I’ve used the term ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) for something like 30 years, but not until now have I ever actually associated the word “child” with the word “alcoholic” because I never imagined that alcoholism could happen to a child. You could be a child of an alcoholic, but I never thought a child could be an alcoholic – even though my family is riddled with serious, fully-grown alcoholics – they are young adult alcoholics, and adult alcoholics. My nephew is just fourteen, a child. A child alcoholic.
Many of you have expressed concern about my nephew – thank you for that and for your kind thoughts, and your prayers. This is an update on how he is doing. He was in a children’s psychiatric hospital for many weeks and was recently released, despite the fact that my sister would love to keep him in there, where she knows that is safe and out of harm’s way. He was released to the custody of his father – hard to believe, but it’s true. They currently have 50/50 custody – so he first goes with his dad, then to her, then back. And so on – the crazy ride that is post-divorce custody. It’s gotten to the point though, where he doesn’t want to go to my sister’s home (which is truly beautiful and which she has made a wonderful “home” by every definition) – and a few times she has had to call the sheriff just to get her son to come home with her (how sad is that?). The reason for this, we think, is that he and one of his brothers are suffering from Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), and also because he is an alcoholic who has no access to money or alcohol at my sister’s house – but his father gives him “pocket money,” had a history of buying cigarettes for him, and previously had a garbage-can sized vat of homemade plum wine in his back yard which the boys could easily access. If you were an active alcoholic, which house would you prefer?
The psychiatrist had asked my sister to come in to the hospital for a meeting with her ex-husband. It isn’t easy for her to get there because the hospital is two hours away from her house, which means four hours of driving in one day, every day, and visiting hours are twice daily at 1 and 5 o’clock. For the first week, she checked into a nearby hotel even though most of her money has gone to fighting the court battles with her ex – and hotels are expensive. Despite this, she showed up at every visiting hour – but during some visiting hours, her son had “outside time” – the only hour of the day he could be outside, and she didn’t want to take that away from him so she would return to the hotel and come back at the next visiting hour. She never knew for sure if she would get to see him – he might be having a therapy session, or his father might be visiting. So it was always a crap-shoot, for her, and never very easy – but she’s made countless two-hour drives to show up for him.
At the meeting, the psychiatrist said he couldn’t keep her son in lock-down any longer because he was not at a place where he wanted recovery. This means they can’t admit him to their in-patient program to treat alcoholism because a patient has to want sobriety and recovery in order to start treatment. He told them that they would be releasing him. Hopefully, the doctor said – when he drinks again (when, not if – it’s always like that, with alcoholics, even child alcoholics) they will admit him and they are hoping that at that point he might be willing to start treatment in earnest. So my sister is bracing herself for the awful dark places that are just ahead. It’s very sad, because she’s been there too with our parents, and her first son who now has a year and change sobriety – and in my opinion, this is way too much for one person, a wonderful, beautiful single mother who is a deeply loving mom, to handle.
My nephew inherits $100k on his eighteenth birthday. When his older brother turned 18 and inherited this amount, he was not equipped to deal with it and spent most of it on drugs, a Ducati motorcycle, and who knows what else – in something like six months. We made him spend the final $14k on an in-patient treatment center, thank God. The best $14k anyone ever spent.
This time, my sister is ready. She has arranged it so that if her son requires long-term hospitalization again, or needs to go into a therapeutic sober boarding school – and her ex-husband refuses to pay for it as he has done in the past – and the psychiatrist signs a form agreeing to this – the courts can release the money to be used for that purpose. Her argument, sadly, is basically that this child won’t be alive by his 18th birthday, if he doesn’t get the help he needs now. What better use for it than to save his life?
The psychiatrist said he wanted to start the meeting by discussing the issues her son has with my sister. Her son says he is angry at her for asking too many questions. He says she hassles him – about where he’s going, who his friends are, what he’s doing, where he got whatever pocket money he has – you name it. He’s furious at her for this. My sister told the doctor that she is well-aware that her questions bother her son. He told her, “Mom, if you want to know what makes me angry it’s that you ask too many questions.”
She said, “I don’t want to make light of this but is it alright if I ask a question?”
Her son: “Okay.”
