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Not Every Family Becomes Healed Right Away

By Kelly McClanahan, ASW, CATC-IV

Kelly McClanahan, ASW, CATC-IVTypical recovery stories are those of families being reunited and healed when the addict/alcoholic gets sober. Many of my peers and those whom I strove to follow on this path had restored their relationships with their families of origin, as well as developed or restored marriages and relationships with children and grandchildren, etc. This is not my story at all!

I got sober in a small recovery setting in the desert of California. I came from a middle-class family background in a town about 60 miles from there. It was 1986. I was taken to this place by a male friend who had watched my spiraling drug abuse and drinking and cared enough to get help for me. He assured me I was in safe hands, telling me that I would be able to believe these people when they said they loved me, "unlike those who say it to you now." I had no idea what he was talking about.

I did not know that people actively sought recovery. What an interesting concept! I learned to love the meetings and had flings with many of the men in the rooms. At two years of recovery, I was raped by a fellow member of a Twelve Step group and stopped dating for a few years.

Over the next 10 years, I had few boyfriends and focused heavily on healing other issues in my life; those of sexual abuse and physical abuse in childhood and ensuing years. I had done a short stint in the military during the Vietnam Era, during which I was sexually harassed and raped. As my recovery from some of these issues took place, I worked with other women whose stories were similar. This increases the healing we receive and gives us a platform from which to spring forth. Although I was not sure why I remained unattached while my friends married and had family lives, I was able to help many women learn to live alone and be free of their male dependence as well. I frequently stated I was "terminally single and fatally independent!"

I continued to maintain distance from my family of origin.  My father had died when I was 24 years old, from acute and chronic alcoholism. My mother was a heavy drinker with whom I was estranged long before I quit drinking. My sister and I had no relationship as adults, and my brother was busy drinking and using, like I had. I had no intention of exposing myself to the abusive relationship my mother and I had shared, so I maintained silence with them. I did not know where they were or what they were doing. I made peace with that and got the recovery I needed in all the other areas of my life. No one encouraged me to contact my family.

Jose at The Wall in Washington DCAt 12 years of sobriety, I learned about a friend and co-worker, Jose, who had relapsed after many years of recovery. I was employed in the chemical dependency field and worked in mental health settings. He returned to California after 30 days with a friend in Nevada. He had been a counselor at the agency where I got sober, and we later worked there together as well as at another agency. I went to visit him at the recovery center where he had gone to get a new foundation. He had relapsed behind his trauma in Vietnam and we began a very long conversation about deeper involvement in recovery.

To make a long story short, Jose came to live with me at six months of recovery. We got married two years later and were together through some of the biggest events in his life. We buried his family, one member at a time, over the next seven years. He was there, clean and sober, for these events and took care of his sister and his mother during their illnesses. We walked through the process of filing and receiving his claims for his PTSD and disabilities caused in Vietnam. We began counseling together and formed several support groups for combat veterans and couples. Our healing stories became the basis for others to heal as well.

Jose had two sons from a previous marriage; unfortunately, he was not able to reconcile with his sons. They are active drug addicts and harbor resentment toward him. He made peace with that during this time. We spent much time with his extended family in New Mexico, and I am close to them to this day.

After four years and nine months of marriage, he died from cancer caused by Agent Orange. My only marriage: it was short, intense, and changed me forever. I believe we were brought together for the purposes of our mutual healing. I had never told the story about my military experience before him. I had shared it only briefly in therapy, believing it was an unimportant part of my life.

I returned to college on benefits as his widow and received degrees that allow me to work with veterans as well as in treatment. My own healing has brought me the acceptance of combat veterans with whom I can share stories of trauma and recovery. The incidence of sexual misconduct in the military is higher than we care to believe. I can be of service in this arena, because I am free to share my healing.

I now have 28 years of recovery. This year I have been able to reinstate relationships with my cousins, my brother and my mother. They are stable and based on forgiveness, compassion and acceptance.

Recovery Matters, June 2014

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