The Twelve Steps : A Spiritual Journey

In going through old papers today,  I have discovered a few interesting details about myself.  I haven’t really changed much in thirty years and yet I am a completely different person from the Alison I was in my twenties.  If that sounds like a contradictory statement, it is.  I have accepted the truth.  I am a walking contradiction.

I still make lists for everything, I still start stories that I never finish, and I still spend way too much time analyzing my own and others’ motives.  Yet, I am so much more at peace with my imperfections than I was in my twenties.  I guess you could say I have learned to be a little more patient with myself and others.  I try to be a little more forgiving toward myself and others while learning to be a little less judgmental.

At the same time I worry incessantly about my children because they are pursuing unconventional paths.  Their unusual  life choices prove I have raised strong, independent men and this makes me proud.  Yet, this pride stands in stark contrast to the fears I harbor on their behalf.  So I recognize that I have changed through the years, but I still have more work to do.

Today, I found my old twelve steps journal. It calls itself a guide for adult children from dysfunctional families.  It also calls itself a spiritual journey.  I know now that this is a journey that I will be on until I take my last breath.  Each new stage of parenthood brings echoes of past mistakes and human failings.  Praise be to God for His immeasurable mercy!

My spiritual path has a few more twists and turns ahead, but my faith is still strong and God still has a plan for me.  He loves my children even more than I do and that gives me great comfort in the midst of my worries. So to all of you, I encourage you to work the twelve steps faithfully, either alone or in a support group.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!


Leaves on the Family Tree

The past is never completely in the past; nor is the present ever completely here and now.  Time dances before us in a strange waltz composed of memories and dreams.  The melody is a complicated rhythm that is at once lightly joyous yet shaded with notes of sadness and regret.  The leaves on the family tree sway to the lyrics of our family song.

I see an old picture of Morris Gore.  This is the grandfather I never knew.   He is a little boy of maybe 11 or 12.  In this photo, he is almost the same age  his son (my father) was when Morris deserted him.  He doesn’t look like he will grow up to desert his wife and children.  He looks harmless. He doesn’t look like a boy who will grow to be a sociopath.  I wonder what caused him to travel the road he chose? Does he know  his shame has haunted three generations?   What would he give as his defense if he were able to speak?

I have read The Sociopath Next Door and am well aware of how commonplace mental illness, narcissism, and selfishness are in our post modern society.  Yet, when the sociopath is not just next door, but is actually a leaf that,though long neglected, still dangles from your family tree, one wonders just how this legacy will affect future generations. Odd family behaviors that before seemed inexplicable, now appear as patterns as familiar as the leaves that encircled the family dinner dishes you washed night after night.

I have believed for at least thirty five years (if not more) that my grandfather was a musician who drank too much and deserted his family when my father was only 13.  The  five years prior to his death (he died when my father was 18) have always been clouded in mystery.  I was always told that he died in Harrisburg, Arkansas while in jail for being drunk and disorderly.  It was generally accepted that he had most likely died from pneumonia brought on by  exposure to the elements before he was arrested.  This story, while not exactly one to be proud of, was the story my father chose to share with others when pressed with questions about his past.

It has only been in the past year that this family story has been examined closely.  For better or for worse, we have discovered that the family drunk may also have been the family sociopath.  Somehow knowing that every family has at least one does not make this revelation any easier to accept.  Though it does explain a great deal about my family’s weird and crazy behavior.  We simply have crazy criminal genes.  Lucky us!

Morris, my grandfather, was a talented musician.  He drank too much. Okay, I can live with that.   He was  a criminal who was jailed for two years in Texas for forgery. WHAT?!?!?

I wonder how many other criminal leaves sway in the breeze on our old family tree?  I never knew Jailhouse Rock was the family song.  At least it has a good beat.


Where There Are Cupcakes

I, like many others, love Kid President.  I saw one of his quotes on Facebook today that made me smile.  Kid President always makes me smile.  The quote is this:

Human beings are capable of war and sadness and all sorts of terrible stuff, but also cupcakes.

