It’s Intergenerational, Until We Let Go
I was married to a man who’s parents had both died of alcoholism and who wouldn’t drink for fear of becoming an alcoholic. He had lived through things as a child that would cause me to cry when he told me the stories, but he didn’t react to the telling at all. Just like I didn’t react to telling my own stories.
Like my own Dad, he was an angry man. I believe today that he coped with the fear of losing what he felt he needed to be ok, in ways that were different from mine, but were equally dysfunctional. He also numbed his feelings, he also manipulated – by threats, in order to get me to behave. Threats hadn’t worked for me as a child so my way was sneakier, less obvious, but the motivation was the same.
One night when my daughter was four, my husband came home from work, ate dinner and then went out to his home office over the garage to work on his side business. He would frequently spend evenings there chatting with friends or tinkering with computers. This was a normal occurrence, but I wasn’t happy about it and on this night I followed him out. What resulted was a huge fight, with him yelling, telling me how awful I was and how many other people that knew us also thought so, and me yelling too (because I wasn’t going to be like my Mom and quietly take it). And yet, in spite of my raised voice I was crying.
It never occurred to me that our little girl would hear us and come to investigate. She came in three different times asking me to come in the house. Two times I told her to go back in and that I’d be there in a minute. The third time, her Dad had taken a phone call. I was waiting for him to finish so that I could try once more to convince him to do what I wanted. I was crying as I sat there humiliated, but unwilling to walk away. My daughter crawled into my lap. She asked me why I was crying and I stuttered out an answer about how Daddy and Mommy were arguing. She said she didn’t like it when we argued and I told her I didn’t either. Then she said the words that changed my life, “Maybe you and me can stay here. Daddy can live somewhere else.”
In that moment I saw my life as a series of images, spanning the years from the confrontations with my own parents, and up to that moment, with me behaving as my mother had, trying to get someone else to change.
I thought I was different because I was fighting back where she hadn’t. But the result for the daughter I loved would be the same. She would grow up as I had – feeling responsible for two parents who weren’t actually mature enough to handle living life. She would resent me, just as I had come to resent my own Mom, for not taking care of her, for pushing her into the role of caretaker. And ultimately, she would build an emotional wall between us, just as I had with my Mother. This was, what those in 12-Step programs call, My Bottom. I knew with certainty that this was the future for us if I continued to do what I was doing. I also realized I didn’t know any other way to live.
I found CODA, ACA and Al-Anon shortly after that. I qualified for all of them.
Today my Daughter has her own journey and is growing and healing and is everything I’d hoped and dreamed she would be. She is smart, funny, artistic, compassionate, strong, loving, kind, and unwavering in her support for those she loves.
Today I am living my dream of helping others with childhood trauma to heal, using tools from my own experience of recovery – The 12-Steps, Somatic Therapies and Coaching.
Life isn’t always easy and some things can be overwhelmingly painful when we don’t have an understanding and appreciation for our own boundaries. But, we have choices. All we need to do is to acknowledge that to understand how life could change if we were only willing move in a different direction. Because once we take that first step on a different path, nothing will ever be the same.