Over the next few weeks, I will begin to dive deeper into the Who, What, Where, Why, and How of abandonment.
- Who abandoned you…
- What happened?
- Where it happened (either internally or externally)…
- Why it happened…
- How it happened…
This week, I will focus on the “Who.” Who left you? Was it physical, or did the person leave through death or other circumstances, or was it intentional? I will begin my own personal journey with the source…my parents.
As I mentioned before, I grew up with both parents, which is an awesome blessing that many people never have. I am very blessed. I have no doubt in my mind that my parents loved me. I am certain of this as an adult. But as a child, parental love can be complicated to process, especially when you are sent mixed messages.
My dad was an alcoholic. And because my dad was an alcoholic, my mom was codependent.
Codependent – “A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior (Beattie, 1992).”
Both of these issues caused extreme dysfunction within our household. When my dad would drink, he would become someone else. Sober, my dad was a gentle, kind, sweet soul. Drunk he was a mean, angry, slurring his words, volatile, stumbling and fumbling, embarrassing, made no sense kind of man. He never physically hurt me, but there were many physical and verbal fights that I witnessed between him and my mom. My dad would often threaten to leave. Or my mom would threaten to kick him out. There would be talks of divorce. And I still feel the knots in my stomach that I felt back then just thinking about it.
But my parents stayed together and had an “understanding.” I’m not sure what that understanding was, but I know they loved each other for over 30 years. However, the dysfunction never healed. An alcoholic is never cured. They can go into recovery and even then they are a “recovering alcoholic.” And unfortunately my dad didn’t begin recovery until shortly before his death. I guess I shouldn’t say unfortunately, because it’s never too late to recover.
I have also learned that a codependent, similar to an alcoholic is also never cured, but in recovery. Hence the term, “recovering codependent.” Although I am currently facing my own codependency, this is something my mother has never worked through.
So how is it that I feel I was abandoned by my parents if I knew they loved me and they were physically present? It goes back to that “ambivalence of life” concept that I mentioned when I introduced this topic. My parents were loving and caring to me, but at the same time they both abandoned me emotionally.
“With therapeutic help I was able to see the term dysfunctional as a useful description and not as an absolute negative judgment. My family of origin provided, throughout my childhood, a dysfunctional setting and it remains one. This does not mean that it is not also a setting in which affection, delight, and care are present (Hooks, 2000).”
I remember on my high school graduation day, my mother and I begged my dad not to drink. Just for that day. He said he wouldn’t. I guess there was confusion in our communication because I thought he understood that I didn’t want him to drink for the ENTIRE DAY. He made it through the ceremony, but when we got home to prepare to go out for a celebration dinner later, I heard the top of a beer can snap open. He couldn’t wait to get his lips around a nice cold beer. He couldn’t make it through any day, let alone my graduation day without a drink.
All I could do was cry.
My mom, in these situations was my rock. But when you live with an alcoholic, there is a certain amount of abandoning you do to yourself. She took such care and interest in trying to control my dad that she abandoned herself and enmeshed herself into me. She gave me way too many adult details about what was going on with my dad. I saw too much and was exposed to too much as a child.
I was a child with adult problems.
In my world, my parents loved me, but they also abandoned me. I believe that having to deal with adult problems way too early in life is a form of abandonment. I also believe that the mixed messages we receive from our parents is a form of abandonment. They say they love us, then can’t help but drink alcohol on our graduation day. And it all feeds into the fear of abandonment that I have today. Note that I used the phrase “feed into.” I used this phrase because I don’t blame my parents for my issues today. I am just beginning to understand how those experiences affect how I react in my current life and circumstances.
I am aware that some of you have worse experiences with parental abandonment than I do. Your parents may have died when you were young, or there may have been physical abuse involved. But facing whatever it is, no matter how small or how big is the only way to conquer fear. It’s the only way to be free. Living in freedom is a great way to live, don’t you think?
- Beattie, M. (1992). Codependent no more. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
- Hooks, B. (2000). All about love: new visions. New York, NY: Perennial.