If you put in the work and make the effort…if you are patient and compassionate…if you learn how to be a really good and empathetic listener – this is when you can expect to be finished with your post-alcoholism relationship recovery:
I bet that’s not the analysis you were expecting when you read the title of this article. Unexpected or not, it is accurate, and it delivers on the two promises in the title. Never is clear in that it is not ambiguous. There is no range of possible timing. And never is manageable in that if you know it will not end during your lifetime, you can be better prepared for that challenge you face, or you can opt out of your relationships if they’re not worth it to you.
If you want sunshine blown up your ass, turn to the recovery community on social media. If you can handle the truth, keep reading.
I yelled at my daughter. She had kept something from me for months, and she ran out of wiggle room to keep her little secret. And when I say little, I mean it. It wasn’t a big deal. But it was something I asked her about three or four times in the first two weeks of her winter break from college. Each time, she shrugged me off and told me she would get to it soon. So when she finally came clean, and told me of her dilemma, I was hurt more than anything. Hurt that she didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth two weeks ago. Hurt enough that I decided to share some of that pain.
So I yelled. I didn’t over do it. I didn’t curse or call her names. I used clear language to express my disappointment, and tell her I expected more from her. Nothing more. But at an elevated volume, it was certainly nothing less, either.
Her reaction was predictable. She shut down. She looked away, had a frustrated and brooding look on her face, and said absolutely nothing in response. I had seen that face before. I knew she was hurt. But I felt she brought the pain on herself. I felt justified in my reaction to her lack of open honesty. I thought I deserved more.
Even after seeing her reaction, I still felt justified about my side of the interaction. I wasn’t volatile, and I didn’t go too far. I expressed a reasonable amount of frustration in a measured, but impassioned way. I didn’t do anything wrong…except…
My daughter is the adult child of an alcoholic. She has a history. We have a history. When my voice was raised in the past, it wasn’t always reasonable or measured. It was often illogical, unpredictable, unexpected, exaggerated, demeaning, cruel, vicious, uncalled for, mean, and verbally and emotionally abusive. My daughter has suffered trauma from my past behaviors.
I am a big fan of blaming the alcohol, and blaming the disease, and not shaming and blaming the alcoholic – the person. My daughter understands that distinction, too. I have apologized many times. And she has accepted my apologies with grace.
But here’s the thing: Even if she doesn’t blame me for my past actions. Even if she has forgiven me. Even with all of the recovery work we’ve both done. On that night, a few weeks ago, when I raised my voice, the words were still coming from me. From my body. From my mouth. Even though the trauma is in the past, my yelling still has the power to bring it back instantaneously and effectively.
And it always will. Forever.
I didn’t understand that until my daughter composed herself, and found the words to explain it to me.
Now I understand.
I can never raise my voice to my daughter again. Never. Even if it’s justified. Even if she deserves it. Even if my frustration and disappointment is a natural human reaction to deceit or omission or betrayal of something sinister (not that my precious angel is capable of evil). Even if I’m right, I can never again go there.
My wife has a slightly different take on the situation. Sheri reminds me that our daughter is a grown woman, and doesn’t deserve to have me raise my voice to her regardless – alcoholism or not. She’s right, of course, and while her reminder that our baby is grown up stings in a different way, it is consoling to realize there are two very good reasons for me to never raise my voice to my daughter again.
I have no more shame or regret to process directly related to my active alcoholism. I have done the work. This event brought about new regret. On that evening last week, I wasn’t disappointed in my decades of drinking. I was disappointed that I didn’t already know a limitation the trauma had placed on our relationship. How could I not see that which is now so clear to me? How did I raise my voice to the daughter I love so much knowing what she had already experienced? Oh, and also, that she is an adult woman deserving of respect. I don’t regret my drinking. Not in this moment. I regret my ignorance to things so obvious.
I don’t have to spend the rest of my life wallowing in alcohol-induced shame. But there is collateral damage. I have to be aware. I have to do better. I am thankful to have such an empathetic and intelligent daughter, and such an insightful and loving wife, to help me see. Really thankful. And I’m happy for another chance to grow close again.
I promise, I’ll always use my inside voice.