Perspective: The Children of Addiction

by Jowita Bydlowska

“You make my mom go away. You make me feel hatred,” a kid read out loud from his letter to addiction, a part of an exercise in the Children’s Program at the Renascent Treatment Centre in Toronto. He hugged his mom afterwards with such intensity, it was as if he wanted to get fused into her body, as if the hug itself could provide the kind of protection her body had provided once when she was pregnant and he lived inside her. Eventually, they broke their embrace. The Children’s Program group clapped, all the kids ran toward the table where one of the counsellors laid out snacks, the grownups tried to not look at each other as they wiped their eyes.

I first learned about this program when doing research for a children’s book I was planning to write. In the beginning, I had a hard time agreeing that kids in the program were lucky to partake in it — a trip to Disney would be much better, no? Maybe, depending if the parents were sober or not on the trip. The Renascent group was much more effective in terms of damage control because, as one of the counsellors told me, “They’ve seen their parents get high or drunk. Now they get to see them get sober.” And I was reminded that there are hundreds of families who don’t even know about such programs and there are thousands of children in the city whose parents would never recover.

What is it like to be a child of addicts? I don’t know from experience. But I’ve heard many people share in AA meetings about their upbringing and growing up in “alcoholic homes” where drinking was not unusual, where a child had to develop special skills to be able to tip-toe successfully around their parents — metaphorically and not. Those skills were not familiar to me. My parents weren’t drinkers, though I remember one party when I was seven. A friend was sleeping over and it was her parents who were partying with my parents in the living room. In the middle of the night, my mom woke me up to say she wanted to take the puppy — I got a puppy for Christmas a few weeks prior — out for a walk. She was giggling too much, her voice was different somehow, and then she picked up the fat, floppy puppy and left the room. I felt scared. The friend who was sleeping over told me it was no big deal, her mom was like that all the time.

Toronto, Canada’s Julie Elsdon-Height says, “Growing up as the child of heavy drinkers, I knew no different until I began going to friends’ homes where their parents didn’t go to a pub every night. It was a bit of a [a-ha!] moment at 10 when I realized that my friends’ houses weren’t centered around booze. I learned at a young age not to interrupt the adults’ party time, and in hindsight, I know my father’s lack of involvement fostered my feelings of unworthiness.”

My AA friend K, who also said he felt ignored for most of his childhood and who still struggles with intimacy, jokes that he has a “superpower” as a result of his parents’ alcoholism. This superpower is his exceptional sense of hearing that he’s developed, because as a child he learned to become closely attuned to the sound of the front door closing when his father would come home from work. When he’d hear the door shut carefully, exaggeratedly, it often meant that his father was drunk — it was like a performance of a door closing. My friend said that drunken arguments were better because an argument is an obvious occurrence; paying attention to how the door hinges sing is exhausting and makes you crazy.

This kind of reaction is known as hyper vigilance, which, according to one definition, is “a heightened state of awareness, a part of the fight/flight response…This state is akin to being locked into permanent ‘battle stations;’ brain resources on constant alert, causing inappropriate or even aggressive reactions in everyday situations.” My friend’s constant auditory — and otherwise — scanning of his surroundings as a child was the result of his father’s alcoholic habits and lack of consistency (there was no method to his father’s madness; the drunkenness could happen three times in a row or not for days). According to one study, for some Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), hyper vigilance can transfer into adulthood and cause an ACOA to misread verbal and nonverbal communications. This misinterpretation stems from frequently present conflict, criticism and — as in Elsdon-Height’s case — rejection during childhood; a grown ACOA might be conditioned to expect the worst. My friend said that it felt “safer” to walk around preparing to fight; he was suspicious of people’s motives all the time. And he still listens, carefully, to the sounds of doors closing wherever he happens to be.

There’s lots of research that suggests some of the ACOAs experience symptoms that indicate post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); many children learn to detach (a condition called “psychic numbing”) as the result of prolonged chaos, inconsistency, abandonment and physical abuse. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, PTSD occurs when trauma happens. “Traumatic events may include crimes, natural disasters, accidents, war or conflict, or other threats to life. It could be an event or situation that you experience yourself or something that happens to others, including loved ones.” This “trauma is often unexpected, and many people say that they felt powerless to stop or change the event.”

