God is super weird. Have I mentioned that? Or maybe more significant to this post, god is always with us when we actively seek, always working toward our growth and healing. Relief from addiction is only a beginning; there’s also freedom from our past. Just as god’s biology miraculously heals our physical wounds (if we let them alone), so god will find avenues to heal our emotional wounds if we ask sincerely and give up self-wounding behavior. Healing happens, not on our time, but on god’s — when we least expect it.
Some of you know that, back in 2012, I reunited with my alcoholic ex-boyfriend despite the knowledge he was actively drinking as well as traveling for work. He never treated me well. Then in 2015, I had reason to “borrow” his old cell phone, which revealed an ongoing second relationship with an alcoholic girl from his work: eight weeks’ romancing in Santiago, Chile, for instance. By the end, they were coordinating her visits to his home around mine. I mailed the phone back with a sticky note: “Please do not contact me.” End of 5 + 3 year relationship.
In the two intervening years, I’ve asked over and over, “God, why did I lay the groundwork for this? Why did I block out all the signs? And how can I not do this again in my next relationship?” Naturally, I got no answers. I don’t know what I expected — friggin’ cloud writing or something! Anywho, a month ago I wanted healing badly enough that I wrote these words on a 3 x 5 card and put it next to my bed: Why did I lack the self-respect to face the truth and reject a man who was incapable of loving me?
Every night before bed, I’d read the words and pray, please show me.
Well, last week in the middle of the night, the time came. I’d gotten up for ibuprofen for my sciatica, switching on the bathroom light. Blinded temporarily as I headed back to bed in the dark, I remembered the trick I always used at my ex-boyfriend’s house, closing one eye to retain sight so I wouldn’t awaken and anger him by stumbling. Here’s when something weird happened. I remembered so clearly that tip-toeing dread of disturbing him. Everything about his home and those moments came back to me, along with my anxious need to please him. I re-lived it.
In the morning, I marveled at both the vividness of this memory and the insanity of my people-pleasing behavior. I read over some stuff from the Adult Children of Alcoholics Red Book, prayed, meditated. Then something even weirder happened. It was as if god said to me, “Little one, you’re ready. Let’s look at the tiny splinter behind this lingering pain of yours.”
BOOM!! Here came a second flashback, as immediate as life: I’m four years old. I’ve had a bad nightmare so I’ve braved the dark safari downstairs to my parents’ room. Dad snores loudly and that strange smell fills the air. I know I can’t go to Mom. If I do, she’ll be furious. So I need to wake Dad, even though it’s really hard to, and do it silently, so Mom won’t find out.
The intensity of this flashback was overwhelming. I relived every shade of emotion from that scene as if it were happening. I can’t even begin, as I write this, to summon the intense feelings that flooded me. But right alongside them were my recovery insights into what Louisa was learning about the world back then, and the obvious connection between the two flashbacks.
Sure, different children process the same experience differently. Another kid might’ve shrugged, “Mom sure is grouchy!” But I — for whatever reasons — soaked up Mom’s anger and concluded the problem was me. She was furious, not because Dad’s pores were practically gassing the room with booze, not because she was deeply (and sexually, she told me when I was 13) frustrated with a codependent dilemma she could not solve, but because I was so bad.
To some extent, I think we’re all Sybil, meaning our psyches are sectioned into different personalities. The difference between a “normal” person and one with multiple personality disorder is merely that, in a healthy mind, these personalities are integrated. So this concept of an “inner child,” so important to ACA literature, makes sense. What happened for me that morning is that, with god’s nudge, my inner child came to the fore.
It was she who answered my longstanding question.
She hurt. She ached. And she was still so afraid of being found unlovable! I prayed and sobbed and held her in my heart for over an hour. Even later that day, when I thought I’d got my shit together, a little four-year-old girl popped out of a shop in front of me and, hurrying after her mother, glanced up at me – and the tears started again.
Why did I lack the self-respect to face the truth and reject a man who was incapable of loving me? Because I’m an adult child of alcoholics. Because living in that home where no one spoke candidly and the emotional climate shifted radically from morning to night and week to week, I developed a distorted sense that I must make people love me — or I’d be abandoned.
Adult children of alcoholics enact the emotional equivalent of dung beetle’s life, toting around with them a friggin’ laundry list of dysfunctional traits. In fact, it’s called “The Laundry List” in ACA literature. Among them are the tendency to fear authority figures, to seek approval by people-pleasing, to be frightened by angry people, to live as victims, to try to “rescue” sick people, and more — all of which match my relationship with my ex.
How do I not roll the ACA dungball into my next relationship? By loving that child! She’s retreated again. I can’t find her. The memories, when I recall them, bring little emotion. But I know she’s back there, and she needs my love and protection. We’ll never bargain for love again.
The world of spirit continues to amaze me. Though god does not prevent pain or tragedies, it does help us heal from them — if we ask. God is no Santa. Rather, god is the love that powers life, and the truth no denial can change.
But, wow, can it show up with bells on!
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”― Thomas Merton