Yesterday I celebrated another year of recovery from the insidious disease of addiction. There is no doubt in my mind addiction is a disease. Why in the world would a young child lie in bed at night and listen to the never ending arguments of a codependent father trying to control the drinking of a mother caught up in the web of alcoholism, only to repeat the story when she grew up? I don’t recall ever saying, “Gee, I want to grow up to be just like my mom.” I do remember through clenched teeth attesting, "I won’t put my children through this nightmare." Her addiction completely annihilated her marriage, any meaningful relationship with her children, and worst of all her self-esteem. Her addiction lasted for many years; the greater part of her life. And mine. The worst part of all, she died young, with just 7 years of sobriety under her belt. When she got sober, I started to drink.
I tried to not be like her. I really did. I kept the genetic predisposition at bay for a long time and dug deep into my iron will to change the entire narrative. However, I did marry young the first time, like she did and hauled in my steamer trunks of childhood baggage padlocked close to me, to keep my secrets safe. I created and lived a fantasy world of a picket fence marriage, putting on the Stepford wife face, which always felt disingenuous. I wanted to do this right, for her too. I tried.
You can’t keep the past hidden away. It pokes its dysfunctional little head into your business when you least expect it. You have to deal with its evil little acts. If you don’t, it will burst open spewing into the lives of everyone you have relationship with. Wedded hostage taking should not be a tool in the problem solving belt. And, I took that poor man when I was 19 and held him for 7 years. I had myself convinced I was a perfect wife and mother, and that just might get me extra credits with a God I knew, but didn't seem too fond of me. Maybe then He would like me as I proved my worth as a spouse and momma.
In the best of relationships, as human beings, all of us have an ugly underbelly of behaviors that usually don’t expose themselves until much later, when a little heat is applied. In a marriage, after the blush of romance, you end up looking at each other and wonder who took over the body of the person you said "I do" to. These unruly character traits that show up can be survivable for healthy couples, who expect them, but, there were already so many cracks in my shakey foundation and I didn’t have the skills or desire to repair them. In my case, my steamer trunks were bursting at the seams. I had never seen an example of a couple working through their issues, and growing stronger together. Gary Zukav, life coach and spiritual author says that relationships and the unintentional button pushing that ensues after the heat of passion cools, is a holy thing. It is meant to trigger us and help us to grow into our spiritual skins; learn who we are and how to be true love. My character defects were like a pressure cooker, ready to blow. I didn’t know how to turn them into a growth experience to be more self-aware. I turned to the only thing I could trust to alleviate the constant pain I kept trying to push down. The first sign of trouble sent me fleeing into a wine bottle. At first, it was just a glass of wine at night, after work, to help me sleep and forget that I had failed. Again. Problems didn’t leave and divorce seemed the solution. After that, It wasn’t long before the whole bottle was needed to numb my sense of failure and regret at not being able to give my daughter what I did not have. My genetic predisposition had fully kicked in. And by the time I found my way to the twelve step programs, I didn’t have the knowledge or empathy to realize that I hadn’t failed. I had a disease.
Today, I accept I have a disease. It’s manageable, as long as I take care of myself. I've tried to do that for the last 29 years.
Today, I am grateful for the man, the father of my child, who was clearly put on my path to reveal the hard work that needed to take place in putting my past behind me. He was an important catalyst in my story. He unwittingly led me to face my demons and learn that to be like my mother was not the worst thing that could happen to me. She had put her disease into remission and found her bliss in the arms of a twelve step program, 7 years before I did. I am grateful it didn’t take a lifetime for me as it did for her.
Having the courage to do soul excavation through years as well as continuing to encounter these beautiful human helpers along the way, has been key to my ongoing recovery and spiritual journey. In 29 years I have had to relearn lessons, suffered unbearable losses, and grieved until I thought my heart would never recover. I have also experienced exquisite joy which directly correlates to practicing accepting life on its terms; forgiving, mostly for my own sake, and staying grateful for the simplest of things. I have learned I can take care of myself as long as I closely ride the waves with a Higher Power who has always had a long term investment in my growth and happiness. Life will always be like the weather, mercurial at best. I accept that.
If you would have asked me 29 years ago to write a story about what my life might look like, I couldn’t have even come close to what I have been blessed to experience through the years. I became an authentically imperfect wife again, courageously taking a risk on love, and learned what it meant to lose that soulmate without becoming bitter. I have earned the title of mother and discovered that there is no love quite as perfect as that of a grandchild. I’m a poster child now for the belief, all things happen for a reason. My sobriety quite possibly might not have happened if it wasn’t for my early experiences, a mother who loved me to the best of her ability in an nontraditional way, and my first husband who taught me to be true to who I am instead of trying to be something that I am not.
Today I am grateful for 29 years of a meaningful life and I plan on making the most of every day of this gift.