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No One’s Favourite

I knew the day would come when something shook me and challenged my resolve.  It happened recently when a conversation with my father took an unexpected turn and ended up with both of us angry and harsh.

I couldn’t have been more surprised by his words – I had stopped by to tell him about a clever idea I’d had to help address some tax issues with his estate planning and expected an intelligent conversation to follow.  We both have good minds for business and love to talk shop.  If I added up all the conversations we’ve ever had and sorted them into categories, “business” would win the majority hands down.

Minutes into the topic and it was clear I’d hit a nerve.  Go figure.  Approach the subject of estate planning with a retired, 75-year old businessman and he gets touchy.  Perhaps I was being insensitive but he came at me with an anger I’ve rarely experienced.  This was more than discomfort with his looming mortality.  This was resentment.  Rejection.

Let’s go, I thought.  You want to fight?  You want to criticize me? You want to argue?  It’s on.  No one else would ever dare to disagree with you or jockey for the last word, but I will.  You want to battle wits? I’m in.

As you can imagine this was a sad thing to witness.  Having spent 43 years trying to earn my parents love instead of just accepting what they were willing to give, I had a lot of ammo to fire.

While my father loudly claimed his right to do things his way, right or wrong, I listed all of my impressive achievements and reasons he should listen to me and respect my opinions.  While he claimed it was none of my business how much money he funnels to other family members who haven’t quite landed on their feet, I noted that I would have been just as well off to have tried less hard and taken the free ride.  While he listed all the opportunities they had provided me, I listed all the ways I had taken those opportunities and succeeded.

We seemed to be in a battle to determine who had the rightful claim to my success.  Wait – when did this become an argument about me?  I tried to get things back on track but it was too late.  He wanted to prove that my accomplishments would have been impossible without him.  I wanted him to recognize that gratitude was self-evident through my efforts and achievements.

My mother and sisters would never dare talk to him this way.  His word has always been the last word.  It is universally accepted in our family that he is the smartest.  And he’s Dad.  Do what he says and that’s that.  Also it should be mentioned that he is cheerful, funny, warm, and loving.  Giving him the last word is usually easy to do.  He usually deserves it.

I’ve almost never argued with my dad.  We’ve certainly never had words like this.  It’s clear that something more is wrong but neither of us knows what.  We go round and round.  My mother sits quietly by and occasionally tries to steer things, but mostly she seems unwilling to take sides. That hurts, too.

I’m emotionally tattered and leave in tears after over an hour of rapid-fire accusations and statements of defense.  I go home and collapse into my husband’s arms and spend the next three days reeling.  I don’t drink but man, it’s calling me.  I struggle with the physical desire to numb the pain, but since I’m going to “fucking show them” I instead default back on the path to being perfect, beyond criticism.

Ahhh, my old friend.  My favourite goal:  beyond criticism.  Over the years my quest for perfection has driven me in so many ways.  It’s the reason I am meticulous with my looks – dressing to perfection, always made up nicely with hair done well.  It’s the reason I work out daily and know the amount of fat and calories in every different brand of yogurt.  I’ve won scholarships, business of the year awards, national recognitions.  I’ve been featured in magazines and have too many news clippings to count.  If that’s not enough, I’ve managed music and tv projects on the side.  I’ve got a good marriage, raised three great boys, manage the family finances, and keep my house orderly.

Is it any wonder that wine flowed through the cracks in the armor?

All I really want is a gold star for my efforts every day.

I don’t do all these things for my own satisfaction, I do them so others will approve.  I expect them to approve, and justifiably so.  But here’s the problem:  I can’t make them do what I want.

“Bob S” – a twitter connection (@Bobby_Steps) with a passion for encouraging others to ‘keep working the steps’ – made it clear to me when I posted that I’d had a frustrating experience with my folks.  “Think what I hear is you expect your parents to be people they aren’t,” he tweeted. “Expectations fuck alcoholics and turn into resentment.”

I see it, I know it.  One of my sisters used to tease me that she was Dad’s favourite, and my other sister was Mom’s favourite, and I was “just the baby”.  I’d quickly joke back, “I’m everyone’s favourite!”  But I never really believed it.

I’ve always felt unconditionally loved, but believed that if I wanted my parents to also “like” me I’d have to earn it.  I don’t know if they could help that each of them has a special tie to one of their children, they just do.  To complicate things further, both of my sisters have gone through marriage break ups and other difficulties.  How dare I resent the help my parents give them while I sit in my happy house on the hill with my husband and perfect life.

So drinking helped numb the unmet expectations of parental approval, helped ease the guilt of resenting the attention showered on others, of resenting how the perfection I’ve come to demand of myself seems to annoy my family instead of impressing them.

