.How I Found the Story
In the fall of 2010, I was 11 years-old and in fifth grade. I was just recovering from a tumultuous year of my dad being incarcerated, being traumatized by the atrocities that took place in my drug-addicted cousins' household, family fighting, and school difficulties. When I first saw TLC's Addicted, I originally rolled my eyes and thought, "Why would I watch a show about the type of people that caused me so much misery in my life." At that time, I thought addiction was a moral issue and flaw of character, not a disease.
However, when I flicked on my TV and saw the show by accident one October night in 2010, I could help but be intrigued. I saw Kristina Wandzilak talk about the progression of her own addiction in the opening of the TV show. There were photos from her innocent childhood as she introduced herself ,and then she proceeded to talk about how she had her first drink at 13, was addicted to drugs and alcohol by the time she was 15, robbed homes and prostituted to support her habit, and today she was an interventionist to help others who were "addicted." I do not remember which particular episode it was, but it talked about the concepts of "addiction not happening over night," enabling, and co-dependency. I thought, "I want to understand the people who had caused me so much misery in my life." At the end of the episode, I saw the resource. TLC.com/Addicted to learn more. On that website, I watched videos of Kristina Wandzilak talking more in detail about her experience with addiction and the book that she wrote and saw clips from other episodes. I saw one clip from the episode of Annie and Michael that was titled "Withdrawal and Robbery." I learned that addiction definitely had to be a disease because no one would choose to be as sick as Annie was in that clip when she was going through withdrawal and rob somebody to stop the withdrawal like Mike was going to do in that clip.
I bought the book from Barnes and Noble and quickly dove into it. I was amazed at how parallel Kristina and her mother's story was my experiences with my addicted love ones in terms of having an alcoholic father, self-esteem issues, co-dependency, enabling, a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship that was based on the addiction, etc. There was no going back, I wanted to be imbibe as much information as I could about addiction. I did not initially wanted to go into the addiction and recovery field as a career; I was just curious. In sixth grade, I wanted to become an addictions counselor and/or interventionist, but that quickly changed into a paralegal later that year. It was not until my senior year of high school that I wanted to have a career in the addiction and recovery field again after wanting to be a paralegal for three years and a journalist for the following two years.
Years went by. I went through middle school, passionately reading more books about addiction and recovery and ardently watching episodes of Addicted and Intervention. Then I went to high school, and most of my time was spent doing school work, working, listening to music, and flipping through social media. Though I retained much of my knowledge about addiction and co-dependency, I did not keep the knowledge fresh in my mind because I did not watch much TV except for General Hospital and did not read any books for pleasure, so I often failed to apply my knowledge and keep it in the front of my mind. Different events regarding the addicted individuals in my family were taking place, and I was growing increasingly frustrated and upset. I got into some destructive thinking patterns, losing sight of my passion and purpose. After having a real reality check during the middle of my senior year, I felt compelled to re-read all of the books I had about addiction and codependency, starting with The Lost Years. Though slow to start it, I finished it in less than a week and saw it completely different than when I read it seven years ago. I even had tears in my eyes during some parts of it.
Kristina Wandzilak was the second of four children in an affluent family in Half Moon Bay, California. Her father was a successful salesperson, and her mother was a stay-at-home mother. They had a beautiful home, Mercedes, and every other materialistic item that they needed and wanted. However, the family dynamic was quite tense at times. Her father was an alcoholic who often would belittle her mother and make inappropriate comments about her and her two sisters' bodies. Her mother was an authoritarian parent and devout Catholic, who was dead-set on raising her children the way she was raised and did not stand up for herself to her husband. Kristina and her siblings were taught not to talk back or argue with their parents. Kristina struggled with low self-esteem and feeling smothered in her authoritarian household due to her stubborn and strong-minded nature.
One night during a dinner party, a 13 year-old Kristina decided to try alcohol. She poured herself a glass of vodka and drank it, realizing that it alleviated all of her troubles. She started drinking every night when her family was asleep. At 15, she entered high school and got into a relationship with a bad boy, who introduced her to cocaine. Throughout the rest of her teenage years, her addiction progressed to the point that she dropped out of school and stopped coming home. Her parents tried to put her in three rehab centers, which she had escaped from. At 18, her mother told her that she was not welcome in their home or lives until she was in recovery. Kristina proceeded to descend into the depths of addiction. She lived with her boyfriend for a while, then lived with a drug dealer and robbed homes for him, and eventually ended up homeless on the streets of San Francisco. At 21, she had a near-death experience on the floor of a homeless shelter and finally decided to get into recovery. After spending some time in treatment, she slowly put her life back together. She eventually got a job at a coffee shop, earned her GED, started attending college, moved back home, got a job in the addiction and recovery field, got an apartment, married her true love, had two children, and opened up her own intervention practice.
