By Lisa Sue Woititz, author of Unwelcome Inheritance: Break Your Family’s Cycle of Addictive Behaviors
Consider the possibility that your estranged parent is in recovery and that just like you, they are on a journey of self-reflection and personal growth. In this case continued resentment over the painful past serves no useful purpose, keeping apart a family that really longs to be together. This brokenness sets the stage for more of the same in future generations. With this in mind, please consider opening your heart to the possibility of reconciliation. It’s never too late to allow our relationships to heal and to create the family life we want. I hope it will help you to learn of these things that so many recovering parents want their children to know:
- I accept responsibility for much of your struggle in life. You try to let go of your rage toward me, but it will not loosen its grip on you. I robbed you of the normal childhood memories that you long for, a past that would make you feel like a whole person. Over the years, that sadness has deepened into sorrow and the anger has hardened into resentment. Sometimes without warning, the anguish is triggered, and you have to find your way back to yourself. It can take minutes, days, weeks or more. Although you know that this emotional relapse affects those around you, it is beyond your ability to control and sometimes alienates the ones you love. There are no words to express how sorry I am to have caused you this pain.
- I understand your determination to be the opposite of me - to never become an addict or alcoholic and let your children and loved ones down the way I have. Despite your convictions you are short tempered, impulsive, and stubborn. My gut feeling is that you do drink or drug like I did, or you will one day. You refuse to accept a warning from me about the physical disposition toward addiction that runs through our family. You insist that I don’t know what I’m talking about and that it’s none of my business because I have lost the right to an opinion. You have every reason to feel this way because you are right. The failure in me wants to disappear, but the healthier parent that I am becoming wants to tell you that being right can stand in the way of getting the help that we need. I fear you will continue to shut me out even if you need me to save your life. Please let me be there for you.
- I understand your broken heart because what happened to you also happened to me. What was taken from you was also taken from me. I inherited the blueprint for a childhood that nobody would want and unintentionally passed it along to you. For me to bring you into this world and then not protect you is deplorable. I want you to know that despite my mistakes I did the very best I could with what I was taught, and I love you with all of my heart. I will do whatever it takes to help you heal and for us to begin again. Knowing this helps you a little but it doesn’t fix anything. I ask you to join me in healing the past by coming together and creating new memories that will help to heal our family today and into the future.
“Ironically enough, the terrible disease that has hit your family can be used against itself. You suffered as a family divided by alcoholism, and you can recover as a family united because of alcoholism. Because of alcoholism, you became aware of yourself and your need to be a fully functioning family. Take advantage of that. We grow from the challenges in our lives. We grow more from the hard times, not the easy ones. As a family, you can become more fulfilled than if you were never forced to face yourselves. With recovery, the spiral can go upward through our families and into every area of our lives. Slowly but surely, the pattern can reverse itself with you in the driver’s seat.” Dr. Janet Geringer Woititz, author of Adult Children of Alcoholics.
About the Author
Having grown up with a parent in the throes of addiction, or who got physically sober but perhaps not emotionally so, you know the ravages of addiction firsthand. Through counseling, self-help groups, or classic books such as Adult Children of Alcoholics, you may have an understanding of how the patterns and behaviors associated with addiction play out within families, but applying that knowledge to your own approach to relationships and parenting is another story.
In Unwelcome Inheritance, Lisa Sue Woititz combines her own insights with the unpublished contributions of her late mother, the early leader in the Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) movement, Dr. Janet Woititz, uncovering how multiple generations of people affected by addiction continue to enable their children’s substance abuse and how, without realizing it, they continue to model the addictive behaviors learned from their own parents. These ACOA pioneers then bring to light these hidden behavior patterns--including impulsivity, misplaced loyalty, people pleasing, insecure parenting styles, and multiple compulsive and addictive behaviors--so that you can take a clear look at how you got to this point. Additional points of inquiry, illustrated by stories from the trenches of the ACOA movement, help you explore what you can (and can’t) do to help your children, your children’s children, and yourself lead healthy, balanced lives.
Dr. Janet Woititz Ed.D., was the author of several books, including the seminal Adult Children of Alcoholics, and was an early leader in the movement that made "adult child" a household name. She passed away in 1994. Lisa Sue Woititz managed Dr. Woititz’s Institute for Counseling and Training for a number of years and has worked in the mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice fields.