When a guy cops to recovering from addiction and he has two kids, it’s tempting to suppose many forms of unspeakable horrors, which I want to address with finesse because, though my story lacks a particular brand of Hollywood drama, I’m also not looking to minimize the impact that substance abusing parents have on their children. It can be insidious and subtle without being bloody and newsworthy.
So no, I never hit my kids or screamed at them (all that much; never drunk) or called them a bunch of horrible names that crippled their self-concepts, making it necessary for them to seek relief by perpetuating the cycle of abuse or what have you. Truth be told, my kids kick ass. Of course I can’t be certain but they don’t appear to be bogged down by any more self-loathing than your average self-loathing young person. Most of my adult life has been spent, to some varying degree, in recovery so the kids have rarely even seen me drunk and, when they have, I was more inclined to play with them than ruthlessly destroy their self worth like the drunks on TV. So there you go. No terror. No blood. No cops.
But those symptoms—that outward craziness—are only various manifestations of the singular problem that serves as the stubborn root from which addiction and all its consequences flow: selfishness. The tenacious deep problem of the addict—being enamored by and trapped within the maze of self—is, in truth, the problem he seeks to treat with his array of addictive substances.
My biggest concern, in terms of parenting my children, isn’t the fact that I drank to excess and often did ridiculous and dangerous things. I mean, sure, that’s a worry. But the much more crucial issue at hand is the extreme emphasis on self inside of which I lived, necessitating my alcoholism—yes—but worse yet? Setting an example of self-absorption as the model by which my children learned what it meant to be a person in and of the world. However, what’s done is done—an easier cliché to write than embrace—and the recovery process does include a step that attempts to repair the damage of the past to the extent that that is possible. Its focus is on amends. And so, rather than focusing on the damage, I want to here cast my eye on amends. In terms of being a poor model for my kids regarding how to be a person in the world, how do I repair that damage? How do I make amends?
This is a much more enormous task than telling them I’m sorry.
The answer for me (provisionally, because my understanding and relation to these issues keep changing and growing) is twofold: first, recover from alcoholism, which, above and beyond the cessation of alcohol consumption, entails a Copernican revolution in terms of how I relate and interact between my self and the world. And, second, have this new way of interacting and relating between my self and the world bear directly on the way I interact and relate to my children.
To posit something as lofty as “a Copernican revolution in terms of how I relate and interact between my self and the world,” amounts essentially to fancy writer language for not being so damn selfish. The trick, indeed the whole goal of recovery to my mind, is to constantly search the sky for new stars to circle, to abandon the default solar system of selfhood in search of new suns to orbit. Always. Ceaselessly. Relentlessly. Let your sun burn out or explode. Forget yourself.
But how does this new way of interacting and relating between my self and the world bear directly on the way I interact and relate to my children in an effort to make amends? It’s simply this. I need to take the time to imagine myself as a father from the perspective of my children. I have to imagine that I am my children. I have to be my children. Parenting is too often mistaken for me and my opinions about what’s best for kids inflicted on my kids. This is not to say they don’t need guidance; they do. But they also need a dad who’s willing to enter the imaginal fray of wondering how they see, how they feel, what they need, and what they want. And as a result of those meditations, they then need a dad who will accommodate them from their perspective. To be and act like the dad that they want as opposed to just doing what I think is best.
The distinction is subtle, but the results are enormous. It’s the difference between being sorry and making amends.