Kristina's mother Constance's side of the story is also written throughout the book. Constance started attending Al-anon meetings and therapy as Kristina was descending into her addiction. Constance learned about her husband and daughter's disease of addiction and -most importantly- her own illness of co-dependency. Constance went through a radical transformation, realizing she could not control her daughter and husband's addiction, learned to detach by walking and getting a job outside the home, eventually mustered up the courage to leave her husband, and changed her ways with her other children. Becoming educated on addiction and co-dependency and applying what she had learned changed Constance as a person, her life, and the lives of her family for the better.
The Lost Years is an excellent read for both a loved of someone who is struggling with addiction and someone who is or has struggled with addiction. The best aspect of this story is it offers in-depth perspectives of both sides: the loved ones of the addict and the addict themselves. Kristina and her mother are brutally honest about the details of their addiction, co-dependency, and recovery. The most admirable aspect of the story is that the deepest, most vivid parts of it are not the incidences and observable behaviors of the people involved; the deepest, most vivid parts are the emotions and thoughts, which may not have been articulated at the time that they were occurring. Almost everyone who has an addicted loved one or is or has been addicted themselves can relate to the story.
As the opioid epidemic has become a nationwide public health crisis, the saying "Addiction does not discriminate" has become popular among addiction professionals, loved ones of addicts, and addicts themselves. Though the events of the story and writing of the story occurred decades before that saying was coined, one of the most prominent lessons of the story is addiction does not discriminate. Anyone can become afflicted with addiction, regardless of their socioeconomic class, education level, religion, race, nationality, etc.
"My dad has come a long way, and he'd done well for himself and his family. We had everything we could need or want...My friends would always say how lucky I was to have such wonderful parents. - Kristina Pg. 8.
"My family and I had dinner together every night. And every Sunday, we all piled into the Mercedes and drove to church. We prayed as a family...Everyone always said what beautiful family we were." -Kristina pg. 9.
"My husband was a hard worker. He was up before the sun rose and came home at 7 or 7:30 every night. He was very good at what he did and had a come a long way over the years...I loved our ranch-style house on the hilltop that overlooked the town and the ocean. From our glass-walled family room we could see for miles in several directions." -Constance pg. 10.
"Kristina, Allison, and Caroline all attended a private girls' school nestled at the foot of 500 acres of rolling hills...I was proud that my daughters were not a part if this century-old institution. The education was tough, and the girls had to be studious." -Constance, pg. 15.
Kristina's family was the archetype of the ideal American family. They lived in a beautiful home; the children attended private school and were involved in sports; the father worked hard; the mother was a stay-at-home mom and happy to be so; and they ate dinner together every night. However, addiction still afflicted Kristina's father and Kristina.
A second important lesson that the story teaches is to face problems and not sweep them under the rug. Otherwise, they will fester and lead to further problems.
"I realized on our wedding night that my new husband might have a drinking problem...I thought having children would stop Reed's drinking. Instead, he drank more...I worked hard to keep us looking good, but it was becoming more difficult."- Constance pg. 23.
Constance knew from the beginning that her husband had a drinking problem. However, due to her attraction to him, religion, their public image, the family they had created, -and most importantly- the financial stability that he provided, she stayed with him. Constance was fervent about traditional values and her and her family's public image, so she was not open about his alcoholism. When he would go into his drunken rages, she would simply sit there and not fight back because she did not want their children to see them acting "out of control." Constance not addressing her husband's alcoholism and not standing up for herself to her husband contributed to the causes Kristina's addiction because it did not teach Kristina to have self-esteem. Constance stated years later that her submissiveness to her husband was really due to her own lack of self-esteem and that a parent cannot give self-esteem to their children if they do not have it themselves. Constance not addressing her husband's alcoholism due to her focus on their public image and value of the financial stability that he provided brewed resentments inside of Kristina.
