I was out walking the dog. I don’t recall how I came to be there. Just that I was there when he pulled up beside me in his two-door Chevy, rolled down the window, and told me, his oldest and only daughter, that he loved me. Then drove away.
After all those nights lying awake upstairs listening to them fight, she had finally kicked him out. Told him he had to stop drinking or not come back.
Drinking? I didn’t know he had a drinking problem. Really? Was that what all those fights were about?
Many years later she remembers that I told her she was mean. That she should let him come home. Please let him come home.
He did come home. A week or so later. Sober, but not really that much more present. I thought we had recovered. Isn’t that what it’s called? Recovery? Recovered from what, I don’t know. But I thought it was all ok. A bad few weeks, but now we were all better.
Turns out we hadn’t recovered at all. Twenty-some years later I’ve been married thirteen years and my husband and I are on the verge of ending things. Terrible fights. Things we never thought we’d say to each other. Even a fist through the wall. I tell him he has to stop drinking or I will leave him.
Thank God (and I’m only beginning to even consider that God could possibly maybe have a hand in anything to do with me and my life, so to thank God does not come lightly) that my husband doesn’t want me to leave him. Thank God that he will do as I ask. Step 1. To talk to a counselor.
And that’s where it happens that I become enlightened. Because as it turns out we weren’t recovered back then when my dad came home all sober and apologetic. Turns out we are quite far from recovered, actually.
I am told I am co-dependent. I am acting the martyr. I am the oldest child of an alcoholic. The dependable one. I got straight A’s and never scored a fake ID. I write thank you notes promptly (or I used to before I had three kids) and I volunteer for all sorts of wholesome stuff at our prim little catholic school. I was doing everything right. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
So how is it now that I am learning that I am doing everything wrong?
I learn that all that perfectness is part of the disease. Could it be that one person’s alcoholism has infected me – so insidious and sinister and silent… silent… silent …until now when it come charging out into the open like one of those bulls in Pamplona? Could it be that the moment when he said good-bye was the moment that slipped by. My chance to right myself. My missed opportunity to face my real self and my true family.
I am blown away by the fact that I am not who I thought I was. I am overwhelmed by the fact that I now need to relearn so much. And so I am making plans for a trip to Europe. Because that same counselor that said I am acting the martyr. The one that told me I am co-dependent. She also told me that I need to believe that I am important. Really, in my gut, accept that as true.
I like that idea. It’s a good place to start. A trip across the ocean to regroup and figure out who this woman is that has been living in this body for the past 37 years. I will put these skeletons in a rucksack and throw them over my shoulder. And as I spend some time away from all of the everyday distractions, I will start to shed them. I will toss them away one by one until the only thing left is me. Me with my own skeleton. My own skin. My own self. I think that’s enough for one person to carry.