Since I’ve gotten sober, there have been many things for which I’ve come to terms. You don’t spend decades of your life self-destructing and not cause damage along the way. For the most part, I’ve been able to start over by picking myself up from the ashes of my past. I’ve accepted I’ve wasted more money than most people will ever see in a lifetime on things that didn’t matter and on people that no longer matter. I’ve accepted that I never reached those life plans I made in my youth. I’ve accepted I’ve lost credibility and respect from people in my previous life. I’ve accepted that my life choices today have alienated people in ways I knew they eventually would. In reality, people aren’t nearly as progressive and accepting as I hoped when I finally came to understand “life on life’s” terms.
What I have never been able to accept is the damage I caused my children as an active addict. There’s no need to disclose or relive the events of having a drunk in the house. It’s pretty clear the wreckage addiction causes in the lives of families, and it continues even if the addict gets sober, lives a long healthy life and dies of old age. Children of alcoholics and addicts carry deep seeded wounds that will forever shape their world. They look at personal relationships in unhealthy ways because that is all they have ever known. They do not trust, nor are they able to identify and establish healthy relationships for themselves. These children are victims.
I know my kids love me, and I love them. I also know that each has suffered because of me. I realize each has justifiable anger and resentments towards me. I also realize they would have been better off without me in their lives until I was able to get the help I needed to help myself.
As I was leaving rehab, I made a veiled attempt to apologize to two of my children for the damages caused and the lifetime of embarrassment they endured. One child said, “Please stop dragging us into your world”… the other said, “Seriously, that’s it… you’re sorry?” I realized the damage was done… it was deep, and it was permanent.
To this day, I can’t undo it. I have to realize I am the cause of a lot of anger and mistrust from kids whose greatest misfortune was being born to me. What I can do is respect them and allow them space to grow and heal. I caused harm in their lives, but I cannot fix it. They’ll have to do that on their own. Hopefully, their children won’t experience similar lives.
The organization Adult Children of Alcoholics has outlined what life is like for survivors:
Many of us found that we had several characteristics in common as a result of being brought up in an alcoholic or dysfunctional household. We had come to feel isolated and uneasy with other people, especially authority figures. To protect ourselves, we became people-pleasers, even though we lost our own identities in the process. All the same we would mistake any personal criticism as a threat. We either became alcoholics (or practiced other addictive behavior) ourselves, or married them, or both. Failing that, we found other compulsive personalities, such as a workaholic, to fulfill our sick need for abandonment.
We lived life from the standpoint of victims. Having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, we preferred to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. We got guilt feelings when we stood up for ourselves rather than giving in to others. Thus, we became reactors, rather than actors, letting others take the initiative. We were dependent personalities, terrified of abandonment, willing to do almost anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to be abandoned emotionally. Yet we kept choosing insecure relationships because they matched our childhood relationship with alcoholic or dysfunctional parents.
These symptoms of the family disease of alcoholism or other dysfunction made us “co-victims”, those who take on the characteristics of the disease without necessarily ever taking a drink. We learned to keep our feelings down as children and kept them buried as adults. As a result of this conditioning, we confused love with pity, tending to love those we could rescue. Even more self-defeating, we became addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable relationships.
This is a description, not an indictment.
Jacquelyn Kennedy Onassis made a statement that has pierced my heart; she said: “: “if you fail at being a parent, nothing else matters.” I think Jackie knew what she was talking about…
This is my journey… this is my life.