Since the children were taught to simply submit to their parents and not talk back, Kristina did not have a voice growing up; therefore, her resentments were left to fester. Modern psychology shows that children should be able to question their parents, have an open dialogue with their parents about rules, boundaries, and decisions; and be able talk back to an extent to learn the reasons behind the rules, boundaries, and decisions and to learn critical thinking skills. Authoritarian parenting (parents are strictly in control and the kids have no input) tends to yield children who have more depression, anxiety, resentment, substance abuse, and other behavioral and mental health problems. Authoritative parenting (parents set reasonable limits and the kids have input) yields the most successful children. However, Constance, just like all other parents in the world, merely did the best with the tools that she had. Kristina was the only one out of her siblings that developed an addiction, and all of her siblings were raised the exact same way. That shows that the family and life events do not directly cause addiction or other mental or behavioral problems; the direct causes are how the person internalizes the behavior of the family and life events due to their own psyche and biological makeup.
"To myself? It was then that it really it me. For the first time in my life that it occurred to me that I had done this to myself...I had to live for me, stay sober for me, and make the choice to save my own life."-Kristina, pg. 169.
However, the family and life events contribute to the causes. That is why children raised in the same family and in the same way can turn out completely different.
The Al-Anon/Al-Ateen concept of detachment is stressed later in the book. Detachment means for a person to allow other people to make their own choices and behave as they see fit without having to intervene in or stress over the situation. As a wife and mother, Constance naturally felt the need to be actively involved in her husband and children's lives. She felt the need to clean up her husband's messes and save her daughter. She was trying to assume power in powerless situations. The psychology definition of frustration is a feeling that people feel when their goals cannot be met. Constance had to come to terms with the fact that she could not become embroiled in and obsessed with her husband and daughter's addictions and other children's lives; she had realize that she had to allow them to hit their own bottoms, learn from their mistakes, and that she could only take care of herself. She had the common misconception that Al-Anon would teach her how to help Kristina. In reality, Al-Anon would teach her how to help herself. Constance realized the best way to help Kristina and her husband was to take care of herself. When people go on airplanes, they are told to put on their oxygen mask before their child's in the event of an emergency because they would not able to help their child if they were not receiving oxygen.
"I remember standing in the kitchen wanting to scream or pull out my hair or kick something, but instead, I walked out of the house to catch my breath and kept walking...My anger, frustration, and hopelessness lessened with each step I took...Walking became one of the most powerful tools in my life." -Constance pgs. 110-111.
"I now knew what it meant to have the 'detachment' that they talked up in Al-Anon. When I was new to the program, that term sounded so cold and distant to me, but now I understood it. It was more like standing back and watching things happen without the need to direct or control the outcome. I could love my children without liking all of their choices. With detachment, I could simply allow my children to live their lives. Detachment was the freedom and peace I had worked so hard to achieve." -Constance pg. 137.
Kristina once said in a speech, "Behind every successful addict is a co-dependent." Co-dependency is when one person becomes obsessed with another person's unhealthy behavior. They basically become "addicted to the addict," which is a term many interventionists and Al-Anon members use. The co-dependent feels the need to be present to control the addicts behavior and prevent them from hitting their bottom, which leads to enabling and tolerating unacceptable behavior. An addict will not seek help until they have hit rock bottom; unfortunately, some addicts' rock bottom is death. Forcing addicts into treatment, trying to control the addicts' actions and choices, giving the addicts money, providing the addicts a place to live, etc. is only making them sicker because it is preventing them from hitting rock bottom. When the co-dependents are not present to control the addicts behavior, they do not feel right. In Al-Anon and through using detachment, Constance recovered from co-dependency. Constance realized that she could no longer force Kristina into treatment, conceal her husband's alcoholism, micromanage her other children, and accept Kristina's and her husband's unacceptable behavior. Constance eventually mustered up the courage to not allow Kristina in her home or life until Kristina was life of recovery and leave her husband.
Addiction is a disease, not a moral issue or flaw of character. Though the addicted individual may have chosen to use alcohol or drugs in the beginning, once addiction sets in, they lose their choice. Once their addiction progresses, the addict does not use to get high any more; they use to feel physically and psychologically "normal." If he or she does not use, they start experience excruciating, and even fatal withdrawal symptoms (e.g. body aches, vomiting, rapid heart rate, hypertension, seizures, depression, and anxiety). No one intends to or chooses to become an alcoholic. Kristina did not want to grow up and be an alcoholic and drug addict; she wanted to go to a university on a swimming scholarship. However, one innocent choice to try alcohol out of curiosity and experimentation lead to become addicted. After that innocent choice, she could not stop. It did not matter if she got kicked off the swim team, failed out of school, lost her friends, her parents reprimanding her, her siblings not wanting to be around her, getting fired from jobs, and becoming homeless; she was not going to stop using until she came to that place inside of her (rock bottom) that made her ready and genuinely willing to get into recovery. Rock bottom is not about external events and consequences; it is an internal readiness and willingness.
