Tag Archives: alcoholism

authority

Remember last week when I posted about how proud I was of my birthday and thankful to be in a good place?  Yeah, that.

What a difference a week makes.

One of the things that can happen when you grow up in a house with alcoholism and/or other types of abuse is that you spend your life trying to fly under the radar.  You don’t want to call attention to yourself, you don’t want to stand out, you try VERY hard to play by the rules.  You do your best to BE the best because you take the responsibility of the whole world (or at the very least the survival of your family) onto YOUR shoulders.  Failure is not an option.  Yet you KNOW you’re not perfect.  In fact, you feel pretty badly about yourself, so fear and shame and embarrassment of being exposed are constantly hanging over your head.  You can’t let anyone see how imperfect you (and your family) are.  The other thing that happens when you have a history such as mine is that when it comes to authority figures you either develop a tough chip on your shoulder, or you shrink and become a timid, cowering shell (I am the latter).

I’ve worked for YEARS in therapy on this stuff.  I’ve worked for years OUT of therapy on this stuff – which is my way of saying, that “in or out” of therapy, the work is ongoing – because LIFE is ongoing.

So, something happened last week, right after celebrating my birthday, which has brought my sense of pride and confidence to a screeching halt, and it has to do with authority.

I got pulled over by a police officer last week.  I won’t go into details, because honestly I really am embarrassed about the whole incident, and I’m only telling you so I can discuss the larger authority issues and how I’m coping.

Here has been my response.  I stayed pulled over long after the police officer drove away – crying. Sobbing.  Unable to drive.  I called my husband from the car and he was able to “talk me down” so that I would be able to drive home.  When I got home I had a mini-breakdown.  I cried and sobbed and cried some more, giving myself a monster headache, crying myself to sleep and waking up the next morning with my eyes practically swollen shut from crying.  I’ve experienced massive anxiety (although not panic) every time I have gotten behind the wheel to drive since.  While I’m driving my anxiety is high, checking and double checking almost every move I make (or don’t make).  And I haven’t been sleeping well.

Last night I had to go to the same place I was travelling to last week and purposefully went out of my way to avoid the route I took then, because I couldn’t face driving past the spot where I was pulled over.  By the time I got home, I was in tears, shaking.  Another headache…

This reaction is more than the police officer, more than being pulled over.  It’s about how I cope (or don’t cope) with authority figures – with those who have real or perceived power over me.

This is about stripping away the facade.  This is about my failure to live up to the good girl image – of always trying to do the right thing, to follow the rules, to fly under the radar – of being caught and even called out for not being perfect, for falling short and being bad.  The feelings of shame and embarrassment have, at times, been overwhelming.  I’m walking around with a sense of dread, like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and I’m failing.  I’m sure my husband would love to repeat the, “Snap out of it!” scene of Cher in “Moonstruck.”¹  Heck, I’d love to snap myself out of it too! Instead, what he IS saying is, “This happened.  Move on.  You’re going to make yourself sick.”

But moving on, removing the weight from my shoulders, is easier said than done.  Once those old weights of shame, fear and embarrassment hit, they don’t let up very easily.  It’s hard to move on when the ball and chain keep you from picking up your feet.

But there are a few things that give me hope that this won’t turn into a major episode.

  • I am recognizing my reaction for what it is – an authority figure problem.  I know this is more than my interaction with this one particular officer, and I’m not trying to ignore it, or hope it will just go away.
  • I am able to stick up for myself with my husband.  When, at one point, he started to feed the flames of my shame (without knowing it) I told him point blank, “You need to stop.  You are NOT being helpful.” To his credit he asked what he could do/say that would be helpful.  I told him, and he listened and responded (he’s a good guy!).
  • I am practicing good self talk.  Deep down I know that I’m not a horrible person.  This is the biggest change.  It used to be that deep down I knew I was a horrible person and had to convince myself otherwise.  Saying to myself, “You know you’re a good person Lisa, you’ll get through this,” is VERY different than, “This is just proof of how awful you are.”  I am actively combating the negative thoughts, with positive messages of my self worth, and accepting the love of my family.
  • I am using my anger positively to fuel my “moving on.”  I’m angry at the officer for being so cold and robotic.  I’m angry at my father for, well, EVERYTHING.  I was in a good place till this happened, and I will not let this drive me back to a dark place.  I’m channeling my anger OUT, and not IN.

