05.22.12 Truth & Wisdom
BY Jen Tobin
Here’s the thing: I didn’t grow up in a perfect family. I’m not great with statistics, but I could guess you may not have grown up in the perfect family, either. I’m not sure what “perfect” would mean there. Perhaps breakfast with the whole family on Sundays, or vacations where everyone is smiling or a household where no one ever fights and only positive words are spoken? I’m not sure, but The Brady Bunch and The Cosby Show were my role models and I know for certain my family didn’t hit that bull’s-eye; in fact, our dart didn’t even make the board.
My father is an admitted alcoholic and my mother’s picture, if you looked, could be the poster face for co-dependency. She struggled through her 25-year marriage to my father and my entire childhood trying to get him to be a better husband, a better dad. The thing about trying to change someone else is that it never works and almost always makes you crazy in the process. Better to just leave someone than try to change their behavior. But when you’re neck deep in co-dependency, you don’t know that and can’t see it even if you know it. It’s like someone else is driving the bus and all you can do is sit back and scream.
Growing up, I’m sure I thought I would get older, some man would come save me and we’d live happily together with our kids in an amazing house. The man, though, is key to this equation. Until my 30s, I didn’t imagine being happy on my own or that it was even remotely possible, though I could talk a good game about it. And the phrase “save me” is also key. Deep down, I believed I needed to be saved, because my mother believed that she did. And we often take on the psychological beliefs and act out behaviors of the same-sex parent (for me, my mother…for my brothers, my father). Or, at least, that’s what my therapist told me at 31.
Hearing that we imitate our parents and we form our thoughts of love by age three was revolutionary to my evolution. We attach to whatever is nearest us and if that’s dysfunction at ages zero through three, than it’s dysfunction that we seek the rest of our lives. It is dysfunction that feels like home, subconscious as it may be. I have never known a person who grew up in any kind of emotional or physical abuse situation grow up and be with a healthy person without a whole ton of work beforehand. I attracted chemically dependent people until I had someone tell me what I was doing, and even then, it took years afterwards to be with someone healthy for me and be able to feel love towards him. Because that’s the thing about growing up with dysfunction: You don’t have that “in love” feeling without it until you work your stuff out and fix you.
Depression, medication and therapy, along with some really amazing friends and many self-help books helped me get through to myself. All of those things helped me accept the things I just couldn’t change and as the prayer goes, start to change the things I could. There were times where I felt I would never be in a healthy, stable and committed relationship. There were years where I thought there was just something wrong with ME and maybe I just wasn’t capable. It saddens me that my mother imitated HER mother, who was probably imitating her own…that the cycle has been going for decades of women marrying alcoholics in my family and living in misery because they knew nothing else.
After all of the struggle and discomfort, I finally have a balanced man I call my husband. And at first, being with him wasn’t all that comfortable. I knew he was amazing, but I was leery–where was the drama? The dysfunction? I looked for it for a little while before slamming the door on that thinking. I made the choice to be healthy, balanced and loved without drama. I’m here to tell you it is a choice you can make. And now, five years later, we are raising our daughter in an environment where she has never heard shouting, never smelled alcohol on our breath and will never be woken up in the middle of the night to shouting and thoughts that one of her parents would be dead when she woke up.
I don’t blame my parents for my childhood or for any of my issues. In fact, I’ve gotten to the place where I can experience gratitude for the challenge. I have an insight to my psyche I would never have had and can feel a level of compassion for addicts and those who love them that otherwise I would not. I have embraced the challenges and transformed them into growth opportunities to create who I am now. And frankly, most of the time, anyway, I like who I am now. I know I’m not done growing and the challenges have changed, but I like that I had to struggle to get to the top of the mountain. No one carried me here, so I feel I can enjoy the view a little more. And what I really love is that I’ve created a completely different paradigm for my daughter to observe. I have no idea how I’ll screw up as a parent (and I know I will because we all do,) but it won’t be via addiction and co-dependency. I’ve completely cut the tie to that specific dysfunction that, at one point, seemed almost a hereditary curse I couldn’t avoid. It feels like I’ve slayed a dragon… and damn does that feel good.
Featured image by alibellphotography.com