I married my father. Three times. Not my actual father; not the one who was married to my mother 50-plus years, who gave me my name, and whom I did not know to be clean and sober until I was 28 years of age. Three times I married men who were emotionally unavailable at best or abusive at worst, all of them controlling, in two instances alcoholic, one a manipulating thief.
All were charming, attentive, even love-bombing during courtship. After marriage, a definite “mean streak” appeared in all. In a recent stint in therapy I learned I was groomed by my parents – unintentionally – to find partners that felt “familiar” and mistook the “familiar” for love.
I was groomed – again, unintentionally – to be attracted to men who made me laugh, feel loved, and seemed reliable beyond a doubt. I was groomed to accept and excuse bad behavior, accept the unacceptable and enable with the best of them. I was groomed to not be a husbands priority, to keep the peace, not ask too many questions, fear a man’s anger or bullying mood swings and ,while I was at it, keep the house clean, the dishes washed, the laundry clean and folded and put away, and oh, yes, earn a living.
I was groomed for imperfection when so many daughters of alcoholics strive to be perfect.
I am not a credentialed expert on this topic. I have instead a “been there-done that” expertise on this subject. No little girl who dreams of being married plans to yoke herself to an addict, abuser, or someone with a personality disorder. At the age of ten, I never looked at myself in the mirror and hoped to marry someone who would berate me, ignore me, take me for granted, throw things at me or steal from me.
Alcoholic families inadvertently groom their daughters to marry partners with an addiction, a personality disorder, or otherwise abdicates their spousal role.
I was aware by age five something was wrong in my house and it could not be discussed with anyone outside the home. Individual well-being was subrogated to filial fidelity. If I could not control the chaos, I could control how I felt about the chaos and I somehow learned to stop my feelings altogether. I do not know how I stopped feeling, it just happened. Don’t Talk; Don’t Trust: Don’t Feel.
Some experts believe daughters growing up in alcoholic homes either refuse to trust anyone or give our trust – and our secrets – too easily.
In my case, I shared my background too readily with my husband’s-to-be. With that said, experts agree that not sharing secrets with people outside the home stifles growth and impairs formation of intimate relationships.
My experience, however, has shown me that in an effort to participate in full disclosure – that is, letting my previous husbands in on the family secrets during courtship phase – achieved nothing short of giving these men the ammunition they needed later to treat me with disrespect. I showed them how to get away with bad behavior. They knew their reputations were secure because I would not talk outside the home. For them, it worked. I agree with other experts who say children of alcoholics learn only to trust hurtful people and painful situations, and adapt to survival rather than living.
I want to give hope to others who have walked in my shoes and encouragement to cut themselves some slack. You cannot know what you do not know and without therapy, professional or a 12-step program or both, you cannot unlearn the dysfunction that was so readily and insidiously taught at home.
Despite programs like Al-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), and family programs launched by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), you may find yourself repeating patterns. What was modeled at home creates our frame of reference the rest of our lives.
A good place to start is ACOA. Finding a meeting is a lot like shopping for shoes – you have to try on a few meetings to find a good fit
You really have nothing to fear by going, you are not required to speak, but listen and your heart will share its truths with you. Wouldn’t you rather live than simply survive?