"I remember telling my best friend in eighth grade how I wanted to go to school in Santa Barbara, or UCLA, or Stanford on a swimming scholarship. Everybody's All-American Girl. What would they think of me lying here on this bed, high on crack, starving, shivering, and waiting to be #$%&ed by some blind man? As he climbed on top of me, I realized the saddest part in all of this was I wasn't even selling myself for money. I was going to let him in me for a bag of drugs, a warm room, and some company." -Kristina pg. 132.
Kristina's father also did not choose to become an alcoholic and lose his wife and children. He came to California from Texas with his new wife, ready to be successful. Having children, his wife badgering him, his daughter becoming addicted, and losing his wife and children did not make him want to stop. He later stopped drinking years later when he was ready to stop.
Addiction is a family disease. It affects the entire family physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and in any other way possible. Though the active user experiences a lot of grief, the family suffers just as much -if not more- than the active user. Though Kristina's father was the alcoholic, her mother, herself, and siblings suffered. Constance would have to worry and care for the children on her own when he was out drinking. Constance and the children would have to fear him in his drunken rages and be disgusted when he made inappropriate comments about the girls' bodies. When Kristina became addicted, Kristina's parents had to deal with the devastation and shame that their child was going on such a downward spiral, and Kristina's siblings were troubled by the turmoil her addiction was causing and found their own ways to escape it and cope with it(e.g. working a lot, staying at friends' houses as much as possible, and sucking their thumb a year before entering middle school).
The most valuable lesson that the book teaches is that people and families can recover and become even better people as a result of their mistakes and adversity. Constance stated in a speech that the greatest lesson she and her children learned from their experience with addiction is that "it is not the adversity that we face, but what we do with it." Kristina was on the brink of death on the floor of a homeless shelter, and her family was torn apart. Today, she is the epitome of accomplished. She is a nationally-renowned interventionist, bestselling author, motivational speaker, widow, and mother. She owns Full-Circle Intervention and Full-Circle Sober Living. Her TV show Addicted won a Prism award. She also had another TV Show Co-dependent: Hooked Together. She has been featured on TV talk shows such as Good Morning America and Dr. OZ. She has healthy, loving relationships with her mother, recovering father, and all of her siblings. Constance works in the co-dependency field and joins Kristina on speaking engagements. She is close with Kristina and her other children, but not her ex-husband out of what she thinks is best for her. After reading the story, it can clearly be seen that the addiction made that family stronger and better. Struggling with and recovering from addiction made Kristina even more successful and happier than she would have been. Constance dealing with her daughter's addiction and acknowledging the truth about her ex-husband's addiction made her see life in many more colors than black and white and build courage and self-esteem.
"I have learned that forgiveness is the secret to freedom, and freedom is the secret to a life well-lived. I believe with everything in e that if I can change my life, if my family and I can find ourselves again, then there is hope for all addicts and their families." -Kristina, pg. 270 (final page).
A Common Family Disease
One in ten children in the United States of America lives with at least one alcoholic parent, which is approximately 6.6 children under the age of eighteen years-old. Though having an alcoholic or drug-addicted parent is not typical or healthy, it is a common family situation.
Having alcoholism or any other addiction does not automatically deem a parent a "bad parent" or "misfit" parent; having an addiction merely deems a parent a sick parent who can not always effectively carry out his or her parental duties because of his or her disease. Addiction is a family disease because it affects the entire family system physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, financially, etc. For example:
Both parents being alcoholics or addicts is automatically seen as a lose-lose situation for the children. However, a more common situation is there is only one alcoholic parent and the other parent is an average working parent. Many people (e.g. extended family members, family friends, and even the children in the family) question why the non-alcoholic parent "cannot just leave" the alcoholic parent. Many people may look down on the non-alcoholic parent for "raising their child in a bad environment," and the children may resent their non-alcoholic parent for "not leaving" and subjecting them to the addictive lifestyle.
I can speak from personal experience and from the experiences of many other Al-ateen members, Al-anon members, and renowned stories (e.g. the story of famous interventionist Kristina Wandzilak and her mother Constance Curry)
that "just leaving" the alcoholic parent is not as easy as it sounds for the non-alcoholic parent to do. There are a variety of factors that play into the equation of the non-alcoholic parent leaving the alcoholic parent. The most common factor is finances. According to the AP Psychology text book Psychology Concepts and Applications by Nevid, most alcoholics are successful working people who provide for their families. Some alcoholics may be lawyers, business people, and doctors; therefore, the wife is even able to be a stay-at-home mom and the family does not have to want for anything materialistic, which was the case for Kristina Wandzilak and Constance Curry. Even if the alcoholic is not the sole breadwinner or does not make a huge salary, the income that they bring home makes a difference. There may also be a variety other factors such as:
The stigma attached to a non-alcoholic parent choosing to stay with an alcoholic parent has to do with the children being negatively affected. However, many people fail to understand that having divorced/ separated parents is not the healthiest situation for the children. I have known many of my peers who had two non-alcoholic, but merely divorced/separated parents who have issues due to going from house to house, having to split the holidays, custody fights, child support issues, stepparent issues, stepsibling issues, envy of half-siblings, etc.
