How Recognizing My Role In My Parent's Alcoholism Forced Me To Face My Own Demons
I've known alcoholics, I know alcoholics currently and I'll always know alcoholics.
It’s a disease that isn't going away any time soon.
Alcoholism ruins lives, destroys the mind and body and becomes the shovel for your own grave.
In college, students can drink every night, wake up the next morning and have a shower beer before a tailgate.
These actions are not frowned upon by peers because “it’s just college.”
Sure, it becomes problematic when someone shows up to a meeting or class presentation drunk, but it's also “Steve, just being Steve.”
However, outside of the bubble of college, these actions do not only harm your chances at jobs and new relationships, but they can also affect your future family in ways textbooks cannot teach.
Unlike most college students who experiment with alcohol>, I did not throw myself into parties and drinking upon entering college, even though I had a lot of opportunity to do just that.
Instead, I either stayed in, or I joined my friends without drinking.
My decision not to participate right way was not because of my fear of engaging in an illegal activity.
In college, it doesn’t even seem illegal until the cops are outside.
Instead, it was because I was afraid of the substance I had never tried.
I knew firsthand how it affected people.
It wasn't in the “Becky always cries when her boyfriend isn’t around and she’s drunk,” or “Brad is a savage when drunk, and he’ll talk to any girl” kind of way.
I knew how alcohol could unzip someone’s skin and replace it with an unfamiliar and intangible evil.
I knew how alcohol could welcome itself into your home without caring about the people it has to hurt to get in.
I am an adult child of an alcoholic.
For the rest of my college career, I, like my peers, began to drink, get drunk, black out, regret decisions and do it all over the next day.
Unlike others, I actually seemed to have a handle on it.
I didn’t have any problem telling my friends that I would rather stay in and read or watch a movie.
Through all of this time, I still knew the devastating effects of alcohol because I grew up in the deep end.
I knew how to push feelings down below the surface level.
I would tread on my feelings to keep my head above water, thinking the more I treaded on those feelings, the stronger I would become.
I had no idea I would soon drown in myself.
Today, I am a year and a half out of college.
I'm constantly surrounded by alcohol through friends, work events or roommates.
I know what I like to drink and how to handle myself with alcohol, even though I go a little overboard sometimes.
Two months ago, I got a call from my parent, who encouraged me to pull over before continuing the conversation.
This parent admitted to being an alcoholic who was leaving for an in-patient facility in four days. The first day would be on my 23rd birthday.
There was so much excitement pulsing through my body. This was it!
My parent finally realized what we all saw for over a decade and was off to get help!
I was thrilled.
I was upset I now had a parent in in-patient, but I was thrilled nonetheless.
Then, the anger hit me.
In a single instant, a Pandora’s box of problems that sat so deep below my surface of awareness opened.
A decade of anger, sorrow, grief, resentment and agony bubbled to the surface all at once.
I mentally threw myself to the ground and repeatedly kicked and punched myself.
I was in darkness.
Every instance my parent’s alcoholism carved a weakness in my life, stained happy memories with red wine or ruined holidays and celebrations was stuffed into a box deep I never opened.
I just keep moving forward.
In over 10 years, I only spoke of my parent’s alcoholism to three friends and my brother.
I had no idea how to even handle those feelings, especially not a decade of them all at one time.
So, I shut down.
I put up a happy and cheerful front and was constantly mentally somewhere else.
The mask was exhausting to wear.
In two months, at 23, I learned more than I could have ever known about myself.
I learned it's okay to focus only on yourself.
During the first two weeks that my parent was at the center, I had two weeks of events for my work.
At the wrap parties of those events, I got drunk and embarrassed myself in front of the staff.
I was drained mentally, emotionally and physically.
Therefore, I shut down.
I stopped texting people, and I stopped telling people what was going on.
All I did was work, read, go to yoga and talk to my other parent.
Conversations with friends led to responses like “You’ll get through this,” “This isn’t about you” and “I can’t image what you’re going through, but you’re a strong person and can handle this.”
All of these statements are borderline pointless to tell someone, even though they are appreciated.
You can only hear, “This isn’t about you” so many times before shutting down.
You don't need to be told what you've already known for 10 years.
Therefore, I closed myself off from the world.
For one week, I only focused on myself.
That week was the most refreshing week I've had in a long time.
Some friends were upset they weren’t called upon to help me.
However, they didn't know a thing about being an adult child of an alcoholic, and I didn't need them.
I needed space, and that was okay.
It's not something to get through; it’s something to learn how to handle.
The feelings and emotions I was having were not going to be released with one final smile or idea of forgiveness.
They will forever be twirled together with every stand of DNA in my body.
This isn’t a broken finger or a failing class grade; this is a process to accept who I am and how I became the person I am today.
This process will never stop, and that's okay.
I am a strong, determined and independent woman, and I know it's okay to ask for help.
Help isn't something I am afraid of, but it isn’t something I ask for in times it would make me seem weak.
I've gone to physical therapy and trainers for help with my body, teachers for help with my classes and my parent’s for help financially.
But, I've done nothing for my mental health.
My parent showed me you are never too young or too old to get yourself healthy.
You are never too lost to find the path again.
I'm not weak to ask for help, either.
It takes great strength to admit you cannot do it alone or muscle through the pain anymore.
In an afternoon of such darkness and sadness, I went to yoga with “It’s not about you” playing over and over in my mind.
It made it impossible to focus on the practice.
Then, something snapped inside of me.
The fog cleared with one statement: It is about me.
It’s about my health.
I'm not okay, but I want to be.
I decided to see a therapist.
I found one in my mountain town and immediately clicked with him.
I could feel the weight of my anger and resentment lifting from my cracking bones.
It was the beginning of a new chapter.
I needed help, and that was okay.
John Green has said, “That's the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”
However, your life and feelings don’t have to be shared with others to be felt.
No matter where you push pain to, it will resurface, and not always at the time you are ready for it.
In yoga, we often talk a lot about our breath and how it is a foundation to our balance and our true selves.
We can control our breath, and we can decide the length and the integrity of it.
We can choose the foundation we stand on.
For anyone reading this who is an adult kid of an alcoholic, dating an alcoholic, has loved one or knows one, remember that this is also about you.
Focus on a strong and reliable foundation, not on becoming a sponge to clean someone else's foundation.
There is more to you than someone else’s disease.
It isn’t the events in our lives that shape us; it is the meaning we give to those events that make us who we are.