I share the following with some reluctance. I do it not to evoke sympathy and certainly not to inflict pain or pass judgment on others. We’ve all made our share of mistakes along the way. Rather, I do it in the hope that even one person will read this post and be sufficiently moved by its many messages to begin the process of changing their life/behaviors and, in doing so, change the lives of those around them (children, spouses, friends, loved ones, etc.) – for the better. If that happens, it will have been well worth it.
When you grow up in a household with an alcoholic parent you never feel fully safe. You never feel fully loved. You never feel fully adequate. You never feel fully connected. Instead, you feel afraid. You feel unloved. You feel shame. You feel alone. You feel like an obstacle on the path to the nearest bottle of alcohol. You feel like you could be doing more to earn parental affection that later, as an adult, you appreciate should be given freely and unconditionally. You are put to bed early (while the sun is still shining) well into your early teenage years. The laughter of your neighborhood friends still playing in the field across the street mocks you from just outside your bedroom window. Not knowing any better at the time, you perceive this terribly hurtful part of your “daily” routine as a form of “punishment,” when, in reality, it’s just another addictive/selfish act that affords an “unobstructed” opportunity to begin drinking. You wonder where your other parent is in the midst of all of the chaos – the other “adult” in the mix, the person you should be able to count on to bring a sense of sanity, order or, at a minimum, functionality to the situation. Ultimately, however, for whatever reason, that parent never intervenes.
Consequently, you’re left to sort it all out for yourself. You try to “bury” it, together with the remnants of what should have been a childhood and, against that backdrop, you set out into the world. You seek affection and a sense of belonging, without having any real idea what either of those things look like, how to give or receive them or where to begin searching for them, all the while struggling to put together the ill-fitting pieces of your self-esteem – at least the ones you could find and gather up as you hurried out the door of your childhood home. You’re careful to present an air of confidence and control to hide the shame, the insecurity – the longing. Not surprisingly, you willingly (and repeatedly) allow yourself and your emotions to be ignored, disrespected, to be taken advantage of and, at times, to be trampled upon. It’s what you’ve grown accustomed to. It’s the way you think it’s supposed to be – though clearly it’s not. Curiously, hurtfully, such conduct simply reinforces your already compromised sense of self and makes you want to try harder, to be something more, in the hope that you will experience the love of another – true love, love that is freely, fully, enthusiastically, selflessly and unconditionally given.
Sometimes you fantasize about meeting a complete stranger. Someone who knows absolutely nothing about you (or you them). Someone who immediately and unhesitatingly takes the initiative in wanting to learn more about you – all of you: your strengths and weaknesses, your gifts and shortcomings, your fears and aspirations, the desires of your heart, the things that are most important to you and those that you could care less about, what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy. Someone you can trust. Someone who will never abandon you. Someone who prefers silence to small talk. Someone who is willing to accept you for who you are, just the way you are and not demand more from you than the “too much” you’re already doing and giving. Someone who wants to know your story – all of your story – and, in (or, perhaps, despite) knowing it, still wants to learn more. Someone who, once they know all there is to know about you, but not a moment before, will say “I love you” – and mean it. At the end of the day, when you grow up with an alcoholic parent, that’s what you need most. It’s finding it (blindfolded, with both hands tied behind your back and your heart locked safely away in Houdini’s box) that is so incredibly difficult.