Now that Mackenzie Phillips has come forward about her chaotic childhood, which was fraught with addiction and sexual abuse, we are again presented with a vivid example of how parenting and substance abuse don't mix.
Jennifer Ginsberg, MSW/MAJCS: It is easy to respond with shock and disbelief upon hearing how Mackenzie's father taught her to roll a joint at age 11 and shot her up with heroin shortly thereafter, but sadly, her story as the child of a drug addict is not that unique.
While many parents who are addicts make an initial attempt to shield their young children from their using, eventually, the child grows older and wiser and will catch on. As the parent progresses in his addiction, personal boundaries are violated, as the environment becomes more and more unsafe and distorted. In an addict's mind, teaching his child to roll a joint may not only seem acceptable, but fun and cool. Children are easily manipulated and targeted to fulfill the addict's desire, and the emotional toll that this exacts can be lifelong and devastating.
When parents get loaded around their children, whether with drugs or alcohol, they expose them to a myriad of emotional, physical, and sexual abuses. Additionally, an alcoholic or addicted home is a petri dish for violations of all kinds to flourish. Children will go to great lengths to convince themselves that their parents are "good" and "right," even in the face of unimaginable horrors. These misperceptions can have a lasting impact and persist well into adulthood. We only have to hear how Ms. Phillips describes the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father as "consensual" to understand how intensely distorted her perception of the situation is. Even if she physically consented to the abuse on some level, she was emotionally manipulated to a profound degree, which resulted in her skewed belief that she was a willing participant.
It is impossible for a parent who is drunk or high to be truly responsive to their child's needs, no matter how "in control" they believe they are while under the influence. Also, when children see their parents reaching for a drink or a drug to deal with life's stressful situations, they are robbed of the opportunity to learn about healthy forms of self-soothing.
Perhaps the most tragic aspect of being raised by alcoholic or drug-addicted parents is that the child learns to not trust their own intuition. For even the youngest children have an intrinsic sense of what feels right versus what feels wrong. When the people in their life that they trust the most are behaving so selfishly and egregiously, the child only knows that as the status quo. And as with Mackenzie Phillips, their own sense of emotional security will be deeply impacted.
|Jennifer Ginsberg is a Los Angeles mother, writer, and addiction specialist with over 15 years of experience in the fields of alcoholism, addiction, and recovery. After receiving her MSW from the USC School Of Social Work and MAJCS from Hebrew Union College, Jennifer served as the clinical director of a 120 bed drug and alcohol treatment facility. She also co-developed an addiction prevention program for Jewish youth, which has been implemented in synagogues nationally. Jennifer now works privately with people who are impacted by the devastating effects of drugs and alcohol and writes about all topics related to motherhood, addiction, and women in politics. Read more about her life at angstmom.com|