Numbing Out: Surviving the Alcoholic Home
Frederick A. Levy LCSW

Wendy grew up in a war zone. Each night, behind her bedroom door barricade, she could hear her daddy launch rockets of rage at her mom. Fueled by alcohol, his volleys would incinerate the air like a nuclear blast, leaving behind the wreckage and fallout of the pain and memories no one could repair.

And when the dust would settle on the debris of broken furniture, flesh, and feelings, the air would become still, save for the soft quivering sobs of her brother and sister, too terrified to stir. Wendy would sit, stunned. Dry eyed and barely breathing, her pale skin would chill, and her fear would freeze like an ice sculpture in her heart.

Wendy, a Child of an Alcoholic, felt powerless to prevent the violence that enveloped her. Terrified, she clung to her mom, who in her own fear, clutched back even more tightly. Virtually orphaned by alcohol, Wendy took charge of her family, and bade her childhood goodbye.

Running past the pain, Wendy managed her household with seemingly inexhaustible energy. In the same vein, she excelled at school, organized paper drives, and in her "spare time," adopted the forgotten in a nursing home. One year, even her school picture was a blur; no film was fast enough to capture her.

Sometimes, when daddy would resume his fire at the family, Wendy's spirits would plummet in despair. But then, she would recalibrate her speed, sweep away the damage, and start another project. Being frantic freed her from fear; where her family was concerned, she didn't have time for the pain.

And Wendy learned to be the master fixer. At home, she reigned supreme over bandages and bruised knees. As she grew older, she extended her realm to the suffering of everyone she knew. Sometimes, during difficult stretches, Wendy would be so wound up she couldn't sleep, and so exhausted she couldn't think. But she would never think of her own needs; in fact, she wouldn't even give them the time of day.

But from time to time, Wendy, like the sands of an hour glass, would sink helplessly to the bottom. Try as she might, she couldn't emerge from the dark night of her soul that wouldn't relent even to the brightest candle of consolation from friends. Then, as suddenly as it had arrived, the despair would depart, and once again Wendy could resume her run.

Wendy longed to let go, but the over-idling engine inside her would never let her stop. Even play became work, as she competed with all the ferocity of a solitary animal seeking safety from a predator. As a child, she had discovered what it was to survive; only the winners made it out alive.

And at work, Wendy felt proud of her ability to react to an emergency; her intensity kept her attuned. Sometimes, she would quip, "don't tell me to relax - it's my tension that's holding me together." But her co-workers and friends were deeply concerned; she was the only one who didn't know it was true.

Each day, Wendy's inner mainspring wound tighter. Then, on a company trip, she found herself alone in her bed with a terrible sense of foreboding and dread. Suddenly awake from restless dreams, Wendy heard herself scream in a long ago voice, "daddy, daddy, please don't kill mommy! ...daddy, daddy...!"

Drenched and sobbing, she finally felt her inner anguish. And to her amazement, an unexpected calm descended upon her after the tears. With the freshness of a breeze after a rainstorm, she could feel the craziness of her life, and tenderly touch the depths of her heart.

Copyright Fred Levy, LCSW all rights reserved