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The Healing Lodge

Personal Awareness - Addiction

Alcoholism and addiction go way back in every branch of my family tree. My father is the oldest of 8 children and the son of an abusive woman-chaser. His mother died early in his life, so he cared for his younger sibs as his father ran around, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. His dream in life was to go into agriculture, but his mother's dying wish was for him to become a doctor, so that's what he did. Having not followed his dream, he became resentful of the path he had chosen. In futile attempts to cover his pain and resentment, he's used alcohol, vallium, gambling, and women, and continues to do so.

The alcoholism in my mother's family was passed from her grandfather to her oldest brother. (I don't know whether it was manifested in her father--he died fairly young, and she idolized him. I suspect that it might have been, judging from her choice in husband.) Her oldest brother has been in trouble with the law several times, most recently after shooting and killing his autistic 22-year-old son. He claims it was an accident, and through his mother's influence, spent only a few months in jail--an arrangement she made in the hopes that he would "dry out."

My mother married my father and the classic addict/co-dependent relationship developed. He would get embarrassingly drunk, she would try to cover it up, they would have explosive, verbally violent fights, and my sibs and I would be scared to death. She became very controlling and rageful, he became distant and emotionally inaccessible. And on the side, she was trying to mother 7 kids while he worked or spent time out in his garden.

I grew up hating my mother because I saw her as unsociable, fake, angry, and unloving. I despised my father because he was weak and unavailable, and because he complained about how hard he had to work all the time and how ungrateful we were to him.

And then I married an addict. On a concious level, I didn't know it at the time, but I think on some level I knew what I was doing. Like my mother, I had a difficult time socializing, so when my husband first took an interest in me, I jumped right into it. Our relationship progressed quickly and in a matter of months, I was pregnant. As I look back, this was Spirit's way of ensuring that I stayed in the relationship because I had a lot to learn from it. We had our son, but didn't get married until 5 months after he was born.

>From the beginning, our relationship followed the addict/co-dependent pattern. He wasn't a drinker, but he was always stoned, spent money he didn't have, lost job after job, and looked for someone to bail him out. And that's what I did, when I could. And when I couldn't, his parents would. We all tried to cushion the consequences of his actions, so he never had to face them. I became withdrawn from family and friends because I was trying to hide his behavior from them.

Two more kids and several counselors later, we finally started to recognize the problem of addiction. But it wasn't until something awoke in him that we both found a road to recovery. Something led him to enter an intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment program--and I'm certain the time and place were no accident. His counselor in the program, who is also a recovering addict, touched something deep in his soul that has made a profound difference in his life. He's been clean for almost 18 months now, with the help of fellow recovering addicts and his 12-step program, and he's found that he's got a spiritual path of his own to walk if he so chooses.

His recovery was also the beginning of my recovery. Participating in the family sessions for his treatment led me to join my own 12-step program and has made me aware of my own spiritual path. It took nearly 7 years, but I finally understood why he and I were brought together. I now understand that addiction is just as much a disease as diabetes, AIDS, or cancer, and calls for as much compassion and understanding. I now understand why my parents are the way they are and I'm able to accept them as they are. They did the best they could, but unlike me, they didn't have the benefit of recovery.

So now we're both in recovery and on our own spiritual paths. But we're still human beings discovering that recovery and spirituality don't guarantee that a marriage will work. One of the difficulties for an addict in entering recovery is learning new ways to deal with the pain and anger the substances had been covering up. The work is difficult, and there's no guarantee that it gets done, even when the addict stays clean. Much as I would like to hand him a magical solution, I know that this is his work to do. I also realize that perhaps my work in this relationship is finished. We're moving along our paths at different rates and in different directions. But there are still a few strings holding us together and I haven't found the strength and courage to let them go. Getting separated was the first step, and for me, the right one. I know what the next step will be, but I don't know how to help my young children (7, 3, & 2) with it. The separation has been especially hard on my 3-year-old daughter. Although my husband takes care of the children at the house two evenings and one day on the weekend, she seems to blame me when he isn't there. I struggle with her rejection daily.

I honor all of you who have the vision to see below the sometimes unpleasant surface. and recognize that Spirit lives in all of us. We all have our shadows. Maybe the secret to inner peace is learning to dance with them rather than engage them in battle. And perhaps the secret to world peace is recognizing that each of us has to learn this for ourselves.

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