by Elaine Miller
During the time that the house was in such chaotic disarray, I sought the help of a counselor for everyone. Marie had been so disturbed in high school that she had gone to a counselor until he left town. Then she was assigned to another one. The counselor was very young herself. They decided they wanted me there for a session. The counselor sat there and flat out told me that she thought that the reason Marie and I were having so many problems was because she looked like her father and since I hated him, I was taking out my anger towards him on Marie. I stood up and told Marie that I would be waiting for her in the car. I was so upset. What do they hire for counselors? Where did she go to school? Marie came out raging at me and threw up to me that I hated her because of her looks for a long time to come. Thanks a lot, counselor!
I decided to try someone else. I found a child psychiatrist. He was a little older than I. He was laid back and quiet. I really thought I would like him. He saw Marie alone for awhile and then he had "group". Jamie was still with us at the time. All four teens would sit in a circle. Dr. would try to get them to talk about what each person could do to make things run smoother at home. We would set up rules. Since all of them were excellent manipulators, they played "games". None of them were too overly enthusiastic. I think it helped some, but only aging was really going to help.
Meanwhile after college, Mary was still drinking and carousing around. I had gone back to work at a different nursing home on second shift. I had to go to work to protect my sanity. Sometimes I would take short periods off from working in nursing and then run back to work because I was so deeply depressed I couldnít stand it any more. I was about out of my mind. I worked with another nurse Jean, who was a little older than me. I told her my problems. She told me, "you need Al-Anon." She told me every night. She told me of a Friday morning meeting in the basement of a church in Peoria. She told me of a meeting on Wednesday noon at the AA building. She told me over and over. We talked at breaks and at lunch every night we worked together. She kept telling me she would meet me there for the first time. She told me it would change my life for the better. She told me it had changed her life. She said we had an alcoholic dysfunctional family. Only through several generations could the patterns change. She begged me. I finally gave up and decided to go. I was to the desperation point.
We arrived at the church and walked in together. A group of about twenty people were sitting in a circle. They all smiled and told me welcome. They handed me an Al-Anon book to follow along with the program. They immediately decided to change the program to the first step. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol----that our lives had become unmanageable. That made sense to me. My life was chaotic and unmanageable. They went around the group with everyone only stating their first names. They had first opened with reading the twelve traditions which was what Al-anon was all about, what the program did for you and all of the twelve steps. There were selected readings out of the book pertaining to the first step. Each reading in the book was also a daily readings for the whole year with selections from all the steps and slogans. There was a chairperson conducting the meeting. I found out later that people from the group volunteered on a monthly basis to lead the meetings.
At the end of the readings people started to share with the group what that step and the readings meant to them in their situation. There was to be no cross talk throughout the meeting. That was to be left until afterwards when people stood around and talked. Many of the people addressed me and told me what the program had done for them. They told me that it was a program for me, not for the person drinking or drugging.
What was wrong with them? I came to see how I could make other people around me do what I thought was right. I wanted Mary to stop drinking and carousing. I sat and listened to other people talk. It came my turn and I talked about the accident. I expressed my rage about my ex. I referred to him as Prince Charming in a sarcastic manner. I told them my disappointment with the way things were with Mary. Everyone kept smiling and shaking their heads yes, like they understood. At the conclusion of the meeting, they read the laws about confidentiality. We then stood, held hands and said the Lordís prayer. Afterwards everyone came up and hugged each other, and me. I was terribly uncomfortable with the hugging part. Everyone told me to keep coming back; that it would get better. I bought the book "Courage to Change." It was the daily reading book and the Al-Anon "Bible".
I came from a family where kissing and hugging stopped when you were five years old or before. I thought all families were like that. That was all I had ever known. My exís family never kissed or hugged each other either. My maternal grandparents were not demonstrative. They were the only grandparents I had. Parents and grandparents in my family demonstrated survivor skills, were workaholics. My paternal grandfather, however had been a binge drinker on weekends. He really didnít care about any of his thirteen children. When Daddyís mother died, Daddy was on his own at thirteen. His father told him he wasnít caring for him. Grandma had been an orphan living with a doctor and his family. The doctor was an alcoholic. Later he went and "took the cure."