Sometimes these things happen – events that remind us of pain and suffering, being brought back to places of shame and weakness.  Many times they hit us when we least expect it, and that too, is part of our reaction – “Damn it.  I thought I had gotten over this.  I didn’t see THAT coming.”  So the reaction isn’t just about the actual literal event, it’s about connecting it back to our past, and our SHOCK that we still make that connection.

It’s been a week.  Both my husband and I are keeping an eye on this.  If I don’t start to “lighten up” in what we both consider a reasonable amount of time, then I guess I’ll have to call the doctor.²  This is a difference from the past too, when I would keep all this stuff bottled inside and shut him out – a sign that, overall, I’m in a much healthier place.  Still, prayers and good thoughts are much appreciated. Thanks.


¹My husband has never EVER hit me.  I am the one who is thinking of this scene as an example of his feelings of frustration and concern, NOT him.  Actually it represents my own frustration with myself! I just wanted to make that perfectly clear.

²My reluctance to call the doctor comes not from a disrespect of the medical/psychiatric profession.  If you’ve spent any time reading this blog you know I have the HIGHEST respect for both therapy and medication.  I’ve gotten to where I am now BECAUSE of the work I’ve done in therapy.  But finances are tight, so if I possibly can, I’d rather handle this without having to pay a bill in the process.

one of THESE conversations

Now that my oldest daughter is in high school she has to be out of the house earlier than her siblings.  I drive her to school first, then wait for my autistic daughter’s bus to pick her up, then I go out again and drive my son.  It’s a busy morning.  But one of the things I enjoy about this schedule is the 10 minute ride to school with my son.  It’s just the two of us now.  Sometimes the ride is quiet,  other times we have very interesting conversations and I get a glimpse into how he sees the world.

This morning, he was asking questions about death.  Since both my husband and I are pastors, death is not an unusual topic.  My children have known quite a few people who have died in the church, and we’ve had people in our immediate family who have died and they’ve been to funerals.

But this morning’s conversation disturbed me.  It wasn’t his wanting to talk about it, it was the specificity of his questions, his focus, and my stumbling over answers that were out of my comfort zone with an eight year old boy.  He asked me, “Do you miss your dad?” (My father died before my children were born.  If you’ve spent any time reading this blog you know my father was not the nicest person, in fact could be downright mean.  When he died, my overwhelming emotion was relief, not grief.)

“Do you miss your dad?”

After weighing (in about 5 seconds) whether I should be honest or lie, I decided to take the honest path.  I was also awake enough to remember who I was with and refrained from saying, “hell no!” but at that moment I also realized that I hadn’t really started to share my father/daughter relationship with my son yet.  While I try to be honest, I also try to be age-appropriate, and talking about my fearsome alcoholic father hasn’t felt right with my son yet.  All of this thinking in the span of about five seconds while driving the car!  What ended up coming out of my mouth was, “No, not really.” It was the best I could do.  But I didn’t realize the minefield I had stepped into, and wasn’t prepared for his shock and follow-up questions.  I should’ve been, but again, it was morning, pre-coffee, while driving…  Why do our kids always pick the most inopportune times to have these kinds of conversations!?

“Why don’t you miss your dad?”  “Didn’t you love your dad?”  How I wished my son hadn’t been paying such close attention, that it was just passing conversation.  Both his, and my, sense of timing for this question/answer conversation were not very good.  How could I explain the complexity of my feelings about my father in an age appropriate way, with only five minutes left in the car?

