As I reflect on my own path toward healing, many thoughts and emotions begin to surface. However, the greatest of all is gratitude. It is both an overwhelming overflow of thankfulness and a quiet whisper in my spirit, continually uttering “thank you” for all the promises of recovery that have come true, one day at a time.
I grew up in an alcoholic home, where depression and other issues were also present. Really, I think the best description is to simply say that it was a “broken home” because that’s what we were: a family of broken people doing the best we knew how. As in most broken homes, there was a lot of strife and struggle. There was persistent stress and chronic sadness. Sadly, we had no information about addiction or how and why it truly is a family disease.
As a family, our only hope of change was to try to force my Dad to stop drinking and to function as though he was not drowning in the turmoil of alcoholism and depression. We managed perceptions and tried to exert control where we had none. The truth is that we were all drowning. None of us, individually, had the power to save, fix, or rescue anyone else . . . but it would be years until I learned that lesson for myself.
I went off to college, half-way across the country, and made a new life in Texas. I found over the years that no matter how new or different my circumstances were, I was experiencing all the same dynamics from my home life in my new life and relationships. I was choosing friends, leaders, and employers who could help me recreate what felt familiar. I chose unrecovered addicts and fellow adult children to fill most every role in my life. Soon, I was experiencing a very familiar misery as I sought, unsuccessfully, to fix, save, rescue, take care of, and ultimately control all of these “messed up” people.
Eventually, after decades of this cycle, I got to a place where I was angry, depressed, anxious, and resentful. I felt hopeless. My Dad was still drinking and as his alcoholism progressed, I felt more and more fearful about how his life was coming undone. He was severely depressed and I know that there were days he did not want to go on living this way—or living at all. He had ulcers and the warning signs of esophageal cancer. His financial problems snowballed until he was living on the verge of homelessness. I knew all of this but was helpless to fix it.
During this dark and hopeless season, I learned about Valley Hope and just a little bit about alcoholism. I asked my Dad to please go, to just try and see if the inpatient program could help. He was reluctant and succeeded in evading my request for a short time but, within a week or so, he chose to give Valley Hope a try. I gave him, and myself, some space as he settled in and when I visited for the first time, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
After just several days in the residential program, my Dad looked happier than I could ever remember seeing him. He introduced me to all his new friends and every single one of them exclaimed something like, “YOU’RE CRAIG’S DAUGHTER?? HE IS MY FAVORITE PERSON HERE!!” I remember thinking, “Wow, I don’t know that person they are gushing about . . . but I really hope I get to know him like that someday.”
You see, there was an incredible person hidden underneath the symptoms of alcoholism all those years — and that guy is hilarious, witty, creative, and generous. My Dad was coming alive and I remember him seeming so thankful that there was a name for what he had been struggling with for so long. And there were other folks just like him. He wasn’t drowning alone anymore.
I began occasionally attending the family sessions with my Dad. It was here that I met Ed, my Dad’s counselor and biggest fan. It turns out that Ed was my biggest fan too, but I just couldn’t see it at the time. The thing was, this was the first time I had ever felt the relief of being out of crisis mode. I knew where my Dad was; I knew he wasn’t drinking; I knew he wasn’t going to hurt himself. Now that he was stable, I was finally feeling my own feelings. Resentment and an overall weariness of thinking about him and his problems began to set in. I was annoyed that now I “had to” drive across Dallas to attend these meetings for him.
In a moment of frustration, I expressed this sentiment and I’ll never forget Ed’s response. He said, lovingly and firmly, “I’m not asking you to come to these meetings for your Dad to get help. I’m asking you to come for you to get help.”
I can’t say that I understood what he meant at the time. But over the next couple of years, I came to realize that I was just as broken as my Dad or anyone else in my life that I thought needed fixing.
I began to look around at my life as a whole — a cluster-disaster of broken relationships. Friendships and relationships within my family, workplace, and even my church were a mess. I realized there must be some common denominator in all of this relational carnage. And there was. To my surprise, the common denominator had pink hair: it was me.
This was a humbling realization and, although painful, it was an incredible gift. I realized that the pain of staying stuck was so much greater than the pain of getting well could ever be. So, I began seeing a counselor and attending CoDA and Al-Anon meetings. I did all the hard, humbling work of looking at my own character defects, asking God to remove them, and making amends. Amazingly, doing my own work afforded me much less time and energy to meddle in the affairs of others! And while I was tending to my side of the street, my Dad continued on his own journey toward recovery.
It’s amazing to me how our biggest mess can become our message and that is what has happened in my life. While I was in the trenches of my Twelve-Step work, I wrote an album of blues/rock/gospel songs. They poured out of me as I grieved and forgave and asked for forgiveness. Then I wrote a book about my journey of recovery from codependency, about the songs, and about my Dad’s healing from alcoholism. The book and album are entitled, “Confessions of the Broken,” and my Dad and I did a one-hour long storyteller event to celebrate the project’s completion and release.
A few years ago, when we were both so incredibly broken, I never could have imagined that we’d be standing on a stage sharing our story of recovery and reconciliation, together.
Our story of recovery truly feels like a miracle. What I have experienced is that this miracle of life in recovery is one that is available to anyone to wants it. All we need is the humility to say, “What I’m doing is not working,” and the willingness to say “Yes” to healing. Then we just walk it out one day at a time, in a supportive community. I can see now that Ed and the whole caring staff at Valley Hope was our first taste of doing life with a supportive, truthful, kick-you-in-the-pants as needed (Ed!), and loving recovery community.
My Dad and I recently went back to Valley Hope to visit Ed and share how we are doing today. It has been nearly 10 years since we first met him and, to my delight, he is still the same big, soft-hearted “Uncle Ed” who loved us and poured into us back then. We shared about our journey and about how all of our mess-ups now carry the message to others who are still hurting. We laughed, cried, and hugged a bunch.
Ed and the folks at Valley Hope gave my Dad and I hope when we had none. For that, I will be forever grateful.
Contributed by Heidi Flemmons