“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”
Seen on a poster on the office wall of a Crisis Counselor.
I had believed the trauma of my childhood, the nightmare of living with a continually drunk alcoholic stepfather for several years were far behind me. In fact, I sometimes wondered if
I had been affected at all.
Then one night as I shared some of the crises our family was experiencing with my small church group one of the members spoke privately with me as the meeting ended. “It sounds like you have a high tolerance for inappropriate behavior. I’ve come to see that as one of the symptoms of adult children of alcoholics. I go to an ‘al anon’ group for adult children on Monday nights and you’re welcome to come with me.”
“High tolerance”? that sounded like a compliment. It took time for me to hear the ‘inappropriate behavior’ part of what she said. In the days to follow I became aware that my understanding of appropriate and inappropriate behavior was very limited and I couldn’t/didn’t often make the distinction. My need to know and my desire to control and fix things motivated my decision to accept her offer. The following week I attended my first meeting.
Attending ‘Al Anon’ meetings and working the 12 Steps became part of my weekly schedule.
There were days when I felt elated and liberated but there were times when my childhood terrors, fears and shame began to surface and I felt panic stricken. When my stepfather left I was 9 years old and my mother said “that chapter in our book is closed.” We didn’t talk about him. As I attended my first few meetings listening to each person share their experience, strength and hope, I was amazed as I heard my own unvoiced thoughts and feelings being expressed.
If it’s true that “we can’t heal what we can’t feel”, it is also true that we can’t heal what we don’t remember. Memories that I had been able to bury for most of my forty-something years began surfacing – it was liberating and frightening. It sometimes felt like a light going on. At other times it felt overwhelming. Moving away from denial to honest self-disclosure felt very awkward. However, staying with the program helped me to come to terms with my past, understand the effects of childhood trauma and begin to get acquainted with my real self.
My big question, as I reconnected with my inner child, was why my alcoholic stepfather was so angry with me. The answer my sponsor gave me – “He was an alcoholic. His anger had nothing to do with you. You just happened to be there. The anger was in him.” That acknowledgement and assurance marked the beginning of my recovery. My denial came to an end and I began the hard work of recovery. Ernie Larson says, “If we hang on to anger for more than 10 seconds it becomes a resentment. A resentment is a poison we take to hurt someone else.” Today I’m thankful to have traded my resentment of my stepfather for compassion.
Today I know that life is for growing - mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I believe, too, that working the 12 Steps of AA is a daily guide to help us grow and heal.