So I lied a little.  I left a bunch of stuff out.  I kept it simple.  “Well, your grandpa worked a lot, and he didn’t play with Uncle L and I the way daddy plays with you.”  “I didn’t spend a lot of time with him, so I don’t miss him.”    Silence.  Then he asked it again, the most complex question of all, “Didn’t you love your dad?”  Kids have the uncanny ability to get right to the point.  No sugar-coating, no social niceties, no polite distancing.  Damn.  The best answer I could give him in the short amount of time we had left in the car, and considering his age, was, “Yes, I loved my father.”

The truth?  I did.  In a weird kind of way.  It’s not the kind of longing and missing love I have for my father-in-law, whom I adored.  It’s not love made up of happy memories and shared experiences.  It’s not love that comes from admiration or imparted wisdom.  What I think is that I love the man my father could have been, had he been able to confront his demons instead of letting them rule him.

My son seemed satisfied to end the conversation there, so I let him.  Really, I breathed a huge sigh of relief it was over.  Until the next time – and there’s always a next time.  These kinds of conversations always pop up when you least expect them.

What I never could have done

I grew up afraid.  Having an alcoholic father taught me that.  We were never allowed to disagree openly with him, and his anger could be fierce.  I learned to bury, and even lie to myself about my emotions in order to survive.  I learned to lock myself in my room as much as possible, where I could feel some semblance of safety.

When I had children I vowed that while they would have a healthy respect for my husband and me, they would not feel the fear I felt.  I wanted them to be able to express their anger, even at me.  I wanted them to be able to stand up for themselves.  And they do, within certain limits.  In our house anger is okay, but we’re not allowed to belittle another person, or use words like “stupid,” “idiot” or “shut up.”  We can say “I’m angry with you,” but not “I hate you” (although that does come out once in a while).  I am far from being the world’s perfect mother or wife, and I’m sure my oldest has spent a good amount of time complaining about me to her therapist – but I try, and I feel like I have a good relationship with all three of my children.

So…

Something happened recently.

My oldest, who’s 15, has been participating in the school marching band’s color guard (you know, the kids who run around the field or march with flags).  She loved it at first, but has been on a steady path of disillusionment for months because the director has, in her opinion, been singling her out.  She has been in tears many times lately, only bolstered up by her fellow students telling her it’ll be okay.  Now, although I love my daughter, I know she’s not perfect, and usually I’m pretty good at seeing the teacher’s side of things.  But this director has a reputation for being downright mean, which I’ve heard from other sources besides my daughter.

A few weeks ago the director publicly benched my daughter because it was cold, her fingers were numb, and she dropped her flag – during practice.  She felt humiliated and seethed with anger and hurt for the rest of practice as she watched, then during the game in which she was allowed to perform.  She cried with her friends on the squad, and when I picked her up after the game was over she cried with me.  My daughter had enough.  She wanted to quit.  I encouraged her to stick it out.  It was then the playoffs – I reminded her that she made a commitment to this, and that it was important to follow through, and not to let her squad down.  I told her I’d be disappointed in her for letting down the squad, but that she had to make her own decision.

After this incident, and all tears, she went to talk with the director of the music program (who’s “above” the color guard director) and told her that she wanted to quit.  I wasn’t there for the conversation, I know only what my daughter told me afterwards – but if even half of it is true I really wonder how these people end up leading our youth.  I’m chalking the whole thing up to the color guard director just being mean, and the music director (who is new) being inexperienced.  The music director basically told my daughter that she couldn’t quit and that she was being melodramatic and self-centered.

SHE’S FIFTEEN – OF COURSE SHE’S BEING MELODRAMATIC!!!!!  Duh.  Fifteen year old’s are incredibly melodramatic and self-centered – it’s called adolescence.  What planet is this woman from???

