My guidance counselor in the 8th grade, wore Birkenstocks and striped wool socks, loose slacks, and long sweaters even in the summer. She rocked a poofy mullet, and though I never saw her playing the guitar like an indigo girl…I always imagined that she would be doing just that when I knocked on the door.
Soft knock…one, two, three.
‘Lyndsey’, she’d say warmly, come on in. She knew my knock even without looking.
Kinda like people become regulars at the bar, in 8th grade, I became a regular in the guidance office that year. Lyndsey! All the secretaries would say and look up from their stacks of paper (this was before emails and all that) I cant even imagine what a day was like then.
My anger and reactivity began to surface in 8th grade…that’s what I can remember anyway. I remember crying at my desk for no apparent reason, the kind that has like the chair and the desk built right in, I remember running my fingertips across the metal cubby underneath my desktop and pulling out 25 cent erasers shaped like dogs and basketballs, or reorganizing my bart simpson pencil case, or looking around the room at all the other kids wondering what their lives were like at home.
It didn’t show up as anger, cause I would never yell. For a long long time I was terrified to yell, and have spent the better part of my 20’s and into my 30’s cultivating a voice that feels strong.
I would talk to Ms. Evans about everything and nothing. I’d sit on a big cushion and lean against the wall. I’d pick up her picture frames and ask her one million questions. She had many cats and a girlfriend. I’d run my hands over the binding of her books. I’d eat my quaker oats chewy granola bars, the ones with the chocolate chips.
Mid-year, she said ‘Lyndsey, I have a perfect group for you to join.’ It’s with other 8th graders. Realizing that I would get out of math class, I said heck yes. When I arrived to the first group, there was a semi-circle of plastic chairs, and about a dozen kids, most of whom I recognized.
On the table in the middle was a neatly displayed set of colorful pamphlets. I picked one up. ‘Children of Alcoholics’ I read to myself. ‘C.O.A’s’ And then, as though we were at some fancy luncheon Ms Evans proudly introduces each of us, and no one quite knew what to do…look up? Look down? What does one do with an introduction like that.
With different colored pamphlets of the same content, we fumbled and stammered our way through our own introductions, sharing who, in our family is an alcoholic. We would meet every Tuesday during 6th period.
I found myself thinking about this group I was in a few weeks back, and smiled at the absurdity of it. Though we only do what we believe is best in the moment, I thought about those 12 or so kids in that group, and how we were brought together in our sameness…to confirm what already hurt…to only drive that deeper…to see on the grid, due to our circumstances, who were we in our family.
The funny one?
I cant quite remember what all the types were, but I remember identifying with some more than others, and wearing them like a badge.
I also remember thinking ‘I’m screwed’ I looked around the room and for most of the hour, kids would just cry. I remember thinking to myself ‘that I am not like these kids’ cause it horrified me to think that I was just like them.
Instead of understanding my life more, or this ‘disease’ as it was explained to me. I just got more and more pissed off. I identified further and deeper of being a child of… a child of….. a child of…. And what I see now is this has no ownership. It cultivates blame, and it feels permanent.
To be clear, my Dad who still is an alcoholic, is also one of the kindest, most compassionate, caring men on the planet. I couldn’t see that for a long time, because, of how wrong he was for not being who I wanted him to be. He never once missed a game, of which I played hundreds growing up, and he’s bailed me out of trouble more times than I’d care to admit : ) You know, like Dad’s do. He’d always make u s homemade birthday cakes, and we’d take many many trips down to the lake to go fishing and pack watermelon, just me and Dad. Now? Today, I love my Dad for who he is. A beautiful man with kind eyes and a generous spirit. A man who has left notes and 10 dollar bills in my suitcases before my many trips. Who has told me he’s proud of me, more than any other human being on this planet. ‘I’m proud of ya Lyn’ he’ll say. ‘So so proud of you.’
