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Booze, Schmooze and Lose

Many of us grew up in homes where there was drinking, often to excess. I grew up on a military base in the days when the base police would escort the drunken denizens of the various messes home in a convoy. My father would always proudly say 'he was a sober as a judge when he got behind the wheel."

And yet, for many children drinking was a terrifying and unwanted guest in the home. Imagine never knowing what or who would greet you. Would it be a sober parent or a drunken one? Would there be fights or arguments? Would the police be called? Many children retreat into their rooms which becomes a sanctuary or a safe haven. They shut the door, put on music and retreat with their things away from the chaos below. Sadly children are all too often brought into the conflict and enlisted to take sides. As adults it is the case that some childhood survivors create safe spaces like man caves or well decorated studies where only a few vetted individuals are allowed to enter.

In this blog I am going to discuss the 3 classic survival techniques that children who grow up in alcoholic families typically employ.


Children who grow up in alcoholic families are exposed to lies. Dad is 'sick' can you call his work? Mom just has a headache, your older brother or sister was out late with friends. Alcholic families strive to appear normal and 'together'. It is important to keep up this facade and that often includes cover up and lying. Thus the child learns that appearances are far more important than truth and that one can 'get away' with it and nothing happens.

The Hero Child

The oldest child in such a family often takes the role of the hero child. This is the child who excels in school, is very well behaved and appears to have no flaws. The hero child is often called upon to mediate disputes between battling parents, go out to buy liquour, have excuses at the ready and sadly be all to familiar with lying about the behaviours of the parent or parents in question.

The darker side of the hero

The Hero child has a darker side. They are often loners as they do not invite friends. They cannot associate very well with others as others speak of their parents attending events. The hero child cannot face the fact that their parents are absent, meals are missed, appointments missed and the room is full of empty bottles, sometimes under the beds. They are sometimes filled with a silent rage 'this is not fair' and express this rage at times in acts of vandalism or in particular setting fires.

The adult hero

The adult hero will often be found in the helping professions trying once more to 'fix' problems. They can excel but become so focused on the other that they are very disconected with their own emotions. They can be workaholics and not aware of their own needs. They sadly are absent parents too focused on saving the world. They can be remarkably unemotional and more fixated on solving the problems than 'wasting time' listening to the pain of the individual.

The Mascot or the clown

The mascot or clown seeks to mitigate the tension in the home by making light of the situation. They often chide the hero child for being too serious and attempt to soften the damage. They try to humour the drunk parent and go along with them not to alarm them to keep the peace.

The dark side of the clown

The clown dissociates their feelings of discomfort and seek instead to make a joke. As children they don't take anything seriously and can excuse bad behaviour by noting it is fine. Again morally, they blur the distinction between right and wrong by masking or disguising what is clearly wrong with humour so as not to offend.

As an adult these individuals are strangely detatched from their emotions. No matter what happens they always seek to mitigate the damage by humour, distraction or minimizing. This can be maddening in a relationship. They minimize the emotions or distress of those closest to them. They can be charming but also can be irresponsible in terms of drinking or drug use.

The Silent Child

The third way of coping is the child who is silent. Who simply absents themselves from conflict and from the family altogether. They retreat into a world of books, or fantasy and will often not ask any questions in class or even speak. Typically they are bullied and considered strange. They become very possessive of their space and their fantasies

The dark side of silence

Unfortunately these children are often depressed and lonely but are afraid to speak up or tell anyone because of the dysfunction within the home. While the hero and the clown get attention the silent child is forgotten,

As adults the silent child will have tremendous difficulty in relationships. They will be bullied because others know they will agree with them or not say anything. When they do speak out it can seem out of place as they have thought about it for a long time. They are often perfectionists which stems from their coping mechanism as a child of keeping their space pristine. They can be secretive and making friends becomes a serious challenge

How to move forward

The coping skills that were developed were tremendously valuable while living in that home. It saved to protect us from further harm but unfortunately many adults maintain these same coping patterns into all aspects of their lives leading to loneliness, isolation, depression. In each case one's own emotions will suffer as we continue to act out as if in a play the roles that we assumed as children.

To heal is to take a very honest assessment of our own state of emotional well being and to develop new skills and take the time to listen to others without 'trying to fix them' or 'make a joke' or without retreating into our own world. The cure is actually learning how to listen to others with humility, compassion and love.

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