You return home, even though you do not really want to be there at all. You feel constant tension and anxiety: “Will Father get back home drunk?” You run away at night to your grandmother’s place since Father made a row again. At school, you are a most sociable person, open and friendly, passing all the tests with flying colors. Out of school, you are self-effacing, with little, if any, self-assurance. You envy other families, those who spend time together, go abroad for holidays, or watch together the newest movie premiere over popcorn. You cannot disclose to anyone what your everyday life looks like as it is so embarrassingly miserable. You keep dreaming of a loving family and of a dad who would offer you comfort and security, who would sit you in his lap and hug during a storm raging outside the window. Nothing like this happens, though.
This is what my childhood was like
I am an Adult Child of an Alcoholic. For a long, long time I lived with a sense of embarrassment and rejection. Besides, I could not help seeing myself as worse than others. I saw in myself all the drawbacks in the world, a person who does not live up to others’ expectations. I had to control everything very strictly; I was unable to talk about my feelings and needs, and shunned any difficult topics. My relationships went to pieces and I ceased to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I hardly knew who I really was.
It was then that I thought: “Will my life ever be normal? Will anyone be able to love me as I am?” I was sure that this was the end. What does “normal” mean, anyway? Back then, I thought that everything would get on the right track if only I could “fix” myself, stop making mistakes and clear all the hurdles. I saw myself as composed of a million pieces of a puzzle.
A weakness that turns into a strength
The moment I came to terms with my life was the moment I felt that my life is normal, after all. It is neither better, or worse; it is simply different. While I will not change my past, I should derive as many positive elements from it as possible. I turned my weakness into my strength.
Right. This is not so easy. It requires forgiveness, acceptance, therapy, and a lot of work on oneself.
However, when you see your experience as a learning trajectory rather than a drawback or scar that marks you for life, everything changes. Each of us has some burden on our shoulders. All of a sudden, it turns out that even while carrying this weight you can dream, love, develop your passions, and come to like your imperfect life.
The valley of the shadow
Why do I openly admit to being an ACoA? Because there are thousands of us. Thousands of people who keep thinking that there is something wrong with them. There are people among us who do not believe that they can make it in life, who lack the courage to come to grips with their fears. There are people who are confident that their life is one huge failure. Now – that is a huge lie.
I will be marrying a great man in three months. I have begun to live a life of an adult. I invest in myself and in my passions. I now feel I can love, talk and resolve conflicts. I allow myself not to be perfect and to make mistakes just like any other person. My past does not loom large over me; it does not define me. I am an ACoA and have a normal life. Today I can talk about this without experiencing a sense of shame and humiliation again. This has cost me a lot, yet I have never given up fighting for myself. I have experienced pretty much the same trials and tribulations as anyone else. And I keep being faced with the same difficulties as anyone else. We are constantly learning love, acceptance and understanding, irrespective of our past. After all, every single one of us has walked their valley of the shadow at one time or another.
This article was published in the Polish edition of Aleteia.