He wasn’t a white collar drunk, coming home in fancy black car and pouring bourbon into expensive glasses purchased on an oversees business trip. My dad’s a hardworking blue collar dude, who’d come home in his sensible car, and crack open a cheap beer. He’d turn on the people’s court and watch Judge Wapner. Then we’d have dinner, always as a family. After that he’d watch wheel of fortune, and then jeopardy. He’d go to the back porch often and grab a new cold beer, he’d tuck them right into the corner of the couch, and our little white dog muffin, would sit on the other side.
By 730pm, I avoided talking to him. I’d become enraged at his incoherence and slightly slurred words. I’d go up into my room and review my pamphlets, I saw how doomed I was, I’d tuck my pamphlet away and would go outside, I never had to let anyone know where I was going, cause no one was ever checking in on me. I’d rollerblade and pump my arms really fast and daydream for a different life, I used to skate all the way up to the top of the hill by the church we lived by. I’d fly back down the hill and do this many times again and again. I had no concept or concern for risk of injury. I just wanted to feel something.
I’d go up to my room and try to go to bed, but never could. At about 11pm every night I’d hear him come up the stairs like an elephant. I could never fall asleep until I knew he had come upstairs, almost right away he’d begin to snore. Sometimes, I would walk across the hallway and carefully open the door, just to make sure he was okay. Sometimes I’d do this a few times a night. Only then, could I fall asleep.
He’d always go to work. He’d make a pot of coffee, and drink 2 pepsi’s…never coca cola. I’d see him shuffling around in the morning in his worn out slippers and plum-colored robe, his hair was always off to the sides like bozo the clown ‘you girls are making me lose my hair’ he’d joke. ‘Da-aaad’ we’d say back, lovingly. In the morning I could forgive him for all the things I was holding him responsible for but never told him I was.
By 730 pm I would be angry again.
My sister and I often joke and wonder, how in the world did we make it out of there alive. Our Dad, kind, gentle, but clearly intoxicated, and our Mom angry, inconsistent, and abusive but also so loving in so many moments. It was a confusing place to be a kid.
My fierce independence came from this, and my drive and desire to create a life where people feel heard and understood, a passion.
While in my mid-20’s I began a steady yoga practice, and here began a lot of deep introspective work. SO much different than therapy, which really, in it’s adult version was not so unlike sitting around in those chairs confirming that we are indeed victims. I did however see an amazing therapist right as I was beginning yoga who truly empowered me to be bigger than my story of the past. We get so comfortable leaning on ‘this is the way I am’ ‘this is what happened to me’ ‘when I was kid, I….’
In the most compassionate way I can think to deliver this…here’s what I have to say to that.
It’s a harsh question, but if you can move through it, then you can actually see people. You want to see people. You do.
For a long long time I could only see my Dad as an alcoholic, and this really limited anything else I could see about him, and frankly, me too. Instead I sought comfort in being sad for my life, and would point to this pamphlet as a reason to not be responsible.
I don’t know what it looks now…but do kids still get pulled into a room and are told what they are? Lets give better tools.
Don’t we do this as adults anyway? We talk and talk and talk about our problems, we take on traits and labels from the partners we choose. We are so very powerless in this.
It’s so easy to regress. Which is why you must, and I mean must surround yourself by people that will keep you accountable to get out of your own way.
I dont have a perfect relationship with my parents. My mom is not best friend. And I talk to my parents maybe every 2-weeks. For me, this is healthy and feels good. For a long time I got super emeshed in both of their so-called ‘problems’ and in this, this is all I could see in them…I could not see past or through or around or any of that. I could not see.
So what I’m getting to is that maybe you are holding someone in your life responsible, and it’s the only way that you can see them. And the only way you can identify with them is by the pain that they’ve ‘caused’ you…chances are, you do.
Could you just try to see that you are not a child of… a partner of…. a fill-in-the-blank of, the permanent state of this person. I am my fathers daughter. I am my mothers daughter. I am the product of 2-extroidonary individuals. What happens is…you can finally start to see the other person for how beautiful they are. It’s literally immediate.
Just try it…