There was a time I used the siblings to debrief my anguish and worry about the other “one” – the child whose absence or drama was taking center stage and getting my full attention. Unaware of how damaging this would be to the remaining family members, I did this for a long time. The realization that my actions might have contributed to a form of suffering on them was a hard nut to swallow. I had to learn it the hard way; it seems to be a recurring theme for me. I first pondered the notion when listening to Alateens share their hurt, abandonment and other issues they kept to themselves while watching mom or dad get progressively worse in their futile attempts to straighten up the “affected” one’s life. I’d hear how some would become overly protective and sometimes take the role of caretaker, worried about the troubled sibling. Some would get resentful about all the attention given to the other. The entanglement of the family disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. To the “normal” sibling, the desire for mom and dad to get happy again would become their focus. So, in a sense, young co-dependents were forming as the family disease reached epidemic proportions. I wondered which role my children fell into.
Becoming aware didn’t actually help me with how to do better…the Al-Anon Family Group and 12 step recovery program was my road map for change. I had to start over with training wheels, in a sense, beginning with me and my contributions to the family disease. It began with accepting I had problems of my own to work on. The hope for me was that I could mend broken relations with all those who mattered in my life.
Today, with guarded mouth and awareness of the family disease, I try to keep the focus and be present with those who stand before me. I no longer ask prying questions about the “other” one whose lifestyle is concerning. I consciously choose to seize those opportunities with gratitude to be allowed the accompaniment of their presence. Most critically, I get to be PRESENT with no conditions and that is my GIFT to them.
One of the hardest tasks for me is to accept why the holiday season brings on a dreadful feeling of gloom for me. Growing up, I don’t have any negative feelings about the holidays. In fact, I’m very grateful for all the fond memories and joy I experienced. My mom, dad and family get-togethers during Thanksgiving were GREAT! Though my mom recalls a difficult period when we would pack up and drive 3 hours to “grandmas” where she later “put an end to THAT.” I don’t remember anything but having dinner at our house. I always remember my mom cooking and a lot of activity in preparation. There was anxious excitement anticipating the arrival of my relatives. There was always a flurry of political discussions, abundance of food, and comforting smells. There may have been alcohol, I don’t recall. Being the youngest, I watched my older siblings bring home guests from college and they were always interesting characters whether “meditating yoga” in our front yard (the 60’s!) or bringing a new perspective to the table. It was always these memories that I tried to recreate with my family.
The holidays are hard for me because I have dysfunction in my family. I’m newly aware that this is what the reality is. This dysfunction is a result of alcoholism and addiction combined with my perspective of what a family should be and how others should act – all effects of the family disease. It’s no use wishing for the memories to repeat or wishing for my family to be something else. If I continue to deny it, I will stay in my disease. I will likely blame others, try to force solutions and perpetuate the negativity that can come so easily. I continue to work on my attitude and use the tools of the Al-Anon program to help me see things more clearly, accept and appreciate all the blessings I have – and there are many. For this I am grateful.
Many times it seems that I look at the situation at hand and want more progress or have high expectations. Today I was discussing this journey that I have been on with some friends. I was relaying the trials and tribulations that occurred over the past 4 years. Later I began to think about how bad it had become when my daughter was in the depths of her addiction. I thought about how many times I almost lost her from various harmful situations she had been in. I thought about how she became someone I didn’t recognize and I was so desperate to have my daughter back. It made me realize that even though there is still growth and responsibilities to take on, so much progress has taken place. I had to pause and take stock of all the blessings that have occurred through this journey.
There are many blessings but the one that is the most prevalent for me is the fact that traveling this journey with my daughter has led me to experience tremendous growth myself. When I was desperate to help my daughter I was led to discover that the best thing I could personally do for her was to get help myself. I realized that the most loving thing I could do was to become knowledgeable about addiction and what I could do to stop enabling her. Learning that I did not and could not control everything taught me how to let go and be free of the stress that consumed me. This has been one of the blessings and today I took the time to reflect on this and be grateful for these discoveries.
Today I am grateful for a family that is together and whole. It has not always been like this. When my daughter was struggling with addiction the holidays were not a happy time. We got through the holidays but did not always enjoy them. Today I am thinking of those who are struggling, whether it is the addict or the ones that love them, and I am praying for comfort and serenity amidst the difficult times. It is difficult to know that things can get better, that there is hope for everyone no matter how desperate the situation seems.
I have a story of hope because this month my daughter is celebrating 3 years in recovery. I am so grateful for this and yet I know that it has been a difficult journey. It is becoming easier to forget the dark days, as I call them. They seem like a distant shore that is becoming more and more difficult to see. Sometimes I want to be rid of any memory as if it didn’t exist and other times I realize that it is important to remember in order to keep me from falling back into the unconscious co-dependent behaviors of my past. I chose to remember what brought me to this point in my life journey and relish all the joys and blessings that have come with it. Just like remembering what the holiday season is all about. Besides a time to be with family and friends, it is about reflecting on what I am grateful for. I am grateful for the slow, but steady, process of recovery from the co-existing diseases of addiction and co-dependency. A time to celebrate, remember and be grateful for today.
“People spend a lifetime searching for happiness; looking for peace. They chase idle dreams, addictions, religions, even other people, hoping to fill the emptiness that plagues them. The irony is the only place they ever needed to search was within.” -Ramona L. Anderson
How often do we look to forces outside ourselves for peace of mind and gratification? We try new jobs, new friends, and various activities. While we may get some satisfaction in the short run from these changes and new venues, it may not last. What I have found is that ‘where ever I go, there I am.’ It is what we hold inside ourselves that is the grounding force of our happiness and well-being.
The toughest journey can be when we discover that after looking for who’s at fault or to blame that we discover that we can only blame ourselves. I know that I am not without faults, but I also know that one of those faults has been to look to others for the causes of issues. It is certainly easy to do this when you have someone in your family that is doing destructive activities due to an addiction. For me I felt all of the problems where due to my daughter’s addiction. I became consumed with the victim mentality of what was being ‘done to me.’ When I started to realize that there were things I could change within myself that is when I was able to begin reclaiming my life. It was a very difficult journey and did not happen fast. But when I did decide to take a look within, I began to discover what I could do to change me and in that process it affected everyone around me in so many positive ways.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
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