Just because the children do not reside with the alcoholic/addicted parent does not mean that they will not be affected by that parent's addiction. That alcoholic/addicted parent is still their parent; therefore, the children will have to see him or her at some point and/or be cognizant of that parent's whereabouts. If the children spend every other weekend with the alcoholic parent, who is to say that alcoholic/addicted parent will not drink or use during his or her weekend with the children (e.g. the situation of Lauren King, co-author of Addicted Like Me)?
Who is to say the children will not be hurt by an addicted or undesirable stepparent? Who is to say that the children will not be hurt if the alcoholic parent has more children with their next boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife? Who is to say that the children will not be hurt more by the divorce than the alcoholism? Even if the children never knows or sees their alcoholic parent, who is to say that children will not be affected by not having that parent in their life?
The conclusion of the situation is even having one alcoholic/addicted parent is a no-win situation for the children. Staying with the alcoholic/addicted parent and leaving the alcoholic/addicted parent both have the potential to negatively affect the children to some extent. Whether it is better to stay or leave depends on each individual situation. If there is physical abuse or constant emotional abuse, leaving may be the better option. If the alcoholic is quiet when drunk and provides for the family, staying may be the better option. In an ideal world, there would be no alcoholic/addicted parents, but we do not live in an ideal world.
Help for the Children
Though it is inevitable that the children will be negatively affected by their alcoholic/addicted parent whether they are living with them or not, there is help for the children to deal with their emotions and destructive behavior. Al-ateen is a program that fosters a safe environment for adolescents (9-19 years-old) to share their emotions and destructive behavior patterns, even if they currently do not have the alcoholic in their life. Individual therapy is also a great option because it provides children and adolescents with individualized help. Some adolescents may attest to Al-ateen and other support groups helping them better than individual therapy, and other adolescents may attest to needing Al-ateen and individual therapy simultaneously. The best treatment varies per individual. However, the best help is for the children to have at least one healthy, stable, loving, and wise parent or mentor to depend on.
Many children of alcoholics fear that they will become alcoholics/ addicts themselves. The worst fear of non-alcoholic parents and even alcoholic parents is that their children will become alcoholics/addicts themselves. The best way to prevent them children from becoming alcoholics/addicts themselves is to educate. Educating or becoming educated on the family's history of addiction and addiction being a disease will make the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic/addict significantly less.
Though it tempting for parents to take the authoritarian approach, which consists of no-questions asked from the children, no discussions/explanations, and severe punishment, to alcohol and drugs; the authoritarian approach makes adolescents more likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs because simply saying "no" makes it more appealing and rises more curiosity in the adolescents.
The authoritative approach has been proven to be the most effective in keeping adolescents off alcohol and drugs because it is loving, honest, realistic, and informative. The authoritative approach consists of an open-dialogue between the parents and children. The children are allowed to ask questions, and the parents have an in-depth discussion behind why they should not do drugs and alcohol and what the children should do if they are pressured to use drugs and alcohol and/or become addicted.
It's Not About the Adversity
Addiction is a very heartbreaking adversity for a family to face, and there is no cure or solution that is right for everyone. It is not about the strength or size of adversity that we face; it is what we do with the adversity that we face. Mark Twain said, "It is not about the size of the dog in the fight; it is about the size of the fight in the dog." By raising awareness of addiction as a disease and speaking the truth about our experiences, we can shatter the stigma and stop the silence.
It is in Our Genes
Acting like we have a gavel in our hand is a part of human nature. Due to our upbringing, experiences, and achievements, we develop our own standards and sense of morality, and we tend to look down on those who do not live according to our standards and beliefs. Competition and comparing ourselves to others is also a part of human nature. We are always striving to be better than others and the best at whatever we do (e.g. school, career, physical fitness, raising a family, financial investments, etc.). Though those natural drives were essential for our ancestors to survive, they are detrimental in modern society. Looking down on others, competing with others, and comparing ourselves to others fall under the same category: judgement.
