Adult Child of an Alcoholic: Martyr Without a Cause
Frederick A. Levy LCSW

The day her parents departed, Mollie, eight years old, became mother to her baby brother Joey. Daddy had left a bourbon trail of tears, and mommy never did give a forwarding address to her lover's out west. Soon, Mollie lost track of the clock, divided not in minutes, but in meals she had fixed and baby's changes of diapers. When Granny discovered them, only her tear stained silhouette in the faded light and the two shuddering bodies clutching her shattered the spell. Then, like beacons, Granny's eyes beckoned, and silently gathered them to her home.

Mollie, a child of an alcoholic, had no memory before responsibility. Now, for the first time, Granny could provide her with parenting and the chance to be a child.

But over time, Granny's worsening arthritis made it harder for her to get around and care for them. So without missing a beat, Mollie filled the gap and became Granny's special helper. Mollie knew just what to do; few children had ever had more practice in keeping a household together.

And when Mollie began to babysit, the neighbors were amazed. In just a few hours Mollie would, on her own, wash all the dishes, do the laundry, and sometimes scrub the floors. She would refuse extra money; when pressed, she would just say, "I hate dirt," and smile. Mollie relished hard work. The harder she drove herself, the less time she had to miss the childhood she never knew she was missing.

Mollie's suffering extended to her relationships. As she grew older, she'd fall in love again and again, but always remain on the losing end. Her men read more like a casualty list: alcoholics; drug addicts; the chronically unemployed - she loved them all. She couldn't understand how she continually drew men who invariably drained her dry.

Mollie had become a martyr without a cause. She could easily spot the proverbial "diamond in the rough" who only needed the spark that a caring, sensitive woman could provide.

Yet, her alcoholics returned to drinking, her addicts advanced to harder substances, and her chronically unemployed outlasted the welfare rolls. Then, Mollie would sink into an ever deepening despair, only to be buoyed again by her next "project."

But Mollie was nearly consumed by her biggest rescue operation: her baby brother Joey, now 32 and nearly grown. Before Granny died, Mollie had solemnly promised her she would always look out for her brother, who resembled their father in his fondness for trouble and drink.

When his prospects would collapse, Mollie would take him home, feed and clothe him, give him whatever money she had and send him on his way. Then, worrying herself into sleeplessness, she would sit helplessly while his life crumbled. She felt like a doctor, watching her patient die because she didn't know how to stop the bleeding.

And when the drink finally caught up with him; when his body was shipped home from that distant town, Mollie was enveloped with loneliness. Grief stricken, she mourned for the brother who had never lived, and felt shame in believing she had failed Granny. With Joey dead, she saw her life in ashes.

Alone after the funeral, she drove to Granny's grave and wept. And then, in the stillness she heard a voice, not in words but as a beacon that was finding a path to her heart.

Granny's love was reaching out for her, as it had so many years before, imploring her to take back her life. For the first time, Mollie was experiencing an unearthly peace, transfigured in silence. She raised her head slowly towards the overcast sky, and swore she saw a half moon breaking through the veil of her tears.

Copyright Fred Levy, LCSW all rights reserved