Family

11 things people don't tell you about growing up with an alcoholic parent.

My dad was an addict, and growing up with him taught me a lot.

11 things people don't tell you about growing up with an alcoholic parent.

This article originally appeared on 04.27.16


There was never just one moment in my family when we “found out" that my dad was an addict.

I think I always knew, but I never saw him actually drinking. Usually, he downed a fifth of vodka before he came home from work or hid tiny bottles in the garage and bathroom cabinets.

My name is Ashley, and I am the child of an addict. As a kid, I cried when our family dinner reservation shrunk from four to three after a man with glassy eyes stumbled through the door. I didn't guzzle the vodka, but I felt the heartbreak of missed birthdays. I feel like I should weigh 500 pounds from all the “I'm sorry" chocolate donuts. I had to grow up quicker, but it made me into the person I am today.


Me and my dad.

I spent many years shouting into journals about why this was happening to me. But this is the thing that no one will tell you about loving someone who has an addiction: it will force you to see the world through different eyes.

Here are some things I've learned:

1. When your family's yelling about burnt toast, they're probably also yelling about something else.

My family yelled about everything — and nothing — to avoid the messy stuff. We all handled my dad's addiction differently. My brother devoured sports. My mom took bubble baths. I slammed doors and slammed boyfriends for not understanding my family's secrets.

Regardless of the preferred coping mechanism, everyone feels pain differently.

2. Your "knight in shining armor" can't fix this.

Boyfriends became my great escape when I was young. But when I expected them to rescue me from the pain I grew up with, it never worked out. No matter how strapping they looked galloping in on those white horses, they couldn't save me or fix anything.

In the end, I realized that I had to find healing on my own before I could build a strong relationship.

3. “Don't tell anyone" is a normal phase.

When my dad punched holes in the wall, my mom covered them up with artwork. I wanted to rip the artwork down to expose all the holes, especially as a bratty teenager. But eventually I realized that it wasn't my choice. My parents had bills to pay and jobs to keep. I've learned it's common to cover up for dysfunction in your family, especially when it feels like the world expects perfection.

4. Friends probably won't get it, but you'll need them anyway.

Bulldozed by broken promises, I remember collapsing on a friend's couch from the crippling pain of unmet expectations. I hyperventilated. Things felt uncontrollable and hopeless. My friend rubbed my back and just listened.

These are the kinds of friends I will keep forever, the ones who crawled down into the dark places with me and didn't make me get back up until I was ready.

5. You can't fix addiction, but you can help.

When I was a teenager, I called a family meeting. I started by playing a Switchfoot song: “This is your life. Are you who you want to be?"

Let's skip to the punchline: It didn't work.

It wasn't just me. Nothing anyone did worked. My dad had to lose a lot — mostly himself — before he hit that place they call “rock bottom." And, in all honesty, I hate that label because “rock bottom" isn't just a one-and-done kind of place.

What can you do while you wait for someone to actually want to get help? Sometimes, you just wait. And you hope. And you pray. And you love. And you mostly just wait.

6. Recovery is awkward.

When a counselor gave me scripted lines to follow if my dad relapsed, I wanted to shred those “1-2-3 easy steps" into a million pieces.

For me, there was nothing easy about my dad's recovery. My whole family had to learn steps to a new dance when my dad went into recovery. The healing dance felt like shuffling and awkwardly stepping on toes. It was uncomfortable; new words, like trust and respect, take time to sink in. And that awkwardness is also OK.

7. I still can't talk about addiction in the past tense.

Nothing about an addict's life happens linearly. I learned that early on. My dad cycled through 12-step programs again and again, to the point where I just wanted to hurl whenever anyone tried to talk about it. And then we finally reached a point where it felt like recovery stuck.

But even now, I'll never say, “My dad used to deal with addiction." My whole family continues to wrestle with the highs and lows of life with an addict every single day.

8. Happy hours and wedding receptions aren't easy to attend.

My family will also probably never clink glasses of red wine or stock the fridge full of beer. I'm convinced happy hours and wedding receptions will get easier, but they might not. People get offended when my dad orders a Diet Coke instead of their fine whisky.

Plus, there's the paranoia factor. Surrounded by flowing liquor, I hate watching my dad crawl out of his skin, tempted to look “normal" and tackle small talk with people we barely know. I've learned that this fear will probably last for a while, and it's because I care.

9. If you close your eyes, the world doesn't just “get prettier."

With constant fear of the unknown, sometimes our world is not a pretty place. I remember watching the breaking news on 9/11 and feeling the terror of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers as if I was there.

My dad numbed the anxiety of these dark days with vodka, but this didn't paint a prettier world for him when he woke up the next day. I've dealt with the fear of the unknown with the help of boys, booze, and bad dancing on pool tables. Life hurts for everyone, and I think we all have to decide how we're going to handle the darkness.

10. Rip off the sign on your back that reads: “KICK ME. MY LIFE SUCKS."

Sometimes I look in the mirror and I see only my broken journey. In some twisted way, I'm comforted by the dysfunction because it's kept me company for so long. It's easy to let the shadow of my family's past follow me around and choose to drown in the darkness.

But every day, I'm learning to turn on the light. I have to write the next chapter in my recovery story, but I can't climb that mountain with all this crap weighing me down.

11. It's OK to forgive, too.

Some people have given me sucky advice about how I should write an anthem on daddy bashing, or how to hit the delete button on the things that shaped my story.

Instead, my dad and I are both learning to celebrate the little things, like the day that he could change my flat tire. On that day, I didn't have to wonder if he was too drunk to come help me.

I can't forget all the dark nights of my childhood.

But I've learned that for my own well-being, I can't harbor bitterness until I explode.

Instead, I can love my dad, day by day, and learn to trust in the New Dad — the one with clearer eyes and a full heart. The one who rescues me when I call.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Family

2 photos of a woman's bedroom reveal just how powerful depression can be.

"We need to be able to talk to each other about our feelings, even the bad ones."

This article originally appeared on September 7, 2016

Jonna Roslund is a 26-year-old from Sweden who lives with depression.

Photo via Jonna Roslund, used with permission.

Living with a mental illness affects many areas of a person's life, including one annoyance most of us can relate to: the dread of household chores.

Keep Reading Show less

A round-up of delights from around the internet this week.

Hey all!

Welcome to Upworthy's weekly roundup of delights from around the internet. This week's list features a little of everything—gorgeous music, cute kids, adorable animals, hope for the planet and a brand new video message from the late and great Betty White.

That's right, Betty White left us a message of gratitude shortly before her passing. It's brief, but how lovely to see and hear her speak to her millions of fans one last time. Few celebrities are as universally beloved as Betty White was, and though we knew she couldn't live forever, it would have been fun to see her celebrate her 100th birthday. Now, at least, we get to experience her joy and warmth with a few last words.

Keep Reading Show less