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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When a Problem Isn’t Problematic…

A few weeks ago,  I had a rough day emotionally and decided I needed to see my therapist, a lovely woman about my age who has helped me through quite a bit in my life.  I’ll call her Cathy.  My appointment was this past Monday and when I woke up that morning, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was really my issue two weeks ago.  I know I was missing my mother, I felt a little out of place in my life with my girls grown up and most likely since I am going through ‘the change’, I was probably erratically hormonal.  I’m finding more and more my issues are just an unpredictable hormone swing that makes me feel like something small is the end of the world.  

Since it was too late to cancel the appointment, I decided that I would go and talk about this next phase of my life which I sometimes struggle with figuring out what just is ‘next’.  I found out the last time I had an appointment was January of 2015.  I was surprised it was that long ago.  I usually see her at least 1-2 times a year or more if there is something major going on in my life.  So initially I gave her the run down of what had been happening since then and she asked me why I was here today.

I was honest with Cathy and told her I had a bad day a few weeks ago and now I wasn’t really sure what the real issue was at that time.  I went on to tell her that at times, I felt weird or out of place because mainly I only wanted to spend time with my immediate family and one of my closest friends who works with me.  I’m not socially awkward but I’ve gotten extremely selective.  I think oh I’d like to have lunch with this friend or maybe I should go out with that friend but then I never do it.  Even if I’m home alone, I end up taking the dog for a walk, riding my bike solo, reading a book or watching a movie that I would be made fun of normally.  I simply prefer my own company if my immediate family are not close by.  I’m not interested in going out with a bunch of girls to a bar or club.  Actually I avoid anything with crowds for the most part.

She just shrugged and told me there isn’t anything wrong with how I socialized and spent my time as I wasn’t doing it out of fear or because I am socially awkward.   So I moved on to the act that I’ve reached the majority of my life goals outside of traveling here and there which makes me feel like I’m floating out at sea with just a life preserver and no direction.  Again Cathy shrugged and told me that really I was in a great place in my life.  That I had time and the means to really discover myself and what I like, dislike and where I might want to head in the future in terms of goals.  Then she said “it’s a problem that isn’t really problematic”.  Or in other words, it feels like it’s a problem but if I look at it in a different light, I will see it’s really a blessing.  

Always, I am amazed by how a simple shift in how I think about something can make all the difference in the world.  While not having a defined direction for what’s ‘next’ makes me feel very uncomfortable if I consider it a negative, if I just adjust my thinking to wow, I can do so many things or try so many new things, the problem disappears and a positive blessing comes out of the same situation.  I can choose to feel bad or I can choose to feel positive.  What felt like a problem isn”t a problem at all if you look at it differently. Attitude shift and the world takes on a new light.  

I have to remember that phrase.  “It’s a problem that isn’t really problematic.”  The next time I’m feeling down, or upset or whatever, I will have to look and see if there really is a problem or if it is just my way of looking at the situation or my attitude.  A small shift in my thought process made all the difference.  I suppose you really can think yourself happy.  It is all in how you choose to see the world and your life.  Choose well.