I went to meetings. I poured through books on alcoholism and the family. I went to two or three meetings a week. I soaked up information. Jean and I would talk about it at work. I listened to other peoplesí stories. It took me two or three years to figure out that all the alcoholism stuff did pertain to my family and me. I thought that if a person worked every day and only had some drinks in the evening, that they were not alcoholics. My ex liked to drink. I never associated him with having a problem. He always worked. He was always responsible with taking care of his family.
I found out that drinking is only ten percent of the problem as the rest is personality. People can stop drinking and still have the same problems. They can be extremely self-centered. They only cared about what they wanted. I read and read. I read books on anger. I read books about children of alcoholics. It dawned on me that I was the grandchild of an alcoholic. Daddy was a child of an alcoholic.
Alcoholic families learn early on by the age of around three or four, that you donít talk, donít trust and donít feel. I certainly stuffed my feelings around everyone including Don. I never wanted people to see me cry. I was furious with myself for crying in group when I talked. It seemed I cried every single meeting. Everyone told me it was O.K. They told me the four Cís, you didnít cause it, you canít control it, you canít cure it and itís O.K. to cry. I still tried to control myself until a lump hurt in my throat just terribly.
An Adult Child meeting started up. I went to that. I was amazed that people there looked at things the same way I did. I had thought I didnít fit in, that how I felt about things was not real or was wrong. I was hooked on these two programs. I had thought that after I had finally divorced my ex husband that I could then pour out safety and love to my children and they would not be warped. I was fiercely loyal to family and protecting my children.
One of the things they always said in meetings was that they hoped what was said there would help everyone in their own special way. I finally understood what that meant. Invariably someone talking would make a profound statement. A light bulb would go off in my brain and it would affect me in an extremely positive way leaving me with something to ponder for the rest of the day. To my amazement as time went on, people would come over smiling and tell me something I said in the past had had a profound effect on them. It was just what they needed to hear. I was so surprised. I didnít think that what I had to say would be meaningful to anyone. God works through other people. Nothing is coincidence. Happenings were destiny.
I had a friend I met at group. She became one of my best friends. I would call her and I would call Jean and tell them of my profound awakenings, and I would tell them how amazed I was that people thought I was valuable and my sharing made a difference to them. Marcia asked me, "What is not to like about you!" That was a stunning question for me. I had no answer. I had been criticized all my life. I had been put down for my views on things first by my mother and then by my first husband. I had been wounded terribly. Here I was, having done much of the same thing to my own children. I hated myself for that. I hated myself for not leaving the marriage sooner and preventing my children so much pain. All that really gave me food for thought.
Slowly I began to realize that our families had been dealing with dysfunctional family settings probably for several generations more than I realized. I figured out finally that I could not control or change another person. I used to get into trouble in relationships trying to make others see my point of view and change accordingly. I had thought that I would experience happiness if everyone around me would just shape up.
By that time I had taken up painting and drawing and spent a lot of my spare time in my art room upstairs. I used to ponder everything I was reading about, things said in groups and conversations that I had had with my new "family" of Al-Anon friends. Up there, was where I had many of my spiritual awakenings. It dawned on me one day that if I wasnít so big into trying to control people, dealt with my own feelings and attempted to control what I could of my own life, a huge burden would be lifted off my shoulders. I was elated at that revelation. I realized that it was a monumental task for me to try to control just me.
The Serenity prayer was said in unison before every meeting. I got so that it was one of the biggest comforts in my life. It also took me quite some time to understand the lines and what they really meant. The part, accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can and courage to know the difference, became the hardest thing of my life. In other words, learn not to voice your opinion unless itís asked and butt out of other peoplesí business. The Serenity prayer is so much a part of me that I pray it more often than the Lordís prayer.
Over a period of time, years in Al-Anon changed a lot of my thinking. I started to feel more positive instead of always dreading what was in store for me next in life. I stopped waking up every day afraid. I started feeling grateful for the good things that happened to us and focusing on that instead of the bad. I had found friends who understood how I felt and thought. I didnít hide so many of my feelings. I still to this day do not want people to see me crying. I stuff those feelings as I try never to show a lot of weakness. One time my friend Marcia told me that I was the strongest woman she had ever met. I was astounded. I had considered myself weak and unvalued.
