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Growing up with an Alcoholic

By Erin Shriver
On March 31, 2014


Alcoholism is something that people are affected by everyday. A parent could look and act “normal” but in reality, they’re are hiding a deep secret.

Marketing Graduate Assistant and recent OU College graduate Lyndsey Johnston grew up with a mother who battled alcoholism, but she became stronger from the experience and had a great childhood, just like any other child who grew up with a sober mother would.

“My mom was the perfect mother while I was growing up,” Johnston said. “She threw me themed birthday parties, she was head of my Girl Scout troop, she helped me prepare for cheerleading tryouts and she made sure that every Christmas was more special than the last. But before she was supermom, she led a very troubled life growing up that included multiple counts of sexual abuse.”

According to, there are many reasons, often called excuses in this case, why a person might get into the habit of drinking too much. They believe drinking will help them with their problems; it will help them have a good time; it makes the high and happy; they think it is cool; and they only drink because their friends do.

For Johnston’s mother, it was during a rough time in her life that alcohol became her addiction. When Johnston was a sophomore in high school, her mother began drinking.

“It was slow at first, but increased in frequency to the point where she was calling me to come get her out of a ditch because she had been drinking and driving,” Johnston said.

It was not only Johnston who was affected by her mother’s drinking. Both her father and little brother were tired of dealing with the disturbing and unpleasant side of their mother and wife. They kicked her out that night and her parents divorced shortly after that incident.

Some families are able to come back from the disease, but it takes a much larger toll on others. Although this experience was 7 years ago, Johnston’s mother is still battling with her disease.

“It was getting better for a little while, but then she fell off the wagon again and she fell hard,” Johnston said. “We don’t have much of a relationship today because of it; just an occasional phone call and awkward dinner at Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Johnston didn’t let her mother’s disease keep her from living her life and learning from her mother’s wrong doing. She believes that the lessons she has learned today because of her mother’s alcoholism are never ending.

“I imagine I will continue to learn new things as the years pass by considering alcoholism is a lifelong battle,” she said.

One of the biggest lessons Johnston learned from her experience is that you cannot change people no matter how hard you try. People must change for themselves and no one else.

“My mom needed to change not for me, not for my brother, not for the new guy of the month, but for herself and no one else,” Johnston said.

As Johnston grew older and was able to drink herself, she learned to become more aware.

“I am 23 and I like to go out and have fun every once in awhile,” she said. “But, I don’t make a habit to go out a lot. I go out every few months or so.”

Alcoholism is hereditary and Johnston’s father reminds her of this, which helps her to be more thoughtful and aware when she does drink.

Through her journey, Johnston is still learning how to deal with her emotions.

“Although I don’t excuse her behavior, I am trying to understand why she is the way she is,” Johnston said. “I try to have empathy for her instead of sympathy and anger.”

As a child of an alcoholic, this is one of the hardest things to do.

Alcoholism is a disease, but for Johnston it is still hard for her to understand how someone can choose alcohol over having a relationship with his or her daughter. This is one of the reasons why it is an ongoing lesson in her life.

Johnston wants people to learn from her experience that everyone has a struggle and to keep that in mind when they begin to pass judgment on someone else. You don’t always know what someone else is going through, especially when you first meet.

To be able to help someone who might be an alcoholic, Johnston gave a few tips on how to approach the situation. To begin, if someone you know is an alcoholic, it is easy to want to bring it up when the situation presents itself; like when they are drunk. But, you cannot rationalize with a drunken person no matter how hard you try.

“You may want to unload on them when they are drunk because you are angry, but nothing will be solved by doing this,” Johnston said. “The best chance of your message being heard is to bring it up during a bonding moment.”

Johnston believes that during moments when you are really clicking with someone, whether it be when you’re talking about life or having fun doing something you both enjoy is the best time to approach the subject.

“After you lay it all out there, you have to have the peace of mind that then, and only then you have done everything you can to help them, and the rest is up to them.”

To not dwell on the situations Johnston has gone through, she learned to deal with hard times in a healthy way; by weight lifting and running. She didn’t consciously think “I’m going to start running and lifting because my mom is a drunk,” she just knew she felt better and was not angry after a hard gym session or a long run.

It became more than just a stress reliever into a lifestyle.

“I have always had body image issues growing up and once I started seeing results I became addicted…but in a good way,” Johnston said.

She chooses a positive and healthy addiction instead of a negative, unhealthy one like her mother.12

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