- Friends & Family
My father is an alcoholic, my siblings who are 12 and 11 years older are addicts and alcoholics and my mother, I’ve only recently realized, has an addiction to her prescription anti-depressant. My brother and sister have both been addicts and dealers. My brother now uses heroin, but my sister is in recovery.
My parents grasped onto me as their last chance for a perfect child as my siblings spiraled into addiction and alcoholism when i was only 3 years old. They needed an image for the outside world, and I was it. I was the only blonde, and I was platinum blonde in the family. I was cute and sparkly and I did everything right. I got straight A’s, I did gymnastics, I danced ballet, I played the piano and the violin, I swam, I went to church with my mother, I was in the choir, the bell choir, I played the organ in church, I babysat.
We moved three times and the third time, I was 13 and becoming very depressed by the increasingly insane atmosphere within my home and the lack of support I had to deal with it. I had no friends, I had no self esteem and I had begun cutting my wrists and arms, writing suicidal poetry. Although I continued to get straight A’s in school, I stopped speaking in class, hardly speaking at all for about 15 years.
I knew I wasn’t allowed to say what was happening, even though I didn’t understand what was happening. But I was tired of saying what everyone wanted to hear. So I just quit altogether.
I idolized my older siblings, but I didn’t feel that they accepted me. They resented me for being the golden child, so I decided to join their side and start drinking and using too. I became an addict of marijuana and alcohol, but luckily I didn’t get addicted to cocaine, which my brother encouraged me to use at the age of 17. I did experiment with cocaine and ecstasy and started going to clubs and partying. I went to bars and, from the start, I would drink until I was sick. Somehow I still managed to get a Summa Cum Laude degree from Columbia University, while simultaneously living in poverty. My brother and sister were receiving all the attention and my parents ignored everything I did, while continuing to advertise me as the golden child. They didn’t realize I was living in poverty and eating rice and beans every day. They didn’t know I was walking home in a dangerous neighborhood and afraid. They didn’t seem to care about anything and it seemed that they began to resent me too for my golden child mystique, even though that fantasy was long gone.
They turned to Hollywood to supply themselves with visions of my fancy life, which eased their guilt. My brother was getting into car accidents, fights, stealing, and threatening my father’s life. Yet, they let him stay at home without working from the age of 26-40, using their money for his alcohol, addiction, food and fancy bathroom accoutrements. Meanwhile, he participated in the campaign to present me as the spoiled one who needed nothing except perhaps to be taken down a peg or two and introduced to reality, a subject I had become more familiar with than he by far.
My brother and sister were both in and out of rehab, but my parents never once discussed their problem with me. They didn’t explain what was happening, but they treated me like a criminal. I wasn’t allowed a lock on my door. My journals and emails were read. I wasn’t allowed to do homework in my own room, or to see friends, but i was supposed to sit next to my alcoholic father while he drank and shouted at politicians on the TV screen. My mother became increasingly unreasonable and insane. She had temper tantrums once weekly, screaming and crying. She tried to make perfect holidays, only to destroy them with an inevitable emotional upheaval. She criticized everything I did, and did not support me to learn how to take care of myself. As for my father, it was as if I didn’t exist to him. He had a vision that I would get a swimming scholarship to Yale, and forced me to continue the swim team despite the fact that I wasn’t interested in competitive sports, I wasn’t interested in Yale, I didn’t like the team or the people on it and constantly got sick from practicing in the early morning cold. He insisted we eat spaghetti before the meets, because it would make me stronger, supposedly, but in reality because it was his favorite food. Even if there was an ice storm, he insisted we go to swim practice and drove drunk on the ice. This is just one example of the utterly bizarre insanity that was involved in every element of our life.
When I was 29, my sister took me to Al-Anon when she was in an inpatient rehab. She also gently suggested that addiction and alcoholism are progressive diseases, so I might want to consider whether I might get them, too.
Before that time I had been in such denial that I didn’t know what an alcoholic or addict was or did. I tried quitting for 8 months, thinking I didn’t want to become one and then decided I was fine. I had 5 more years of using before hitting bottom and turning my life over to my higher power. My sister had also returned to drinking and using. After my recovery, she was still using, but recently she got clean and sober again and is attending the meetings. My brother, on the other hand, is living at home again and using heroin. My parents refuse to acknowledge there is a problem or seek help.
I feel terrified that he will die and angry that they won’t do any of the things that parents are supposed to do. I wonder what I can do, but I know from Al-Anon and CODA that the most important thing for me is to stay focused on my life. I try to always send positive energy towards the alcoholics and addicts in my family who are still immersed in that disease. I tell them i know they can recover, that I love them and I don’t react to their non-sensical tirades. Even though I don’t react to them, it’s hard for me not to feel terrible when they happen. I’m still working on not taking the nasty things said to heart. Because of that, I limit my contact a lot. Not only do I live on the other side of the globe in Indonesia, but I go for periods without speaking to my family. Now is one of those periods. I have my own family now. My husband is an addict and alcoholic in recovery, and my daughter is so cute and wonderful and is just 21 months old. I never want her to experience what I did and I do everything to stay sober and be a good mom. Her birth was the best thing that could ever happen to me and was definitely my higher power at work. Now I have a reason to get better and a strong motivation to improve. It’s so important to me. I know I’ll not be perfect, but I can be better than the situation I came from. That’s my goal.
It’s horrible to see the life, the reason, the sanity slip away from family members in the grips of addiction and alcoholism. You have to let go the person they once were. That person, sad to say, isn’t coming back, though in recovery a new and wonderful person can arise. It’s like a death.
After doing the 12 steps of AA, I now am focusing to do 12 steps in CODA, which is a program for people like me – with both codependency and alcoholism/addiction in their past – to learn how to have normal relationships.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s all worth it. Now I have a beautiful life and a wonderful family. I’ve become a teacher, which I love. I love to be around kids. I get to try a lot of interesting creative projects and be a part of nature. I also love cooking and yoga, which keep me calm and happy.
I still spiral into terrible thoughts about my family. I still have lots of emotions to process like grief, anger, fear. But I allow those feelings and thoughts to exist without judgment and I allow them to pass. I love my family and always will. But now I have a new family to focus on. I have to get stabilized and learn so many techniques for parenting. So, for the time being, I’ve said goodbye.
Perhaps after doing the steps, we will be able to reconnect. I hope I can learn the tools to deal with those relationships and maintain a positive, if slight, presence in their lives.