I wish I could give everyone who has commented on my blog a big cupcake.  Opening myself  up like this has been good for me, but very scary.  I didn’t intend for very many people to see this when I first started. In fact, I went out of my way to only share it with a few close friends. In the huge world of the internet, only a handful of people have seen my blog, which is how I kind of want it.  Yet, I believe that God has shown it to those HE wanted to find it.  And HE will continue to lead people to it.

It is still my prayer that I can help others who are suffering from the shame associated with alcoholism, drug abuse, and basically any of the sadness and terrible stuff human beings are capable of.  The only way I can do that with my writing is to  put it out there for others to find.  BUT, this scares the bejeebers out of me.  Remember, adult children of alcoholics fear criticism of any kind!!!! I simultaneously loathe and love being invisible to other people.

When people stop to tell me they have read my blog, I immediately want to grab my invisibility cloak.  I wonder what they are really thinking of me.  Have I been too honest?  Are they thinking I need to learn to filter?  Are they embarrassed for me? Can you feel the shame oozing from my very pores as I write this post?  So why would I want to share a cupcake with you?

Everyone loves cupcakes!  Where there are cupcakes there is fellowship and smiles. There is an international language of cupcakes…. cupcakes equal love and acceptance.  So in offering you a metaphoric cupcake, I am offering you my fellowship in this sad and often terrible world.  Together let’s work through our weirdness and taste and see that the Lord is good.

Psalm 34

Angelina Jolie, A Hyster Sister

I have been hearing a lot about Angelina Jolie’s decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed because she has high markers for ovarian cancer.  She underwent a double mastectomy a few years ago to try to prevent breast cancer.  I understand her motives.  She is deeply wounded from her mother’s early death and wants to spare her children that particular pain.  I have also had my ovaries removed and am now wondering if I should be more aggressive about preventing breast cancer, too.  The truth is I feel like I have lived longer than I ever imagined and I have a much bigger cancer to deal with now. Cancer of my soul caused by constant approval seeking and too many cosmetic fixes.

How does one treat this particular illness?  What is the accepted protocol?  I am not sure. Yes, there are twelve step programs and counselors.  I have tried both.  Like a good cleaning and a fresh coat of paint on an old house, these programs have helped me conceal my crumbling foundation and basic wiring issues.  Yet, like an old house, I have continued to deteriorate.  I need to tear down my walls, rip up my old carpets, and replace my frayed wiring before it is too late.  Like Angelina Jolie, I wish there was a way to surgically remove my shame…to cut away past mistakes to reduce my children’s risk of pain.

I guess in a way this blog is my attempt at rewiring my soul.  The last counselor I saw told me that I needed to find my creativity again.  She told me that because of past events I was chronically depressed.  I didn’t argue with her.  She was telling me what I already knew.  The crazy thing about creativity is the more you care about what people think of you the less creative you become.  I can pretty much pinpoint the moment I stopped being creative.  I was at a Christian university.  I was an English major.  Every paper I wrote terrified me.  I didn’t want my Christian professors to see how truly unworthy I was.  I didn’t feel that I could reveal any true or original thoughts because my true and original thoughts were, no doubt, sinful and wrong.  Needless to say, my papers were terrible and I soon switched majors.  I could feel those first few nibbles at my soul…the cancer invading my life…but I was unequipped to deal with it.  Approval seeking was all I knew. At 18, avoiding criticism was my only goal.  The cancer took hold and spread once my husband began working for the same Christian university.  I feared that everyone I met judged me and found me wanting.  I would like to say that it was my overactive imagination, but as we all know there are many judges out there.  I wasn’t always imagining the judgements. I just took them way too seriously!  Adult children of Alcoholics seek approval and in seeking approval lose their identity.  Yep!  My approval seeking cancer devoured my identity like a swarm of termites on a fallen tree, leaving me hollowed.  Empty.  Depressed.

