I am proof that the rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. To different degrees, both of my parents were alcoholics. Dad was the scary, violent, in-your-face kind of drunk, and Mom was the drink-to-deal-with-Dad type of drunk.
By the time I was in my mid-teens, I was an expert drink-to-escape-my-parents, blackout drunk. My problem followed me through high school and into adulthood. After countless bottles and battles, I was a 30-year-old facing my second DUI.
A sane person would say that choosing between going to alcohol treatment or going to jail isn’t even a contest. But I still had to be convinced by my lawyer.
Cutting through the Bull
As you might guess, I’m pretty stubborn. I was convinced that all of this was nothing more than a giant hassle. So I liked to drink – so what? I even said that in a group session.
My primary counselor was an ex-Marine, with a typical take-no-bull approach.
He looked me dead in the eye and said, “Say whatever you want – I know you HATE to drink. And YOU know it, too.”
The way he said it left no room for contradiction.
Over the next couple of months, every time I tried to talk tough out of misplaced machismo or stubbornness, my counselor would call me to the task and hold me accountable for telling the truth.
He told me that as long as I tried to lie about my problem and how I felt about it, I would never make any progress. He told me that every person begins what he calls their “sober journey” in their own way. He said MY path would have to begin with “rigorous honesty”.
Honesty by the Truckload
When he forced me to talk about past experiences and feelings that I had never shared with ANYONE, it was like a switch had been turned on. I was flooded with memories of growing up – of my father and mother. What’s more, while my memories were that of a child, I was looking at them now with the eyes of a bitter, alcohol-abusing man.
I didn’t much like what I was seeing because so many of my words and actions today seemed to me to be virtually identical with my father’s then. I told the same lies, made the same empty promises, and then blew up just like my father.
If I was to have any hope of my life turning out any differently than his, I was going to have to be honest about a few unpleasant truths:
- I was angry with BOTH of my parents for what they put me through.
- I had no sense of self-worth but covered it up with drinking.
- As tough as I thought I was, I was no match for my urge to drink.
- I was secretly terrified of ending up just like my parents.
- I couldn’t do this alone.
Turning the Page on the Past
Shortly after opening up to my counselor, I was re-evaluated, and it was found that in addition to my drinking problem, I was suffering from another clinical condition – posttraumatic stress disorder – PTSD. It’s weird how those four little letters can tell you everything you never knew that you already knew about yourself.
That diagnosis led to a change in my treatment plan that finally got my recovery fully underway. Now, in addition to treatment for my drinking, I also had counseling sessions aimed at helping me learn how to process as an adult some of the traumatic experiences I had gone through as a child.
The goal was to teach me how to cope without alcohol. With a lot of hard work, support, and luck, I’ve been able to stay sober for the past year.
I’ve still got a long way to go, but at least now, my problems are being addressed. I’m feeling better than I can remember. I’m still working through issues with my parents, but at least I’m starting to figure out how to limit the influence THEIR demons have on MY life today.