I can’t say where I first read the line … “pain travels through families until someone is willing to feel it” but I knew immediately what it meant, and how it applied to me and my family.
Mental illness and trauma can be carried through the patterns of our genes and our experiences, and passed onto future generations. We can choose to avoid reality by taking drugs or developing avoidance behaviours, or we can become aware of our truths, and go through the experiences we need to, in order to evolve.
I have been diligently trying to break the negative patterns of my past, but this morning I came to the realization, I’ve been missing the forest for the trees. I could finally see the real problem beneath my problem… let me explain.
For two years I’ve been planning, studying, practicing and celebrating all of the aspects of recovery from alcohol. My effort to quit drinking was all about breaking a pattern of drinking in my family and modeling a healthy lifestyle for my kids. I figured if I could recover from an addiction to alcohol, I could then eliminate the dysfunction for my children - give them hope for a life that doesn’t revolve around booze. Well, I’ve been pretty successful at breaking this pattern, but the happiness factor (my expected rise in joy that comes with clean living) has been slow to arrive. Why am I not happy? It was the wrong problem - the wrong pattern to focus on.
Not to say that it wasn’t necessary to quit drinking first. I needed a clear head and a fresh perspective to become aware of my actual issues. It’s taken this long to see the deeper grooves, the more ingrained pattern that is causing me the most problems. Passing this on would cause more grief for my kids than alcoholism, and so it needs to be addressed..
My dad had the same problem I have now. As much as I tried to avoid becoming just like him, it happened anyway. I took a different route. But here I am, just like him.
My dad had many friends and a thriving life in his 40s. He was a hard-working, social and charismatic person. His alcohol intake increased over time, and as he got older his mental health deteriorated in relation to his alcoholism. He would get into arguments with people, get angry (hurt) and then cut people off, eventually becoming a recluse and a miserable old soul. I remember him repeating the same stories over and over about people who had wronged him. It was impossible for him to forgive, or to have the humility to apologize. He just burned in anger, booze and sickness until he reached the point he started to forget. By the time Alzheimer’s set in, he was a tired and deflated shell of a man.
Looking back I can pick out the cognitive distortions he was experiencing. I can see how the alcohol exasperated his mental health problems. I wonder just how torturous it was to live in his mind. I also wonder what the second half of his life could have been like had he gotten help for his disorders.
As well, I wonder what my life will be like if I don’t fix my own cognitive distortions, and if I don’t learn to apologize, to forgive and to work through my difficult relationships with people. Just because I’ve quit drinking and cleaned up my physical body, does not mean that I’ve cleaned up my behaviour. I haven’t really done the work. Oh yes, I have practiced self-care and kept my gratitude journal - all great ways to quit drinking, but you don’t keep a friend by getting a good sleep or eating broccoli.
How do you keep a friend, or work through problems at work, or fix your relationship problems? I know the the technical answers to this question. Be kind, communicate, assume good intent, apologize and stay positive. But am I willing to push through all of the overwhelming thoughts that tell me this will be too much for me? Am I willing to feel the pain required to break my family patterns and free myself, and my children?
I am willing.