I am the child of an alcoholic.
That sounds awful. At first glance, so many judgments take shape, not only from myself, but certainly the public who are reading this. Some people had it far better than me growing up. Some people had it far worse. In 2005, my alcoholic parent became sober. It took some deep soul searching, and some hard work. It is not easy for anyone to be a recovering alcoholic, but sobriety has meant incredible things for our relationship.
You’d think in 2005, I’d become “sober” too. All that was learned, was unlearned. All that I saw, unseen. All that I heard, unheard, etc. When I started therapy in 2010, I learned that “all your shit comes out when you have your own family”. Boy was that accurate. I really thought I was ‘cured’ when my alcoholic parent was ‘cured’ but I wasn’t. While I would never act as though my childhood was nearly as dysfunctional as many others experience, there were certainly things I learned and experienced that shaped me today. For a long time, I let those experiences dictate who I was, how I reacted in certain circumstances, what I said, thought, felt and how I behaved. Not all of who I am or was is attributed to being the child of an alcoholic. And not all of these things were negative. But no doubt, my ‘family of origin’ put me on a path, as it does for every one of us.
The hard part was determining whether or not I wanted to stay on that path, or put in the work to make a new one. A healthier one. A stronger one. One I could be proud of, own entirely, not just for me, but for my own family as well. So I continued therapy. And started this blog. And created a place where people could feel comfortable while on their own journey as well. I know not everyone is looking to be their personal best. I wasn’t always either. In fact, as far as I was concerned, I was my personal best. I was THE best. I was a hero. I was doing things that no one in their right mind would do in the name of helping other people. I was so dedicated to helping my family I made it like a full time job. My sole focus was getting everyone else to be and do what I thought was best, because if they would JUST get themselves properly positioned in my perfect picture all would be fine – DID THEY NOT KNOW ALL THAT I WAS DOING?! DID THEY NOT SEE HOW MUCH I COULD HELP?!
Along my journey I realized I struggled with co-dependency, an issue that is incredibly common when in a relationship with an addict of any kind. I learned these behaviors as a child, and kept it going well into my marriage. Much further than I’d like to admit. I believed, if I could just control it, I could make it right. I reassured myself of this constantly. While my husband is not an addict, he has his own issues from his family of origin, so we made ‘the perfect storm’ for a very long time. He needed help, and I am one hell of a helper.
But in the mix, is a child. A child who is watching and learning and taking it all in. WE are HIS family of origin. One day, several months ago, it hit me like a ton of bricks, that just because DH and I may have come from dysfunctional backgrounds does NOT mean we must continue those patterns. I believe that is a common excuse today. FAR too common. It’s EASY to say “I am the child of an alcoholic, I don’t know any better, I wasn’t taught this or that correctly so I get to make poor choices for myself and my family based upon that fact.”
But I never take the easy way. And I refuse to do so now. The relationship that I have with my parents now is far different than it was growing up. They instilled WONDERFUL values in me and they are as proud of me as I am of them. Like all parents, they were not perfect. Myself and my husband, we are far from perfect parents too. But the fact of the matter remains, I was lucky enough to learn in my 20s that I had some issues to fix. That while life should be LIVED, LOVED, EXPERIENCED, and you cannot dwell on what is always wrong or in need of an improvement, becoming your personal best is not just for you. It’s for generations to come.
I could easily and ignorantly say, with the ever-so-popular wicked stepmother tone, “Look at all I’ve done. I’ve given Little Bear a life he would not have seen otherwise. I raised a child I didn’t have to. Look at me. I deserve never ending praise because my gifts to his life far surpass any shitty attitude or things I may be messing up in it.” I could ignore EVERY wrong behavior I’ve displayed and chock it up to ‘character flaws’ or ‘that’s all that I know’. But that’s not true and I refuse to live like that. I grow because I can’t sit still. I grow because it’s right. I grow because that’s what God intended. I grow because it’s not just about me, but every generation that follows me.
Why are you growing? Or perhaps a better question is, why aren’t you growing? When I started this journey I was not happy with the person I saw in the mirror. On the outside, I had everything, but inside, I was empty. I was lost. I felt incomplete. I knew there must have been more than what I was living. I hated to admit my faults to other people, but in the privacy of my own head I knew they were there. I knew I was too angry, too controlling, too obsessed with perfection, too discontent. I was discontent as a general mood.
The point is this. There is not ONE set of behaviors, characteristics, or ‘personal best’ that fits us all, and certainly, your way may be better than mine or vice versa. But I believe personal best is not just to make ourselves feel better. If you never plan to have children, and believe the generational thing does not apply to you, that’s okay. But do you have any friends? Any nieces or nephews? Any neighbors? Any other family? See, this personal growth does not just go down the line in families, from oldest to youngest. My growth has helped my parents. It has helped my friends, and other family members. I am humbled by watching it help some of you. We were not meant to be stones. Immovable. Planted deeply within one place, blaming the refusal of movement upon our ‘parents’ or any other set of excuses.
We were meant to grow. And in a blended family especially, a lot is riding on this. You may despise people you are ‘forced’ to interact with in the family model that you have. But as I said the other day: “when someone or something upsets you, instead of dwelling on it, explore it. Often times that which agitates us can give us a better understanding of ourselves. We can use this as the springboard for change and personal growth. Don’t let things upset you nearly as much as you let them make you a better you.”
Only you get to decide what kind of YOU you want to be. You can literally be anything you want. It’s in your hands and the choices is solely yours. If you fire off excuses because “he won’t grow with me” or “the kids are only doing this” or “the other parent is impossible”…that’s okay. I made those excuses too 🙂
And they are just excuses, they will NOT stop you from being the best version of yourself that you can create. There is literally no stopping your personal growth. There is no limit. I know it’s scary. I know it’s a lot of work. But once you become real, you can’t become unreal. I choose real. For me, my family, my friends and hopefully, every blended family member that could possibly be encouraged as well.
If you’re not where you want to be today, get started on becoming that person. Do it for yourself, do it for your family, and do it for the kids. Even if they don’t know it, or can’t articulate it, your growth makes a positive impact on them. There’s plenty of negative in the world. Remove some of it starting in your own soul. You’ll come to find you are okay with not controlling everything. You’ll come to find you’re happy to make changes and you’ll seek them regardless of what anyone else is doing around you. And if nothing else, you’ll be at a place of peace you never thought possible.