by Abby Jacobson
Addiction is often referred to as a “family disease” meaning that it affects not only the addict but those who are related biologically as well. I would add that this circle should also include anyone who comes into contact with this particular individual. The unpredictability, the chaos, the empty promises… none are exempt from the toll addiction takes on those who know the addict or alcoholic best. And none suffer quite like the addict who wishes their particular situations were anything but.
On the other end of the spectrum however, the same can be said about recovery from addiction, that it too affects everyone connected to the individual who struggles to stay clean and sober. I liken the analogy to the quote “it takes a village to raise a child” meaning quite simply that recovery involves a much larger circle than the individual him/herself. Often times though, the addict or alcoholic has been “cut off” from their family and community who once stood by them, leaving the individual with minimal support and diminished self esteem, only a few of the many issues which arise to the surface in early recovery. This is what makes the 12 step program so incredible as it provides an immediate community that understands and supports its participants no matter what stage of addiction or recovery an individual my find themselves in.
After my own experiences as a “child of an alcoholic/addict”, I promised myself I would have nothing to do with this population when I was old enough to make this decision for myself. This would have course meant ending communication with the one person I loved best in the world, my mother who I barely knew. Like many children who grow up in the wake of their parents addiction, I grew up in a world of contradictions which became normal for me. I expected and learned to predict the chaos and quickly became a master at ruling same. I called it self preservation. My “normal”meant that my mother would often disappear for months and years at a time. My father left the scene shortly after my birth so I was left with various families in various home, many of which I have no memory of to this date. My mothers’ path led her to 3 failed marriages and eventually making the decision to give up her children for adoption. Four years after having adopted out my brother and myself, she ended her life. I grew up knowing that this was part of her destiny as she had attempted suicide so many times. My reality was that by age 12, I knew she would succeed and after I turned 18, she did.
Growing up,I promised myself I would never be like my mother. I would succeed where she failed and above all, I would never become an addict. Such are the innocent wishes of an 18 year old. As things turned out, I have been fortunate to have not inherited her genes in regards to addiction but it is not to say the “proverbial envelope” was not pushed. Following her death and in spite of my promises to myself, I chose to loose myself in the haze which drugs and alcohol provided. I began to understand its lure although I did not take well to its aftermath. I was fortunate to find my way through and to have support throughout the years which followed not only my mothers death but my fathers as well some 4 months later. This kind of grief was new to me and frightened me. Those who knew me suggested counseling and for the 1st time in my life I dared reach out to a total stranger and share my realities. I took the plunge and to this day remain grateful for the counselor who stood by my side for over 10 years. I also had extended family & friends that were willing to lend an ear if only I was brave enough to ask for help.
I took a chance and was lucky. Throughout the years I also became familiar with the 12 step rooms for children and family members of the alcoholic/addict. I heard my language being spoken and was able to translate its messages into my own. I started to learn about recovery. I began to understand that there was no way I could have done anything to prevent or cure my mothers addiction and that I was not to blame for any part of it. Had she lived, I am sure she would have given me the same message, when she was able.
Not surprisingly, I eventually found myself drawn to the field of counseling with a speciality in addictions counseling. I have been in the field for over 20 years and to this day continue to appreciate the heartfelt stories which cross my office threshold, stories of pain, broken promises, unresolved guilt, shame, and loneliness as well as stories of unparalleled resilience and motivation in spite of slips and falls along the all too precarious path of recovery. For without these stories and truths, I cannot continue to learn or understand what assistance I might provide as you find your way towards your own recovery. After all, it takes a village and none of us are truly alone.
Abby Jacobson is a RI licensed Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counselor who has her private practice in Providence, RI. She can be contacted at: 401-569-7656.