’t alone. I was a part of a bigger group. I could check out books in the library that could help me understand myself and my father better. Once I got older, there were online groups I could join. That label lead me to write this blog. Over the years, I accepted and even embraced having the label “Child of an Alcoholic” or a COA (now a ACOA). That label made me feel like a victim, but also gave me strength. It made me feel like a survivor. I never used being a COA as an excuse for my behavior or treatment of others, but it helped me analyze myself, my relationships, my family.
I have a lot of roles in my life that can be labeled: sister, friend, teacher. Up until a year and a half or so ago, I would have added child of an alcoholic to that list. I never really saw it as a bad thing, rather just a fundamental part of who I was. It was one of those things that if I met another COA, we had an immediate bond.
Almost a year and a half ago, my father had a stroke. After drinking every day for over 20 years, he stopped. Just like that. One day he was a drunk and the next day he wasn’t. It sounds ridiculous and impossible. It seems too easy. He is not a perfect father now, but he is no longer belligerent or unpredictable. He does not verbally abuse me through email, voice mail or in person. I’m not afraid of him anymore. Trust me, it is so much better, but it is also confusing. If my father isn’t an alcoholic anymore, am I still a COA? I talked to my therapist about it, knowing what her answer would be…of course I am. Him changing now does not erase the two decades of abuse that I suffered through. It doesn’t just magically repair all of the damage he did to me and to my family. I guess I am just having a hard time reconciling the before and after of who I am if he’s no longer an alcoholic. I know fundamentally I did not change, but things do feel different. I suppose that is the dangerous part about having labels- what happens when they change? I mean, at one point in my life I was a wife. Then I got divorced and the next day I wasn’t one anymore. But that situation seems different to me. I guess the breakdown of my marriage happened over time and I knew it was coming. My father becoming sober was so unexpected, it happened so fast. And although I was a wife for several years, I was (am?) a COA for the majority of my life.
There has been a part of me throughout this past year and a half that has just been waiting…waiting for my dad to drink again, to have another stroke, or even to die. And now that some time has passed, I’m beginning to trust that this is the new image of my family. I guess that I am still figuring out with what to do with the old one…