A Step Towards Healing: Part I

So, now that I’ve explained why I’ve started this blog and also provided a snapshot of what my life was like growing up in an alcoholic home, I want to talk about my recovery.

I had no idea that there was an entire world of children (teens, young adults & adults alike) who not only had similar experiences, but had developed similar coping mechanisms and anxieties as I had. Coping mechanisms are things we do as children in an alcoholic environment to protect ourselves and also attempt to rationalize an otherwise irrational display of parental love. A lot of us get mixed signals, “I love you, go away,” is one of the most common. Over time, we develop sometimes unexplainable anxiety attacks & episodes. These episodes are a direct reflection of feeling powerless and unsafe in an unstable & inconsistent (to say the least) household. These things, combined with the inevitable negative self-talk (the things we say to ourselves about ourselves in our thoughts) create a very distinct set of personality traits considered to be “trademark” of Adult Children of Alcoholics.

Before getting promoted to her current position, my wife was a Mental Health Specialist in her department’s office. She was also at the time working on her Masters Degree in Forensic Psychology. One of her class assignments was that she needed to attend a group therapy meeting of some sort and reflect on the experience.

By this time, I was on the cusp of feeling like I had had enough of being emotionally manipulated by my mother. I had about 2 more tearful interventions with her about her alcohol abuse (This was about a year and a half before the story told in my entry “In The Beginning” occurred.) how it affected me, to no avail. So I had somewhat given up on intervening with her. I began to question if there were anything in the world I could do to achieve some sense of serenity and control over my emotions and reactions to her psychological abuse.

My grandmother had been in a nursing home for about 2 years. I credit my grandmother as being my saving grace in that household growing up. My grandmother acted as my 2nd parent (my parents divorced around age 3 after a very abusive relationship) in the house and kept me accountable for my actions while providing me the love-charged discipline every child wants & needs and has truly shown that she loves me unconditionally.

My mother has always envied and resented the relationship I have with my grandmother for at least 2 reasons: 1. She holds the delusion that she’s been a responsible parent to me and that I am ungrateful, entitled & take advantage of her “love,” and 2. She has some deeply unresolved issues with my grandparents regarding their alcohol abuse & abusive relationship. When my grandfather passed away (I was in Kindergarten), my grandmother became reborn in a sense. She stopped drinking and started loving. I believe in many ways that her loving relationship with me has kinda served as her way of redeeming herself from being an alcoholic & emotionally unavailable mother to my mother and my aunt. But the point of mentioning all this is that my mother was using my grandmother’s ill-health as a tool to manipulate my emotions and mental well-being.

My wife chose for her assignment to attend a meeting for a group called Adult Children of Alcoholics. Up until that point, I had no idea such a thing existed. She chose this group because we both come from alcoholic households. Her parents are what you’d call Dry Alcoholics. They have been sober for longer than my wife has been alive (they actually met in AA [Alcoholics Annonymous]). Though they put down the bottle, parts of them have not resolved the addictive personality that was always lurked behind the abuse. So this was something that she was looking forward to being meaningful for her and I.

When we got to the meeting, we sat around a room in a circle. The room was filled with people (though we were clearly the youngest there by at least 10 years) of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. It was already unbelievable to think that any of us would have something in common. I could have sat on a train car with all of these people and never even imagined I could relate to them.

The meeting began with the host stating that we’d go around the room and just say what’s on our hearts & minds. If I remember correctly, because it was my & my wife’s first meeting, the protocol is that you have to speak, even if it is brief. The woman to my left began the meeting with her share, making me next in the circle to share after her.

This woman shared a story about something that recently happened with her mother, the primary alcoholic in her life. She described a situation where her mother was being curt and extremely self-absorbed. The woman in the meeting went on to explain how these behaviors were linked to a long line of events where her mom would emotionally manipulate her to prime her for psychological abuse. It was crazy. Listening to this woman who was at least 20 years older than me and looked nothing like me was sharing her life experience with her mother and I felt as though she might as well have been telling me about my own life & relationship with my mother.

When she finished her share and the floor shifted to my own share, I became overcome with emotion. I hysterically cried my way through describing my own pain and how I was at wits end with being manipulated. I addressed the way that I felt like the previous sharer had just told so much of my story by telling hers and how I just couldn’t believe it. My wife gave a tear-filled share next (seeing me cry and openly share my pain with a room of strangers really moved her to tears and opened her up to sharing deeply about herself). One-by-one, everyone went around the room sharing their pain & their thoughts. Some stories & thoughts were more relate-able than others, but in general I felt an incredible amount of kinship with these people. So many of our anxieties, worries & thoughts were alike. The energy in the room was so strong.

Following the meeting, I felt a new sense of hope for healing. I started downloading books on my Kindle related to Adult Children of Alcoholics. Finally, I had a name to put to this. Finally, I didn’t feel so alone and isolated in my experience.

The first book I picked up was “Transformation for Life: Healing and Growth for Adult Children of Alcoholics” by Roland Petit. This book was the first of many that I’ll be sharing with my blog readers that has helped me recover. This book scratched the surface just enough for me to feel like there was hope and that I could take charge of my life, begin to heal myself and walk into the strongest chapter of my life.

If you are struggling to recover and cope with being a child of an alcoholic (or more than one), please seriously consider attending an ACA (sometimes referred to as ACOA) group meeting near you, or at least pick up this book and/or any of the others that I’ll be sharing in entries to come.