Tag Archive | ACOA

Surrendering My Shame

You know the saying, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me?” Well, in a family where there is an addiction problem, the family members, along with the addict herself, often live a life filled with crippling shame. The addict lives a roller coaster life of secrecy and regret, often viewing the world through a lingering haze of darkened, heavy shame. The other family members become enmeshed in a world of second guessing, desperate hoping, and pleading. This can lead to an almost unbearable shame, as their loved one never seems to “get better” from any of their concentrated efforts.

This tremendous amount of shame is a major difference between the disease of addiction and other types of diseases, like cancer. When a loved one is inflicted with other types of diseases, people are not often embarrassed to ask how he or she is doing. Concerned family and friends  don’t hesitate to offer support and encouragement in various ways.

Yet, when a loved one is away getting treatment for a chemical dependency problem (at least a 28 day stay), often times few people acknowledge it to the family that is left behind. The shame and embarrassment of talking of it, combined with the extreme awkwardness of people not knowing what to say or do, often wins out over the potential compassionate moments of reaching out.

The multiple times my mother went into chemical dependency treatment, our family did not get a whole lot of support, except from a few close family members. At least, I don’t recall much of it. Maybe my dad was to proud or embarrassed to receive any outside help. And maybe I don’t remember because I was so wrapped up in my own confusion and sadness . I believe that our family and friends were deeply concerned, but I think that the “don’t talk” policy was still very prominent in our family.

The “don’t talk, don’t tell, don’t feel” rule is a very common phenomenon in alcoholic homes. Especially in homes that are more affluent, as they struggle with trying to appear happy and well-adjusted to the outside world. Self Pride and denial also play big roles within this disease, as everyone is consumed with secretly trying to control the addict’s environment in trying to lead their loved one away from what is destroying them.

I was told early on not to betray any of our family “secrets” regarding my mom’s drinking problem. I was told not to tell ANYONE about what was happening, because it was not anyone’s business. I lived in a constant state of heavy sorrow and shame, as I did need to confide in someone. I confided all of my deep and dark family secrets to my  best friend on a daily basis. I do not blame my parents now for expecting that of me. It is the unfortunate  nature of  the damaging effects that result from this devastating disease.

In the book, “Adult Children of Alcoholics”, it talks about the difference  between healthy shame and toxic shame. Toxic shame is unhealthy shame, which originates from past verbal or physical abuse.

      “Others have been shamed by perfectionist goals that we could never reach. We were judged as failures for not being perfect or for not trying hard enough. Unhealthy shame is near the core of the adult child wound. We feel deeply flawed as a person due to this type of shame. Dealing with toxic shame takes courage, patience, and a Higher Power (God).”

      “Healthy shame exists when we recognize a wrong we have done, and we want to make it right with ourselves and with the person we have harmed. For example, when we gossip, we should feel shame because we know what it was like as children and teens to be gossiped about. We know how painful it is to be labeled or to be called names.”

Healthy shame allows you to honestly examine your life, choices, and your conscience, in order to seek reconciliation with God and those you have hurt. By seeking out forgivness in this way, you can begin to much more easily heal your toxic shame. Good counsel (pastoral, psychologist, support groups) can help you to recognize your different types of shame that hold you back from living a full life. This helps people to be open to receiving the healing and awareness that God wants all of us to have.

I recall a very painful situation of ridicule and shame that happened 3 years ago, when my mom first went into the hospital. When mom went into the ER, she was extremely inebriated and belligerent. She actually fell  down in the ER and broke her hip, which required her to get emergency surgery.

 One of the nurses that she had taking care of her was so completely and outwardly condescending and rude to her, that it was very insulting and painful to endure. Mom was very out of it and confused. She did not even understand where she was. Her dementia was worsened by the trauma of the surgery, and she was very demanding and anxious due to the effects of extreme chemical withdrawal.

