Growing Up With Alcoholic Parent(s)

For a long time, I’ve been wanting to blog about growing up with a raging alcoholic father and I’ve. finally gathered the courage. But please don’t feel sorry for me or pity me, that’s not what I want. I want the other children of alcoholic (or addicts or mental illness) to know, I got your back and you’re not alone and you’re not weird and you’re not crazy. This stuff affects you way into your life even if you do get help, therapy, etc.

One of the most frustrating things about growing up this way and being in mid-life is that your coping behaviors still exist on some level. Maybe there is that random person out there that has conquered them all but they are so engrained in you just to survive, that occasionally or frequently they pop up in situations where you don’t need them especially if you have created a good, positive life for yourself. These old mechanisms, these protective coping behaviors are no longer needed but they can create havoc in your life.

As a child, I knew we weren’t a normal family and my father’s alcoholism was always center stage. You were told not to feel things, say things, to hide the fact that your life was a crazy mess. So you go to school, never invite friends over and you end up creating this persona that provides an iron clad (you hope) curtain around your actual life. You lie, you fudge, you lie some more. It becomes a habit, you create your own alter ego to present to the rest of the world where you’re A-ok and your family isn’t a crazy mess. You live in a constant shroud of shame, some because you hide this from the world and mostly because you’re most likely abused. For me it was emotional, verbal and physical abuse. You never knew what you would get when you came home. Would you get back-handed for being happy and smiling? Who the hell ever knew. The key element is that you, as a child, was not important, your feelings were wrong, etc.

When I got older, I sought out therapy and self-help books. I married young, I had three daughters. I dedicated myself to giving them a much better life than I had. I went through two marriages until I found someone who really loved me. We’ve been together almost ten years but yet I struggle with being honest with him. Not about most things, just about how I feel, what I struggle with, and hiding my coping behaviors because I’m ashamed they are still there. So now I’m working on that.

I’m adverse to change. When you get to a point in your life where your life is steady and more certain, getting you to move from that comfort zone is likely to take a stick of dynamite. The older I get the more difficult change gets in general. Honestly, this is frustrating as fuck. I don’t want to be this way. I miss out on things in life when I fight change or hide at home. When my husband thought it would be a good thing for us to move out of the house I lived in for 15 years after my mom died because I couldn’t work in the yard without crying and other reasons, he hit a wall. But he was right, it was a positive move. I unintentionally fight good things. I stay with things that aren’t working just because they are familiar.

Deep down you have a fear of not being good enough, not deserving even the things you may have hard-earned. Sometimes you feel like an imposter in your own life because you weren’t allowed any self-worth growing up. Or even for a good part of your adult life. You seek out people who will treat you poorly because it feels familiar. You will create self-defeating scenarios just because of the fear or deep belief that you aren’t worthy. Logically, you know it’s stupid and a whole lot crazy. But this happens so quietly, sneaks up on you so stealthily that by the time you realize what bullshit you are doing, you’ve already created an issue. Maybe it’s a small fixable issue or it’s a huge issue that hurts someone else. And it always hurts you because you are set on punishing yourself for being alive.

My mother, rest her soul, would tell me as a kid, “Your father didn’t drink until we had kids” as if to blame me. I don’t think she realized that to my tiny ears, that it sounded like she blamed me. I think it was more a statement of fact. As if my presence was the cause of his bullshit. The cause of his alcoholism was probably a mental illness left undiagnosed and treated. Not me. But I have walked around on this earth for 48 years feeling like I wasn’t worthy, deserving and that I was the root cause of my family’s problems even when my brain tells me it isn’t.

It’s exhausting fighting all this deeply engrained crap. It hurts you and others. My cousin and I lament on how we are so tired of this shit still leaking into our lives, affecting us. We’ve come a really huge way but still, we struggle. And it pisses us off. I think the anger is the key to exorcising these old demons. Using the anger to get that next bit of really tough therapy or making up my mind to just short circuit the behavior by really being cognizant of my cues and feelings that precede or accompany the self-defeating mechanisms. I’m so done with this stuff. I’m tired of it affecting my life. It feels as if my father or whatever craziness from my youth is still controlling me and I have had enough. Enough is enough is enough.

I’ve never used my past as an excuse but I’m tired of my past hurting me. Sick of it. So sick of it. I’m done. Completely done with this stuff. I’ve come a long way but it’s time to finish off the last bits of it. To really focus on when I’m doing things to hurt myself or others even if it’s always unintentional. To stop the self-sabotage because I have a deep seated fear that I’m not deserving or not good enough. I’m just so done.

The bottom line is that I didn’t cause my father to drink, I didn’t ruin their life, I made a lot of mistakes, I did a lot of stupid stuff in my life, I allowed people into my life that definitely did not have my best interests at heart. No more. I’m done.

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Time for Change…

The quandary with being mid-life is that you’ve lived a lot of years but also you (hopefully) have a lot of years ahead of you.  You also realize though that you don’t have your entire life in front of you either and that your days must start counting for more.  I think this is sometimes called a mid-life crisis but I think for most people it’s just a time to really stop and check the path they are on.  Stop running on autopilot, step back and say, is this the life I want? Is this what I should be spending my precious time doing?  It’s a self-check moreso usually than a crisis.  I have yet to want to buy a sports car, get a really young husband and well, I guess the female version to the combover is to dress and try to look like a teenager to the point you look ridiculous.  I think a lot of older women are not accepting looking like little old ladies and that’s great but you have to do it with finesse and style, not copy your 16-year old daughter.  

