A Letter to My Daughter

Dear Emilie~
….
I love the book you gave me for my birthday. I wonder what made you choose it? And how you knew how close to home it would be for me. The cover photo could have been taken in my own childhood home. The place-setting, the dress…it’s all so familiar. She was in Massachusetts. I was only a couple of hours away in Connecticut. We’re the same age now, and lived through such a similar story. 

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I get up from reading and I’m shaking, and trying to get the tears out or hold them in. Sometimes I can only read a few pages at a time. It’s too upsetting. I understand how you feel about injustice, and why it makes you cry. I feel the same. And I think on some level I always have. But like many other people, I’ve avoided admitting to or standing up against injustice. Even injustice done to myself.  Like the author, Debby Irving, I grew up with admonitions that kept me from speaking up, or out: ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,’ was a big one in our house, just like it was in hers. That message certainly didn’t encourage authentic communication.
We didn’t know how to voice outrage even when it should have been voiced. I’m still struggling with this very thing. I was very uncomfortable to voice my discomfort about J’s behavior when it first raised red flags early on. I was uncomfortable to confront my feelings toward your Dad when we were first matched. I felt guilty and selfish to feel so unsatisfied, or to want something different. Now, with our building board members, I’m very uncomfortable to speak up about unethical practices when I see them. There’s a deep rooted education at work here that tells me I will not be listened to or taken seriously, or worse – I’ll be ridiculed and ostracized for being a complainer. There’s a shame attached to having needs, or being seen as ‘needy.’
I’ve been one of those good people who do nothing. And it’s only recently that I’ve been seeing the shift in my life from passive and silent majority to being more of an activist.
My CPE experience inadvertently opened my eyes to the similar stories that people of color share with women –  being invisible, unheard, and looked down on by white male authority. That reality was never addressed in our training, and I had no words for what I felt during the residency as the only woman alongside male peers, a male director and a male supervisor. It was only afterwards, in the safety of hindsight, that I began to connect my feelings and experiences with a greater systemic imbalance that gives less power and ‘voice’ to women and people of color.
Working as a tutor at the Mercy Learning Center put me in touch for the first time with refugees and asylum seeking women and I began to hear their stories and realize what a different world they come from, and continue to live in, even once here in the US. Living in the South End, the most crime-ridden part of Bridgeport, has put me face to face on a daily basis with the decrepit streets and run-down homes of people living just one block away from my little apartment on the edge of campus. My spirit sinks as I look across the street from where I live to realize that I live in an alternate reality, and always have.
The situation in my building is also an eye-opener. A few investors are trying to profit on housing that was and still is meant for people who don’t want to or can’t buy anything bigger or more expensive. They are bypassing the rules meant to protect and keep our housing affordable, and concerning themselves only with what will line their pockets, regardless of how it will affect the people who live here.  I’m grateful to have had the cash to buy one of these places, and I love it dearly. At the same time I realize that few people who need or would love a place like this have that opportunity, or the finances, to do the same.
Posting something about my struggle with my whiteness on FB a few months ago drew an unexpected response of unfriendly and surprisingly rude comments from white male church members who profess colorblindness and wondered what my problem is. I can’t respond to them yet. I have too much work to do inside myself. But I understood with a shock the extent of white blindness surrounding the issue of race in our country’s history, just as there is blindness about gender inequality, and that it often comes from the very same people.
I’m so glad to have found ACA, the Adult Children of Alcoholics 12-Step group, as it’s a safe place I go weekly to express my feelings and acknowledge the growing pains, knowing I will be received and embraced regardless of whether my opinion matches those of the other people in the room. I can cry, express weakness or confusion, and generally explore what I’m going through without having to necessarily know the answer, nor does anyone try to give it to me. We all acknowledge that we’re on a journey to rediscover and reclaim ourselves, and that no one can do that work for us. It’s my haven in the storm of life. It’s where I feel most whole, and most like myself.
I’m glad you’ve found someone you can share your joys and sorrows with. And I hope you keep developing friendships and support groups where you can speak your truth and work through your fears and disappointments, as they surely will keep on showing up. People and institutions can only carry us part of the way. “In the end, the only steps that matter are the ones we take all by ourselves.” (The Weepies)
Thanks for thinking of me with a book. A life-changing one is the best kind 🙂
Your Mom

Stage Two Recovery in ACA

Hello Everybody! It’s been a LONG time since I’ve been a presence on my own blog.
However, it’s harvest time, and there are important things to share. I know I need to smile more, but that’s really hard to do because I freeze up in front of the camera.

