Last week, I shared the fact that I have few memories of my father prior to his becoming an active alcoholic. Years later, when I was in rehab myself, I remember being shown pictures of alcoholics in the latter stages of cirrhosis of the liver. It was when I saw those pictures that I began the process of healing from the abuse I suffered at the hands of both my parents.
The pictures reminded me so much of how Mom and Dad looked at the end of their lives. Their skin and eyes were yellow. They were very skinny, except for their mid-sections, which were very large. As a child, I didn’t realize that they were bloated and their livers were distended.
The rehab counselor talked about alcoholism and its different stages. I had always heard people say that alcoholism is a disease, but it never really clicked until that day. That’s when I realized that my parents were sick. It was never a question of choice or morality. Alcohol had taken over their minds; much like it did to mine prior to coming into the rehab.
I had reached a point where alcohol was telling me what to do and when to do it. I completely lost the ability to make my own choices. At some point long ago, the same thing had happened to my parents.
I found this new insight somewhat comforting, but very confusing. If my parents lacked the ability to make rational choices, were they not at fault for the physical, mental and sexual abuse I endured? The rehab counselor clarified that they were indeed accountable for their actions. That moment of comprehension was quickly followed by a harsh realization. If my parents were accountable for their actions while in the grip of alcoholism, then so was I.
But my heart was beginning to open. I was able to open a door that had been closed for a very long time. And the light that seeped in dispersed some of my old thinking, and allowed some room for compassion. My parents were sick people, not bad people. And so my healing began.
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