My two advanced degrees did not fill my hollow places.  My new house did not ease my emptiness.  The job I thought would cure all my woes has only exacerbated my depression.  Wow!  Am I a Debbie Downer or what?  I guess like rewiring a house, things are gonna have to get pretty ugly before they get better.  I hope you will stick with me through the messiness and that together we can come through ready to light up our world with Christ’s message of redemption, rather than set it on fire with our faulty wiring.

I leave you with this scripture to ponder along with me.  Psalm 79: 8-10 from The Message states:

Don’t blame us for the sins of our parents.  Hurry up and help us; we’re at the end of our rope.  You’re famous for helping; God, give us a break.  Your reputation is on the line. Pull us out of this mess, forgive us our sins.  Do what you are famous for doing!

I plan to keep talking to God.  He really is the only one I need to please!

Mistakes, Trials, and Tragedies

So, last time I posted I was processing why I can’t stand to make a mistake.  Why being human seems so unacceptable to me.  I think it may have something to do with a very traumatic event in my childhood.  Before I tell you about that event, I want to put forth a disclaimer.  My parents did the best job they knew how to do raising me.  My grandmother loved me, but she was deeply wounded and often searched for a scapegoat to ease her own pain.  With that being said, I invite you to visit a Saturday in early May, 1974.

May 1974…I am ten years old.  My little sister is three.  Our mother is in the hospital dying of cancer.  Our home is in a state of chaos that cannot adequately be described. Our grandmother spends every night and most of her days at my mother’s bedside.  My father is working and trying to process the thought of being a widowed father to three little girls. Mostly, though, he is trying to avoid the irrational anger my grandmother is directing at him.  Our great aunt, my grandmother’s sister, is staying with us to help out with the housework and hospital vigils.  She also has a great deal of bitterness that she directs at whomever displeases her.  The air in our house is thick with anger, pain, and sadness.  I escape by watching television as much as possible.

On this particular Saturday afternoon, I have been told to watch my little sister.  I am not sure where my older sister, aged thirteen, was on that day.  I am guessing she had been given some chore to do since I was left in charge of the baby.  I remember we were on my dad’s bed watching the small tv in his room.  I do not know what we watched or how long we watched.  All I really remember  is looking up to see that my little sister had eaten an entire bottle of baby aspirin.  The next thing I remember is sitting in the rocking chair in my grandmother’s bedroom as three adults hurled angry accusations at me.  I remember hearing that if my sister died it would be all my fault.  How could I be so stupid?  How could I be so selfish?  Hadn’t our family been through enough?  What was wrong with me? I don’t remember all the words very clearly, but I remember the pain in my stomach, the searing shame in my heart.  The strong sense that I was the cause of all our troubles. Why could I not be good?  How could anyone ever love such a selfish little girl?  God would never forgive me.

As an adult, I realize that I was not at fault.  I was a child.  I was not mature enough to have been put in that unfortunate position.  I did not leave the aspirin where my sister could get it. I did not make the aspirin taste like candy. I did not cause all the anguish my adult relatives were feeling on that Saturday afternoon.  I was just a scapegoat for all the confusion, pain, and hurt taking place in our  home that day.  As an adult, I realize that God has forgiven me.  God loves me and understands why I come unglued when I make a mistake.  As an adult, I forgive my father and my grandmother for their hurtful, shaming words.

Yet, I still suffer from a great feeling of shame when I am not able to perform perfectly.  I am guessing that I am not alone in these feelings.  I am guessing that those of us who grew up in chaotic homes feel that we must be in control at all times and can never ever make a mistake.  The devil does a happy dance each and every time we fall victim to these false feelings.  Just as he danced for joy that Saturday afternoon when the adults who were supposed to protect me forgot that they were the parent in the room and let their wounded inner child have free reign in shaming me.

