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Showing posts with label alcoholism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label alcoholism. Show all posts

Sunday, July 14, 2019

It's Hard to Say I'm Sorry

I realized something about my dad and I think this is something that many people have problems with, including me to some extent me: Difficulty in saying I'm sorry.  By that I don't mean difficult in feeling contrite or an inability to understand when they've negatively affected or caused pain or problems for another. What I mean is difficulty in acknowledging contrition, regret or sorrow to another.

A little backstory. My dad had a difficult childhood growing up. I don't know much because he didn't talk about it. But from what I know from my dad was that his dad was a deadbeat dad and he was taken from his mom and at early age. He was shuffled around in foster until he finally found a 'permanent' foster family during the 2nd half of his childhood. He was raised by an old school, old German heritage dad. By that I mean, was very demanding, very domineering, very much into making sure a boy was toughened up.  In other words, his foster dad was not particularly nice and very sparing with approval. In any case, my dad learned at an early age not to rely on others, that he had to be a tough guy, and apparently to have an unhealthy outlet for his angst. I surmised based on a conversation I had with him near the end of his life that he was sexually abused as a child too. Anyway, my dad was domineering, prone to deal using alcohol and other outlets, and had an angry streak that all of us and especially my mom had to face. I got the sense in his later life that he regretted some of his behavior, especially where my mom was impacted. My dad would ask how my mom was doing later in his life, so clearly he still cared about her. Anyway, my dad had a hard time opening up and I think he didn't really 'know' how to say I'm sorry. Maybe it was facing up to the impact his actions, maybe it was shame? In any case, it occurred to me why he had a difficult time talking about and acknowledging where he had harmed others.

The two biggest culprits from what I see are
  • Fear of appearing/being weak or diminished.
  • Shame

Fear of appearing/being weak or diminished
  • When you are in a position of authority it can be very difficult to acknowledge harm to others for fear of your authority being undercut.
    • A person in authority is 'not supposed' to make mistakes, especially ones that hurt others.  They are supposed to be above human frailties.  Much of their authority is thought to come from their wisdom and strength, including strength of character.   To acknowledge mistakes that harm others, can be to some effectively admitting they are no better than the average person.  When their position in the family or society 'demands' that they are to be held to a higher standard, to acknowledge mistakes is to effectively to say that aren't fit for their position of authority.  So, by ignoring the need to acknowledge their mistakes (even if they are the worst kept secret)-- imagine Harvey Weinstein--they are effectively trying to artificially hold on to a level of authority.
    • The irony of it is that sometimes by admitting mistakes a person in authority can actually improve their authority.  Good leaders lead by example, both in the good and bad circumstances.   A good leader for example shows grace, shows kindness, shows toughness, but a person can be a good leader by leading the way in showing contrition to another.  Open contrition when you've harmed another can be difficult.  If you see others you look up have the strength to show contrition publicly even at the risk of their authority, it can make it easier for the average person.  After all, if my 'heroes' aren't too big to admit they are wrong, why should I be?
  • When you admit to others you have harmed that you have harmed them (and show contrition), it can change the dynamic of the relationship. 
    • The power dynamic can flip.  For example, no longer are you the safe, strong parent/friend/sibling/spouse to listen to, but someone who can cause them harm.  In other words, "why should I listen to you, you are not safe?".
    • In fact, one who acknowledges harm can be the 'jerk' who is striving to be accepted again.
    • You may have had some legitimate issues,complaints or concerns with another, but acknowledging harm to them can undercut your ability to advocate for yourself.   If you have proven to be hurtful to another, they might be like why should I care if I've harmed you?

  • If you already don't feel worthy or worthwhile, then the shame of acknowledging harm to another can be hard on an already damaged/fragile esteem. 
  • Sometimes the embarrassment or humiliation of owning up to your harm can be hard to swallow.  I believe this is especially true when you are acknowledging harm to someone you perceive as hard to gain approval of, difficult and/or unforgiving.
    • To me personally, as a child, I faced the humiliation associated with a deeply dysfunctional house.  So, I was trained early on the avoid situations that could cause me humiliation.  In some case, that included acknowledging mistakes or being hurtful.

