The process of recovery has helped me make connections from where addiction started and how the insight learned can eliminate toxic patterns. For me, addiction began well before I ever picked up my first drink or drug. Addiction is on every branch of my family tree. Every. Single. One. My father is an alcoholic and drug addict. His brothers, sisters, and father are addicts as well. When my cousins and I were young, our family’s drug and alcohol usage was clear as day. Joints were passed right by us as toddlers. By the time we were teenagers, joints were passed directly TO us. The harder drugs consumed privately in the bedroom, but we knew what was going on when all of the adults disappeared. Drinking was always in the picture. Always.
My parents split before I was three, so I don’t recall my parents together. I find that a blessing. I only knew a life where I spent the week with my mom and weekends with my dad. I am grateful that my exposure to the drugs and alcohol was limited to the weekends; however, it was enough to have a deeper understanding of addiction than most kids do. I watched my grandfather nod off on a regular basis with dinner in his mouth. My cousins and I would just laugh and say, “Pop-pop took too many Percocets again!” My uncles would get too drunk and start fist fighting and we would think it was a live WWF match. We found this behavior normal. I used to think our family was so close because we all spent weekends together. Looking back, everyone was just relying on each other to bring their share of drugs and alcohol to the three day bender before they all had to go back to work on Monday. In some aspects we were close. We went camping often. We went to amusement parks a few times a year. I remember my dad picking me up on Fridays and he would give me five dollars to get as much candy as I wanted. I also remember him picking me up for the weekend and taking me to the bar with him. Good memories are often accompanied with a memory of abnormal behavior on my family’s part. I try to hold on to the good memories.
When I was a child, my grandmother was the only one who seemed to live a cleaner life. She chain-smoked and drank copious amounts of coffee, but never participated in partying like my dad, aunts, uncles and grandfather did. She played a prominent role in all six of her children being addicts. Mom-mom was a textbook codependent enabler. She would always say, “I’d rather everyone be safe and not go anywhere than be out on the road.” My grandmother gave her children money whenever they asked. She would buy cigarettes and booze for everyone. She had no idea how to establish boundaries with our family.
Unfortunately, not much has changed in my family’s behavior. A few uncles passed away from an overdose. My grandfather’s organs shut down till he passed due to drug abuse. My grandmother’s house is a revolving door of family members who need money or food from her. My cousins and I all grew up to deal with our own addictions, trauma, and abandonment issues.
My father stopped drinking when I was 15, but never entered a program. He never sorted out why he turned to drugs and alcohol, or why he binged all the time. He became a dry and angry drunk. He had resentment toward his parents and took it out on anyone who was around him. He eventually picked up other substances, but never picked up drinking again. Until he works out his own trauma, I don’t believe he will completely abstain from substance abuse.
Growing up and understanding how wrong it was to expose my cousins and I to their toxic behavior has been hard to stomach lately while I navigate my own recovery. When my cousins and I became teenagers, we all joined the party by drinking and smoking pot with our parents, aunts and uncles. A few of my other cousins went from taking pills to shooting heroin. For years, I thought I was better than all of my family members because I graduated from college, held down a good job, chose a loving and compassionate husband, and created a life I am proud of. The truth is, my accomplishments do not take away from the fact that I binged on alcohol since I was fifteen. I was never better, I was just high functioning.
One Sunday morning after nursing a massive hangover and using the TV to babysit my daughter, it hit me. I was creating the exact same scene of my childhood for my daughter. My dad used to be passed out on the couch on Sunday mornings while I watched MTV. I used to pray he would wake up soon to hang out with me. Soon after that realization, I sobered up. I hope my daughter never remembers me in that state.
My family and I aren’t close anymore. I distanced myself from them in my mid twenties. I am sure they believe that I look down on them because the life they lead. I don’t. I just have to protect my sobriety. My father and I don’t have much of a relationship. My expectations of him were always higher than they should have been for our dynamic. He went on to marry a woman who despised me and he allowed her to treat me poorly. She was also an addict. He never stood up for me the way I thought a father should. They went on to have a daughter, my little sister, who is 13 years younger than me. My sister spent a few years living with me when she was a teenager. I think I was trying to save her from the same behavior I saw, but it was too late. She had seen plenty. She even witnessed my binge drinking, so who am I to say which poison is better; theirs or mine. She eventually chose to live with my step-mom and dad again by the time she was 15. When I processed everything that happened with my father; how he seemed OK with his 26 year old daughter taking care of his 13 year old daughter, how he didn’t step up and take care of us, and how he stayed in a toxic relationship that put a wedge between himself and his children. I needed to step away from it all. The pain was too much.
I began seeing a therapist after I stopped talking to my father. She was an addiction/trauma specialist. I learned in therapy that my father was never going to live up to my expectations. My idea of what a father should be was to be protective of his children, to always strive for a relationship with his children. But he can’t give me what he doesn’t have himself. He never grew up in a nurturing, loving and caring environment. The abandonment and trauma is what he passed down to me because it’s all he knows. I had to make a decision to allow him in my life with boundaries and no expectations. I had to learn to forgive him whether he decided to change or not. Some days are easier than others to forgive.
My dad and I now talk on the phone a few times a year and we text here and there. We don’t see each other more than once or twice a year. He seems to be OK with how our relationship is, so I have to be as well. He and my stepmom divorced a few years ago. I don’t see my extended family. Most of them are all playing the same roles they did when I was a child and will likely remain active addicts until they die. Processing how my childhood molded my own binge drinking behaviors has led me to understand that I need boundaries with my family. What I was subjected to was never normal; it was severe addiction. I have chosen not to subject my daughter to the same behaviors I witnessed as a child.
Today, I am grateful that my daughter will not have these generational curses passed down to her. I know I cannot fully control what she does when she is older, but I can ensure she will never feel abandoned, unloved, or unprotected. She will never see me in an altered mental state. My daughter sees her parents practice self-care by exercising and eating well. She sees us respecting and loving our minds, bodies, and each other. The family addiction crisis stops with me and my family unit that I am creating with my husband.