Recovering our Individuality through Community

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When my daughter was seven years old and my son was two I was reading a lot of books on parenting and accidentally found myself immersed in one on the origins of addiction. I picked up a well thumbed paperback at a yard sale called Bradshaw On : The Family that I thought was simply about parenting strategy . If I had taken time to open the book before I bought it I might have noticed that Bradshaw’s book was on his theories of the adult child syndrome, co dependence and addiction .

I’ve never been very comfortable with the mass marketing of popular psychology or self help strategies with steps, and lists, and charts like the ones in Bradshaw’s book but his theories on how to parent our children with more genuine love and understanding hit home for me on many levels. I eventually read all of his books and the books by Erich Fromm, Leo F. Buscaglia and M. Scott Peck that inspired his work. I shared the books with my husband and in many ways we were able to take some of Bradshaw’s principals and apply them to our relationship with each other and with our kids. We are far from perfect parents but Bradshaw did help us to understand how important it was for our kids to be allowed to become themselves and not simply reflections of us.

But what I remember most about Bradshaw’s book was the mirror that he held up to me when talking about his addiction to alcohol. ….“..I believed for years that I could stop drinking anytime. I pointed to my times of abstinence as proof of this. The fact was that I could stop. But what I couldn’t do was stay stopped.” …..

I had stopped drinking pretty easily during both of my pregancies and drank moderately during the year I nursed each child. I’d been questioning whether or not I had a drinking problem for years but it seemed that if I could pass on the booze for nine pregnant months and then go slow while nursing I was in the clear. But within two years of the birth of my second child I realized that my alcohol issues had not gone away with dry time.My sober pregnant years followed by years of the same old habitual heavy drinking were proving that like Bradshaw I could stop but couldn’t stay stopped.

I thought about doing the work sheets and following the program in Bradshaw’s books to kick my addiction but I just couldn’t do it. The idea that I would have to go back through every painful experience of my childhood and grow up all over again was overwhelming. So I decided that I most likely could figure out how to cut back on my drinking, it wasn’t that bad after all, I only drank at night and my relationship with my husband and kids was strong. Denial…..

Around the same time that I decided fighting off my addiction was too much work the American media began displaying middle aged women just like me , from Courtney Cox to Kathie Lee Gifford, happily drinking big glasses of wine all day and night on television , with no apparent consequence. I decided for the most part that I was over reacting and didn’t really have a serious drinking problem. It was normal to open a bottle of wine every night and drink away the stress of the day. Pass the Mommy Juice , Mommy’s Sippy Cup is almost empty!

But eight years after reading Bradshaw’s book I finally got to the point where I knew I had to stop drinking and stay stopped. I still wasn’t interested in work sheets or 12 step programs but thanks to the internet I found my solution through blogging on HelloSundayMorning.

I don’t believe that there is one type of addictive personality but I know that the loss of control all addicts experience does lead to shame. Shame leads to isolation and the solution is community. Sharing our stories and supporting others in the process of recovery is the best way to not only break the addiction but rediscover the value of who we are as individuals.

Mark Lewis’s Biology of Desire is the book on my bedside table right now. I’m working through it slowly trying to digest his research on neuroplasticity but even without fully understanding the science behind his theories I know from my own experience that they are true. As he briliantly puts it ” The facility for viewing one’s life as a narrative may be what’s missing in addiction…Addicts experience something breathtaking when they can stretch their vision of themselves from the immediate present back to the past that shaped them and forward to a future that’s attainable and satisfying….It feels like being the author and advocate of one’s own life. It feels like being real.”

I am a bit over one year sober now and am far from figuring everything out. I’ll keep reading, I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep reveling in the beauty of the world around me and little by little as John Bradshaw so beautifully put it I’ll continue to free my inner child.

It is indeed great to be free !