As I think back to my childhood I have a lot of memories stored away and that I have held on to that make me happy. Memories of family vacations to Florida in our 1984 Caprice Classic Station wagon, carving pumpkins, decorating a Christmas tree and the like. Then, there are also things I remember that I would have rather forgotten.
Recently I found myself in a scenario where I was forced to relive and process some of these things so I could finally move forward and I thought I would share those thoughts here. See, my mom was an alcoholic. She was very much a functional version. She never had any problems holding down a job, cooking dinner or whatever. She was never homeless or destitute or desperate which of you asked me now I’d say was to her detriment.
Mom would come home every day after work and almost immediately begin drinking. She poured a tumbler 90% full of Popov Vodka and a splash of grapefruit juice. She would sit and drink glass after glass and chainsmoke cigarettes and watch TV. This ritual went on night after night. As the night progressed her mood changed, She could go from semi jovial to volatile in a matter of a few short hours.
I remember trying to sit and have conversations with her and her speech slurred and her words became venemos. I was always on edge because for some reason she used me as the target for all her frustration. I remember the sinking feeling I had and the dread I had when I saw her sitting in her spot on the sofa. This pattern became a daily routine for our family, things always escalated as the night went on.
Of course at that age I didn’t know what an alcoholic actually was I just knew that I hated seeing her like that, I hated the effect it had on our family. This continued night after night for years. I recall actually pouring her vodka down the drain when she wasn’t looking and filling the vodka bottle back up with water but this was only a temporary solution, she always found a way.
It got so bad that I figured out the best way to avoid it was to just go straight to my room right after school and just stay there until she drank herself to into oblivion and finally passed out. My room became my hiding place, a place safe from all the chaos, a sanctuary of sorts. When I closed the door behind me I could leave all the bad stuff outside and just concentrate on being a kid.
As I got older and finally left the house to go to college I found myself doing this same behavior in new ways. I discovered alcohol and other drugs for myself. The feeling that they gave me was the same feeling I had about going to my room after school as a kid. It was an escape, with alcohol and drugs I could hide from my emotions. I never had to feel or deal with all the bad stuff, the hard stuff in life. When I was drinking or using I felt safe for lack of better words but I learned this was only a temporary fix, when the alcohol and drugs wore off, the chaos returned. My only solution was just to never stop drinking or using and it worked until it didn’t.
I really never made that connection until a recent therapy session but when I finally saw that it was like a light came on. I realized and saw this same pattern in other places in my life. There were other places too that I was searching for that same peace, the peace that I had discovered as a kid in my room and I’ve been doing it ever since.
The therapist looked at me during our last session together and asked me “Why do you think you work so much?”. At first I didn’t know where he was going with it. I replied with all the normal answers like “I got bills man” and he just looked at me, I knew that answer wouldn’t do. So we processed my insane work schedule. He pointed out that my schedule was too crazy for anyone to maintain any type of normal life or sanity and then he asked me, “Why do you think you do that to yourself?”
Then it hit me, I was using work as an escape from all my problems. Work had become to me a place where I didn’t have to feel. It became the new version of the room I fled to as a kid, it was my new safe place, my hiding place. See if I just maintained the unmanageable schedule there was no time for things like feelings or emotions. I couldn’t believe it once I finally saw it but now the question becomes what do I do about it? How do I correct this behavior? Where else am I doing this?
This is such a recent revelation that I am only just now discovering how far reaching this is in my life but it’s really helped explain some things for me. For example, things like my tendency to isolate as another coping skill. The list could go on and on but at least I’m beginning to see it. Now, I just have to begin to correct these behavior patterns which I am discovering is easier said than done. The good news is I’m not where I once was and I guess that could hopefully be said of all of us. In the words of John Mayer, “I’m in repair, I’m not together but I’m getting there.”