Healing Begins with Us: Breaking the Cycle of Trauma and Abuse and Rebuilding the Sibling Bond. This is not just the title of Ronni Tichenor and Jennie Weaver’s wonderful new book, but a concise encapsulation of what the stories and guidance they provide entail. Abuse is truly one of the worst things a child can go through. It leaves lasting and sometimes permanent mental (and physical) scarring, particularly when the abuse or parental neglect happens in the context of addiction. “Living with addiction means that children have to grow up very quickly.
If the parent does not take adequate care of the children, the older one(s) will step in and do it—even at the young age of four or five. Addicts are typically self-centered—everything revolves around them—so children often end up taking care of the parents, physically and/or emotionally. If a parent does drink to the point of being sloppy drunk, or passing out, the child will put them to bed. The parent may also turn the child into a confidant—an instrument for meeting the parent’s emotional needs, rather than the other way around,” the authors write. While articulate, they’re appropriately unsparing. “Parents in homes with addiction issues pigeon-hole their children into very predictable roles,” Tichenor and Weaver continue. “At a minimum, there is a hero and a scapegoat.
The hero is the child on whom all the family’s hopes and dreams are pinned. This child is expected to be a super-achiever—if possible, in multiple realms, such as school, music, art, sports. If the family is ever scrutinized or criticized in some way, the parents can point to the hero and say, ‘Look at this great kid. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with us because we produced this incredibly successful child!’ The scapegoat, on the other hand, becomes the lightning rod for the family’s negativity—all the family garbage is dumped on them. (Therapists call this ‘the identified patient.’) This child becomes the family screw-up. The parents can wring their hands and say, ‘If only this kid would get her act together, this family wouldn’t have any problems at all!’”
One gets the sense this is all painfully personal, obviously so. But Tichenor and Weaver have a sense of narrative compartmentalization. Because of this, they can be brutally honest and all-encompassing when it comes to their own, personal experiences’ influence on the read, as well as their ability to cite the colder, more left-brain statistical aspects of the topic. “In the last few decades some fascinating research has been done that helps us understand the profound impact these kinds of childhood experiences can have on people, over their entire lifetimes.
Since the 1990s, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have been partnering with physicians around the country to study the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on the mental and physical health of the U.S. population,” Tichenor and Weaver write. “…You might expect that these experiences would lead to mental health problems like increased anxiety…the amazing thing is that people’s physical health is also dramatically affected by ACEs…If you’ve experienced four or more ACEs, your risk for health problems is even higher…the ACEs research shows quite clearly that overeating, smoking, and abusing other substances are actually behaviors people engage in to try to cope with the original problem of having been subjected to ACEs as children!”