My Personal Experience
When I was twelve and in sixth grade, I started realizing much of my hurt in my early childhood stemmed from my parents and I being judged by a particular family member. I started reading books about tales of addiction and recovery, and I realized there were reasons behind why people lived the lives that they did (which I later learned was called psychology). That was when I deduced that it was wrong to judge others. However, I struggled to explicate the actions and thoughts that constituted judging someone. I knew there was a difference between judging and merely having an opinion, but the line between those two was very fine. After a while, I gave up on finding the answer to that question and proceeded on in my venture of adolescence and self-discovery
In the fall of my Honors English 11 class, we read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nick Caraway, the narrator and cousin of Gatsby's love interest, Daisy Buchannan, repeatedly stated in the first few lines, "I am inclined to reserve all judgements." Throughout the next month of reading the book, we kept going back to that line in our class discussions when it came to the question of whether or not Nick Caraway was a reliable narrator. My teacher helped us come to the conclusion that it was impossible for Nick to be 100 percent reliable because human nature made it impossible for him to "reserve all judgements." I definitely agreed with my teacher because I knew from my experience that it was impossible to completely not judge people. I always scoffed when people said that doctors do not judge you because they are human. Though they cannot vocalize their judgements, there is nothing preventing them from thinking them in their mind.
In high school, I had many intellectual teachers who made me think about the world, human nature, life, and my identity. When I was younger, I used to be a black-and-white-thinker like most children are. I remained that way until I was about sixteen years-old. The lessons in high school, Al-ateen, and my every day life made me realize that life is mostly grey with almost no black and white to it.
By the time I was in the fall of my senior year, my life was treating me really well. I had
On the other hand, I saw many people in my age-group who were not doing so well in life. My co-workers at my daycare job, which laid me off due to low-enrollment before I got my dream job, were constantly talking about getting drunk, smoking marijuana, and sleeping with multiple guys in one month. Many of my classmates were going to "bangers", which were parties that consisted of alcohol, sex, and -sometimes- drugs. The group of people that I pounded the gavel at the most were my mother's friends' children. Most of them were not living according to my standards and beliefs by:
About a week ago, I was lying in bed at 5:40 in the morning, unable to sleep, and I was contemplating about how we are all broken people. That was when I remembered the last lines I wrote in my fourth book, A Position of Truth (page 93):
"Individuals were simply born into this world, grew up, and were a product of their environment. Everyone was equally as malevolent and capable of committing the most diabolic of acts. Even if one person thought that they were superior because they were not involved in a taboo activity or committed a certain transgression, they were assuaging their emotional pain in some other way, even if it was just by possessing a callous disposition. No one had the right to judge anyone else because he or she was most likely doing the same in another form and were only one or two mistakes from being that same person."
My former babysitter, now family-friend used to always tell me "Everyone goes to the bathroom the same way, and everyone bleeds the same way." Every person is broken in someway. Some days, I think people, usually my classmates and teachers, have an easy life with no skeletons in their closet and that I am the only one suffering from past demons and present-day issues. In reality, everyone is fighting a battle behind closed doors. The reality of that hit me when I had a classmate who was seemingly happy, but had an anxiety attack in the middle of class and my favorite YouTuber opened up on Instagram about seeing a therapist to battle depression and past regrets. Appearances can be deceiving; you can not tell what someone is going through just by looking at them. That is why we should invest our best effort into being kind to everyone and attempting to understand where they are coming from.
Everyone is trying to resolve their brokenness in someway (e.g. using drugs, overworking, believing in religion and traditional values over science and progressivism, being mean, being judgmental, etc.). Though their actions to resolving their brokenness differ in severity (ex: doing drugs is a lot worse than being judgmental), the reason behind those actions is all the same: mending our brokenness. Everyone is assuaging their brokenness in some way; therefore, no one has the right to judge other people because they are doing the same thing, but in another form. We may think that the way we are assuaging our brokenness is a far cry from the immoral, low-class ways others are assuaging their brokenness, but the truth is that we are one or two mistakes from becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, failing out of school, looking for love in the wrong places, maiming someone for life, etc. Humans are not innately good; we all have a monster that lives within us. That monster can come out at any time.