Children are the very definition of “powerless;” they live by the rules of the grownups around them and there is no escaping bad parenting. True, not everyone who goes through trauma of living in an alcoholic home will develop PTSD, but for some children, growing up in such an environment can have lifelong negative consequences. In these homes, children experience a daily environment of inconsistency, chaos, fear, abandonment, denial, and real or potential violence. If present, PTSD also leads to “psychic numbing,” a feeling of detachment from one’s surroundings, a mechanism learned due to the self-preservation that some ACOAs had to employ to simply survive.

According to a research paper by Tian Dayton, “The Set Up: Living with Addiction,” there are a number of other characteristics that ACOAs might present such as anxiety, depression, distorted reasoning (“convoluted attempts to make sense and meaning out of chaotic, confusing, frightening or painful experience that feels senseless”), poor self-regulation, survival guilt, high risk of becoming an addict, and more. The desire to be perfect, to be approved of and placing others’ needs before one’s own is also common with ACOAs, according to PsychCentral’s Dr. Mark Gold.

Julie Hunter of Woodstock, British Columbia, who says she’s an alcoholic and ACOA, pinpoints loss of identity as one of the results of growing up with parents who drank. “I recall coming home from a gruelling shift waitressing. [I worked] so hard my toes actually bled,” she says. Her parents were drinking when she arrived, blood leaking through her shoes, but she minimized what had happened and turned her injury into a joke meant to placate and entertain her parents. She cried in her room later on, wondering, “Who the hell was I just then? It was the first time I realized I didn’t know who the hell I was.” She says trying to be someone else contributed to the fact that she drank for most of her life. “It was a performance no less than how I performed for my parents. Alcoholism progressed. I functioned that way for many years.” She is sober now and says that it wasn’t alcohol that made her an alcoholic — it was the loss of self that made her drink in the first place.

When I read and hear the grim prognosis of alcohol’s effects on children, I feel overwhelmed with guilt. I am an alcoholic. And I am also a mom of a seven-year-old. I was hoping that my son’s exposure to my drinking wouldn’t go beyond my spectacular relapse when he was a baby — in other words, I was hoping that he would grow up with a sober mom. Alas, that’s not how it went. I broke one promise I made to him and to myself, and he has seen me intoxicated. I am sober now. And I have taken him to a place where we could work on getting our bond repaired. I have heeded the words of that counsellor: “They’ve seen their parents get high or drunk. Now they get to see them get sober.”

The ship to perfectly sober parenting sailed a long time ago, but now that I’m better, I still get a chance to repair the damage I have done. I don’t want my son to grow up unsure of what kind of mom he comes home to. I don’t want him to ever feel ignored because a bottle is more important than his needs. I can’t tell how much my drinking has affected him, but I can hope that he’ll never have to fear the sounds of the door closing. During the family program I signed up for, the kids learned to express their feelings, their grief and their anger. In one room, the kids talked about broken trust. In the other room, we, the parents, talked about how to regain that trust. Later, there were letters to the addiction. And, finally, there was a puppet play about mom coming home drunk, which was pathetically sad and funny, but mostly sad, mostly absolutely heartbreaking because of the tiny voices lending their pain to the puppets.

 

Reprinted from The Fix with kind permission of the author. See more of Jowita’s work at jowitabydlowska.com.

Members of Renascent’s alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email alumni@renascent.ca.

Family Recovery Means Children Too!

by Jerry Moe

renascent-nothing-you-do-for-a-child-274x180On a cold, dreary February evening in 1978, one child showed up for the program’s first session. Since then, over eight thousand children and parents have participated in groups, weekend retreats, and summer camps, all designed to help children initiate and deepen their recovery. The Children’s Place, one of many outstanding programs that bring support and facilitate recovery for children of addicted parents, has never lost sight of its primary objective to create a safe place for youngsters to learn, grow, play, and heal.

In the United States alone, there are over eleven million kids living in alcoholic homes. Most silently and eloquently obey the cardinal rule of the addicted family, “don’t talk.” They are trapped in silence by a family that usually denies the existence of the illness which grips it. These children often have no place to turn, as alcoholism wreaks its own terror, chaos, and pain. Further, they are at high risk eventually to abuse alcohol and other drugs themselves, and thereby perpetuate the disease through their own children.

To break the cycle, children of alcoholics need to learn about addiction in an age-appropriate way, so they can realize that it’s not their fault and they are not to blame. They need safe ways to explore and express their anger, fear, hurt, guilt, and shame. They need to know that there are other adults and kids who care about them, safe people who can help. Kids need to learn how to cope positively with the problems at home, such as parental fighting, verbal violence, broken promises, blackouts, and neglect. These children need to learn how to take good care of themselves and stay safe. To escape the world of isolation that has enveloped them, they must grieve, be angry, cry, and be comforted.