It is difficult to describe  how hurtful it was to try to defend the dignity of this frail, sick, confused, difficult woman, who happened to be my mother and friend. I know that the nurse understood why she ended up in the hospital. He was visibly disgusted by her condition. Perhaps, he himself, had a parent who had sometimes also been a  belligerent alcoholic. Perhaps he did not have much compassion for those who ended up on that path in life. What I didn’t understand though, was his lack of compassion for me and my sister. By disrespecting my vulnerable mother, he was also disrespecting us. We complained about his lack of compassion, and we then got a different nurse to care for her. I prayed that he would not treat other families in the same way.

I can still vividly recall the pitiful glances of the nurses and doctors, as they watched me take my mom in for her second hip surgery. She fell out of her hospital bed a few nights after her first surgery, and tragically broke her other hip. The looks were mixed with pity, sorrow, and disgust. I have never felt so alone in my entire life, as my mom was grasping at me, begging for me to help her, as she was not even sure of what exactly had happened to her. I remember saying to her surgeon, while trying to choke down my tears, “It’s been a long 20 years”. He nodded his head in sympathy.

At certain points during her almost 3 week stay, it seemed that mom might not make it. After the 3 weeks, she moved into a physical rehabilitation center (on the locked down dementia floor)  for a month to help her recover. During that time, she was very sick. She was angry, combative, confused, and in tremendous pain. They needed to keep her in a bed that had a mesh tent attached to the top, so that she would not fall out or escape from her bed. She reminded me of a deranged caged animal. It was upsetting, to say the very least.

I have never clung so tightly to my faith, in the hope and love of Christ, as I did during that time period. I felt carried in a way that allowed me to calmly and gracefully put one foot in front of the other. And It was during that time that I began to get a glimpse of what true surrender looks like. “Letting Go and Letting God” became more than just a tired slogan for me. I started to commit myself to a deeper and more frequent prayer life. I prayed the rosary more often. I prayed with my family and church friends more regularly, and attended Reconciliation again, after not receiving it for a few years.

I asked God to please help me accept His will, what ever that may be…instead of focusing most of my prayers  on curing my mother. It was when I began to practice surrendering my will, for His will, that I began to experience moments of real peace and detachment. I started focusing on what I was grateful for, instead of mostly focusing on why this was happening to us.

You see, in many ways, I did not at all feel ready to be looking for a nursing home for my mom to move into when I was still in my mid thirties. This was not supposed to be in our plans. I was not supposed to become my mother’s legal guardian. And certainly not when I had young babies of my own, or just a few years after my mother and father separated.

But, slowly, God was beginning to show me that He was indeed, the One in control. And the more I surrendered all of my expectations and fears, the more I felt that He was guiding me. It was then that I began to see in a much more profound way,  that as long as I kept my focus on Him, on His Words and promises, and  nourished myself with his life-giving Body and Blood in the Eucharist, that everything would be just fine. That, actually, everything could be more than just “fine”.

Things could be GOOD, because I was starting to really KNOW, as I still know, that “I could do ALL things through Him, who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. And I began to truly feel the truth, as I still do, in  Jeremiah 29:11, ‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”



Message in a Bottle

We all know someone who has struggled with the disease of addiction. Maybe it was a friend, an aunt, a brother, sister, father, or co-worker. None of these people wished to end up where the cruel disease brought them. They didn’t wake up one morning and say, “Hey, you know what? I think I’m going to drink or take pills to the point where I destroy my marriage or lose my house.” Often there is a sad story of loss or grief behind the self-destruction.

No, addiction is much more cleaver than that. It is much more deceptive and seductive. It very slowly makes you believe that you need it in order to be a better, more interesting, or happy person. You start to think everyone else is crazy to believe that you can’t “handle it”. Addiction twists the truth into appealing half-truths, or full-out lies, yet makes them look and feel like they were meant to be. There were times when I found my mom very visibly intoxicated, yet she still claimed with complete seriousness,  “I haven’t had a single drop to drink.”

I imagine addiction can make you feel like you are shipwrecked on an isolated island. Suddenly, you are alone, afraid, ashamed and unable to live out the expectations of those close to you. You send out your tiny, obscure messages of repentance and reconciliation, in small weathered bottles stuffed with lame appologies…that have weakened corks….hoping your message of peace will finally last. But they never do. They just come back unread again and again…because the recipients stopped trusting and believing in you. You have caused the erosion of the thing you once most treasured in all the world.