I’ve never coached a team.  But I have been “in charge” of people.  And here’s what I’ve learned.  To be an effective leader and get the most out of those you lead you have to know your people.  Some respond well to the angry coach – “shape up!” “don’t be lazy!” – and some respond to the cheerleader type – “I know it’s hard, but you can do it!”  Some folks, and I can imagine a lot of teenagers, respond well to a comforter, “I know you’re having a difficult time, I understand, hang in there.”  My daughter definitely responds best to the comforter – and neither the color guard or music director knew this – and they’ve known her for two years.

The day after this “talk” with the music director, getting up for school on game day, she cried.  Again.  Cried that she couldn’t face another Friday night game.  She didn’t have it in her.  Again, I told her that I would be disappointed if she dropped out because she had made a commitment to her squad.  I told her to try to see it through.

Shortly after her school day was over she texted me to pick her up.  I asked her about color guard practice and she said she just couldn’t.  She couldn’t face it.  She emailed the music director and that was it.  She got in the car looking lighter than she had in weeks.

My daughter has done something I could never have done at her age.  The more I thought about it, the more I saw MY behavior and attitude as playing my “old tapes” – take the abuse because you can’t fight back.  And the more I thought about it, the more I moved from being disappointed in her to being downright PROUD.  She saw herself being mistreated and wasn’t going to be passive about it.  She was sad for her squad, but wasn’t willing to subject herself to poor treatment as the price for staying.  She did exactly what I’ve been raising my children to do – she stood up for herself.

Quitting isn’t always the best way to deal with a problem.  Sometimes quitting is taking the coward’s way out.  But sometimes quitting is a sign of health, strength, and can be downright BRAVE.  I love this girl!

***p.s. – The game she dropped out of ended up being the last game for her team.  Most of her squad members, even if they didn’t agree with her decision, respected it.  She has not heard from the color guard director or the music director since.  Also, out of respect for my daughter’s privacy, she read this first and gave me her permission to post…

Extreme Ambivalence

I am writing this from my mother’s house.  Visits to my mother are always a little weird.  I feel weird when I’m with her – ricocheting between enjoying her company and wanting to run away from her as fast as my feet will carry me.  I love her, and yet my disappointment and anger with her run as deep and mysterious as the ocean.

A little background.  My father was an alcoholic, and not a very nice man, who died of cancer almost 18 years ago.  I have spent YEARS and unknown tens of THOUSANDS of dollars in therapy, processing my childhood, unpacking my relationships with both of my parents, dealing with certain events, and trying to move on, to become my own person, to forge my own path, CHOOSING and working like hell to be healthy rather than stay stuck in self-destructive unproductive patterns.  I am proud of myself and the work I have done.

My relationship with my mother is complicated.  I love her – there’s no denying that.  I wouldn’t want to deny it.  She herself had a difficult childhood with an alcoholic father, and grew up in a generation that didn’t believe in therapy, or talking to anyone about “personal” problems.  History unexamined, un-dealt-with, tends to repeat itself.  She has done her best in her life.  I think BOTH my parents did the best they could with the coping skills they had.  BUT…

The older I get, and especially since I had children, the more disappointed and angry I have become with her for not doing more to protect my brother and me from our father’s behavior.  I know she was doing her best, but her best wasn’t good enough.  I know that’s not fair to her, but my childhood wasn’t fair to me.  And I can’t help how I feel – I just feel.  I spent years trying to sweep my feelings under the carpet by explaining and understanding things away.  One of my former therapists told me “You understand too much.  Your understanding of everybody’s actions allows you to explain their behavior away and make them unaccountable.  And because you can’t be angry at them because you understand them, you direct your anger towards yourself for feeling the way you feel.”  Angry at myself for feeling angry, because the people I wish I could be angry with don’t deserve it (even though they really do).  Ouch.  That therapist was right. And it’s a nasty nasty cycle to recognize and stop.  Even today I have to watch out for it, because it’s easier to be angry at myself than the flawed people who have hurt me – I risk less in the short term – less open conflict, less fear of rejection.  But in the long run it’s very self-destructive to stuff anger or direct it inward.