I wish I could tell you that I have conquered all my demons once and for all and that I am now able to laugh off my mistakes and love myself and others unconditionally.  I think that will only happen when I wake up in heaven.  For now, I hang on to God’s hand and pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  I pray that I can learn to show myself and others a little grace when we are less than perfect.

For too long, I have refused to examine my life and do the work needed to become mature in Christ.  I am determined to look at my life and my mistakes with honesty and courage. Proverbs 10:11 states that the mouth of a good person is a deep, life-giving well, but the mouth of the wicked is a dark cave of abuse.  I want to speak beautiful life affirming messages even in the midst of mistakes, trials, and tragedies…don’t you?

Normal, isn’t that a town in Illinois?

Everything I have read about Adult Children of Alcoholics begins with a list of common traits.  The number one trait for ACoA is guessing at what normal looks like.  Wow!  I never would have guessed!  I was grown and married before I realized normal life was not what I saw on tv sitcoms.  For the majority of my adult life, however, I think I have fooled most of the people most of the time into believing I do know what normal looks like.  Until yesterday, that is.

Yesterday it became blatantly obvious that I do not behave like a normal, rational human being. What happened yesterday, you ask?   Believe it or not, I made a mistake.  Now, I’m just guessing here, but I imagine most people don’t come unglued when confronted with a tiny mistake.  I am guessing from the reaction of those around me yesterday that mistakes are not seen as the end of the world.  They are to be acknowledged and lessons are to be learned.  In my past life, I may not have learned anything from my mistakes, but I certainly stayed glued. Well, at least my mouth remained glued shut.  I might have been crumbling on the inside, but I was able to hide it like any “normal” person would!

So back to yesterday…and what I realized during my sleepless night of rehashing my little mistake that before I knew what was happening had taken on Godzilla proportions.  I made a mistake at work.  A co-worker pointed it out to me.  I thought I took care of it, but said co-worker wanted to “fix” it for me.  This is the point where Godzilla arrived and threw my “normal”  right out the window!  To make a long story short, I was unprofessional and inappropriate.  I basically told her to quit trying to take over.  She was taking over, but not with the malicious intent that I attributed to her actions.  What the heck was wrong with me?  Good question!  I think maybe I have an inkling into what is happening to me now that I am old enough to know better, but not really mature enough to “be” better.

During the past ten years, I have experienced chronic physical pain, a total hysterectomy, and now a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes.  My chronic pain is relieved through a daily dose of Cymbalta.  My diabetes is treated with Victoza.  For a while, I did Hormone Replacement Therapy, but quit out of fear of breast cancer.  Last night at around 3 a.m. I realized that FEAR is what is happening to me.  I am no longer in control of anything and it scares the living daylights out of me!  My children are grown.  I have no control over their choices and I FEAR that, like me, they have no idea what normal looks like.  I am no longer a classroom teacher with full control of twenty other little bodies. I am an “activity” teacher…  an extra body.  I FEAR that my job will cease to exist before I am ready to retire.  I am 51 years old.  I was supposed to die at 45 like my mother. I had it all planned! Now I FEAR that I have forgotten how to fake normal and no one will show up for the crazy old lady’s funeral.  My list of FEARS goes on and on, but I won’t.  I’ll call it a day by telling you my next post will be a childhood memory that I think may be the day my ideas of normal really became skewed.  I will introduce you to the ten year old girl that likes to disguise herself as Godzilla when grown up Alison is foolish enough to make a mistake.

For today, I am still guessing at what normal looks like.  I think there is a town in Illinois called Normal.  Perhaps I should visit someday.  I think I’ll take the kids.

Commitment Issues

It has been almost seven months since my first post.  I guess you can say I have commitment issues.  It is not that I don’t want to look at my life and work through these issues that wake me up in the middle of the night…I do want to, sort of.  It’s just that watching tv or scrolling through facebook is so much more fun and a lot less emotionally exhausting. Procrastination is one of my defense mechanisms, along with eating too many carbs, drinking too much caffeine and taking too many naps. My all time favorite word is eventually.  I like how it rolls off the tongue with such potential!

