by Shari T. (Family Program)
There is a certain comfort in seeing the alcoholic/addict as “the bad one.” It lets us off the hook. But when we start our own recovery we realize, of course, that we’re just as sick and unhealthy as our alcoholic/addict. How fair is that?
As the child of an alcoholic, I thought I was the perfect daughter. Didn’t I get rid of the alcohol by pouring it down the sink? Didn’t I get good marks in school? Didn’t I look after my younger brother? Didn’t I referee my parents’ arguments?
I didn’t talk back, I didn’t bring friends home after school, I didn’t rebel. I didn’t ask my parents for anything.
Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel – the mantra of all adult children.
Okay, I get that one - but I’m still the perfect mother, right? I mean, both of my sons have the disease of addiction. I have to set the alarm or they might sleep in. I have to drive them to school or they might be late. I have to pick them up at the end of the day or they might use. I have to clean their rooms or they won’t be able to find anything …
Yup, we’re just as sick as the alcoholic/addict in our life.
So, why does it take most of us so long to realize it? And longer still to actually do something about it?
For those of us who lived with the disease as children, it is just too horrifying to watch it repeated in our partner or our children. In order to have any semblance of a life we needed to believe that we had left all of that terrible hurt and pain behind us. Now, here it is again. Gotcha.
We start with what we think are rational discussions. Eventually we come to understand that addiction is not rational. So we resort to other “helpful” behaviours that we think might encourage our alcoholic/addict to stop their use. Because then everything will be perfect, right?
We bribe. We beg. We cajole. We rage. We cry.
Hmm, our version of “helpful” behaviour seems to look an awful lot like the behaviour of the addict. We become crazier and crazier, doing anything and everything that we think might help the addict – everything but the one thing that might actually work: letting go. Even if our alcoholic/addict still continues to use, well, at least we can be sane.
Just like the addict’s, our recovery is also a process, sometimes a very long process. That process often involves our own relapses. I remember clearly the evening that I was finally ready to let go. Too many years of trying to control the various addicts in my life had taught me one thing and one thing only: I was powerless to effect change on anyone other than myself. I knew that intellectually. But I had to actually feel it before I was able to do anything differently.
That evening, I sat on the side of my bed, looked up and said, “I surrender.” The pain of watching my two sons self-destruct had become so intolerable for me that I had nowhere else to turn – except to whatever my version of a higher power was. I finally found the humility to ask for help.
I no longer tried to be my sons’ therapist, or drug counsellor, or coach. I had attempted to play all of those roles and it was exhausting. Now, I had to learn just to be their mom.
My older son went to treatment but relapsed. My younger son is still unwilling to admit that he has a problem. I am not going to lie, it breaks my heart. Stepping back and focusing on my own recovery is probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life.
However, in the process of my own recovery I have learned a very valuable lesson. I have learned that this is it, my one and only life.
Now, I have to learn how to live it.