 After awhile, your brain starts to slowly chemically alter itself in order to get more of what it desperately craves, the very thing that is slowly and viciously destroying it. A person deep in the clutches of chemical addiction often can not simply just willfully “stop” taking that next drink, because their body and brain won’t allow it to without an extreme amount of  physical and mental pain (withdrawal). It all becomes a vicious cycle of shame, guilt, self-loathing and hiding. The sad part, I feel, comes in when the addict herself and even those around her expects her to just “fix the problem” on her own. They may think they can “handle it” without doing anything much about it at all.

Honestly, the only consistent, long-term success stories I have heard of come from those who have willingly and honestly attended a chemical treatment 28 or longer stay, which includes a detox period to get your body and brain adjusted to life without those chemicals. The process of detoxification can be very dangerous, so a person needs to be monitored with meds and nursing care. During a detox period at one of her treatment stays, my mom almost went into cardiac arrest, and they needed to admit her into the hospital, and was subsequently in detox for a few days longer than normal.

Then, success can be achieved, while attending a frequent spiritual program, like AA, to help support the person and help them avoid relapsing back into their old life of chaos and deception. I have heard of people needing to attend AA or Mass, or even both, every single day in order to help them battle those relentless temptations to abuse chemicals.

I believe my mom was probably one of those who needed AA daily (and more frequent mass attendance), but what do I know? She never believed AA was for her, anyway. She thought that it was for, “those other people”. Little did she know that addiction doesn’t need to discriminate from what part of town you live in or what kind of car you drive. The town drunk is typically NOT the one who is sitting on a park bench with a bottle hidden wrapped up in a brown paper bag. But my mom never bought into that truth. If she did, maybe that truth could have set her free from those chains that kept her trapped with her sly, cruel demons.

Although mom’s sobriety came as a result of her needing 24 nursing care in a nursing home at the age of 66, I am still extremely grateful for that. God found a way to make it happen. Granted, it wasn’t the way we would have chosen, but who am I to be so picky? Besides, we all know God often takes us down roads that we most don’t want to go down, just so that we can learn the most lessons. And who am I to argue with that? I know He will always know best.


 I have been thinking lately of a quote that I heard recently, “Balance is somewhere between heaven and hell”, and how I yearn more and more through Al Anon recovery to peacefully live in the middle place. Growing up as a child of an alcoholic becomes a constant balancing act. You learn to live in the land of intense extremes, due to the many effects that the disease of addiction has on the family.  And now that I am an adult child of an alcoholic, I realize how those coping strategies that I developed as a child have carried along with me into adulthood. These coping skills have partly helped to form me into the strong, resilient, loyal, and  faith filled person that I am, but they have also formed some not so adaptive patterns of behavior.

For most of my life, I have moved in and out of alternating worlds of extreme darkness and light. I have fluctuated between intense periods of anger & fear,  and love & forgiveness (which often led me to enabling, as I would often hide or dump out mom’s alcohol attempting to get her to “stop” drinking). I have fluctuated between intense worlds of joyful exhilaration and hopeless sadness. I have fluctuated between wanting to live in a non-conflict rose-colored glasses world of denial and a painfully honest world that sheds light on all of the brokenness.

At times I struggle with being my mom’s caregiver, as I sometimes carry these angry & resentful feelings around like a weight around my neck.  I focus on working the steps of Al Anon and applying my faith through prayer and meditation, which have consistently been the strategies that have helped me the most to find peace and serenity. Mom is doing wonderful these days. She has made somewhat of a  turn around, as she is starting to walk again and is generally more happy and settled in her care center. I am very grateful for that.

I focus on having an “attitude of gratitude” and “replacing my guilt with gratitude”, which is a very beneficial spiritual concept. Being grateful helps me to recognize all that I have, and helps me to not focus on all that I don’t have. Gratitude helps me to recognize how truly blessed I am and how God has carried me along every step of the way throughout my life. My prayer this week is for God to help me learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable in this uncharted world of “in-between” where It is painfully human… certainly not perfect, yet still joyful…..and very very REAL!