I believe in the case of my dad, I don't think it was that he was unaware of the affect of his alcoholism and mistreatment of family members including my mom had on the family.  I don't think it was that he didn't feel regret or remorse.   I frankly don't think that he was ever equipped with the tools to effectively deal with the emotions and psychological issues that fully acknowledging mistakes he made and harm he'd done to others would have forced upon him.  I believe not only wasn't he equipped, but in some ways it was reinforced to him that showing emotions was not what a man does.

I've been hurt and I've hurt people in my life.  In some ways, I guess in varying degrees that is the story of most people's lives.  While we see on crime shows, people who appear remorseless, I believe most people feel regret, remorse or contrition at some point in their lives.  Ultimately the question is can you acknowledge "your side of the street" as they say in AA?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Appeal of Addictions and Hangups

You know how sometimes you are just doing a tedious activity--laundry, mowing grass, running, cooking, etc.  You know one that forces time upon you--time to think, time to ponder.   One day, a few months ago, I was in the middle of such a task and had a profound realization.  I was thinking upon the demons that I have faced in my life as well as observing those in family and friends.  A simple question occurred to me: Why do people get stuck in self-destructive patterns, even when they know better?  These are usually referred to addictions or hangups.

Addictions or hangups are often an escape hatch.  Some things we are escaping from:
  •  Facing pain of loss
    • Death of a loved one
    • Breakup 
    • Personal security - resulting from physical, sexual, mental abuse, etc.
    • Of a job or career.
  •  The drudgery of everyday life--the boredom and grind of being.
How do these hangups manifest themselves in a person with such a personality?  More often than not by 'acting out'.  That could be going to the casino and gambling your paycheck away, going to the bar and drinking ceaselessly, using illicit drugs, seeking meaningless casual relationships to help you forget your troubles or some other destructive pattern.  

These episode are often triggered by something.  Sometimes it can be thinking about your troubles listed above.  Sometimes it can be remembering the 'good times' or high we had running away from them.  In 12 step programs they view common triggers to be HALT--Hunger, Anger, Lonely, Tired.

So, say for example, our hangup is alcohol.   What happens?  Something puts us over the edge and we hit the bottle.  For a time we just feel so much better.  The buzz wears off and often we feel worse with a hangover.  Over time this will destroy our body and liver.  We are drinking 'water', but the water is making us more thirsty and is actually destructive to us.  Same thing with gambling.  For a little bit, the high of winning or at least the 'promise' of winning fills our thirsty soul, but at the end of the day, when we are out of money and cannot pay the mortgage or rent, we have destroyed our security.
So why do we keep hitting these things, even in the face destruction that they cause us?  In our sober moments, we may see just how much damage our hangups or addictions have cost us, yet they still persist.

So, it occurred to me.  Once a trigger has reeled us in and the addictive behavior has taken hold, it is like water to a thirsty soul.  Our soul is hurting and it demands water to quench it, only the water is our hangup.  Think of it this way, you are dehydrated and you see a glass of water with ice.  Your body screams out to you to drink it.  Only, imagine the same scenario, except that the water has some salt in it.  If you have a deep thirst and have no other sources of water or fluid, you see the salty water, know that it has salt in it, but your heart says, dern it I'm thirsty.  So, you drink it anyway.  For a moment, you might feel a little better, but ultimately, you will become more dehydrated.  

Overcoming hangups and addictions requires a recognition that we are not dying of thirst, that the water that you'd drink is water that would never quench the type of thirst you have anyhow and seeking alternative ways of quenching the thirst.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dangers of a poorly thought out intervention, taking a horse to water

When jokingly expressing to a friend that he should have intervened in a family situation, I came up with this gem.  I was cracking up when I the thought of it popped in my head. 


With enough people you can take a horse to water
 And attempt to force it to drink
What you will likely end up with is a drowned horse
And a jail sentence for cruelty to animals


In other words, sometimes if the person isn't open to it at all, the intervention could actually backfire. Secondarily, it can be dangerous to 
'swim in the pool' with an addict to reach them as it could drag you down with them.

The irony of this post didn't initially come to me.  But, there is one addiction, in which you don't want the proverbial horse to drink.  Namely, alcoholism.  In that case, you don't necessary want to take the horse to water.  You might want to take him or her to detox instead.  :o)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why do we do hurt each other?

