There is one area of my life that I have never been able to fully come to grips with and may never… the pain is too deep and the responsibility too real. That is the damage I caused my children as the result of my addictions…
Ask anyone raised with an addicted parent and listen to the horror stories… those from my kids are no different. I have no doubt my children love me and have embraced my sobriety. But the pain of having a father out of control has forever shaped their lives. My son several months ago let me know that he doubted that I’ve changed. All he’s ever known was stark raving crazy dad who could not be controlled. My son did me a great service by stating his concerns. It is so very easy for an alcoholic to slip back into old behaviors.
I think a part of our brains would love to just forget the horrors of the past and move on as if nothing bad ever happened but that is simply silly and unrealistic. The horrors did happen. The pain I caused was inflicted and it is a pain that lies just below the surface in the hearts and souls of those who care about me. I cannot ignore that fact but I also can’t be consumed by guilt about it.
Once I got sober, I made it a point to apologize for the hell I put them through … it was a joke! In fact, by doing so … all I did was add insult to injury. It’s like saying “hey … I burned your house down and I just want to say sorry!” Really? O.K. … my life is totally screwed thanks to you… I have no home to call my own … and you want to tell me … you’re sorry? Go screw yourself!
My son has basically let me know this… and I can’t blame him! I have learned a valuable lesson that I need to always remember: the damage done because of addiction is always with us, branded on the psyches of our loved ones. I have been sober now for nearly 2 years and yet it took the lack of a relationship with my son to remind me of the damage I’ve caused in his life. I have to realize family members need to recover from the effects of addiction just as the addict does.
Sober Does Not Mean the past Is Forgotten
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have sat in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and heard a member share, with a great deal of emotion, that he/she wishes their family would just forgive and forget and move on with life. The alcoholic will speak of the hard work they have done to find sobriety and maintain sobriety. They have begun the task of changing who they are and they have made every effort to mend fences and regain the trust of their loved ones and yet something will happen and their family will react with skepticism. Oftentimes the alcoholic will be discouraged and talk about how unfair it is that their loved ones still cling to the old days and the old hurt. When will it ever go away?
Quite Frankly It Never Does
An alcoholic needs to put this all in perspective. Speaking for myself, my addictive career spanned almost three decades. It would be one thing if I had just been in a drunken stupor for those three decades; if that were the case they could have found a way to adjust and their lives would have moved on with the knowledge that Rob would never get better.
However, for this addict, the history of my drinking/drugging was one that fostered hope only to have that hope crushed time and time again. Trust would be established as I gave up liquor and pills only to have that trust squashed once again each time I relapsed. My son and daughters have seen it all… Periods of sobriety would follow only to see it all gone once again, finally culminating in a total disconnect from me.
Overall my addictive career included multiple trips to detox and in-patient treatment centers… so that it really did resemble an emotional trip on a roller-coaster for those who loved me. Trust, no trust, trust, no trust, and on and on it went until skepticism was the only possible reaction for them.
Recovery Is Multi-faceted
During recovery from substance abuse it is not only the alcoholic who is recovering. The family and loved ones of the alcoholic need to recover as well for they have been affected by this disease every bit as much as the alcoholic. Their lives have been in turmoil for years. Their lives have been disrupted and their emotions strained to the point of breaking time and time again and recovery does not come easily.
I have said often that addiction takes no prisoners. Those who love an addict are affected every bit as much as the one with the disease and this important fact needs to be remembered by the alcoholic.
It is not enough to make amends and then move on. A simple apology does not erase the years of psychological damage that has occurred and any alcoholic who thinks the damage ends with an apology is a fool. The lives of the loved ones have been shattered and it takes time and effort to rebuild those things which were trampled during the drinking years.
Is It All Hopeless Then?
Not by a long shot but it would be silly to think that years of suffering will just magically disappear because the drinking has ended. Through the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous I have come to realize that recovery is an ongoing process. Each night before I go to sleep I review my day and my actions. Did I say something that caused worry or harm? Did I do something that caused worry or harm? If so amends need to be given the next day. Communication is vital as I move forward. My actions need to be explained to those who care about me. I do not live in a vacuum and I need to realize that important fact and act on it.
Related to that truth is the fact that I must be willing to listen to their concerns and show empathy towards them. In a very real sense my actions of the past have made them sick and they need to be treated as someone who is recovering from an illness and the illness is me.
The greatest gift I could have offered my family would have been to simply leave. An absentee parent is much better than an in-house addict. But an addict doesn’t see the harm they are causing because everything is focused on them… I believe I will never be able to make amends for my actions.
My job is to move forward. We are taught in AA that ours are a journey of progress and not perfection. As long as I am aware of who and what I am and I continually try to improve my life then the pain I caused will eventually subside. It most likely will never go away but it will subside and my loved ones will be able to live without fear.
I carry that responsibility. I am the one who caused this problem and I am the one who can provide those around me with peace of mind. It is a responsibility I take very seriously and it is one I intend to uphold. I owe it to my daughters, to my son, to my parents and many others….and….I owe it to myself.If I could turn back time… things would be so different in my life…. but I can’t. I have to face the reality of what I’ve done to the people I love so much. Life is exactly what life is ….I must accept the things I can not change and have the courage to change the things I can….
This is my journey… this is my life!