The hurt is still there and the issue with my father remains unresolved.  I’ve seen him at family occasions since and it’s clear we both wish it never happened.  It’s the elephant in the room and we’ll have to sort it out sooner or later.  I’m confident we will.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to keep my sobriety on the right path; to ensure I pursue it from a place of honesty and peace, and not out of a spiteful quest for perfection.

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About UnPickled

I am learning to walk without the crutch of alcohol. As I begin I am 1 day sober. Gulp. I drank in private and hope to quit just as privately. The purpose of this blog is to help make me accountable - just by following you will give me enormous support and encouragement.

Posted on May 15, 2011, in Getting Sober. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I can totally relate. I love how you said “Is it any wonder that wine flowed through the cracks in the armor? All I really want is a gold star for my efforts every day.” Story of my life…trying so hard to earn my parents’ approval, just trying to be so darn perfect so maybe I’d feel okay. Wine helps that feeling go away RIGHT quick. And who can dare challenge your drinking if you are perfect, right? Aww geez, the crazy things we think and do. Thanks for this blog. You are insightful and I relate to much of what you say. I just need to courage and gumption to quit again.

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  2. Wow, that was intense. I was right there with u on everything. Thanks for that post Jean…. I read ur blog & know I can do this but something pipes up with “but ur all alone, a single mum with no friends or family support & certainly no husband or partner to rely on” so I deny my ability to achieve what I so desperately want to…….

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  3. Recovered2006

    Such great progress you’re making! One of my biggest fears about not drinking anymore was “how will I deal with my feelings when I can actually feel them again?” I was blessed to be in a safe place when I said goodbye to my alcohol for the last time. I had let my disease progress to the point that it was not physically safe for me to stop without medical & psych assistance. When I stopped drinking, my fears came true & I was flooded with feelings that I had buried deep inside for many years. I cried for 2 weeks after my last drink. The insights you express about your feelings & how they relate to your addiction are really very good! It took working the 12 steps with a sponsor for me to move past the initial phase of being honest about my feelings. It’s like a landmine & I needed someone to help me survive it. If you feel yourself getting “lost in a landmine of feelings”, I encourage you to keep seeking help from others who have navigated thru their own landmine & can help you get safely across yours. I’m your biggest fan & I will support you any way I can 🙂

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    • I am so late in thanking you for these beautiful words. Your support has meant the world to me – you were one of those first lights and I will never forget the joy and relief that washed over me when you shouted my name on Twitter. I am trying to demonstrate my gratitude through helping others and staying the course. Blessings to you for all you do!

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  4. In my family unconditional love was non existent. We had to prove our worth. Therefore out of 4 children, 2(including me) are estranged from my parents, and a third has limited contact. I am sober, my brother is an active addict, and we all deal with the disease of the need to please(which I am working on). I read a quote somewhere…”It is not the family from which you came but the family you create that is of importance”. I cling to this.

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    • I hear your story and feel for you. My family has so few issues and yet we are tangled up in them just the same. We don’t choose our families, but at some point we are able to choose how we relate to them. It’s time for me to use discernment instead of being angry that my happy bubble was popped. Wishing you well – you are a strong person to get to where you are.

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  5. What a beautiful piece of writing. I really identified with so many points you made. I never took to alcohol. Food was my drug. I wish I could include your piece in my publication. I just love it! 🙂

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    • It’s probably no surprise that I have had my struggles with food and body image along the way. The battles in our head play out in many ways. Good luck with your book project – I look forward to reading it!

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  6. You’re written such a well-thought out essay on what happened – your insight to your relationship with alc and with parents is great. And I’m betting that insight comes at the high cost of living through that pain, soberly. I very much identify with your, “Is it any wonder that wine flowed through the cracks in the armor?” words. Really hit a nerve on that.

    Thank you for writing this, and for your site. It’s been such a nice read for a fellow recoveree to take refuge in.

    -champ

    Like

    • The “wine in the cracks” image was so strong as I wrote it. I’m starting to see things with a new clarity now, and that helps me to keep going. I am glad we are able to encourage each other. It’s so funny how alone I used to feel.

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  7. expectations are premeditated resentments and resentments are like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die

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    • Hah – true true. I never knew I was harbouring resentment, and certainly never dreamed it contributed to self-destructive habits. Now that I see it…I see it!

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  8. The alcohol was but a symptom of the alcoholism. When the drinking stops, the alcoholism persists. There are ways to have a daily reprieve from alcoholism, to remove the elephant from the room, and to have the only creditably that matters, from your higher power.

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  9. Pickled in Atl

    I hope all works out the way you need it. Your blog has been an inspiration to me and I am pulling for you!

    Like

    • I’m only a few strides ahead of you but I’m happy to wave a flag for you to follow! The first part is the worst, and you’re already partway through it so hang in there.

      Like

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