The good news is that children of alcoholics can and do recover. Treatment programs and community based organizations can use specially designed games and activities to help children play their way to health and understanding. During this process they build upon their strengths, deepen their resilience, and further realize their intrinsic beauty and worth.

It’s been my professional experience over the past 20 years that more than 75% of the parents whose children have participated in these programs are also children of alcoholics as well as addicts themselves. Often the biggest difference between the children and parents is that the latter never had a similar program to help them in their youth. The greatest gift parents can give their children is the gift of their own recovery. The second greatest gift is providing the chance for their children to begin their own healing. Children often cannot participate in children’s groups without parental consent. I applaud these parents for giving their children something most of them never got as kids, a safe place to learn, grow, and heal.

What a joy to watch children breaking the family legacy of addiction! They heal as they become reconnected to their hearts. Their drawings and letters depict them in various stages of coming to grips with family addiction. Their courage and strengths shine throughout. There’s so much hope! Please join NACoA in its efforts to bring needed recovery services to children of parents with addiction.

Source: NACoA (National Association for Children of Alcoholics)
This article was adapted with permission from The Children’s Place…at the Heart of Recovery. The author, Jerry Moe, M.A., is the founder of the Children’s Program in Redwood City, CA and the current children’s program director at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, CA. He is a member of NACoA’s Board of Advisors.

Contributors to Renascent’s Blog share their stories of addiction and recovery and/or their professional expertise.

Video: One Day I Will

20 Stories High Theatre Company and Children of Addicted Parents and People present One Day I Will, a short film working with the real life experiences and poetry of young people who have been affected by an addiction in their family.

The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.

Perspective: A second chance with my kids

by Nick T. (Punanai 2012)

When I was a teenager, I had thoughts only for myself. Life was exciting, and I wanted to make my mark in this world. My friends and I used to love repeating the slogans which we thought great people would live by: “Better to burn out than fade away,” or “Time enough to sleep when I die.”

Alcohol was always present, and my friends and I would spend countless hours at the bar or at parties talking about what we would do and what it would be like. Alcohol made me “dream big.”

After university, everyone went their own way. My drinking buddies went to work and didn’t drink as much or as often as they used to. This change alarmed me; I started to feel like something was wrong. Why couldn’t we all keep the good times going?

Soon my friends started getting married. A few even had children. It became apparent that I needed to enter the next phase of my life – marriage and being a home-owner. I’d been working hard and doing well at my career. The future seemed very promising. I started to feel that something else was wrong, though – my successes didn’t match my “big dreams.” I never felt like I had done enough, and started to be jealous of other’s successes. I started to drink so that I could numb out my own “big dreams” expectations.

Getting married was a very rough adjustment for me and my poor wife. I was selfish and alcoholic, and now I had to adjust to someone else’s needs for the first time in my life. We bought a house that was too expensive. We had our first kid. I started to skip work and not do well at my job. I lost my job, and got another. Then I lost that one, too.

I went to rehab because my wife was scared about my alcoholism and threatened to kick me out of my own house. I just wanted to get her off my back. I had no intention of actually stopping drinking, I just needed enough time to figure out how to drink more responsibly.

During this phase of my life, I did what alcoholics do best – ignore reality and retreat into my own world. I spent my days being angry with the world and how it worked. And I spent my days alone, even when I was with people. In the end, my wife told me to leave our house. I thought I had lost my family. I went to rehab again. This time, I went because I knew I had to stop drinking.

When I was drinking, I would often be irritable and short-tempered. My wife would frequently be mad and short-tempered as well, because she was frustrated. There was generally no harmony in our house. I believe that this profoundly affected my kids’ sense of security, and that this played out in their actions at home, school, and elsewhere. My drinking, and the unhappiness it caused, profoundly affected their state – it made them act like it was them against the world. They would take all of the negative energy that they saw (and were scared of), and become much more aggressive in other areas of their life such as school. When I was drinking, we received several calls to pick up one of our children because they had been in trouble at school.

Since sobriety (and a whole lot of work on my own spirituality), they seem to have become more confident, they have not gotten in trouble at school, and are much less likely to fly off the handle and react to challenges with fits of anger. This change, I believe, is due to them not having to deal with a toxic environment. They are learning to live life in a much healthier way.

I’m not perfect, and I still have to work on being more patient, but there is at least consistency in the family rules now and a willingness to step back, admit mistakes, and generally be reasonable. There is a lot more love and laughter, and a lot less pain.

Looking back, I’m not surprised that I became an alcoholic. What does surprise me is how much better life is when I’m not so wrapped up in myself. I care for others, and I try to work with (rather than against) the world. I have tasted contentment and serenity. I have to work hard to keep these good feelings, but they’re worth it.

I’m happy that I can spend the rest of my life trying to give my wife back the years that my drinking took away from her. And I’m happy that I have a second chance to give my children a good life – the life they deserve. I can now be at peace, rather than at war, with the world. And this is the best present I could possibly give to my kids.

Members of Renascent’s alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email alumni@renascent.ca.

Breaking the Cycle: Tips for Recovering Parents

by William White and Alisha White

Editor’s Note: This article can be found in a printer-friendly pdf version here.

Severe alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems have a propensity to be transmitted from generation to generation in vulnerable families. A question we frequently hear from recovering parents is, “What can I do as a parent to lower my children’s risks of developing the problems that have so affected my own life?” We believe there are actions parents can take to help break the intergenerational transmission of such problems. Rating the following statements will help you refine your own response to this critical question.

Rate each statement below from 1 to 4 based on the following scale:

4= Strongly Agree
3= Agree
2= Disagree
1= Strongly Disagree

Self-Care and Modelling

___ I maintain an active program of personal recovery.

Your recovery lowers your children’s risk for a broad spectrum of problems; continued alcohol and other drug problems increases their risk for similar problems in their transitions into, through and out of adolescence.

___ I never smoked or have stopped smoking.

Your smoking increases your children’s risk of smoking which, in turn, increases their risks for excessive alcohol and other drug use.

___ I maintain a balance between my personal recovery activities and my parenting responsibilities.

Periodically re-evaluating and adjusting this balance based on your needs and the needs of your children can help prevent the further abandonment some children feel as a result of their parent’s recovery support activities.

___ I have reached out to other parents in recovery informally or through groups such as Al-Anon or Families Anonymous.

Support from other parents in recovery can enhance your parenting skills, answer questions about parenting that come up in the context of recovery and help alleviate the strain your family may experience in the transitions from active addiction to recovery and through the stages of long-term recovery.

___ I model a healthy style of communicating, coping and problem solving.

Families have preferred styles of coping, and families affected by addiction frequently adapt styles that adversely affect the emotional development of children and increase their risks for self-medication and other potentially self-harming behaviours. Break this pattern by modelling for your children and through your relationships with them a more positive style of communication, coping and problem solving.

Understanding

___ I recognize that my children have an elevated risk for developing a substance use disorder over the course of their lives.

Children born of parents with a severe substance use disorder have 4-5 times the risk of developing such a disorder in their lifetime compared to children born of parents with no history of a substance use disorder.

___ I also realize that biological risk is not destiny; resilience is the norm.

Most children born into intergenerational patterns of AOD problems will NOT develop such problems.

___ I recognize that my children will be exposed to alcohol and other drugs in their transitions through adolescence and young adulthood.

Based on the latest national student survey, 71% of youth will have experimented with alcohol and 48% with illicit drugs by the time they are finished with high school. 41% of 8th graders, 69% of 10th graders and 82% of 12th graders report that it is easy to obtain illicit drugs.

Mending

___ I have expressed regret to my children for any insults or injuries they incurred as a result of my addiction and any problems for them that flowed from it.

___ I have asked their forgiveness, expressed my intent to be the best parent possible, and have tried to made direct amends to my children where possible.

___ I have expressed admiration to my children for how well they adapted through my addiction years.

These actions all serve to expunge some of the negative emotions that can inhibit development of fresh, recovery-grounded, parent-child relationships.

___ I have expressed gratitude to those who assumed care giving responsibilities for my children and who supported my children during my active addiction.

Communicating/Informing

___ I have shared family stories with my children that convey their familial risk for alcohol and other drug problems.

These stories are best shared as acts of candid truth telling rather than sermons.

___ I have helped my children understand acts of excessive alcohol/drug use they have observed or heard discussed within family and social gatherings.

___ I have explained my addiction/treatment/recovery experience in language appropriate to each of my children’s respective levels of maturity.

What you are seeking here is aiding each child and the family as a whole to redefine their story based on an understanding of what things were like before, what happened that changed that, and what things are like now. These story reconstructions and storytelling processes are essential to personal and family recovery from addiction.

