For the majority of my adult years I have defined myself as a person who is an adult child of an alcoholic. I let the circumstances of a handful of years shape my identity. Yes, I am an adult child of an alcoholic. But I am so much more than that and I am starting to actually see it and believe it.
I’ve noticed that I haven’t been thinking about my dad like I used to. What I mean by that is, I don’t feel choked by the grief of it all anymore. My father was many things and among them, he was a drinker, and his drinking impacted my life. But it does not have to set the parameters for my emotional state.
I think about my dad now, miss him, and sometimes wonder what it would be like if he had lived and we had gotten to know each other. As a grown up, I feel a deep sense of sadness for him because I can empathize with how much he struggled against his demons and ultimately lost. And while I feel sad I also think that his life was a lesson for my life. I have been in therapy off and on for most of my adult life and through it, have found an acceptance of myself and a sense of peace I don’t know if my dad ever felt. I didn’t really know my dad, the man he was inside. I’ll probably always be sad about that on some level.
But, and this is a big but, I no longer want to define myself within the confines of the role I played in a dysfunctional family dynamic. Not wanting it and not doing it are different though. The awareness of my role and how it has shaped me is one thing. The unlearning old patterns of behavior is quite another. But I’ve been doing just that- working diligently to not do the same old shit with results that are less than satisfying. I don’t want to be the one with all the answers, the one who handles everything, the one everyone can rely on no matter what, the one who says “it’s ok” and dismisses my own heart when my feelings have been hurt.
This is a new thing- this saying “that hurt me” to someone. I have spent my life being the strong one. I have avoided vulnerability because I didn’t want to live without my protective armor up. The other day I had an angry reaction to something Mr. Darcy did. I was on my way home and was just stewing in the negativity of the feelings but I couldn’t seem to pinpoint the WHY of it. I knew there was something deeper than the surface issue. So instead of going home and ripping Mr. Darcy’s face off with a diatribe of vitriol, I called a friend. Luckily she answered and through venting to her, I found out what the heart of the problem was for me.
Two things are amazing about this: 1) I called someone instead of just going off half-cocked and being reactionary or arriving home, clamoring around the apartment angrily but saying I was “fine” (old way of being, meet new way of being!) and 2) I was able to sort through to the deeper issue that was triggering me. It was not the surface issue that was the thing getting under my skin. It was that I didn’t feel valued and I needed to tell Mr. Darcy that.
And tell him, I did. It was not an easy conversation because I was trying to be brave through the fear of admitting that I had been hurt. And I had to manage my own disjointed, chaotic emotions while being confronted with his reactions to what I was saying. But I did it. And that’s the point- I stopped an old pattern and tried a new way. It was scary and uncomfortable and . . . the right thing to do. Loving Mr. Darcy helps me grow in an abundance of ways. I’m so grateful to have a partner who works through this muck with me.
This is just one of the ways I am noticing my shift in my definition of myself: I’m actually embracing the fact that my feelings matter.