I don’t know exactly what happened. One minute I was nonchalantly listening to this podcast by the guys at addiction recovery site, Since Right Now. The next minute I was experiencing a breakthrough. A breakthrough which I am going to try and make sense of below!
I grew up with loving parents and when I say loving, I mean I know deep down they loved me. But my version of love is somewhat different to their version of love. I was raised with very little affection, a lot of criticism, and emotional abuse. I was raised by two parents who were working too hard to make ends meet to have time, patience and energy left over for their daughter. There was a lot of anger in our house while I was growing up. I had two, much older brothers, and they were hitting their ragamuffin teens as I was starting school and beginning to notice and absorb the environment around me.
The overall message I received as a child, was that I was insignificant. It was openly joked that I was an ‘accident’. My mother’s pregnancy with me must have been an extremely stressful time for her because she found out she had breast cancer and had to undergo a mastectomy. What a rocky start with your third, unplanned child! Growing up, nothing I did was good enough. Anything I did right, was brushed over, if acknowledged at all. Any mistakes I made growing up was leaped on and became the focus, and I was lectured on all that I did wrong. I knew all this before becoming a parent. It wasn’t the greatest childhood, but it wasn’t the worst. What I didn’t know, was how it could be any better. I couldn’t know what was missing. After all, I didn’t know, what I didn’t know. Until becoming a parent myself.
After the birth of my first child, I had this overwhelming feeling of an exciting but scary opportunity to get it right. To parent differently than how I was parented. However, I found it seriously difficult because, I knew I didn’t want to continue the type of parenting I’d received, but I didn’t know what the alternative was! Which left me floundering. And left me repeating the very patterns I wanted to break because they were my default settings. And as a control freakish, perfectionist, Type A person, this was unsettling to the extreme. How could I get this parenting thing ‘right’, if I didn’t know what ‘right’ was?!
The very moment I became a mother, I reflected deeply on the parenting I’d received and became very angry. All the wounds I had experienced throughout my childhood bubbled to the surface to be treated. All those insecurities and fears of getting it wrong confronted me. The very moment I became a mother, I immediately felt insignificant and inadequate all over again.
Now, ten years on since becoming a mother, I have come to learn what the alternative is. I now know that love to me means affection, guidance, encouragement, security, and mistakes are ok, they are simply opportunities for growth. Becoming a mother didn’t solve my wounds from my upbringing like I naively thought, it exposed them.
So motherhood made me see myself for who I was. And it was unsettling. I didn’t like looking at myself and questioning the way I was raised. It hurt. So I turned to an escape from these unsettling and painful feelings – wine. Motherhood altered the way I treated alcohol and once I discovered its escapism, I turned to drink as a crutch whenever faced with challenges. A subtle, slow and sinister shift.
When I became a mum I grew depressed. When I became sober I grew depressed. Both are significant milestones in my life that stripped back, have exposed the same wounds to be treated. The first time, I didn’t know what love meant to me. So I followed the same path my parents showed me, that love is criticism, impatience and frustration. The possibility of treating my wounds was there, but I wanted to escape the flawed me, so I turned to drink.
In sobriety, I have begun treating my wounds, with the same love I now parent with. Parental love and self love is kindness, patience and acceptance. I don’t always, and won’t always get it ‘right’. And that’s ok, because with mistakes comes growth.
Like motherhood, sobriety forced me to acknowledge my wounds. Both sent me into a tailspin. Only this time, it is in recovery, I am healing them. What a gift.
Footnote: Also, I have also realised while writing this, my relationship with my SIL is similar to the relationship I had with my parents. She left me with the same feelings of insignificance, inadequacy and insecurity. As an adult, I found myself in a similar relationship to one as a child…I suspect there is more wound healing with this realisation!!