Last Sunday as part of Pastor Wedel's service, he made a really simple, but often overlooked point. HURTING PEOPLE HURT OTHERS.          *(This was written when Harold Wedel was the head pastor of Harvester Church of the Nazarene in early 2015. It was also written as my dad was dying.  I only hope he finds the peace that eluded him in life.  He passed away May 1, 2015).

Sometimes, we are so caught up in our own lives, our own fears, our own addictions, our own demons that we fail to see how we are affecting those around us.   The story I tell below is not to cry over spilled milk, bash my dad or ask for pity.  Instead it is a cautionary tale about how we hurt each other when we are hurting and how if we don't deal with our own demons, they can and will affect others.  So, please read it in that regard.

With my daughter, every dollar I spend on myself, friends or someone whom I'm dating, I have to weigh it in my heart: is that a dollar that I am depriving Olivia (or some other deserving soul) the benefit of?   My focus here will be my dad's alcoholism as that is the closest example to home, but in another it could be drugs, things, food, etc.


My dad apparently had/has demons that he has never really shared with his children. I only know this as I have heard bits and pieces from family members over the years of his early years. I don't know much about his foster family and I know even less about his family of origin. However, I do know this, whatever demons he had/has, he took them into a marriage with my mom and into his marriage family.

When he was sober, he could be mean, resentful, controlling. I think this was out of fear largely.  When he was drunk, he was much more friendly, but also less reliable. His sickness lead to the following:

  1.  Proceeds from his paychecks going to watering holes and 'friends' of different sorts at those places.  This meant that his kids often went without.  I'm not talking about not being able to do little league or other activities,  I'm talking even more basic: eating not as healthy food, wearing beat up or torn clothes, birthdays and Christmas being generally disappointing (and embarrassing) and being promised all nature of things and rarely getting any of them.
  2. He would disappear for hours and on one occasion that I remember for days.  I would at first be glad that he was not there to fight with my mom, but then I got scared he wasn't going to come back.
  3. His kids being open to predatory types.  I think you know what I mean, so I won't elaborate.
  4. Verbal and physical abuse of my mom and his kids.
He's never owned up to his alcoholism except to say, "I went to the bars so I wouldn't have to deal with your mother.  He never has come clean on much.  He never really has opened up about his family of origin, why he was in foster care, etc.  He is a shell of his former self today and God has given me the grace to forgive him and the willingness the see him in his later days despite it all.  I look at him and see a pitiful soul.  I think to myself, I need to share the Gospel with him, but there is a part of me that thinks he'll just be ignorant about it and what's the use?

On some level, I think he might have known that he was hurting my mom and his kids, but on some level he was in a deep state of denial.  He drank, justified it by a 'tough home life' and seem to think he could control it.  From what little I know instead of dealing with his early and pervasive demons/hurts, he decided to try to medicate them away daily and when he couldn't do that he was a difficult/controlling person to be around.  Even to the point of putting his others and his kids down, to elevate himself comparatively.

In other words, he was a hurting person, who hurt others.   Sometimes purposefully and sometimes just unwittingly selfishly.  He only stopped drinking at a later point when the Dr. told him in no uncertain terms that if he continued that way he'd be headed to the grave.  But, that's another point.

My brother Bill, God rest his soul, never overcame the hurt/demons that he endured in his childhood.  His passing was a wakeup call to me, that hurts do not go away on their own.  God used a terrible circumstance to give me a new life.  In other words, HOPE.

The takeaway from this post is this: 
  1. What are we doing to deal with our fears, concerns, angst, worries?
  2. Are we dealing with them in a healthy way: talking with our Heavenly Father aka prayer, venting to friends, journaling, counseling, talking to our ministers, support groups, 
  3. Are we dealing with them in an unhealthy way: drinking, drugs, gambling, compulsive overeating/shopping, etc?
  4. How are we treating those around us?  Not how we think we are, but how actually we are.
  5. As long as we have air to breath, there is always hope.  Just as lungs can repair themselves from years of abuse smoking, God can help us repair broken lives and broken relationships.

This video below is more profound since he passed away in May 1, 2015.  Even if a parent is not the 'perfect' parent, they are your parent.