Okay, so I started reading a book my sister gave me for my birthday. A Radical Awakening by Dr. Shefali. I love this stuff. My sister knows I love this stuff. She loves it too. Books like Shefali’s have been apart of both of our independent journeys. I say independent purposefully. She has her journey and I have mine. We tried dragging each other on our personal journey until we realized we were doing more harm than good. In order for each of us to be the real authentic individuals we are we had to make sure our journeys were ours alone. She could not walk my path. She isn’t supposed to. It would be inauthentic if she did. And authenticity is the aim.
My desire has been to live authentically. In order to do that I have to feel what I feel, not what my sister feels. And she has to feel, think, believe her way, not mine. It has taken us a long time to get to this place. Sometimes we still struggle with entanglement issues. We aren’t perfect. We aren’t supposed to be. We are supposed to be authentically human.
In order to be authentically human we have to be ourselves. And that isn’t always easy. It sounds simple on the surface. But which of us is actually completely authentic all the time. I tried being myself as a kid. That didn’t go over so well. My parents wanted the child they wanted, not the child they got. They got me. They wanted perfect children.
The problem with perfection is that the definition is subjective and always being redefined. I grew up under the adage that children were to be seen and not heard. What that really meant was, “don’t be seen and keep your mouth shut.” When I was with Dad perfection was silence and stillness. I meant making sure that Dad was always seen in the best light. My dad was insecure. He got his sense of self through how others viewed him, or rather how he perceived others perceived him. This was totally confusing to me as a child. I didn’t get it. To voice thoughts, feelings or opinions, especially in front of other adults, was not only frowned upon but met with vicious backlash behind the scene.
I grew up knowing (not just thinking) that who I was, what I had to say, and in fact everything about me was totally and completely unacceptable where my dad was concerned. Unless of course he was being admired for having such perfectly behaved little soldiers.
What I learned as a result was that it not okay for me to be me. In order to survive or at least get out of a beating I needed to be a subservient, obedient, robot. I needed to hide my feelings and bury my real identity until it was safe to come out and be the authentic person I was on the inside.
In order for something new to begin something old has to end. That is the main idea in Henry Cloud’s book, Necessary Endings; The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward. Sometimes we have to make the hard cut, so to speak.
Who we try to be has to die so that we can become our authentic selves. The real us that resides inside the earthly structure can sometimes be buried so deep even we don’t know who we really are. I remember when I got my wake-up call. It came around my thirtieth birthday. Thirty two years ago this month. I had been desperately trying to hold onto my life. What I failed to see was that I was living a lie. Inside and out. I was lying to myself. I was lying to others. Oh, I called it something else. I was complying. I had relinquished the real me for some distorted version that made other people happy. Or so I thought. I contorted myself for the sake of friendship, peace, and security. What I didn’t realize was that I had sold myself out in an effort to keep the peace. It didn’t work. No matter how much people pleasing I tried it was never enough. It never will be.
I remember my first visit to a Codependent recovery group meeting. I had gone to Al-Anon meetings (a support group for families of alcoholics) only to discover I had a problem. My problem was that my life had become unmanageable because I couldn’t fix all the addicts in my life. The current alcoholic in my life at that time was my husband. I was soon to discover that I came into my marriage already a huge mess. I was seriously codependent long before I got involved with the man I had married. I lost my authentic self when I was a very young child. All I knew was that I was miserable and I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I was looking for answers on how to fix life. I just wanted to be happy. I had no clue that my life was such a mess. I had no clue that my entire family was a mess. All I knew was that I was in horrible pain. The only thing that kept me from suicide was my children. I loved my kids and I wanted a better life for them than I had had. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my children without a mother. I decided to bite the bullet and get help. Anything had to better than the nightmare I was living.
In this new scenario I heard terms like: family of origin, inner child, dysfunction. I found out to my horror that if I wanted to feel better it wasn’t going to come quickly or easily. It would mean going on a long hard journey. There was no assurance that my family would join me on that journey. There was no way of knowing how exactly it would all turn out. The dilemma I faced was that once I peeked through the door I could not un-see what was now staring me in the face. What I saw was ugly. What I saw was painful. The truth was that I was in pain, unbearable pain. I made a decision that if I was going to feel pain anyway it might as well do some good.
