Emptying my ‘closet of hurts’

For eight years, I had been living a life of emotional hoarding because of alcoholism. I lived in seclusion, consumed by depression, constant worry, and panic. Unlike a hoarder who collects things, I had been collecting “hurts.”

My son’s disease was kept a secret because admitting it to others was much too painful. I was in denial for thinking that no one outside of our family knew of the alcoholic’s weekly episodes. My denial was no different from the alcoholic’s denial that blinded him from seeing the devastation that his untreated disease was causing in his life.

Sharing what had become my chaotic life with family and friends only made them feel just as helpless about my pain as I was with the alcoholic’s pain. I had made it my mission in life to always be there for my children. Now, I was faced with the reality that I wasn’t able to find the solutions that would cure the disease that had sucked the life out of my family.

Along with each new hurt and disappointment, came my ability to stuff the pain in my little “closet of hurts.” My sadness could be stored in a make-believe place, where no one could see it. I had such a strong desire to protect the alcoholic. The pain and the memories associated with alcoholism had become mine alone. I had reached a point that sharing my thoughts only led to more feelings of inadequacy for not being able to fix my loved one’s life.

The stories of our lives seem incredulous to people who knew our family. Keeping my reality locked away somehow acted as a shield from admitting our less-than-perfect life to others. Each new drinking binge, and the disastrous events that followed, brought about the repetitive pain of watching someone you love suffer and not being able to help them. The consequences of his behavior had led to job losses, school dismissal, hospitalizations, and yes, jail!

It took all these years for those hurts to accumulate to the point that my closet door would no longer close and they all came tumbling out of the closet. They had morphed themselves into a hurt that I no longer recognized as the alcoholic’s pain, but rather as my own.

My life had become insanely chaotic. I was no longer able to keep one step ahead of him, and the fear was overwhelming. I felt defeated by the lies, broken dreams, panic, and unpredictability of the alcoholic’s life. One very somber day, I bravely walked into my first Al‑Anon meeting, then another. For several weeks, I attended a meeting every day in order to try to regain some of my own sanity.

In the Al‑Anon meetings, I saw only survivors. They may have been just as wounded when they came to this fellowship, but now they were composed, and ready to help me too. Most of my first meetings, I did not share because I could not trust myself to even begin to resign myself to accepting that the alcoholic may never recover. To make that admission felt as though I was betraying my role of a loving, supportive mother.

The more meetings I attended, the more survival tools I gathered. The Serenity Prayer soon became a prayer said each time I felt panic at the unpredictability of what the evening would bring when my son was hanging out with friends. These meetings offered me hope. They helped me to start replacing hurts with acceptance, compassion, and soon with forgiveness.

There was healing with each meeting. I soon felt some of the resentments begin to dissipate, as I was no longer a victim of the hurts I had subconsciously tucked away. I am still not where I need to be in the process of understanding, acceptance, and relinquishment to my Higher Power, but I do know that I now have a burning desire to clean out my useless little “closet of hurts”—“One Day at a Time.”

By Josephine B-V, New Mexico
The Forum, March 2014