Born in the 50’s and raised in the 60’s in an alcoholic home with my dad being an active alcoholic, my siblings and I “learned” how to live with alcoholism. My mom didn’t drink but she was raised by an alcoholic father, too. So, it was common to hear things like, “Don’t tell Dad about (fill-in-the-blank) because he will get mad”. We were taught how to behave around my dad so as not to disturb him. The entire focus of our family was on him: his comfort, his wants, his interests. And it was easy to fall in line; the flip side would make any one of us the target of his sarcasm and anger.
While this behavior accomplished the desired outcome of peace at any cost, an unintended mindset was being developed in our little family. Those are the old “tapes” that played in the mind long after leaving home: other people’s feelings are more important than mine (I’m inconsequential), my opinion doesn’t matter (I’m useless), don’t let other people know the real me (I’m not worth anything), don’t bother others with my problems (I’m on my own). In other words, deny who I am inside.
Anger was my friend because it was the only “approved” feeling or emotion in our house. Happy? Don’t be silly. Lonely? Don’t be selfish. Scared? Don’t be weak. So, Anger went with me everywhere, just under the surface of the facade.
At age 15, I was offered a drink at a New Year’s Eve party and that was the beginning. My whole life took a turn that night. Drinking through high school helped me decide not to go to college but to get a job — I wanted my own money. Eventually I fell in love and married a man who drank with me but then quit when we had kids. He broke the deal – he wasn’t supposed to quit. Even my two children didn’t stop me from drinking. In fact, my drinking increased.
We’re told that an alcoholic’s emotional development stops at the time he starts drinking; thus, when I finally hit my first “bottom” at 30 (after a divorce), I had the emotions of a 15 year-old. Ouch. And I moved back into my mother’s basement with my two kids. Another ouch.
After 2 years of sobriety, I fell for an alcoholic/drug addict in “the Program” who seemed like the perfect fit. In actuality, we were heading into something more like the “perfect storm”. I remember telling people at the time I met my husband that it was “like coming home”. I just didn’t realize that my “home” had been so dysfunctional! With my born-and-bred need to “focus on others” (i.e. the alcoholic), combined with his need to have someone to “fulfill” him, we fit like a glove and we married.
Our little family was like a big puzzle with the puzzle pieces making an attempt at becoming a whole picture without knowing what the picture should look like. We made lots of mistakes; many of the same mistakes my parents made.
After 5 years, we quit going to AA and started going to church. We found Jesus and it felt right (it was and still is). But after a few years, our church disbanded and we never returned to AA.
The kids endured through our dysfunction, eventually growing up and getting out as soon as they could. They experienced much of the same training as I did with one tragic difference: my tendency to focus on my husband kept me from giving my children what they needed; thus, my oldest child became a victim of a pedophile. This was my 2nd “bottom”. God’s grace – and ONLY God’s grace – pulled me through the most pain I’d ever felt as a sober person.
Seven years into this marriage, we started up a successful business and made lots of money. We tried to do the “affluent” thing: bought all the toys and had all the symbols of success. Over time, I became a resentful, angry workaholic (victim) and he turned back to drugs and drinking. He broke the “deal”–he wasn’t supposed to start. Looking at it from here, it was like a game of musical chairs: keep dancing and hope when the music stops, you’ll be the one nearest the chair.
Nineteen years later the music stopped. I went to Al-Anon on the advice of his treatment counselor (3rd time); he continued to drink and drug after treatment and it got very, very bad. Al-Anon told me to take care of myself and not worry about him. What!!? Not worry about him?! “Then just what was it I was supposed to be doing?”, I asked. I moved out; I’d had enough. My 3rd “bottom”.
He decided to quit drinking/drugging. We lost our business and with it, our planned future. He moved back in because we needed each other’s unemployment income. We realized that if we were to make it, we had to recommit to going to meetings, which we did. And gradually, one day at a time, we stayed married. When my eyes opened each morning, I would tell God that today I would not file for divorce and would see what He had for me. And today in 2015, almost 10 years later, after lots of meetings and trusting God, we have celebrated 27 years of marriage.
The kids are now grown and well established in their own lives. They have not escaped the fingers of the disease, and one day they’ll be looking at the same things inside themselves that I looked at. I can encourage them to trust God, and I can pray they’ll also find healing like I did. The rest is in God’s hands.
So, by the grace of God, in August of 2014, I hit 29 years of never having taken another drink, which can be different from being sober. AA reminds me of where I came from and who I can become again. Al-Anon helps me live out my sobriety by addressing the co-dependence within myself and also allows me to help the families around me who suffer because of someone else’s drinking/drug use. Thus, I truly am a DoubleWinner.