By: Christine Campbell BSW MS
“But the people who mattered were the people you chose instead of the people who were yours by an accident of birth. Real family was heart as much as, if not more than, blood.” ― Martina Boone,
Education and Experiences: Both Count
I am a woman in long-term recovery, truly grateful for all I have been given. It was a long, hard road as many of us have experienced, but I know today I am truly blessed and have beat the odds that many said could not be done. I celebrated 25 years of sobriety this past January, and still feel amazed at that.
When I had about 17 years in recovery, I was accepted to Hazelden’s Graduate School of Addiction Studies. There were 360 applications that year, but only 32 were accepted. I somehow knew this was the beginning of carrying the message to those of us that hide, that are not blessed with family support, that are throw aways,and ignored by many. Most of us can enter a room, a party, or a function and spot the alcoholics, right?
While I can do that, it’s also about spotting the motherless children, the ones who have an extra uneasiness about them, the ones who still have difficulty with eye contact not to mention having no idea how to have a relationship with anybody, even with years of sobriety. We tend to hang with each other however, and that brings relief and belonging.
Numbers Don’t Lie – Or Do They?
One evening, the professor at Hazelden was discussing their ‘numbers’. How many women, men, professionals, blacks, whites, young, old, etc. that stay sober.
He went on to say that the number for one getting sober and staying sober with no family support or involvement is zero.
That shocked me. Although I knew it was a rarity, but zero? Did this mean I was somehow doomed to relapse?
No. All things are possible with a loving God. Hear me! Look at me! I need to be heard and I’m not alone. There are too many of us in the rooms for that number. We can make it. But the list of traits for Adult Children of Alcoholics is long, and I had most.
- Isolated and afraid, we seek approval, but lose our identity in the process.
- We become alcoholics, or marry them, or both.
- We live life from the victim viewpoint and are attracted by that weakness in love relationships.
- We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and we become so concerned with others and not ourselves.
I raised my little brother for 40 years, anybody else?? We confuse love and pity and tend to love those we can pity. Have you ever noticed how many nurses, doctors and human service workers survived insane households, lacked love and understanding, and became addicted and alcoholics or married them and nursed them back to health, while still suffering themselves?
Are We Related?
I recently sat in a huge speaker meeting in Minneapolis right next to an obvious newcomer, bouncing his leg, fidgeting and about to jump out of his skin. He relaxed for a second when I smiled and acknowledged him. When the speaker got up to begin, she said ‘I came from a perfectly normal loving family’…
The newcomer looked at me very puzzled with his eyebrows knitted together as to ask-what? I looked at him and said, she’s lying, she can’t face it yet. He seemed relieved.
We are dependent personalities, terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship so we don’t have to experience those painful abandonment feelings which we received from living with sick people who were never there for us emotionally. We are reactors and not actors.
Two Empty Chairs for my Non-Participating Family
As I reflect back on the strong, assertive counselors while I was on the revolving door plan of treatment centers, I understand today, why they put three empty chairs in my family group – one in the middle where I would sit, and two on either side that stayed empty. While I felt embarrassed to be so alone, I trusted their process. I understand why I went through other family groups alone and why they extended my stay before I retuned to the family insanity.
‘You are never going to get what you want from those people Chris’ was said to me over and over. And they were right. Those people are dead or the walking dead-all of them. There is illness, isolation, violence, and dis-ease with those people and if nothing changes, nothing changes. I could not stay with them again.
I’m Now the Parent: What Kind of Family Will I Create?
There was a wonderful female counselor that I sat in front of, sick, lost and completely defeated. I had my precious 4-year-old daughter with me, this being one of the only treatment centers in the country that took women and their children so affected by our illness. She told me to be the mother to her you always wanted Chris….’
A light went on and everything changed.
We went to Disney (the rehab was close to Anaheim) and rode every ride there was! We went to Universal, Sea World, and Broadway shows. We played Pretty, Pretty Princess and Candyland until I wanted to scream. I never missed any function she was in, volley ball, parent teacher conference, science fair, prom and homecoming. She had slumber parties and birthday parties. Most importantly, we talked, loved, I sang to her, rocked her and dried her tears, assuring her that it will be OK. And never, ever would I strike her.
Doing What Families Do
When I turned 40, someone in the rooms suggested I throw myself a birthday party and get off of what I didn’t have. I announced it at the Westside club in Traverse City a few weeks ahead. These people knew me and my daughter for a long time-pain and all. Every single person in that club showed up along with their kids, their dogs and tons of food and gifts. It was magic.
I have since had many ‘gypsy Thanksgivings’-a full meal for those who have nowhere to go or those who chose to go to the family drunk fest and came over for pie and fellowship, trying to process what happened.
I have had Christmas trees fully decorated and quietly set in my home while we were out. I have had secret Santa’s making sure my daughter never went without. Firewood mysteriously showed up, stacked and much needed. Earning scholarships meant I could finish college. People sold me cards with a handshake and faith that I would pay monthly, and I did that. There are many people to talk with, many that encourage, and applaud when I celebrate another year sober, have that diploma in my hand, or just need an ear to listen. So many have touched me, given me hope, and I try to return the love.
Growing, Giving, and Receiving from my Chosen Family
The most troubled teen clients I have worked with know a truth: ‘If I just had someone in my corner, I know I could do it if someone believed in me.’
I was preserved to carry a message, and I needed that coach, support, sponsor, and most of all, spiritual family. And I have one, and you are part of it reading this.
You are not alone, you are not bad, and you are not broken. You are a part of the Divine.
Christine Campbell BSW MS
I am so humbled and grateful for my sobriety, my peaceful life, and for all my ‘spiritual family’. Many men and women saw one wounded woman crawl into the rooms a couple of decades ago. I am so grateful for all I have and for all that I don’t have.
I have come a long way from life in the fast lane, struggling to find myself, be a mother, and stand proud and discover what really matters.
My story is raw and honest-painfully shared-but a story about the ability to live life to the fullest and pass on what was so freely given to me, no matter what life brings you.
Retiring as a mental health practitioner, I celebrated 25 years last January and live a peaceful life in Northern Michigan. I write, blog, and stay connected with the wonderful people in recovery.
Link for book, With Vigilance-a woman in long-term recovery: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/442608