This is a follow up to the post about being an adult child and finding a 12-step program that really fits me- Finally! I hope it’s helpful to someone here 

If you want to know more about the recovery work of Adult Children of Alcoholics (and Dysfunctional Families), the following 18 minute video is my outline of the Promises and the 3 stages of recovery. You can also scroll down to read the Laundry List and the Promises. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

 

The Laundry List (14 Characteristics of an Adult Child):

  1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
  2.  We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
  3. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
  4. We either become alcoholics, marry them, or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
  5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
  6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc.
  7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
  8. We became addicted to excitement.
  9. We confuse love and pity, and tend to love the people we can pity and rescue.
  10. We have stuffed our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (denial).
  11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
  12. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
  13. Alcoholism is a family disease and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
  14. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.

If you identify with most or all of these traits, you may want to search online for telephone meetings or local groups in your area. If so, I may see you there!

 

The ACA Promises:

  1. We will discover our real identities by loving and accepting ourselves.
  2. Our self-esteem will increase as we give ourselves approval on a daily basis.
  3. Fear of authority figures and the need to ‘people-please’ will leave us.
  4. Our ability to share intimacy will grow inside us.
  5. As we face our abandonment issues, we will be attracted by strengths and become more tolerant of weaknesses.
  6. We will enjoy feeling stable, peaceful, and financially secure.
  7. We will learn how to play and have fun in our lives.
  8. We will choose to love people who can love and be responsible for themselves.
  9. Healthy boundaries and limits will become easier for us to set.
  10. Fears of failure and success will leave us, as we intuitively make healthier choices.
  11. With help form our ACA support group, we will slowly release our dysfunctional behaviors.
  12. Gradually, with our Higher Power’s help, we will learn to expect the best and get it.

 

I’m An Adult Child – part 1

Living life from a basis of fear

Comparing myself to others

Never thinking it was safe to play

Surrounded by people who didn’t respect me or treat me well

Afraid of authority figures and tending to isolate myself

Frightened by angry people and any personal criticism

Feeling overly responsible for others as a way to avoid looking at my own faults

Being my own Harsh, Harsher, and Harshest judge and critic

Feeling tremendously guilty when I stand up for myself instead of giving in to others

Addicted to excitement in its myriad forms

Stuffing feelings, and not even able to remember or feel what they are now

Continuing to live with sick people who were never there emotionally for me in order not to be abandoned.

Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes. I recognize myself when I read the Laundry List –  14 Traits of an Adult Child. And when I introduce myself at an ACA meeting, ‘Hi, I’m Robin, an adult child,” I’m embracing a reality I have always lived and struggled to hide and accept.

The Red Book has 648 pages, so it can’t be summed up in a paragraph here. What I’d like to do is offer a few bits and pieces as I work through them. Right now I’m working on reparenting myself: learning to be sensitive to my needs and my background experience. For me, I need a lot of validation – that my feelings make sense given my family history.

I encourage myself in many ways. For example, I remind myself when I start to slip into that spiral of self-doubt and condemnation that I’m actually doing a pretty good job; that I am not a bad person; that I have something valuable to share with the world. I repeat Lady Gaga’s words to my hurting hating Self, “You’re on the right track, baby! God makes no mistakes.”

I also tell myself that growth doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. Patience, my dear! I sing songs with empowering messages, take time at the water’s edge, and share my experiences with trusted friends both in and out of the program.

And like Joe Walsh, I’m taking it One Day at a Time.

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