___ I have talked to my children about their risk/resilience potential.

The key here is to convey this information in an emotionally neutral, informational tone and to place this in a larger discussion of family risk factors, e.g., for such disorders as cancer, heart disease or diabetes. You want to cultivate awareness without over-dramatizing or emotionally loading this issue. Timing is everything for such communications: look for “teachable moments.”

___ I have provided particular cautions to my children about using alcohol/drugs during periods of physical or emotional distress.

Some recovering parents choose to talk with their children about reasonable guidelines regarding alcohol and drug use decision-making, including the option of abstinence as a preventative strategy.

Family Living

___ I have worked to redefine family relationships, roles, and rules that may have been damaged or lost as a result of my addiction.

Family members take on specialized roles to help keep the family functioning in the face of illness or injury to one or both parents, these roles can become distorted, and new rules emerge that minimize immediate threats to family survival but tend in the long run to perpetuate the problem. Rebalancing these roles and relationships and creating healthier rules for family communication and problem solving enhances the health of all family members.

___ We have (re-)established and maintain family rituals that facilitate regular connection and opportunities for communication.

Children are most negatively affected in families in which the severity of addiction disrupts the predictability and quality of such experiences as family meals, rituals of entry and exit from the home, end-of-day family rituals, and holiday rituals.

___ I work to minimize and quickly resolve conflict within my family.

Two factors in families affected by addiction that have the greatest negative impact on children are low family cohesion and high family conflict.

___ I try to cultivate activities/skills in my children that expand their opportunities for positive peer relationships based on activities other than alcohol or drug use.

What you are seeking to cultivate in the lives of your children are relationships and activities that compete with and that are incongruent with drug use.

___ We maintain a sober household – one free of intoxication.

The message here is that one can live fully, work diligently, play joyfully and cope with life’s most difficult challenges – all without intoxicants.

___ I have tried to demystify alcohol.

It is advisable to “emotionally unload” alcohol by exposing children to situations in which they observe alcohol used in moderation via religious or social rituals and in which drinking is not the central activity.

___ I have sought help for my children when they were distressed by the changes in the family precipitated by my recovery.

The goal here is to reduce emotional distress of your children before it reaches a state where self-medication becomes attractive and rewarding.

Parenting

___ I have tried to avoid over-indulging my children.

Over-indulgence is a common parental response to guilt over past neglect or injury.

___ I am trying to build a relationship with each of my children marked by safety, security, consistency, predictability, and unconditional love.

This is the best foundation for preventing and responding to problems in the lives of your children.

___ I affirm my child’s interests and talents through positive communications and my continued interest in their activities.

Positive and open communications in which adolescents are able to talk about their experiences and aspirations are associated with lower risk for substance use. Verbal affirmation and physical presence of parents in the lives of their children are key sources of self-value in children.

____ I have tried to inculcate values in my children that are incongruent with excessive alcohol/drug use.

There are values that are incongruent with addiction and thus commonly linked to recovery within diverse cultural contexts, e.g., humility, honesty, patience, respect, tolerance, maturity, responsibility, gratitude, forgiveness.

___ I have tried to personally link observed intoxication of others as incongruent with attributes admired by each of my children.

Children will vary widely in their reasons for refraining from AOD use, e.g., personal values related to religious faith, social popularity, physical health, physical attractiveness, athletic prowess, academic achievement, future professional success.

___ I have created clear guidelines and consequences related to alcohol use for my children and have enforced them through consistent monitoring.

AOD-related problems in adolescents occur less frequently in families that create and enforce clear expectations related to AOD use. Explaining the reasons behind the particular guidelines presents them as an assertion of concern and care rather than an arbitrary effort to control.

___ I have tried or am trying to postpone my child’s initial use of alcohol or other drugs as long as possible through guidance and close supervision.

Early age of onset of alcohol or drug use is a major predictor of adult substance use disorders.

___ I recognize that the start or end of my children’s important friendships are times of heightened vulnerability and show increased interest and support during such periods.

There are developmental windows of vulnerability that warrant a heightened level of observation and support of your children.

___ I have sought or will seek help early if problems develop.

The rule on timing of help is: the earlier the onset of help, the better the long-term recovery prognosis. Try to respond as early as possible to signs of emotional, mental or behavioral disorders whose acute symptoms could be lessened with alcohol or other drugs.