So, yes, my mother was doing her best – but she still failed to protect my brother and me from my father – and we deserved to be protected.  We deserved better.  I love my mother.  But I am also angry as hell with her – an anger that is profound, to my core.  This is a huge step for me – to direct the anger out instead of in.  But I’m not at the point where I want to do a big confrontation with her.  I just don’t have it in me.  With me in my late 40’s and her in her mid 70’s I just don’t feel like expending the energy required to do the thing “right” or risk it ending up badly.  That’s just how it goes.  Thank goodness we don’t live near one another, so we only see each other for quick visits perhaps four times a year, and talk on the phone maybe once a week.

So I am here, visiting her with my two younger children, for a two night sleepover (as my kids call it).  And like I said, it’s weird.  All the unspoken feelings, the going through the motions, the love I feel for my mother, the earnest desire I have for my kids to love their grandmother mixed with the equally earnest desire I have to run away from her – the love and disappointment and anger all mixed together in a strange stew whose taste is good one minute and bitter the next.

I wish I could stay longer, but I can’t wait to get the hell out.

Guilt

I live with a tremendous amount of guilt.  I never think I’m good enough.  I know, I know, in my last post I wrote how much God loves me just the way I am, and that’s true, but there are many times that “I” don’t love me just the way I am.

I am in the process of cleaning up Christmas.  Yesterday, the feast of the Epiphany, was the last day of the Christmas season, and in my house, that’s when Christmas officially ends.  Over the weekend we had our annual Christmas/Epiphany open house, so I’m trying to clean up from that too.  And while we were preparing for it, we threw an incredible amount of “stuff” into our bedrooms to get it out of the way.

My kids’ rooms are such a mess.  The family room is a mess.  The kitchen is a mess.  And I can’t help but think if I were just a better housekeeper or a better mother, my house wouldn’t be in such disarray. Why can’t I get the kids to pick up after themselves?  Why can’t I get myself off the computer and fold the laundry?  Maybe if I wasn’t fighting depression I would have the energy to maintain a schedule?  etc…

When I grew up our house was always spotless.  In the back of my mind I can remember how methodical my mother was about housecleaning.  She had a schedule for what days she would clean things.  Sheet changing day was Saturday.  Dusting and vacuuming the bedrooms were also Saturday.  I try to rationalize.  My mother had children five years apart and she only had two to clean up after.  I’ve got three kids and one with special needs, and my kids are each around three years apart.  More kids, more toys, plus behavioral issues on top of it.  Take that mom.

But it’s not my mother’s fault.  It’s mine.  I’m not going to shift the blame.  However, when I think about it, really think about it, a few suspicions about my lack of “domestic energy” and motivation come to mind.  Sure, my childhood house was spotless, but our LIVES were a friggin’ mess.  My mother worked tirelessly to emit a certain image of perfection that couldn’t be further from the truth.  The house was clean, but we were miserable.  My only sibling, a brother, threatened to run away on more than one occasion.  I made a suicidal gesture at THIRTEEN for crying out loud.

None of us knew if we were going to get “happy daddy” or “crabby daddy” when he walked through the door at night.  Many times when he drank he was actually MORE pleasant than when he was sober.  And he could be a real tyrant no matter what his blood alcohol level.

I have this message firmly ingrained in my brain of how my house should look.  Perhaps I fight against that.  Not that I’m a slob.  My house is more clutter than dirt.  And I DO enjoy when the house IS clean.  But it will not be the highest priority.  I still have the guilt though, because of the impossibly high standards that have been programmed into my brain.

