I grew up with a lot of shame and guilt. I never believed I was good at anything. I still have a hard time talking in front of people today. I do not blame my parents. They did the best they could with what they had at the time.
I always felt that there was something wrong with me. I can remember sitting in a restaurant. The people in the next seat were laughing, and I believed that I must look funny. Their conversation had nothing to do with me, yet I always felt that I was the brunt of everyone else’s jokes. I walked with my head down and did not look at people. I always felt that people were “above” me. I was terrified of anyone in authority.
At 14, I started dating the man to whom I am still married to today. We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. He was the love of my life, and I wanted out of my abusive home. We got married right after high school. My husband was well on his way to becoming an alcoholic, but I knew nothing about alcoholics at that point and thought his drinking was normal.
When the first child came along, I thought it was great. I finally had someone who would love me. We bought our home and moved right in. It wasn’t long before the drinking got worse, and so did the screaming matches. I was usually the one who started it—screaming, throwing things, and hitting.
When my son was three months old, I went back to work because the bills were not being paid. My husband would watch the baby while I worked evenings. After my second son was born, the financial pressures got worse. I didn’t know how I was going to survive. I felt trapped in a marriage that was not good and knew I had nowhere else to turn.
I heard about Al‑Anon through one of my jobs. I had no idea what it was and thought it was for falling-down drunks. I kept up with the façade that I had the perfect family. But, whenever someone was willing to listen to my troubles, I would spill my guts, cry, and then feel guilty.
After a physical battle with my husband, I left with both kids and moved back to mom and dad’s. About two weeks later, I moved back with my husband because it was better than living like a failure. I started getting counseling at the women’s center, but I still resisted Al‑Anon.
I was taking courses to help me with my job with the developmentally challenged, courses in parenting, and I still felt like a failure. It wasn’t until I started attending Al‑Anon meetings that I finally found people who understood me. At first, I had a hard time grasping this Twelve Step self-help program. I believed that working on me was selfish, and that I needed to get help for my husband.
It was in Al‑Anon that I learned to start looking at my behaviors. I learned that I am not an all-bad person; that it is okay to make mistakes. If I made a mistake in the past, I would never own up to it because that would just continue to prove that I am a failure. I learned that I am somebody because God doesn’t make any “junk.”
Al‑Anon taught me to look in the mirror each morning and tell myself that I am a good person. I took self-inventories and learned to put the good with the bad. I had a hard time finding anything good about myself at first.
I never really knew how to take a good honest look at myself because I was so afraid of being judged, and I judged myself the harshest. In Al‑Anon, we are all equals. I still have some problems with authority and tend to question myself, but I do not let it ruin my day. I know it is just the “stinkin’ thinkin’” trying to sneak back in on me.
Today, I can walk with my head up to face the world where, at one time, I was afraid to look at anyone, let alone chit chat. I had no social skills. I do not know all the answers, but today I do not have to. I am still learning and that is all any of us can do.
I found out that it was much easier to raise children when I was not on edge all the time. When my kids were small, I had no idea that alcohol was the problem. Unfortunately, my boys turned to drugs and alcohol themselves. My oldest was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder; my youngest is still living with us, at 23, and uses drugs and alcohol. They both know about alcoholism and its effects, but choose their own paths. I learned in Al‑Anon to detach with love.
I have a daughter who is 15 and is doing well. She grew up not knowing the old crazy me. I think I was more available to her. My husband does not drink and was involved in A.A. for quite a few years. Today, I can ask questions. It’s okay if I answer something only to find out that it is wrong. That is how I learn. I am finding out who I am—“One Day at a Time.”
By Sharon M., Nova Scotia
The Forum, July 2014