Adult Child of an Alcoholic
The Scapegoat
Frederick A. Levy LCSW

Dad's eyes, corrugated with red wine, shot wobbly daggers through mom's cowering frame. Frozen, 10 year old Jimmy stood by helplessly, watching the terror build beyond his ability to move. Steadily, the air grew hotter, like a hissing fuse a moment before explosion. Then, at the last unbearable instant, Jimmy jerked back, and somehow knocked over his father's tool chest, sending screws and nails flying through the air.

Dad lunged; the strength of his blows forced Jimmy against the wall faster than the nails and screws. Then, as his father staggered away, the air began to settle like water simmering after a boil. Mother's lips quivered for her son, but Jimmy lowered his eyes. He wouldn't cry; he would never give the old man the satisfaction.

Jimmy, a Child of an Alcoholic, survived in the eye of the storm. Whenever dad got drunk, Jimmy would manage to say or do something to anger his family. In this way, he would grab their attention to halt the tension that was clutching his insides and stealing his breath.

Then once again, Jimmy's family would sacrifice him on the alter of their fear. Eventually, mom and dad would stop fighting, and an uneasy peace would return to their home. And each time, his parents would make Jimmy stand trial as the child perpetrator responsible for driving dad to drink.

Jimmy felt like a failure. His older sister cooked, cleaned, and got straight A's; little brother smiled and people petted him like a poodle. Jimmy couldn't compete; so when he reached his teens, he took his search for acceptance to the street.

For the first time, Jimmy felt like he belonged; the wildness of his new friends seemed to match the chaos he felt within. Yet he feared rejection as an illegal immigrant dreads deportation. So, when the kid he most admired asked him to hold a bag of grass in chemistry class, Jimmy automatically obliged.

But when the contents slipped from his pocket, Jimmy was holding the bag. He wanted to be a big cheese, but when he didn't graduate with his class, he barely stood alone.

As years passed, Jimmy drifted. At various jobs, he defiantly defended himself and co-workers alike against every boss' abuse regardless of the cost to himself. Jimmy possessed an uncanny knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of accomplishment. Just as he would establish himself, he would upset the apple cart and win a one way ticket to the unemployment line.

And in love, Jimmy was similarly elusive. He specialized in rescuing damsels in distress, loving them passionately, until they no longer needed him, or he started needing them. Feeling frightened, he would run without reason. Then, sinking into despair, he would deny his deepening isolation.

Then one day, Jimmy got a job unlike any other, with work that mattered and a boss who appreciated his passion and commitment. Still, he felt wary; good fortune could only tempt him to lower his guard.

Nevertheless, Jimmy rose through the ranks, and soon became a supervisor. While training his people, he became particularly impressed with young Bob, who shared his tireless quest for perfection.

But one day, while struggling with a difficult project, Bob became enraged at his mentor. Stunned, Jimmy saw the fearful fire in the eyes of his apprentice, and felt his own years of suffering in the young man's pangs of betrayal.

And when Bob threatened to quit, Jimmy knew he had met his secret self. As he calmed the young man, Jimmy felt the father within that could still the agony of both their hearts. And in that moment, Jimmy started his journey home.

Copyright Fred Levy, LCSW all rights reserved