“You can heal, and you can break the cycle.”
This is something I heard often during many years of active addiction, relapse, and then while in recovery. I remember thinking, “That sounds like a lot of work!” but also a part of me believed it.
I grew up with a father who was active in his addiction and in and out of most of my life. That is how I remember it at least. See, what I was unaware of until I entered recovery and started to really heal myself is that the trauma of the absent parent, the active “present” parent, and the “normal” parent who is trying to hold things all together all affects us. It was not until recently that I learned and continued to learn coping skills to heal and hopefully begin to break the cycle with my own children. By keeping an open mind that I can be the absolute best parent in the world; knowing my child could someday develop the disease of addiction, I will have some tools to help guide them through.
I can remember when I was a child always wondering maybe if I just did better at school, did not fight with my brothers, and went to bed early, that things would be different. Blaming myself for the adult’s behavior and actions. The blame would turn into anger from seeing my brothers in pain and masking my own pain. I would take on the burden of whatever was causing the pain, like a hero coming to the rescue. The “I could handle it” attitude or “I can fix it.” What I had not realized was this was part of my trauma response, and this is how I learned to cope.
As I got older, I had the thoughts of “How could a parent ever do that to their children?”
“How could someone choose drugs over their children?”
How something was more important than our family. The promises to myself of “If it was me, I would never.” I meant those words with all my heart. Just like I meant the words “It would just be better if he was dead.” I grew up longing to be a daddy’s girl like I saw my cousins or my friends being. The hole in my heart was big and nothing, I mean nothing, was fixing it! Until something did fix it, well temporarily or so I thought. When I realized I became the one person I swore I would never be, my father.
As I entered recovery and realized that I had done the same to my own children. The things I swore I would never do. I was devastated. What I began to realize was that at some point it no longer became a choice. I needed to use to be able to just function in life. I have a disease that always wants more. No matter how much I would beg and plead with myself to just be the “normal” parent you always dreamed to be. I could not, I did not have the proper tools. What I did not realize was that everyone’s tools were different. So even though my mom was a healthy “normal” parent who has healthy tools she uses to navigate life they were not my tools I needed to navigate mine in a healthy way. These were her proper tools and what worked for her.
I also realized that becoming my father, the one person I did not want to become, was not actually a terrible thing. He was not a terrible person. He is someone who also suffers from the disease of addiction. He also was not given the proper tools and just wanted to heal and break the cycle for his children too. My father has taught me that it does not matter how old you are, recovery is possible for anyone at any age. He may not have been around during my childhood or teenage years, but he is here now in my adulthood sharing the tools that I also need in recovery. I try and break the cycle with my own children daily. We have open, honest, age-appropriate conversations about addiction. I support them with LOVEE: Listen, Observe, Validate, Educate and Empower. I allow them the freedom to feel their feelings in a healthy manner. Sometimes that looks like jumping around, screaming into a pillow, using bathroom humor to laugh, sharing my own experience, or just actively listening to what they are going through. Not just in their day-to-day life, but with those hard conversations of how hard it was and still is. Reminding them of the Seven C’s: I didn’t cause it. I can’t cure it. I can’t control it. I can help take care of myself by communicating my feelings, making healthier choices, and celebrating me.