Category: Breaking Generational Cycles

Early Recovery & Sober Mom Guilt

I had a birthday Saturday and I have to say turning 34 is just as cool as turning 33 was.

As far as I can tell, as each sober year comes and goes this life stuff is going to continue to get better and better. Apparently, another hidden perk of my recovery has gone unnoticed. I am aging with an expanding sense of wonder and excitement, even as the hair on my head is showing preliminary signs of making me a sliver fox before my fortieth birthday. But again, it’s all good. I’ll take it. I’ve earned it. Also, I sort of like silver.

My oldest son celebrated his birthday eleven days before mine. Each year as he starts to get excited, as he begins the countdown, I get so excited for him. I am enthusiastic about his plans, and  I listen intently to him as he describes his specific dessert recommendations.

When he was younger and I was in the throes of early recovery, I spent a lot of time trapped in my own self-made pool of guilt, imprisoned by embarrassment and shame.

I can remember wondering if I was good enough to be his mom.  I wondered if he would be resilient enough to bounce back from the kind of person I used to be. I didn’t really know if all of the effort I was pouring into him would even make a dent in the damage I felt I had done to his spirit. I also worried that he might hate me for making so many mistakes. He was only four when I began my quest to find my own place in the sobriety world.

I am not winning at adulting or parenting, that’s for sure. I also don’t claim to have it all together as a mom. I am no expert.  But I am currently winning the battle between me and the plague that is infamous mom guilt.

Looking back, I realize why I used to worry so much.

Being a mom is sort of a big job. It’s important. I knew that.

With sobriety being so new to me and having to feel my feelings being introduced into my life, I just wasn’t sure if I was strong enough.

What an intense thing, right?

Like, here’s this child. You love them more than your own life with every single fiber of your being. But, you may have completely screwed him up for life, but maybe not. You could have, but maybe not. We’ll have to wait and see.  In the meantime, just keep trying. Give it your all, every single day. One day, you will see the fruits of your labor, or maybe not. No one really knows.

I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and not just with sobriety or with my feelings. I didn’t know how to do much of anything. I felt like a twenty-something-year-old who had just recently been plopped onto this planet from a different realm. Everything felt foreign to me.

Being a mom felt as natural as breathing air to me. Loving my son, easy-peasy.
But believing and convincing myself that I was good enough to be a good mom? That was a different story. Trying to understand or wrap my head around the idea that I could build new memories and pave new ways with him? Not easy-peasy.

But as much as I worried, I read.
I learned how to cope my fears with prayer, my Bible, meetings, and phone calls to women who were much more wise, patient, and introspective than I was capable of being at that time. I learned something: Self-doubt can sabotage our brains. Shut it down with truth and remember, sometimes it will take someone speaking it to you in order for you to be able to see it.

With as much skepticism I was dealing with, I tried to be optimistic about the future.
Let’s face it. With uncertainty, also comes a blank space open for opportunity. When it came to whether or not I deserved to be a mom, or whether or not someone else could do it better, or if I could hack it, I committed to burying myself in God’s word anyway. No. I still didn’t know if I could do it, or if I was good enough, but I decided that I was going to be optimistic. I would continually ask God to show me. Show me something; anything I can use. Help me to believe that I matter and that I am capable. And He gave me answers. With him, I am strong and capable. Because I know Him, I know I am worthy and valued. Little by little, my shame was silenced with Truth. I learned something: Self-doubt is like a chameleon. It takes the form of whatever thought process you are in and it tries to eat it alive. Don’t let it.

As I continued to face negative consequences for my actions well into my sobriety, and as I took responsibility when I needed to for choices that I had made, I reminded myself that God builds new things.
He transforms. Renovation is sometimes necessary. Not just the changing of the old things, but ripping apart the old things and building brand new things. I was not just changing my life, I was changing the trajectory of my son’s life. We were building new things. Building takes time, and I did my best to remember to be patient through seasons where I lacked vision and understanding. I learned something: You can experience negative things and still, simultaneously have some really great things growing in your garden. It’s true. You always have to clean up the messes that you make, but it can only detract from the progress that you are making if you let it.

I know how hard sobriety can be on a mom’s heart.

We tend to easily believe that we are really bad mothers, rather than, we have made a lot of unhealthy choices, as mothers and that we’re forgiven. And then we go on to think that we aren’t capable of learning how to do things differently.

But we are. We can. You can.