In a dysfunctional critical relationship like I had had with Brett, self-esteem is shattered. I donít know when I lost all my self-esteem, but when I left the marriage I didnít have but a grain left. Even my ex-mother-in-law told me over and over that Maryís intelligence came from her side of the family as her Brett had skipped a grade in grade school. She considered him a genius and her genes were the cause of his brilliance. She never missed an opportunity to bring it up.
I had been astounded when I had tested for nursing school before being accepted. They said I had extremely high scores. I didnít study for the ACT test and I had been out of school for fourteen years. I walked in cold turkey and took the test. I was going to go to LPN school and the dean called me in and refused to admit me into that program. She said I would be unhappy and needed to be in RN school. I relented. The only reason I wanted the former was because I wanted to get through school so I could get out of that marriage if he didnít change. I walked around on a cloud for five days. I could hardly believe it. They thought I was very intelligent!
Years later, I thought, wait a minute. I had always gotten Aís and Bís in school without making any effort at all. I was bored with school in grade school and high school. I knew I was really smart then. What had happened to me? My debasing relationship is what happened.
Towards the end of the relationship I escaped into a dream world of my own. Whenever I was relaxing or going to bed, I always conjured up a story of a sensitive loving man who came and found me beautiful, wonderful and smart and wanted to love me. He would take me off to a little cabin with just the two of us for weekends and he would get so he never wanted to live without me. I would fall head over heals in love with him and I would always be happy and life would be wonderful. I had different stories with the same theme in my head. I dreamed and dreamed of a relationship that would bring love and happiness. I got so I could not wait to make up my dream stories. I would dream when I was in a waiting room, a passenger in a car, any time I could. My parents had loved each other and seemed happy. Iíd observed that, the whole time I was growing up. My father was a sensitive, loving man. He loved my mother. My grandfather had worshipped the ground my grandma (his "Dolly") walked on. I wanted the same and I would never marry again unless I thought I could have it.
I had gone to a marriage counselor for two years before the divorce. I had sat on the fence and not done anything about getting a divorce because I was so frightened. I had used my "behind the picture money" to pay for the counseling. I had mentioned a divorce to my ex and he had told me he would take the kids and prove me an unfit mother. I really thought he had that power. Fear would clutch my heart. Finally Marie showed signs of extreme anxiety. Sheíd put on fifty pounds in six months, her blood pressure was unusually high for a child, and I would see her sitting in a corner of her room just doing nothing. Mary was rather quiet, over-achieving in school. Seth had constant migraines until he threw up.
My ex had gone with me to counseling and put on a wounded calm show. He would tell the counselor heíd done everything he could, but he couldnít make me happy. He played head games with the counselor. I was terrified. I thought the counselor believed him right away and undoubtedly did not believe me. When I told the counselor about Marie, he told me I had to make a choice right now. He would give me five days and then he wanted to hear from me. My choices were that I submit to his ruling without any more struggles, or go see a lawyer and start divorce proceedings.
I was really terrified then. I was shaking and crying in the stairwell at work one day on my lunch hour and a psychiatrist that I knew and had been to our floor saw me. He asked me what was wrong. I told him in capsule my big decision. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me to come to his office that day at five p.m. and we would talk about it and then go get a drink. I went.
I poured out my story. I sat crying and wringing my hands. He asked me if I could live like that the rest of my life. He told me it was hurting my children. He asked me how old I was when I had married. I told him. He made the most profound statements that would turn me around that I had heard to date. He told me I had never had a chance to be on my own. I lived at home, a controlled environment so to speak at school, then I got married. He said I was a frightened little girl inside. He asked me what I was frightened of. He said I could take care of my children and myself. He said mothers on welfare managed. He said you are smart and educated way more than a lot of single mothers. I sat and stared at him. It dawned on me that he was right on all counts. I had made my decision. Nothing on Godís green earth would make me change my mind now. I called an attorney.