Category Archives: Recovery
Continuing our excerpts from Heroes in Recovery, today’s post is about how addiction affected the children living in a home controlled by addiction.
I’m not in recover personally. It’s ironic that I’ve actually never tried a single drug and never been drunk, but I feel like I’ve been through addiction — in some ways I feel like I’m still in it. My grandfather was an alcoholic, and that disease colored my mother’s childhood in ways I’ll never full understand.
It continues to affect her and her siblings, and that dysfunction trickled down
into my childhood, too, coating it like a syrup that stuck to everything. My grandpa never got help for his addiction. In the small Montana town where they lived, my grandma would call the local bar and tell them to send her husband home for dinner. One of my aunts then married an alcoholic who drank until theday he died as well. I guess it’s true that sometimes, no matter how much you swear you’ll do things differently, you fall into patterns that feel mostfamiliar. Addiction continues to wreak havoc on the next generation of my family … and the next.
As I type this, I don’t know where my brother is. I literally don’t know. His cell phone was turned off a month or two ago and we don’t know where he’s living, so once again he’s off the grid. He’s 47 and has struggled with addiction for most of his life. There have been clean periods where we’ve been really hopeful, and then there have been really bad periods. I used to be bitter that the mood of every holiday was contingent on whether or not he showed up.
Now I’m just sad that so many of my calls home to my parents include the question, “You haven’t heard from your brother, have you?” I wish I could make him understand that while he can’t change the past, it’s a tragedy to let it rob him of a future. I wish he’d see that our family isn’t whole without him. That his kids miss him. That he’s worth saving. It’s heartbreaking, but it gives me hope to know that great treatment options exist and that there are people at companies like Foundations, so that one day, if he’s ready, when he’s ready, there will be someone there to help.
My father is an alcoholic. I hated how it affected our family when I was growing up; sometimes I hated him. I always thought if he really cared, he wouldn’t put us through the fear and sadness of his drinking. All he had to do was stop. He never did. I went into a blackout the first time I drank. Drinking was an easy way to “belong” in college and I saw no reason to stop. I always drank to intoxication; that was the goal. Regardless of failing grades and embarrassing blackouts, I continued.
After college, morning shakes became the norm. I lost weight, ruined relationships, hated myself. I didn’t have a drinking problem, but I did have an alcoholic father. ACOA was an organization I decided to check out. These were other adult children of alcoholics and it was freeing to talk about the impact drinking had on us while we were growing up. I went to meetings regularly. I bought fifths of bourbon on the way home. Around that time alcohol stopped working. I was more depressed than ever and started contemplating suicide. I went to therapy. I went on medication. I stayed depressed. I will always believe it was a God thing when I called the AA Intergroup number one night while drunk, looking for an ACOA meeting that would fix my soul. The blessing was that I remained sober enough to remember the conversation, but greater still was the man who answered the phone. He encouraged me to attend an ACOA meeting where he went to AA. He was kind and accepting and told me he would meet me there. I wanted his calm and peace. He was so comfortable with himself; so loving toward others. He invited me to AA.
That was 23 years ago and I have been blessed with sobriety since. The gifts are like nothing I could have imagined; the peace and self-acceptance are a true gift. The people in the program loved me until I could learn to love myself and I will be forever grateful. I see my father differently now. I wish he was in the program. I love him unconditionally and I thank God I found the program, even through the side door. The beauty of recovery is that it’s always there. The other side is possible and you can’t know how wonderful it is without walking through.
I believe everyone is wounded in some way. For some of us that means we have to face the demons that we allow to torture us. The demons are thoughts, sentences, attitudes about us that we have experienced over our lifetime. So for the rest of our lives–unless we turn the demon train around–we will continue to torment ourselves.
Pavel Somov writing for The Huffington Post reminds us in “Take the 12 Steps and Sit Down!–”Addiction is a habit. Habits are stimulus-response patterns. If you have had any given habit for some time, when you decide to stop, your mind will keep reminding you to engage in a certain conditioned response whenever you are triggered or exposed to certain stimuli.”
“But just because, your mind reminds you that you used to do this or that in this or that situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are powerless to avoid doing this or that, once triggered. So, while you are powerless to completely avoid these mental reminders, these craving thoughts, you do have power to manage these thoughts (through good ol’ self-talk or by merely witnessing these thoughts and controlling your experience through mindfulness and/or relaxation).”
Having been in addiction recovery since 1976, I have heard a lot of people comment on the spiritual “part” of AA. They generally say that they have a “problem” with the spiritual part. I always want to ask which part is the spiritual part. I believe that all 12 steps are spiritual and that we need a power greater than ourselves to help us to accept our need for change and growth.
1. From Joshua Becker: “A Beginner’s Guide to Exploring Spirituality”:
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” —A.W. Tozer
When I was in college, I read the preceding quote from the theologian/philosopher A.W. Tozer. The substance was so profound I have never forgotten its message almost 15 years later. It continues to spring up again and again in my mind on a regular basis.
I realize spirituality can be a very touchy topic that arouses countless strong opinions, intellectual arguments, and far too many unspeakable emotional wounds. Nevertheless, I believe the quote above holds true. There is nothing more central to our lives than our understanding of spirituality. And it is a conversation we ought to engage in far more often than we do.
1. Respect those that have gone before. The quest to understand spirituality is as old as humanity itself. Billions have gone before and have spent countless hours seeking spirituality. Don‘t overlook their efforts. Consider their findings and their writings—even those outside the religion you have become accustomed to.
2. Your journey must be your own. You alone must be the decision-maker for your view of God. You should not blindly accept the teachings of another (even your closest mentor or parent). Your heart must ring true and your spirit must rejoice in your spirituality—or it is worthless.
3. Start right where you are. We all have special gifts of character: compassion, laughter, self-discipline, love, etc. Use them as your starting point. Are you facing a trial in life (disease, loss, rejection)? Use it as motivation to further pursue your understanding of spirituality. Lao-tzu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” He was right in every regard. Start your journey with whatever first step makes the most sense to you.
4. Ask God for help. By this I mean, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by making the request. If there is a God, He may answer your prayer. And if there is no God, the process of making the request will still work to help focus your senses and desire.
5. Practice, practice, practice. Like everything else in life, spiritual growth is mastered through practice. If you don’t find your answers after your first few steps, take some more in a different direction. It will require time, effort, and energy. But given its influence on our lives, it is always worth the effort in the end.
6. Don’t be afraid of unanswered questions. Although leaving questions unanswered may sound contrary to the goal of the pursuit, we should not be afraid of them. These unanswered questions will cause some to forever abandon the journey. And while our spirituality should make sense of our heart‘s deepest questions, it would seem unreasonable to believe our minds could successfully fathom all the mysteries of the universe.
7. Be wary of “everyone is right” thinking. If there is no God, there is no God. If there is a God, He is something specific. Personally, I am skeptical of the thinking that says God can change from one person to another—that philosophy crumbles under the weight of its own logic. God is who God is. And it‘s our responsibility to successfully find Him.
Again, I realize fully this journey is going to look different for every single one of us. Spirituality is a highly personal matter and will likely result in different outcomes. This is not a post that endorses any specific religion. It is simply a post of encouragement and a reminder this journey is important. (End of this excerpt.)
2. Many of Bill Wilson’s (the co-founder of AA) early influences were by people who believed spirituality to be the foundation. Two of those people were Carl Jung and William James. I have included the thoughts of these two men below.
William James is considered the founder of psychology.
These articles about William James and AA show the influence James had on helping to mold the early addiction recovery ideas that Bill Wilson had.