No child wants to be raised in split households. It’s not like I prayed at night that my parent’s would separate. In all actuality it wasn’t until I was married with kids of my own that I realized just how much I wished my parent’s would have divorced.
I could never say I had a bad childhood. I am not ungrateful for all my parents did for me. But the sweetness growing up was always overshadowed with the sour. The specific taste of bitterness that comes from being a child of an addict. Hello, I am Lyndsey, and my father is an alcoholic.
I have pleasant memories of my father, early on. I remember playing barbies, going for long hikes, and a general goofy, loving vibe. I remember a lot of laughter. It wasn’t until I was about six or seven that I recall my father’s drinking getting out of control. It was the first time I witnessed domestic violence. A verbal altercation between my parents escalated quickly and became violent. I tried to stop my father from choking my mother. Once she was freed from his grasp, she fled the house and I watched as my father trashed our apartment in rage. From that moment on the incidents continued, with the most recent occurring just last month. I am 36 years old.
Still, I recall happy moments and a family unit that stayed strong together, in support of my father continuing his fight against his addiction. We would visit him in rehab. He was admitted into 12. We celebrated at his AA meetings when he met a sobriety milestone. The devastating truth was that it didn’t matter how far he got and how far we followed, he would always fall off the proverbial wagon. When he fell, we all fell with him in despair. The helpless, desperate emotions that would flood into my heart, each and every time, is something I will never forget. It wasn’t just one act of violence or emotional toxicity, after all one encounter is enough for any soul, but it was repetitive, damaging acts of dysfunction.
I went from a young girl with no choice but to endure it to a young woman choosing to support him. In that age of innocence, all you know is hope, all you have is faith. I didn’t realize how damaging it was for my siblings and me to not know what boundaries were. We just continued to deal with the disappointment of our father the addict but fiercely loved and supported our dad simultaneously.
It wasn’t until I was out of the house that I began to see just how awful the situation was. With a twelve year difference between my sister and me, it became clear the level of destruction my Father’s addiction caused. At least to everyone except my mother. It’s not that she was naive to it all. She was stuck, afraid to move, terrified to leave, so she stayed. My father’s drunken antics caused my mother and sister to flee the house several times. One incident escalated to an arrest and me driving into the city to bail my dad out. With nowhere to go, of course, he stayed with me. He was my dad. Still, nothing changed.
His alcohol abuse eventually morphed into addiction to opiates. As recently as last week, he was admitted to the hospital ICU for treatment of a possible overdose. My mother is by his side, sympathetic but frustrated with my lack of “empathy.” It wasn’t until that eye opening conversation with her that I realized the truth. I was the child of an addict and a serial enabler, and the consequences are regretful. It’s clear to anyone, staying together for the children is almost always a disaster. To remain in an abusive relationship long after your children are adults is sad. To expect us kids to participate or bare witness to the same unhealthy behavior we grew up with because you are still afraid to leave is pitiful.
I understand her marriage was 30 years of her life, but it was also 30 years of mine. Too many times, I was placed in the middle of arguments. I was forced in between to physically protect. I was forced to financially contribute in ways no daughter should. Because I had a good heart and loved my parents dearly, I put my mental health at risk to try and fix a situation I had no control over. I was allowed to miss school because I was up late worried my father was dead in a ditch. I was asked to leave work or cancel social engagements to tend to my father. I burdened relationships and was embarrassed at altercations that took place in front of friends and colleagues because my mother couldn’t leave my father permanently, let alone just for the day.
I understand any negative discussions regarding our childhood builds resentment for my mother. In her eyes, acknowledging the past dysfunction is an admittance of failure as a parent. Although I can say for certain, we had good times, it doesn’t erase the bad, nor should it. I choose to see both sides of it, for my own peace and understanding. I insist on seeing it clearly in order to set the boundaries I so desperately need to, as a wife and mother.
I am not blaming my mother for my dad’s addiction. Hell, I am not even blaming her for not leaving when we were children. I am, however, blaming her for insisting on our continued participation in their dysfunction. I am still very much healing from it all. Raising a family of my own has helped tremendously, as I see and strive for the type of family dynamic I wish I had consistently growing up. I am far from a perfect parent, but I have learned from my parents’ mistakes. I am no longer burdened with the notion that I have to fix my dad or help my mom fix her marriage. The only cross you have to bear is the one you choose to carry. I no longer choose to carry them.
It wasn’t until these recent events that I wonder, what would it have been like had my parents divorced when I was young? It’s dangerous to look back and wonder what if. Even so, it’s safe to assume I wouldn’t be another adult trying to overcome my childhood.
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