I was taught that I had to control my feelings. I was told things like: You are too emotional, you are a cry baby., and you are thin skinned. As long as the people in my life didn’t have to deal with my emotions everything was fine. But it wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine. I was a liar. I lied about being hurt. I lied about how I felt. I lied to keep the peace. I lied so I didn’t get hit. I lied so I would be teased. I lied because it was just easier than telling the truth. To be honest with my family meant I was unacceptable.
The truth, however, was that I was neglected anyway. I grew up in the shadows. My mom and I had a talk about it when I was in my forties. She admitted to the neglected. She apologized. I was well into my recovery journey at the time. It wasn’t that I didn’t need her apology, I did. By that time however, my recovery however didn’t hinge on her apology. It had been empowered by the steps I took all on my own. It was secured in an effort to recover my authentic self.
Why bring it up today? Because I’m reading the book my sister gave me a book for my birthday. One thing I’ve learned about this journey is that there is always more freedom if we are willing to embrace it. Whenever I take another step along the path I discover another tool that aids in unfolding the beauty of authenticity.
I remember my first Codependency support group meeting. Everyone said this would be a lifelong journey. All that did was piss me off. I was ready to walk away. But my friend and fellow codependent recoverer held my hand and dragged me in. I am grateful for her tenacity. I am thankful that she didn’t give up on me. She held up a mirror in front of me and made me look. Eventually I began to see the beautiful, talented and loving individual that I am. I don’t see myself as a mess. I don’t let other people define who I am, what I believe, how I express myself or how I use my time. I give when I want to give.
This has been brutally hard. This has been a lonely and challenging journey. All I know is that I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m glad I made the choice to stay at that first codependency meeting. I am glad I bought every book I could get my hands on and went to every seminar I could afford. I am glad I did the work. I’m glad I worked the workbooks. I didn’t just fill in the blanks. I did the work. I learned how to detach and let go. I learned how to reparent myself. I learned how to self care. I learned how to live life without feeling guilty because someone I love is still stuck in addiction.
I have four sons. All of them have been severely impacted by the dysfunction of our family. They turned to drugs and alcohol despite my attempts to protect them. I couldn’t rescue them. I did everything I could when they were children and adolescents. I brought them to counseling. The lines have blurred between my recovery meetings and theirs. Each of my four sons spent time in some kind of detox or rehab program. None of it worked. One of my sons has spent more time in facilities of one kind or another than he did at home. He is still a serious drug addict. Another of my sons is addicted to opiods. And my oldest son is facing criminal charges as a result of the lifestyle choices that accompany addiction.
The youngest of my four sons was released from prison a year ago. He spent ten years in incarceration. Mere days after his arrest he came to the Lord. He not only got saved and experienced the spiritual cleansing of forgiveness in Christ he received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Where was I? I was out of town. Where was God? Right in the middle of the situation. He received a six year sentence and because of issues with parole ended up spending ten years locked up. He would tell you that it saved his life. He is an entirely different person today. He spent his time praying, reading the word and getting his associates degree. He took control of his life choices and is determined to continue to walk out of the morass of the past.
I applaud his efforts. I rejoice that one more family member has seen the light of day and enjoys the free air, freedom from addiction. He knows, as I do, that this is a life journey, one that we take one step at a time. I am incredibly proud of him. I am proud of his efforts to work the work. He isn’t just going to counseling because it is mandated by his parole. He is doing the work. He is working through the issues of our family dysfunction. He is learning to let go of trying to rescue his brothers. He is learning that he has to take ownership for his decisions and life choices. He is learning who he is and how not to betray himself. He has begun his journey of authenticity. Along my journey in search of authenticity I have had the privilege of hearing the stories. It is these stories that empowers the rest of us to make the hard decisions and difficult choices to keep going. It is worth the effort. You are worth the effort.
If your life has been touched by alcoholism, drugs, abuse, or other dysfunction there is hope. There is help.
National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255
Al-Anon – Families and friend of alcoholics
Substance Abuse and Mental Health National Helpline
Don’t go it alone. Find a meeting. Ask for help. Just do it. You’ll be glad you did.
The Lord bless you and keep, the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Shalom
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