NOT ALWAYS ME
I learned many life-changing concepts from attending Alanon meetings over my last thirty years as an in and out participant. One of the first ones is that I am not the center of the universe. Drats. My mother was right, though her perpetual phrase to me was, “You think the world revolves around you.” Her tone was that of a woman who couldn’t believe that she could have a daughter who would be so bold as to consider this as a possibility.
I always wanted to say, “You mean, I am not?” But I knew better than to back talk to the powerful Oz known as Ann, my mother. That reply would have likely been matched with a fiery slap across the face and a look of rage I can still stir up in my vision forty years later. The reminder as I consider the memory is the walk on eggshells I grew used to as a daughter of a somewhat functioning mostly unpredictable alcoholic parent. It has taken me years to realize that I am not in the forefront of most people’s minds and most people are not thinking about me when I am not around. In fact I am not that important at all. People have their own lives to contemplate and mull over and I am not likely in those contemplations. This is adult child of alcoholic parent 101, not being the center of the universe.
For some reason, the crackily eggshell sounds in our ears, hearts and souls is because of the moodiness that often comes with the parent who drinks to numb out whatever demons need the mute button. There are lots of common denominators in the people who show up to Alanon meetings and the life lessons I learned there for free have been life saving as well as life changing. Forgiveness, kindness, patience, reasonable behavior, reasonable expectations, consistency and truth, and the release of self-aggrandizement. Apologizing, not having to be right or perfect, vulnerability, and the list goes on.
Over the years I have ebbed and flowed between north and south of attending meetings and staying clear because sometimes I get meeting’d out. Other times in the past when my mother was both talking to me and visiting me, I would attend a meeting before and after to keep me sane and calm because the triggers would start usually from the first phone call with the date of her arrival. This would make me feel bad. I mean who wants to visit someone who needs to attend Alanon meetings before and after their visit? And truth be told, who wants to be visited by someone who creates that need in the first place. Alcoholism is a tumultuous ride either as the driver or the passenger.
I can usually spot the daughters of them by their common theme of perfectionism and Type A need for success, and the need to be the life of the party and center of attention. We have this innate belief system of never being good enough and as a result no one around is either. It is miraculous I was able to raise a functioning child who is my favorite human being, kind hearted and on the path to a successful life and who I love immensely. It is impossible for me to consider not loving him, not wanting him in my life like my mother has done with me. She has such a skewed vision of how I have shown up in her life and I think that at this point, there really is nothing that can be done to change the view. I accept it actually because though I have made many mistakes, ultimately I have been a daughter looking for a mother who was not parented with the love she needed.
What I do know is that it is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who is not willing to at least take some of the responsibility of the part they played in its dysfunction. Alcoholism, in whatever shape or form it takes, is a vaporous fluid energy that winds its way into the path of relationships and makes both the alcoholic and the non alcoholic respond to each other in behaviors that are less than helpful. Anyone who is in a relationship with someone who drinks enough to make them Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde knows what I mean and would likely benefit from Alanon. What I learned in those meetings was that the only person I can change is me. This in itself was a game changer for someone who used to use language like “If only s/he would stop drinking….” The first time I heard the idea that I was the main component of the party who needed to make some changes and stop the madness, I couldn’t believe my ears. As I leaned into the guiding light of the twelve steps, I found myself applying these steps not just to my relationships with the alcoholics, but to everything in my path.
If I were to summarize the lessons into one word, it would be CHOICES. Every thought, every action is all a choice. How I behave, how I communicate, my choice to be pissed off or happy as a clam, to be kind or snarky, to release people in my life with bad behavior or to keep them hanging around hoping they will change, to smile or to frown, to say I am sorry or to withhold love with resentment and negative thoughts are all choices. The end result is not about the other person; it is about the effect it has on me and my own heart and spirit. This is the gem of Alanon and likely all twelve step programs. The shining light of joy that comes from knowing forgiveness is not about giving up the need to prove I am right or wrong, forgiveness is not to put an arrow through the ego, it is to release the ego and to feel whole. I have forgiven Ann and I have as a result forgiven myself. This is not to say or know whether she has forgiven me — this is not the point of forgiveness. We are unlikely going to have a kum-ba-ya moment where we run into each other’s arms sobbing with emotion realizing our errors.
And this is ok. This is oddly ok. Once I reached back our to her, I had made a decision that whatever communication we ended up having, I would show up with an empty piece of luggage approaching the conversation like it was the first day of a meeting between two long lost acquaintances getting reacquainted. As I have traversed this rocky road of one of the most important relationships of our lives, mother and child, and been both the daughter of a parent who does not enjoy her child as well as a parent who immensely enjoys her own child, I have learned so much. I have broken the chains for my son to be a better parent if he so chooses to take the frightening and exhilarating road we call parenting.
I am enough and I know this not for my ego, but because I have done the work and have learned from my mistakes. I am a stronger more complete woman because of them. Hallelujah! Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and each time expecting different results. This is what I learned in Alanon. One of my favorite all time Alanon phrases is, “It is like trying to buy a loaf of bread at a hardware store.” Children of Alcoholics tend to keep going back for more- even if it is not a healthy more- hoping, praying, looking for just that crumb of love we hoped would come if we just acted better, sent the better gift, the more sparkly and timely birthday card. The loaf of bread is never going to be at the hardware store. When we finally realize the only person we need to show up for is ourselves and that is enough.