The four statements that inspired the next steps in my adult child of an alcoholic healing journey to create an awesome grownup life:
When I reached the age that made me an adult by legal terms, I’d already been a grownup for a while. Like many kids of alcoholics, I thought and behaved like an adult very early on. But when adulthood officially arrived, I struggled to create the kind of life I deserve. This has been truly a journey with progress made over time – no overnight turnarounds on this one! But there have been a few bold statements that have illuminated a truth that has been impactful in my journey. Here are four things that made me think differently:
1. “You’ve put the key into the ignition and the wheels are now in motion.”
The first time I went to an Al-Anon meeting, it was out of complete desperation to find a solution to “fix” my mom’s addiction problem. I was incredibly depressed. I believed that my happiness was dependent upon finally doing what I’d spent my whole life trying to do: getting Mom to stop drinking. As I sat there listening to other people’s stories, and as I bravely shared mine, I realized that the only way I’d ever have the grownup freedom I’d dreamed of, I need to “fix” myself. In fact, the hell in which I lived was more to do with my brain than the beer my mother drank every night.
The idea of fixing myself was extremely overwhelming. I didn’t even know how to begin the process. I’ll never forget what the wrinkled man across from me said I finished sharing my story and wiping mascara-blackened tears from my face.
“You put the key in the ignition and the wheels are now in motion,” he said with confidence. People around the table nodded in agreement.
That statement gifted me an unexpected realization that nothing would ever be the same again. I viewed my life and my world entirely differently. I knew the effort to go on that journey would be difficult but realizing that I was ill myself was a turning point (cue upbeat music). I do not want to imagine what would have happened if this realization occurred later (or never….).
2. “Can’t you just settle and be satisfied?”
While many people are happily making their way through their 20s, my early 20s were miserable. At 26, I was so depressed, I felt like I didn’t want to go on anymore. Life was one giant unpredictable ball of obligations and chaos. For the first time in my life, I lost my ability to hide my feelings because you know, us adult children of alcoholics are awesome at internalizing everything and painting a picture that everything is A-OK. It became clear to my co-workers and other people around me that I was not happy.
One day, a co-worker asked, “Are you okay?” To my surprise, the honest answer flew out of my mouth.
“I am not,” I said. I detailed how life was supposed to be – how little-kid me had envisioned it when I officially had grownup freedom.
He listened and then with all good intentions, he explained how “everyone” is disappointed in how things are but they learn to accept and be satisfied with how grownup feels.
“I can’t do that,” I said. “I can’t settle for this.”
I didn’t tell him so but inside, I felt that if nothing changed, I would die. Soon.
I realized in that moment that there are people who have the option to give up and those who don’t.
For me, there is no option but this journey.
3. “What the f$%& is wrong with you?!”
When my father died suddenly, I relapsed in my adult kid of an alcoholic healing journey. I forgot everything I’d learned about being a healthy adult child of an alcoholic. I took my father’s place as my mother’s number 1 enabler. I moved out of my apartment and into my parents’ home within three weeks. I felt I had to be there for my sister who still had a year of high school left. I couldn’t think clearly or rationally. It was such a traumatizing time. In that stressed condition, my brain reverted to the way it was programmed to work when I was a girl. Mom went into a series of binges. I was sure she was going to kill herself intentionally or unintentionally. It was hell. I didn’t sleep or eat. Once again, I was obsessed with Mom’s drinking.
Three months into this life, a friend insisted that I go out to lunch with her. She practically had to knock me out of my chair.
I’ll never forget that lunch in the crowded Coney Island restaurant down the street from our office. As I described how I needed to convince Mom to get help and that was going to try this and that. I shared the tall list everything I had to do to stop everything spiraling out of control – Mom’s alcoholism and my parents’ financial mess. It felt good to say it all aloud.
“What the f#$* is wrong with you?!” my friend asked. She dropped her fork and stared at me with such anger that I thought she might hit me.
“What?” I asked, startled.
“Your mom is a full-grown woman!” she shouted. “Why are you pretending to be her mother? You have to take care of yourself and your sister right now.”
Tears fell fast from my face onto my chicken gyro. The guys in the booth beside us shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
It was EXACTLY what I needed to hear to realize the insanity of what was occurring. The next week, I took my sister and we moved out. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.
4. “Being a grownup is going to be cool.”
That’s what I wrote in my diary as a fifth grader. I went on to detail about all the extraordinary things I’d do when I officially had my ticket to adulthood in hand, such as I’d start a good-cause organization helping people or animals and I’d do something new every day, “even if I have the flu.”
I re-read that line when I was 26 and in a deep depression. I cried for that little girl because I knew she’d be so disappointed with my adult life and how grownup felt. I began writing again and doing other things I’d loved as a girl. It was the beginning of my journey.
Learning how to think and live differently as I cope and heal in a lifelong journey. Great progress has made over time, mostly unnoticeable until tested. But I believe in the power of words to provide clarity and direction exactly when they’re needed.
Any truth bombs give you an a-ha moment? Would love to hear about it in a comment below.
I hope you are well in your journey.