Yesterday, a young girl in our community died days after her attempt at suicide.  Thousands of people had been praying for her and her family but it was not enough to bring upon a miracle.  This girl is part of my family doctor’s family, his two older sons graduated with my daughters and since he’s been my doctor for ages, his kids essentially grew up with mine.  Not that we were close, they didn’t invite me over for dinner but in a small community like ours, everyone knows everything and you interact through many different channels.  

I can remember her as a baby, toddler, young girl and a teenager.  She was a beautiful sweet girl with seemingly everything a girl could want at least from the outside but yet this tragedy occurred.  Of course the rumor mill is running rampant with why she may have done it, but the only person that truly knows is gone.  People will judge her parents and make assumptions but the real truth is, this could happen in anyone’s family.   So sit down and focus on what is your life.  Say a prayer of peace and comfort for the family instead of stirring up the gossip. 

Suicide is the one thing, unless you’ve been on the verge of committing it yourself, it’s easy to stand there and say “how could she do this?” Essentially for many different reasons, you come to a point where everything feels hopeless and you feel the only way out, the only way for peace is death.  This could be from a mental cause such as depression, chemical imbalance in your brain, drugs (both prescription and illegal) and so on.  The Cherokee Indians had a saying that roughly was “Do not judge a man without walking in his moccasins” or the more modern “walk a mile in his/her shoes”.  Have some empathy, don’t just stand there and judge.  Try to see what it might have been from someone’s view. 

In my mid 30’s, I had a bought of depression so bad that I would wake up and then curse the fact I hadn’t died in my sleep.  It scared me enough to get treatment which was prescribed by this very Doctor.  He gave me Zoloft and finally that urge to die subsided.  It’s not always “just in your head”, mental illness many times is physiological and not just psychological.    You can’t “snap out of” depression.  It’s like telling someone with a broken leg to just think positive and it will heal.  Yeah it may heal but maybe not heal right. You may walk with a limp the rest of your life because it needed set.  You get the idea.

On the news yesterday that this girl passed away, I was sitting there thinking about my life.  Yesterday was also the two-year anniversary of my mom’s death.  I was feeling reflective anyway but this tragic news pushed me even deeper into thought.  The last few years especially, I have had time to work on myself, things that happened to me years ago and their effect on me today was forefront in my life.  If you read my blog consistently, you know I’ve talked about self-esteem issues, body image, mid-life, grief and a whole host of topics that are relevant to me as well as many other people’s lives.  The greatest complement I have received from my writing is when someone thanks me for being candid enough to write about a hard subject because they feel less alone and I’ve helped them in some small way. 

The thing about death is that it reminds you to live.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years working out my grief, working out issues from years ago because I either pushed it down or I simply didn’t have time for myself.  This is the first time in my life since I was a teenager that I have been able to really focus on myself because I was no longer actively taking care of someone else.  Having all this time to think was both good and bad.  Just the other day I wrote something about a traumatic experience that happened when I was 14.  It was one of those times where I started writing it in my head first and I needed to get it down on “paper”.  When I told a friend about it, they said why do you keep reliving this stuff?  Me being me, I was annoyed at first with what they said.  I am a stubborn learner at time and yesterday it finally clicked with me what they were trying to tell me.  

Yes I could use my traumatic experience to reach others and help someone else but by doing so, I was keeping the past in the present.   The beauty of youth is you don’t have years of the past to ruminate on.  You live each day looking to just that day and sometimes toward the future.  I try to be mindful of each day and live in the present but I tend to be all over the board.  I have no clue what I want in my future to be other than a happy, healthy family, be able to live comfortably, finish my degree and publish a book.  I don’t have the fiery, motivated goals of my youth and sometimes that bothers me.  I have no idea why, maybe because I feel like I am not “doing enough”.  It seems even more imperative now at the age of 46 that I should be “reaching for some big dream” before it’s too late.  

As I sat there alone thinking about my mom and this young girl’s life being cut too short, I realized I need to live for today and stop worrying so much about the future or achieving some great thing.  I simply need to follow my heart and stop worrying so damned much.  I need to let go of the past, I have worked hard to get where I am today and be the person I’ve become.  I’m proud of the person I am today even if I’m not always proud of my past life.  I’ve made many mistakes, my life was a train wreck when I was younger but so what?  As the 1000 memes going around social media say,  you get a new start every day or something to that effect.  Really all I need is a change in focus and attitude.  It’s that simple. 

In the effort to live each day to the fullest and live in the present, I’ve decided to suspend my blog for the time being.  I need some time to refocus myself and just live my life by embracing each day as a new opportunity.  Focus on spending time with the people that I love the most and make me the happiest rather than putting energy into those relationships that do not add much if anything to my life.  I am going to let go of the “should of’s” as well.  I should do this, be this or achieve this.  This is a lot of white noise that confuses me and makes it difficult for me to enjoy life.  In essence, I’m going to hit the “reset” button and start new again.   Maybe I will pick up my blog again with a different goal in my writing.  We will see.  

Go live for today, do what makes you happy and don’t look back.  Find your passion, take a chance and live your dreams.  There is never going to be the perfect day for it, do it today, start today.  Live for today, you have no guarantee there is a tomorrow.  Be prepared to fail and hear “no” many times over, but don’t give up.  The one difference between the people who achieve their dreams and the ones who don’t is usually the fact they didn’t give up and not because they nailed it right from the start.  

So in conclusion, this blog has been a wonderful journey which forced me to get myself and my writing out in the public eye.  I am grateful to all that have read it, who have commented on it and who might miss it just a little bit.  I am going to focus on my dream of publishing a novel.  Wish me luck!  Or better yet, wish me tenacity to stick it out and get over or around all the challenges I will face (mostly being too self-critical of my writing – ha…).  Deep breath and first steps…