Part of the problem is my brain is not terribly focused.  I have about one hundred scathingly brilliant ideas each day, but before I get started on brilliant idea number one for the day, number two comes tumbling along to distract me.  Then three and four and so on and so on all the live long day.  Between earning a living, maintaining a minimally (ok, marginally) organized home, and trying to keep up with all these brilliant flashes of insight, is it any wonder that I never get around to facing my demons, much less writing on my self-help blog?

So for all the other adult children of alcoholics out there…I raise my steaming cup of coffee in salute to you and your numerous brilliant ideas that, like mine, have yet to see the light of day.  Keep dreaming.  Keep showing up for work each day.  Keep the faith.  Together we will figure this crazy old world out.  Today, let’s give ourselves a break.  The fact that you are alive and drinking coffee instead of whiskey is reason enough to be proud of yourself. The Corner of 24th and Crazy (or whatever you call your personal demon) can wait a while longer.  It’s not going anywhere. Trust me.

Oh yeah…I’m an ACoA

Most days I wake up feeling ten years old.  Then I look in the mirror and remember I am 50! What? I’m way too messed up to be 50.  50 year old women are supposed to  have it all together. 50 year old women are supposed to be wise and revered.  I cannot possibly be 50.

I planned on having it all together at 50.  I remember sitting on my sofa at age 25, writing out my life script and by age 50 life was supposed to be pretty darn good. Change that…as an adult child of an alcoholic, life was supposed to be PERFECT!   I’d have a secure job, nice home, loving husband and the newborn baby cooing at me from the nearby crib would be a happy, functioning adult.  I would most likely be looking forward to my first grandchild at age 50.

Today I sit on the couch in my nice home.  I have a secure job that keeps my stomach in knots most days. My loving husband and I are trying to figure out how to live together in our newly emptied nest.  My nice home is dirty and cluttered, but I find myself too depressed to get up and clean it.  It will be PERFECTLY SPOTLESS by next Friday when company arrives; but, for now, I am content to start a blog about my childhood rather than clean.  I have learned through the years that a clean house does not make for a clean soul and at this moment I need a clean, uncluttered heart and soul so much more than I need a nice, clean house in a nice, fancy neighborhood.

A clean heart and soul have not always been top priority for me.  Growing up on the corner of East 24th street in Texarkana, Arkansas, I desperately longed for a nice house in a fancy neighborhood.  I longed to live the life I saw portrayed on the sitcoms every Friday night.  The life script I wrote at 25 was mostly based on what I grew up watching on tv.  As an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, I had no idea what normal really looked like.  So television became my life coach. Television families did not live in old Craftsman style houses in the 1970’s. I did. Television families lived in modern housing developments. I didn’t; therefore, I was perpetually ashamed of my house and by extension, my family.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my family!  I just sensed we weren’t like other families.  For one, my mother was chronically ill with Rheumatoid Arthritis.  No one else’s mother walked like Frankenstein…No one else had a grandmother who lived with them!  I never got to go visit the grandparents.  All were dead, but Nanny, my mother’s mother who was there at every turn to tell me just how annoying I really was.

I took the title for my blog from my childhood address.  I really did live on the corner of East 24th street and Hickory.  Most days it felt like the corner of crazy.  There were beautiful days filled with sunshine.  But most days, the sun was clouded by chronic pain and the long shadows cast by two alcoholic grandfathers I never knew.

This blog is my attempt to declutter my soul by deliberately taking a long, hard look at the skeletons that have too long been hidden in my psychic closet.  It is my prayer that this blog will find you, if like me, you are an ACoA trying to make sense of your life and find your real purpose.

I am a Christian writer and the image of a clean, uncluttered heart comes from the prayer of David recorded in Psalm 51.  I pray that God will be glorified in all that I share.