On July 16, 2012, I was invited to Doane College in Lincoln, Nebraska to speak about codependency and being an adult child of an alcoholic. The gentleman who invited me said that he too was an adult survivor of an alcoholic.
I never heard anyone describe themselves that way... I loved it. I still have a bad habit when someone asks me how I'm doing, I respond with, “surviving.”
How else does an adult child live? They survive.
It really hit me how much I survived when I began sharing my childhood as a codependent. In my poem “I Was Powerless,” I had a verse that said, “I was my mom's husband, and my dad's wife.”
That is really a powerful statement. So many times, I lied for my mom. Dad would come home from work and see mom sound asleep. Actually passed out, but I would lie and say how sick she was.
At the age of eight, I would make simple dinners and wake mom up and we'd both try and convince dad that she made it. The first time, I tried this it was a disaster. I shared this whole story with the psychology class and as I told the story, I became that child again. At first, I felt so proud that I made a meal for myself, dad, and mom. Then after the meal, I felt like a worthless human being.
There wasn't any mistake of my worthlessness when I heard the yelling and then the undeniable sounds of a fist hitting a face. Then to be told how horrible of a meal it was from both parents, I truly knew how worthless I was, not only as a child but also as a partner to my parents.
Growing up in an alcoholic home, everyone keeps the secrets... it's a source of power and it gives meaning to life. The more secrets you keep the more boundaries disappear and reality fades away. We justify the insanity of it all.
It's sad to say, at the time when my mom died I was 18 years old and it was the happiest day of my life. I thought with her death, the fighting would stop and we would have a happy family. Wow, was I wrong. The fighting just spread. As did our codependency.
I remember one night talking with family members and I said that dad should be happy. Mom was dead. It was what he wanted for many years. His wish finally became a reality. I was told that he didn't mean what he said. So... what I heard many times over many years wasn't what he meant? Then why did he say it?
He should have been the happiest man in the world, but the day mom died... dad began to die as well.
When I began sharing my stories as a child another family member told me, “it was just the times.” What does that mean? I won't say here what that meant to my parents, but I will share what I said in Lincoln.
was asked if I ever tried to get help. I said yes. After one of those
“it was just the times” moments, I called the cops. The cops came and saw the damage first hand... physical damage. But it was the 70's and if one person didn't press charges nothing could be done. So I wanted to press charges and was told I was to young to do that. The cops left. They left me in a house where the parents were out of control and they were in control of me.
What a horrible way to live. “It was just the times.” Insanity, abuse, alcohol... I was powerless.