It is very difficult to not judge and see a deeper meaning when someone directly hurts us (e.g. bullying, deceiving, slandering, betraying, or -worst of all- killing someone we love), but hurt people hurt people. Pain gets passed down from one person to the next person and one generation to the next generation. People hurt others because they have been hurt themselves. I have seen teachers in my school who treat their students in an unprofessional manner. When I look into their lives through the internet or hear their students talk about those teachers sharing about their personal lives to them in class, I always discover that their is some pain in their life, which is most commonly divorced parents. My mother was watching a religious movie the other week called The Shack. Though I am not religious, I appreciated the theme of the movie. It was about a man who was abused as a child by his alcoholic father and whose young daughter was murdered by a serial killer. In one scene, he was given the opportunity to be the judge. He realized if he were to "damn" the man who killed his daughter, he would have to "damn" that man's father and all of the fathers from the beginning of that family because the brokenness gets passed down to each generation. He had the opportunity to see his abusive father be abused as a child by his own father. At the end of the movie, he got to speak to his father, who was now dead, and his father told him, "I was blind, and I could not see." We, humans, are all sick, and we subliminally pass that sickness on to each other.
Though it is natural to judge others and not necessarily wrong to do so, we should do our best to see people beyond their actions and look for the reasons behind those actions. Judging is not having an opinion about whether someone's behavior is right or wrong; it is defining that person by their behavior. You cannot determine if someone is a good person or bad person (if there is really such thing) by their actions; you have to look at their life's story, thoughts, and feelings. There is a difference between an explanation and an excuse. An explanation merely explains the reason behind the unacceptable behavior; it does not attempt to make it right. If the explanation shows that there that person was not at fault (ex: being late due to a traffic jam), it is illuminates the truth about the person or force that is to blame (ex: the reckless driver that caused the accident, which caused the traffic jam) An excuse attempts to deem the unacceptable behavior as right, but it never succeeds. Though knowing that "hurt people hurt people" or the reason they are engaging in a destructive behavior does not eliminate the hurt they have caused you or makes the behavior socially acceptable, it mitigates the pain and the burden. Judgement will not heal this world; compassion and empathy will heal this world. We are not bad people; we are broken people who are just trying to mend the brokenness in different ways. One way is not superior to another. The only superior way to mending our brokenness is making an effort to make a positive difference in the world because of our brokenness.
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As we enter into the new year of 2018, many people are anticipating change. They may be anticipating to lose weight, quit smoking, or perform better at school or work. A new year also means anniversaries are coming up, and not all of those anniversaries are of happy events such as marriages , sobriety dates, or births. Some of these anniversaries are painful reminders of sad times or traumatic events such as deaths, abuse, bad relationships, or a simple difficult time in life.
For the past eight years, January 11th and March 25th are the two most painful days of the year for me. January 11th, 2010 was when my life was altered forever when I started being babysat by my addicted cousins. March 25th, 2010 was when that traumatic time with my addicted cousins came to a horrific end. Later, November 30th and January 4th became difficult days because those were the dates that I visited my cousin in prison in 2013 and 2014. Every year when those dates rolled around since those events have happened, I proudly acknowledged that I survived those events, but I was also melancholy and resentful that such events happened to me. That melancholy feeling and resentments stayed with me everyday for the rest of the year and everyday for the years following. Every year since 2010 from mid January to late March, I would go into a fog, and schoolwork would become my salvation to get through that time. Before I knew it, I was 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and finally 18. I had gone through middle school and high school carrying the weight of what had happened to me.
The first time I heard the saying "Time can heal almost anything" was at the end of Taylor Swift's song "Fifteen", which was shortly after that traumatic time in 2010. My babysitter also told me in my despondent times that "Time can heal anything." However, from my experience, I learned that time cannot heal anything. Time does not have the power to heal; it only has the power to make living with the pain more manageable.
I have discovered that the only way to heal is to invest effort into healing. I have helped others through public speaking, written books about my experiences, attended Al-Ateen meetings fervently, read Al-Ateen literature, taken Psychology as an elective in high school, and have even went to a one-on-one therapist, and yet, I was still not feeling like I have made peace with my life. My Al-Ateen sponsor once said, "Only you can only heal yourself." That was when I realized that other people and elements can work on me, but I had to also work on myself by allowing the help that they were giving me to work.
Healing is a much more complex issue than time, seeing the good that can come from a bad situation, and getting help from other people and external sources. Healing is about being willing to allow those outside forces to take you to a place where you are at peace with yourself and the trauma that has happened to you. It does not mean that the pain will not hurt anymore, but it will hurt significantly less to the point that you will not let it define you and interfere with your life in a negative way. Once you reach the point of healing, it will become easier to see the beauty that has stemmed from the pain and the better person you have become as a result of it. I have not reached that point yet, but someday, I will. It is progress not perfection, and healing is a process, not an event.
