I really struggled with a title for this one, as it sits I’m starting this with no title at all. My “But I’m an Atheist” piece was surprisingly popular, it provoked a lot of conversation. This one is more for me to get things off my chest because I feel very weighted down right now and don’t have anybody to really talk to.
There’s a term for people like me, I’m an Adult Child of an Alcoholic. An ACoA. Apparently a lot of what I’ve considered my personality flaws are actually traits of other ACoAs. There’s a whole laundry list of things that characterize us. It’s pretty spot on. If you’re interested, here’s that list:
ACoA Laundry List
The first one on the list is, “We become isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.” One of my biggest weaknesses is my social anxiety. I haven’t quite pinpointed what I’m afraid of, honestly. I think it’s rejection, though. The second item on the list is, “We become approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.” While I can’t say that I’m afraid of authority figures, I can say I seek their approval. I always wanted to be in the good light in my teachers’ eyes, I pride myself in being a lawful citizen with a spotless driving record, I’m trying to be as active as I can in my community, and all because I want to please. I want to please everybody and have them think highly of me, or I fear that they will reject me.
I don’t know that I’ve mentioned this person before, but my dad dated a woman for 8-10 years, I’ll call her Cindy. He and Cindy broke up 10 years or so ago but she and I have kept in touch. She has a unique roll in my life because she got to see this part of my world from the belly of it; she saw that my dad couldn’t get us for custody visits because he was too drunk, he could cook for us because he was too drunk, he couldn’t do anything. So she did it. She’s a mom so she mothered us when he couldn’t be a father. She went with us on trips to my grandparents’ house a couple times and she got to meet the unique duo that is my dad’s parents. They always treated us so differently from our cousins, my brother and I, we got different breakfasts, less dinner, a different tone of voice, we couldn’t watch TV but our cousin coulds, but nobody believed us if we tried telling them. Until Cindy.
Cindy saw it with her own eyes. Once I became an adult and had a more hands-on role in my dad’s life, she and I got closer. I looked forward to our phone calls, we’d text throughout the day, and one day she brought up how my grandparents treated me. She went on and on, she even cried, telling me that it was wrong and cruel, she remembered sitting at the table helpless while my grandparents went on and on about how much awesome our cousin was doing but brushed off anything we did. She saw it all. I tried so hard to please them. All the time. As hurt as I am about it now I still find myself trying to please them.
Cindy also opened up to me a lot about how my dad treated her, which was terrible. I’ve been in a domestic violence relationship, I know how hard it is to leave, but the people who were in my life during that point of my life, I’d never do to them what Cindy did to me. I remember listening to how my dad spoke to her, the nicknames he gave her, how he’d treat her when she walked by, my dad was a jerk. And that’s only what I saw once or twice a month, I know it was worse when we weren’t there.
Yesterday I called Cindy to catch up. I’ve been so busy and have had some major changes in my life that I really wanted to share with her, she’d always been so supportive of the things I got into. The conversation started great, we were excited to hear each other’s voices, we were laughing about things, then she asked about my dad. I started going into it, not telling her the full extent of what was going on as of late because that wasn’t why I called, and her whole tone shifted. She became cold and mean.
Another trait that ACoAs have is that we internalize everything. We have terribly low self-esteem, we judge ourselves too harshly, if we try to stand up for ourselves we usually end up feeling guiltier than anything. It’s no secret that I have anxiety. I have all of these fears about what I’m doing with my life and the worst way people could perceive that; doctors tell me that’s my anxiety, my panic. My church tells me that’s the devil whispering in my ear. Through meds and prayer I’ve been able to squash a lot of the negative and climb above those worries. Until that conversation with Cindy.
She found each. and. every. single. thing. I am anxious about in my life and she shoved it in my face. She blamed me for all of it. According to Cindy I’m a greedy bitch, I have a useless degree, who cares that I own a daycare, I’m just a glorified babysitter and her felon sister did the same thing, I’m worthless, she never loved me and was kind to me because she loved my brother more (which has always been a worry of mine with my own mother). She called me a glutton for punishment, that I asked for all of this with my dad because I’m a sick control freak and this is my way of being able to pull the strings. Then she said, “You are just like your dad. I hate your dad. I hope he dies because he deserves to die. You’re just like him.”
I calmly said, “I’m done with this conversation, take care of yourself,” and I hung up. Then I cried for two hours.
It’s one thing to have anxiety and panic disorder. It’s chaos in my own head all the time. I fear all of those things and have successfully convinced myself for years that it’s just me, it’s just the anxiety, nobody really thinks that.
But Cindy did. Cindy said it out loud. To me. With no mercy in her voice. Her voice was steady and strong and fierce. She spoke with conviction. Like those words were there, brewing for years.
And in her one tirade, her episode of word vomit, she knocked me down on years of self-help and confidence-building. I really just feel so low right now.
Logically I know what she said isn’t true. She’s angry and she’s projecting. I was able to leave my sick father, start a good life for myself with a good man in a new place, and she’s stuck where she is. She can’t leave. She sees my dad around town. I know she was angry and taking it out on me. However, I can’t help but think of that saying, “A drunk heart speaks a sober mind;” she may not have been drunk with alcohol but she sure was with rage. The mountain I’ve been climbing for so long, each insult she threw was a stick of dynamite and she lit each fuse. My mountain crumbled and I’m left at the bottom, covered in the debris of my anxiety and fears, and I’m too weak to have even stood up for myself.
Now I have to go shower because I have church in an hour. I feel much lighter having gotten all of that off of my chest.