Through my eyes

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One of my early childhood memories from before my dad started drinking was standing with my feet on top of his.  I was seven or eight years old, he would hold my hands and I would stand on his feet and hold on as he walked around the room.  We were not really dancing, but it was fun and my sister and I would take turns.  I think a lot of little girls do this with their daddies and it is a sweet memory I have of him.

When I was in college studying literature, I was very drawn to a particular poem:

My Papa’s Waltz 

by Theodore Roethke

 

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

 

There are a lot of different opinions and interpretations about what this poem is describing.  Some readers interpret it as the happy childhood memory of a young boy playfully dancing with his father in their kitchen, while his mother gazes on.  Other readers believe that the dance is a metaphor for physical abuse by a drunk father.  The first time I ever read this poem, I instantly believed it depicted abuse.  However, I wonder if that is because my father became an abusive alcoholic (while my mother helplessly watched on).  I always tell my students that this is the beauty of literature- the reader is able to interpret what they read in their own personal way.  We all (sometimes subconsciously) are influenced by our own life experiences and as a child of an alcoholic, that was the lens I saw the world through.  Yet, I got a feeling that this boy still loved his father, which was another part of the poem I could relate to, because I still love mine.

I know without a doubt that if my father was not an alcoholic, he would have been an awesome dad.  Just like I know that if my exboyfriend did not suffer from the same addiction, he would have been a wonderful life partner.  When I went to an Al-Anon meeting recently, someone used the phrase “detachment with love”.  I realized that I unknowingly started doing this with my father years ago.  I have his nasty emails blocked, his ringtone on my phone is “silent”, I immediately erase his toxic voicemails and I speak to him as minimally as possible, especially if I know he is drunk.  When I see him, if he is sober, I chat with him, but I stopped letting him “in”…I try to no longer let his behavior negatively affect me.  I accepted that I was not going to be able to change him, so I stopped trying to.

I am currently detaching with love from my exboyfriend.  While I never felt responsible for my father, I did feel VERY responsible for my ex.  By protecting him and enabling him, I was actually hurting us both, which I am able to see now that I have some space from the situation.  I cannot protect him from the consequences of his choices and I do not want to continue to suffer because of his actions.  By releasing those feelings of responsibility for him, I was able to start focusing on myself and my needs.

I love my father and I love my exboyfriend, but I hate their alcoholism.  My father, the man who should be the one to protect me, physically hurt me and still verbally abuses me. My exboyfriend, the man I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with, lied to my face and cheated on me, violating my trust.

I think I will always see the world as the child of an alcoholic and as someone who deeply loved and was in an eight year long romantic relationship with an alcoholic.  It is just a part of who I am, woven into the essence of my being.  However, I know that they both made their own choices, but that I also had the ability to make a choice for myself.

And my choice was to detach (with love) from both of them.

Hiding in plain sight

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I went to an Al-Anon meeting tonight.  I have not been to one in probably almost 20 years.  At that time, I went because of my father’s alcoholism.  This time, it is about my ex-boyfriend.  I guess technically I am killing two birds with one stone.

The topic the speaker chose could not have been more perfect for me.  It was about feeling responsible for other people and not focusing on yourself.  For SO LONG I felt responsible for my boyfriend, especially at the end of our relationship when he was hospitalized and so ill.  I put him and his health and his alcoholism first and I knew he really needed me.  It was all about him, but really most of our relationship was that way.  He said something to me right after our dog died…he said, “I knew I wasn’t taking the best care of her, but I also knew that you would.”  I thought I was helping him, but really all I was doing was taking away any responsibilities or consequences.  In reality, I was making it very easy for him to drink, because he knew I would hold everything else together.

Someone in the meeting said that they often get lost in other people because it feels makes them feel safe.  I recognized that is exactly what I have been doing these past few months, since everything in my life became complete chaos.  My sister bought a house at the end of June and ALL I have done this summer is help her pack, move, decorate, etc her house.  I also have been helping her with her two year old daughter.  I obviously love spending time with my niece, but I know I have been hiding in their lives and their new home as a way of avoiding my own.  I also realize that I have been trying to do EVERYTHING for my sister, whether it be at her house or helping with the baby.  Another member of the Al-Anon group spoke tonight and said that they always want to be needed because if they are not doing things for other people, they feel worthless, like they have nothing else to offer.  That is how I feel about myself right now and I am aware that I have transferred a lot of my codependent tendencies from my exboyfriend to my sister.

So, here are my takeaways from tonight’s meeting…

  1. I am not responsible for anyone else’s behavior.  I should not feel guilty that I can’t be supportive of someone who is harmful to my emotional well being. I am only responsible for myself.
  2. I cannot save anyone, especially those who do not want to save themselves; people need to face the consequences of their actions. 
  3. I have to stop trying to do everything for other people and start realizing I have more to offer.  People will still care about me and want to spend time with me, even if I am not “doing” things for them.  I have to stop needing to constantly feel needed.
  4. No. More. Hiding.  As much as I love my sister, my niece and their new lovely home, I must have my own life and enjoy the time I spend at my own house.