Back ♥ Home = happy place (physically & mentally)
Bridges = help us get there
I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s.
It was a magical time.
It was The Wonder Years.
In our typical suburban neighborhood, the newly built split-level houses and perfectly manicured (un-fenced) lawns lined up like dominoes.
Everything looked pretty darn pristine and idyllic.
And summers were the best.
The teenage girls sunbathed in the backyards (baby oil & all), while the boys played hoops against nets bolted above garage doors.
The rest of us kids, just ran from sprinkler to sprinkler and played endless yard games like, What Time Is It Mr. Fox and Capture the Flag.
Moms were busy making meatloaf dinners, JELL-O mold desserts & ironing in front of the TV while watching their favorite daytime shows.
Then right around dinnertime, most of the dads rolled up in their Granada Gold or Grecian Green Chevy Impalas.
If a neighbor hosted a barbecue, the lighter fluid flowed over the charcoal briquettes as freely as the beer, wine, and mixed drinks flowed in every adult’s glass.
It was the era of Canadian Club and Whiskey Sours. Most parents were never without a cold cocktail in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other.
Life was predictable.
Parents smoked and drank.
And if there were problems in your family, in your home… no one seemed to care about addressing them. Especially during the summers. Everyone was overjoyed to simply bask in the carefree warmth of the sunshine.
I adored the distraction of summer and absolutely dreaded the isolating cold, darkness of winter. Because, that was when the pain of my family’s problems weren’t so easy to ignore.
I figured everyone’s parents drank a lot… But it wasn’t clear if their drinking caused the same intensity of problems.
In fact, it wasn’t until the late-80s, when I first realized my dad was an Alcoholic.
It was 1987 and I was teaching high school. Educational programs on Addiction Awareness were just starting to be included in the curriculum. We began teaching students about Alcoholism and the ripple effects in the family.
All the teachers had to attend a mandatory In-Service on the disease.
As I sat there, in a dark room watching a movie about Alcoholism and the Dynamics within the Family… it was the first time I’d ever heard of the term ACoA (Adult Child Of An Alcoholic). The acronym that would prove to describe me so well.
That moment was pivotal. Suddenly everything came into focus.
The extreme behavior my dad had exhibited my whole life… from his flash temper to his unpredictable rage. The excessive, inappropriate physical affection to extremely cruel psychological mind games. The betrayal and infidelity. His extreme success and equally extreme failure at work.
Everything seemed to be explained by his drinking.
His addiction to alcohol produced a ripple effect of disfunction in our family.
For example, my mom’s emotional frailty revealed itself in ongoing depression and anxiety. And because everything around me was so out-of-control, I felt like I had to be as good and perfect as possible.
It was like being on an airplane and both the pilot and co-pilot were incapacitated and completely unable to fly the plane. So, I believed I had to be really well-behaved or else we’d all crash and burn.
So, why was my dad’s alcoholism so hard to diagnose?
Partly, because Family Dysfunction was never talked about or discussed during The Wonder Years… But there were many other reasons too.
For example, he had a job with a very flexible schedule that helped mask his addiction. His workday started around noon and ended very late…usually at one of his favorite bars.
There were many nights (well after midnight) my mom would get me out of bed and sitting at the kitchen table, with an open phonebook… she’d dial the bar’s number and I would ask the bartender if my dad was there.
When we’d finally track him down, it was my job to ask him to come home.
Then I would lie awake until I heard the garage door open and the fighting begin, because then I knew he was home safely and I could finally fall back asleep.
The next morning he’d sleep in late to recover from the heavy drinking the night before. He’d clean-up, get neatly dressed in his crisp white shirt, tie and “Don Draper-esque” suit… and begin his work day, once again, looking quite handsome and well put together.
Another reason was because back then, we believed Alcoholics were unemployed, creepy old men lying drunk in a gutter of some back alleyway. And he didn’t fit the picture of a drunk mess.
In fact, he was just the opposite.
My dad was blessed with an amazing, funny, outgoing, entertaining, charming and charismatic personality. And when he drank, it produced a remarkable synergistic effect…
He. Was. The. Life. Of. The. Party!
The downside was, he could also be a very angry, sinister, and cruel sober…but few people saw this side of my father.
This is not about bashing my dad.
I Love My Dad.
He has a disease.
When I was a kid, his disease was pretty bad & he was a pretty shitty dad. Back then things were out of control, but now things are better.
And that’s what this story is really about: How Things Can Get Better And Not Worse.
He and my mom have really evolved into the loving, caring, great people I always knew they had the potential to be. They just had to fight a lot of demons to get here. And I couldn’t be more proud of them.
It seemed the older my parents got, the weaker their demons got.
I know it doesn’t work that way for a lot of people. The truth is, they were lucky. And even though they occasionally have to still fight those demons… they just keep on fighting to make things better.
And this year they’ll celebrate their 61rst Wedding Anniversary.
I wanted to clearly identify the reality that even though everything looked pretty darn pristine and idyllic during The Wonder Years, some of us were being raised in a spectrum of dysfunction on many levels.
And, sometimes it took decades to gain the knowledge to figure out what was wrong.
I believe true healing can finally occur
when the source of the dysfunction is recognized:
With Honesty and Knowledge Comes the Power of Healing and Forgiveness
Unmasking my dad’s struggle with alcoholism was the beginning of me finding my way back home. To the place I had always longed to be: Safe
I discovered the following Bridges to help me get there;
I went to my first Al-Anon meeting when I was 25
My family and I attended a wonderful intensive counseling program called “Concerned Persons”
I read tons of books on the subject. My favorite author is Melody Beattie
I try to be patient with myself and my parents
This may no longer be The Wonder Years, but we’ve come full circle.
We now know every home, every family, probably has some dysfunction… unfortunately that is a fact of life.
The good news is, we can still make Our Years Wonderful by learning how to identify the problems and take action to make things better and not worse.
Have you found your Bridges ♥ Back home after a living through a challenging dysfunction in your childhood??
Please share your story in the comments to help others…