There are days I think back to my childhood when I am out and about and see parents with their kids playing at parks, going out to dinner, laughing as they walk into a movie theater, or walking hand in hand while browsing at stores in the mall. While I may have experienced each of those things as a kid here and there, what I remember most is the nightmares of growing up in an alcoholic family.
My father was bi-polar/manic depressive and battled with addictions including alcohol and gambling. My mother too suffered from alcohol addiction and battled her own codependency issues. One of my earliest childhood memories with them involved me answering the front door around eight years old. Seeing two policemen standing there and asking to speak with my mother was scary enough. Being ushered into the basement and told to stay down there with my sister until she said it was ok to come upstairs was even scarier. Come to find out, my father had been found in the apple orchard down the street in a coma-like state after trying to drink himself to death.
Sadly, memories such as this one are common in families that suffer from alcoholism and other addictions. When I speak at recovery meetings, I normally ask those in attendance how many suffered from at least one if not both parents being an alcoholic or a drug addict. Normally at least 80 percent of the people present raise their hands. Many of those people have shared with me privately their own horror stories after hearing mine. For those born into addiction based families, it’s rare to experience what a child truly needs as they are growing up. There is one thing and only one thing that I’ve come to know in my God-centered journey that every kid should have received growing up and that’s unconditional love. In an addiction based home, it’s extremely rare if that ever happens.
My parents weren’t happy with themselves. Most anyone that is suffering from serious addictions never are. My mother and father were constantly caught up in their own disease and misery. Part of them did their best to raise my sister and I as good as they knew. Unfortunately, when alcoholism and mental disease were added to the equation, it seemed as if there were nothing my sister and I could do that could ever make them happy.
I was a swimmer and a dam good one at that from a very young age. A day that I try hard to not reflect on anymore was when I was at a large swim meet and was in the final race of several heats that had taken place earlier in the day. When the race had ended, I saw that I had finished last. Overall, because of the prior heats, I had come in sixth out of close to probably forty people. When I got out of the pool and my mother came over with a towel, what I wanted so desperately to hear was that I did great and that she was proud of me. Inside I was sad because I really had wanted to finish in one of those medal standings. Her first words to me as she wrapped the towel around me were “You didn’t kick hard enough.” For a child to hear those words in their own moments of despair is like being kicked when already down. What I really heard in those words was “You didn’t try hard enough.” And what I took home that day was the feeling inside that I wasn’t good enough.
Unfortunately in a toxic, addiction-based home, loving words, loving praise, and warm and embracing hugs don’t happen often, if at all. From my own experience in my addictions when I was active in any of them, there was nothing and nobody that could make me happy and it was common for me to put down anyone and anything that was doing better than me. I couldn’t stand seeing anyone succeed while I felt such a failure. And for anyone that was already down, I usually made them feel even worse by putting them down even more, because in some sick way, if they felt worse then I, then what I was going through didn’t feel as bad. Knowing this has helped me to understand at least why it was as a child that I was disciplined when I got a B instead of an A. Or when I dusted, I was always told I missed a spot. Or if I vacuumed, why there was always an area I seemed to have overlooked. Or if I cleaned the pool, there was always dirt still in it. And so on and so forth.
Today it’s becoming common in households where addictions are present for kids to suffer from physical and sexual abuse on top of the mental and emotional abuse already present. What’s even worse is when these same kids grow up and become addicted themselves and repeat the same patterns their own parents lived out in their lives. It seems like it could be a never ending cycle.
But it doesn’t have to be.
I’m walking proof that the cycle can end. What I really needed as a kid was to be loved and to grow up knowing I was good enough just as I was. As an adult, through my recovery from the same addictions that my parents suffered and died from, I found God. After finding God through my recovery, I found that God has always loved me just as I am. And after finding that God always loved me just as I am, I learned how to love myself. And after I learned how to love myself, I’ve begun to live daily loving others as best as I can no matter what my ego may say.
My goal today is offer love to everyone no matter what. It’s my way of giving back to as many people as I can that may have been just like me and grew up feeling worthless and unloved. It’s not always easy. Sometimes I find myself having to love people that seem to hate me for no reason. But even in those cases, I remember that at the center of those people is a soul and a piece of God. And I remember how I was once filled with hate because of all the hurt and pain I had been through. Knowing this helps me to spread unconditional love everywhere even in the presence of that hate.
Through my journey of healing, recovery, and finding God, I have learned to forgive my parents for their own addiction based behaviors, and been shown how to not only love myself but everyone else too.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson