When I think back on past years – years before I fully understood all of the profound ways being a child of alcoholics affects you – it seems to me now that I was living my life well below the surface. I worked hard at a prestigious and well-paying job, I had lovely friends, I took amazing trips and I made great dinners and threw great parties for those in my life. All outward signs of a life well-lived. But it is the strangest thing: I realize I was so many layers below the surface that I never really connected with anyone in a way I could have. In the way I do now. In full awareness of my ACOAness. In full knowledge of who I am as a person. I was so out of touch with myself after doing whatever it took to navigate my alcoholic home that even in my dearest relationships, I could not fully express what I needed or even understand who I was enough to know what I needed that it breaks my heart a bit. Lovely humans whom I adore were meeting me with their above the surface selves and I didn’t even know how much space there was between us because the distance I had to travel to heal – to pierce through all the layers of pain and understanding – was too great. And I didn’t even know. I had a wall of damage around me, a sound layer of protection I wasn’t even aware I carried around. And so when you met me then, when you loved me then, even when I was giving everything back, even when I seemed to be up at the surface with you, I was still deep in the depths of my own unknowing. I did not realize I wasn’t meeting you at the surface. I thought I was.
The good news: I’m at the surface now! The sun on my face, the light reflecting off the water, fresh air in my lungs. I know who I am. It has taken me years to sort, but I’m here.
The less good news: without ever understanding why, I lost wonderful relationships. I lost people I adore. I could see in their faces a confusion, perhaps even an understanding on their part that I wasn’t quite ready for life in the way they were. And I didn’t know. And it wasn’t my fault. But I’ve carried the shame of this inability to be pre-healed for so long now, I’m wanting to speak it so I can finally let it go.
Angry people live in angry bodies.
Frightened people live in easily frightened bodies.
Worried people live in worried bodies.
Tense people live in tense bodies.
Defensive people live in defensive bodies.
Traumatized people live in traumatized bodies.
Everything you experienced as a child of an alcoholic gave you the body you live in now. Every yelling match. Every “pack your bags” in the middle of the night rush. Every frightening and muffled sound from beyond your bedroom door. Every time you were not seen, heard or cared for in the way you needed. It all lives in your body.
The only way to heal is to get in touch with our bodies. To become aware of the sensations in our bodies as they happen. To make our bodies our cherished friends. To undo years of being disconnected from our bodies as a way to survive what we were living in.
Try yoga. Hiking outside. Breathwork. Massage. Dance. Running. Climbing. Inhabit your body and begin to notice the sensations. It is the only way to move traumatic feelings out of you for good so you can fill your body up with new and wonderful memories.
As Bessel van der Kolk so powerfully states in his wonderful book “The Body Keeps The Score“: “In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step to releasing the tyranny of the past.”
I’m going to practice yoga and go on several hikes this week. Tell me how you plan to get more in touch with your body this week to begin to heal the past. We’ll do it together.
Stunning artwork by Laura Berger. I cannot recommend her work enough. Go forth and follow her.
Our bodies carry every memory. Every slight. Every past worry. Every past moment of fear. Every terrifying walk home from school not knowing what you’d find when you got there. Every burned or skipped meal. Every alcohol-fueled insult hurled your way. Every forgotten birthday. Every moment when all you needed was to be noticed, held, loved, considered and instead found yourself in the caregiver role at a much too early age.
The only way to truly heal from growing up with alcoholic parents is to understand this and work to move these very real traumas out of our bodies so that we can move forward, free to make new decisions from a place of love and support instead of fear and worry.
It all lives in our bodies. Whether it’s yoga or running or meditation or hiking or rock climbing or a combination of these and other things, find your thing that connects you to your magnificent and wise body. And do it daily to connect to what’s there. Over time, you will be able to notice what needs to shift, what feelings and behaviors no longer serve you and what feels healthier and more loving instead. Try it with me this week and see what shifts.
This quote by Katie Cannon was included in Bessel Van Der Kolk’s phenomenal book “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma.” I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone ready to begin doing this work to heal.