It does not matter that it is 2018. A year is merely an amount of time, and 2018 is merely a number. It is what you do with that time and if you become a stronger and improved person in that period of time.
This is a book I have personally read. It is about healing from the trauma of growing up in a dysfunctional family of any level.
When I came to Al-Ateen
Imagine spending years making phone calls and searching the internet to find a safe haven to share your scattered thoughts and find the answers to navigating life. In the meantime, you do everything that you can to cope and manage the unmanageable situation: read literature to educate yourself about addiction and recovery, try to memorize all of the positive quotes you have pinned to your Pinterest pin board when you are feeling down, and spending hours lecturing your addicted loved one to coerce them into getting help. This was my reality…
Until I found the program of Al-Ateen.
In May of 2016, I walked into the room of my first Al-Ateen meeting. Unlike how most teens feel when they start Al-Ateen, I wanted to be there. I had been searching for an Al-Ateen meeting for five years at that point, but I never found one in my area. This meeting was still not in my proximity, but I was willing to try it to see if it was worth the thirty-five minute drive.
When I first sat down, the adult sponsor of the meeting asked me, “Do you believe alcoholism is a disease?”. I thought, Of course I do. I have spent years doing internet research, watching the shows Addicted and Intervention, and have even written and published three books about the issue. The adult sponsor proceeded to tell me that knowing that alcoholism was a disease in my mind was a separate entity from believing it was a disease in my heart.
After the subject of alcoholism being a disease was discussed, the sponsor proceeded to tell me about the three c’s: I did not cause it, I cannot control it, and I cannot change it. Again, I nodded, not doing much ruminating, because I have heard it and read it before. However, the meaning of that quote did not hit me until I heard it out loud in the room of Al-Ateen. I have discovered that any person can memorize the steps and slogans, but the steps and slogans do not come to life until they are heard inside the room of a meeting.
Find a Meeting Near You: https://al-anon.org/al-anon-meetings/
What a Typical Al-Ateen Meeting is Like
We spend the first five minutes waiting for those who are arriving late (there is usually several late-comers). Once everyone is seated, the adult sponsor of the meeting gives a friendly reminder for us to silence our cellphones. We read Al-Ateen’s purposes, principals, and guidelines. After reading the purposes, principals, and guidelines, we read The Twelve Steps. After we finish reading The Twelve Steps, the adult sponsor reads one tradition that corresponds with the current month. For example, if we are in August, we read the eighth tradition. As an icebreaker and to set the tone for sharing, we each share a good and bad event of our week.
After the traditional opening of the meeting, free-sharing begins. We do not necessarily have to share about an issue pertaining to the alcoholic or addict, we can share about any issue that is troubling us such as school, friendships, job issues, conflicts with other adult authority figures, etc.
We do NOT give direct advice in Al-Ateen. If we feel the need to give advice to another Al-Ateen, we simply state that we can relate to the other Al-Ateen’s situation and share what we did for ourselves in that situation. For example, Jane says, “I keep arguing with my dad when he is drunk.” John responds by saying, “I can relate to Jane about arguing with the alcoholic when he or she is drunk. I found that detaching worked for me. Whenever my mother drank, I went to a friend’s house or went in my room and turned my music up loud.”
Occasionally throughout the free-sharing, the adult sponsor will give their input about tools we can use to help us deal with the common issues that are being discussed. Some examples of the common issues that are discussed are worry, forgiveness, living in the past, resentments, suicide, self-worth, boundaries, anger, etc. Some examples of the tools the adult sponsor will discuss are detachment, the law of attraction, hurt people hurt people, “you can not bread in a hardware store”, “working it backwards”, “crossing that bridge when you get to it”, “no malice, no accountability”, etc.
When we reach the time that the meeting is scheduled to be over (an hour after the meeting is scheduled to begin), the adult sponsor reads the reminders about confidentiality and reaching out to others throughout the week. We all stand, hold hands, and read the Al-Ateen declaration. The Al-Ateen declaration states, “When anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, let the hand of Al-anon and Al-Ateen always be there, and let it begin with me.” Then we state the saying, “Keep coming back it works if you work it so work it you’re worth it.”
The Al-Ateen literature and workbooks are a great tool to use in-between meetings to reinforce the lessons that are taught in meetings and provide personal guidance and support. Purchase them on Amazon:
Bria Riley is a published author, recovering codependent and adult child of an alcoholic, who is active in several recovery programs. She knows the turmoil and heartbreak of growing up in an addiction-stricken family and wants to help others who have also been affected by addiction through her writing.