Closing Exercise

Having reviewed my ratings, I think what I have done best in reducing the risks my children face in developing an AOD-related problem is:

1.____________________________________________________________
2.____________________________________________________________
3.____________________________________________________________

Based on my self-rating, I think the three most important things I can do in the coming days, weeks and months are:

1.____________________________________________________________
2.____________________________________________________________
3.____________________________________________________________

 

Acknowledgement: Work on this project was inspired by The Betty Ford Institute Critical Issues Conference Breaking Intergenerational Cycles of Addiction: Parent-focused Strategies, held September 29-October 1, 2010 in Washington D.C.

 

Reprinted by kind permission. William White’s Recovery Toolkit, an excellent compendium of recovery tools, can be found online here.

Contributors to Renascent’s Blog share their stories of addiction and recovery and/or their professional expertise.

Perspective: The Elephant in the Living Room

by Sarah S.

Well, I figure I’m reacting like most people who are invited to contribute to TGIF: OMG. I don’t have time. I don’t want to go there. But, if I’m honest, I know it’s good for me to go there because perhaps I’ll learn something about myself through the process. (I’ll let you know at the end!)

My father was the alcoholic in our family. I didn’t know that he was an alcoholic until I came into contact with Renascent in my 30’s. I just assumed he was a heavy drinker – like most of the people on my street and like every family for whom I babysat.

I met and married my husband in my early 30’s and he’s an adult child of two alcoholic parents. If you had told me then that it was no accident that I was drawn to him, I would have smiled politely but thought inside, “You’re crazy.”

And if you had told me when I was growing up we – my dad, mom, brother and sister – all played predetermined roles to help sustain my father’s addiction, I would have been “gob-smacked.” I’m not sure how I would have processed that nugget of information.

But as my dad chased the bottle, my mom chased my dad and we kids took on the roles of hero, scapegoat and adjuster. Everyone was, in fact, taking care of the bottle and no one was taking care of themselves.

As a kid, I had no one outside the family with whom I could share. My family was not able to name the elephant in the living room, but it lived large in our lives. Secrecy, shame, blame, stuffing emotions, helplessness, not wanting to bother my parents with expensive field trips, being a parent to my younger siblings (and, at times, my parents), overachieving but always feeling like an imposter, walking on eggshells, defending my siblings, being angry at my mom for blaming me for the arguments instead of seeing the situation for what it was …

As an adult, I can see how beneficial a Children’s Program would have been in my young life – for me and everyone else in my life living in bondage to addiction. Knowing what the family disease of addiction does and what I can do to liberate myself from it would have changed things for me. I would likely be in a difference place today.

But I’m grateful to be here – on the road to recovery – as it’s never too late to begin to untangle how this disease has infiltrated my life. And how I can inspire and be inspired to incorporate recovery into my life, one day a time.

So time to share a recent story that highlights how recovery is beginning to help me make different choices.

A few days ago. I was building up some good old-fashioned resentment for my husband. We both work full-time and we’re generally exhausted by work, kids, aging parents and life. But when it comes to “projects” I always take the lead and do the heavy lifting. I began to manifest the four M’s (managing, mothering, manipulating and martyring) – something I heard at an Al-Anon meeting.

Not good. Left unchecked, really not helpful in maintaining a loving and respectful relationship.

Thankfully, I became aware of this growing discontent before I exploded – something I know ACoAs do often (thanks to Tian Dayton). It’s challenging to find 4-6 on the volume dial as often the default setting for ACoAs is either zero (stuff it) or 11 (explode). I find it helpful to visualize this volume dial and, when I feel myself tending to one extreme or another, I ask myself, “What would 4 look like?”

I did a reality check on my expectations. I was being unreasonable with what can be achieved with such limited free time. In fact, I could take a page from my husband and carve out a few moments daily to do something for me – practice a little self-care instead of tackling an endless list of projects.

I also took the opportunity to find some alone time with my husband to share how I felt and to begin to talk about the things we each want to do – self-care, going on dates, life priorities – and even projects.

I’m a work in progress. I’m no fricking monument to recovery (adapted line from the movie Moonstruck) but I’m grateful to have an awareness of how this disease found me. And, as painful as it is, I am aware that my children will inherit the genes and behaviours of this family disease, so there really is no time like the present to honour my recovery as an Adult Child of an Alcoholic.

P.S. I learned something: I probably should have gone to an Al-Anon meeting instead of writing this article. But I only learned this through the process of writing, so all is good.

 

A gem from our TGIF vault, originally published in April 2012.

Members of Renascent’s alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email alumni@renascent.ca.