My sister: “What are the questions that bother you?”
Her son: “You hassle me. You ask me where I’m going, who my friends are, what I’m up to, who bought me cigarettes, where I get the money from.”
She said: “I’m afraid that one is non-negotiable. I’m your parent, not your friend, and being a parent involves me knowing who your friends are, where you are, and what you are doing. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to be able to stop asking questions.”
My sister rocks! Score one for the mommy!
After hearing her response, the doctor turned to her sociopathic/assholic/unbelievably horrible ex-husband-who-is-a-physician, and said: “Your son has informed me that you have served him alcohol, on several occasions.”
My sister was over-the-moon – here was validation, finally, that what she has been shouting from the roof-tops for years – that this man has been overtly contributing to their child’s alcoholism – is true. She has been trying to tell everybody this for years – CPS, the lawyers, the judge, the mediators – but none of them would believe her or act on it because it was all hearsay, none of it could actually be proven. So this was a first.
You would think there’d be no way they would release her son back to his father’s custody after that. Right? Especially when her son finally told the doctors he had a plan in place to kill himself, one that involved a gun, and her ex-husband has a collection of hand guns and rifles at his house. But no.
Most parents would be enraged if they heard their child accused them of serving them alcohol and they hadn’t – they would be visibly upset, they would show some kind of strong reaction – but her ex showed no emotion. He just shrugged. He manufactured a tame, baffled expression – the same one that has worked so well for him over the last ten years – and calmly said, “Well, I can’t actually recall any incident where I ever served him alcohol,” – in a mild-mannered, perplexed tone that probably made my sister want to Superman the fuck over the table and strangle the mother-fucker. I know I would.
“He’s lying,” he said.
The doctor’s response to this calm facade? “Well, it’s not your recollection that matters, here. It’s your son’s perception that matters, and according to him, you served him alcohol.”
(So WHY did they let him go home with his FATHER?!)
The doctor also said that their son expressed a certainty that his father doesn’t love him, because he serves him alcohol.
My sister was relieved at this turn of events because it means the doctor witnessed (and documented) the fact that her ex-husband is facilitating their child’s alcoholism, like she has said all along (this is one of the reasons her two younger sons prefer to stay at their father’s house, because they have access to alcohol and he gives them money to buy cigarettes, and at my sister’s house – there isn’t even Listerine available). You would think that this will help when they have the custody hearing at the end of the month (she is suing for full custody now, even though two of her sons are exhibiting signs of being brainwashed with PAS). But now – surely, the court will take into account the fact that the ex-husband has provided this child with alcohol?)
After the meeting, the doctor asked them both to not tell their son that he would be released in a few days, so that he could fully participate in his remaining time at the hospital. So when my sister went into visit him, her ex had just left. Her son told her that his dad told him he was getting released and “would be going home with Dad.” Her ex had once again undermined his son’s recovery by telling him he was going to be released, and would be going home with him – all so he could “get” him and take him back home with him. I think he wants him living at his house so he can show the courts that he is a good father, the preferred father, even though he is actively facilitating his son’s alcoholism, and has been ordered by the court not to buy cigarettes for this child (I’m sorry, but isn’t the fact that the court knows that he bought his own child cigarettes on numerous occasions enough to warrant stripping his custody rights?!). I think it has to do with the fact that he doesn’t want to pay my sister child support any longer. If his sons live with him full-time, he doesn’t have to pay child support.
My sister told me that even though it’s hard to see her child when he’s mad, which is practically all the time now, even though he is clearly suffering from the effects of long-term PAS she always hugs him, she always tells him she loves him (and this can’t be easy, given the level of bitterness he is exhibiting toward her right now). At their last meeting, when he got up and walked away from her – she had to swallow back her tears yet again, and she said, “Hey,” and walked over to where he was standing and hugged him. She said, “I love you.”
That is one strong woman.
Then she had to leave him, again. She had to get back in her car and drive two more hours back to her house, hoping and praying that some way, some how, all of this is going to work out in the end – that she is going to get full custody and her son is going to get away from the influence of his father, and get the help he needs.
But I believe he knows. He knows that she loves him. Somewhere inside him, he knows.
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