At least I’m at the point in my life where I feel angry about those standards, and about the guilt.  I don’t need it, I don’t want it.  I know it isn’t healthy, and I’m trying to get rid of it.  Guilt does no one any good.  Guilt is shaming.  Guilt keeps us stuck.  One of the first steps in moving on with life is to acknowledge that.

No one is perfect.  I’m not the perfect wife.  I’m not the perfect mother.  But you know what?  No one is.  There is NO SUCH THING.  I’m doing the best I can.  I try to be a little better all the time.  I know that’s good enough for God.  I just have to keep telling myself that it’s also good enough for ME.

the “God” thing

I love my children.  I love my husband.  But even before I loved them there was something else I loved, and that was sharing GOD’S love with people.

I was married when I was 23, a marriage that lasted only a year – there was no magic wand waved over us when we took our vows, no cure-all t0 fix the growing divide that started even the day our vows were taken.  A big wedding and a pastoral pronouncement do not make a marriage.

When my marriage dissolved I went into a serious soul-searching phase.  I returned again and again to the feeling I had of a call to pastoral ministry, a call I tried to bury deep, because after barely surviving 4 years of college to get my bachelor’s degree, I did NOT want to go four more years for a Master of Divinity.  But I belong to a major denomination, and to be considered for ordination, I would have to get this 4yr Masters.  So I buried my call, got a job in the social work field (where I have my Bachelor’s degree), and got about my new independent life.  I fell in love and got married.  But it fell apart.

In the soul-searching and in conversations with my pastor, conversations of forgiveness and compassion, he encouraged me to return to this sense of call, to see where it would take me.  I was hesitant, but he was insistent.  “You don’t want to get towards the end of your life and wonder, ‘what if?’  If you try, and fail, at least you know you tried.  If you try and succeed, well then, wonderful!”  How could I say no to that?  So, newly single (and thank God with no children from this marriage) I quit my job, packed up my life and moved to a new city to go back to school.

I started going to church when I was in high school.  I had had such a tough time in my family of origin and in school.   My father was an alcoholic.  My mother was a classic enabler and HUGE into denial.  We moved when I was 12 and I was shy, so the kids in the new school thought I was snotty, and I was picked on brutally.

Church became a refuge for me.  A place where I could go and feel taken care of.  The pastor proclaimed the gospel – that despite what I had done in my life, despite what was done to me, despite my bad feelings about myself and my failures – GOD LOVED ME just the way I was.  I immersed myself in my congregation, joined the youth group, the choir, played guitar.

Certainly church wasn’t perfect.  It can’t be.  It’s filled with sinners.  But I felt loved there, and wanted other people to experience that love too.  I wanted to preach.

So after my divorce I started seminary.  Three years of coursework in addition to serving a few hours per week in a congregation, and then one year of full-time internship.  Along the way the depression I battled on and off since my early teens reared it’s ugly head, and I found myself back in therapy and on medication.  But both things, as well as an incredibly supportive seminary community helped me stay on track.  And in my last year of seminary I met an amazing guy, a year younger than me, and two years behind me at school, who would become my husband (of almost 19 years now).

I’ve also been ordained almost 19 years now, and the thing I love most of all about pastoral ministry is what I got to do this morning – share the love of God with people.  I do not proclaim a God who sets all kinds of rules, a God who welcomes some and shuns others; the God I know in Jesus loves each and every one of us more deeply than we could ever imagine.  He is for YOU and me.  There is no one beyond Jesus’ reach.  No one he doesn’t love.  No one he didn’t die for.  You don’t have to be good enough – NO ONE is good enough.  What a tremendous message that is.  A message that sometimes gets drowned out by the loud voices of religious intolerance, and that grieves me.

I don’t know your religious affiliation, if you have any.  I’m not here to judge.  I’m not here to convert anyone.  This is just where I’m coming from, and I wanted to share it with you.  I hope whatever your faith, or lack of it, that you have some guiding principle or belief which helps ground you and build you up in the crazy world we live in.  For me it’s Jesus.