And no, we can’t go back to change what has been done, or what never got done, or to make up for what has been lost. We don’t get to change the past, or erase their memories, or see the things we missed, to remember the things that are lost in our brains, or say that because it was forgiven it was right.

But remember.

Kids just need our consistency, our love, our attention, and for us to make them feel all of the things that we desire most too. To feel noticed, to feel important, to feel connected, to know they are valued, that they are worthy, and are irreplaceable.

Also: they probably don’t have a list of our mistakes under their mattress. They just want us. The best gift that we can give to our kiddos is showing them the power of God in our lives, through the way that we love and lead and live. The rest will fall into place.

For me it feels like I blinked and my sweet four-year-old who I thought I had hurt too deeply for him to go on and lead anything that resembles a ‘normie’ life recently turned fifteen.

He is very much a well-adjusted, sweet, thoughtful, smart, mouthy, fifteen-year-old whom I trust and am in awe of. I have to say, he blows my fifteen-year-old self out of the water when it comes to his level of personal responsibly, understanding of the importance of accountability, self-awareness, and personal goal setting. I shouldn’t forget to add that he loves me and we have built an incredible relationship.

We are still pressing on, and I have no idea how this will all end up playing out. I really don’t. I know we have not crossed into adulthood and the future is unknown, but I do know that I have learned to trust God through this, and to enjoy the process. And the future is shiny and bright.

I want other mommies out there who might be struggling to believe that things can and do and will get better. Little by little it does. It really does. Also, you CAN do this.

Creating Tradition Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated

nfsitpy

A few weeks ago during a small-ish ladies event, for our conversation starter activity we were asked to finish this sentence: (Out-loud. One by one.)
“It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without…”  

Since I shelved the art of lying to try to sound as ‘normal’ as possible, years ago, for my response I chose to go with a blank stare, and added, “I don’t really know, I have never really thought about it, maybe…macaroni casserole?” as my answer.

Really. Macaroni casserole? Nice.
It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without macaroni casserole. 

I talk a big game about the importance of breaking generational cycles, so as I over-analyzed my response after I got home that night, I knew for sure that even if a long list of specific, handed-down family traditions didn’t flood my mind in relation to Thanksgiving, (because there aren’t any in my family) we have been working on building new things for our children, within our family.

I have just been focused on other things. In my ten short years of sober time I spent the first five in complete awe that I was somehow still alive in the first place to enjoy the blessing of being around on the holidays. The last five I spent in awe of how present I am actually capable of being and how exhilarating and fulfilling it is to be able to retain memories and recall them later.

So maybe instead of macaroni casserole, I should have said: “Being alive is pretty dope and I also think it is cool that I can remember making memories with my family and friends.”

For people who grew up drowning in dysfunction and inconsistency, building holiday traditions worth passing on can feel impossible to accomplish.

As a young adult I was on a mission to change things for my oldest son. I can remember how overwhelming the idea of ‘breaking generational cycles’ felt to me. Hadn’t I already ruined him? I had already exposed him to the same things I was exposed to. The idea of change just felt too big. Here I was already blindly stumbling around adulthood, still learning to navigate in healthy ways. Never-mind plugging in new traditions for my son to pass down to his kids or leaving a legacy behind on this earth someday that is worth a shit. It felt like too much to sort out.

I was pretty surprised (and relieved) when I realized that any and all drastic life-change happens the same way: One new, different, healthy choice at a time. It wasn’t as complicated as I was making it.

I knew that in order to make a drastic turn in a new direction, I had to commit and stick to making small changes, even if I couldn’t see things changing.

Over time, just like with my recovery from drugs and alcohol, my reality began to shift and suddenly I was living my new normal.

I still get excited talking about how much impact the culmination of small choices can have on our lives, and by default, the lives of our children.

So don’t lost heart. Don’t give up.

If you are making purposeful choices, then you are actively chipping away at generational dysfunction. Even if you can’t see it now, gradually, over time, you will begin to see results. The past doesn’t matter. What matters is you are building the new things.

For me, I know that I am not trying to offer my children a perfect mom. (Anyone who knows me knows that I am comfortably flawed and not pretending to be super mom). I can’t give them a life with no pain, hurt, or life’s inevitable ups and downs.

I have just chosen to try to saturate them with as much love and as many new options as I can, (and holidays and memories that are obviously lacking things like police sirens, violence, arrests, fist-fights, or people who are inebriated and puking on their own shoes).

So today I want you to try this with me.
Answer this question with your own answers:


It just wouldn’t be Christmas without……
Everyone (4 boys) making fun of me for putting the tree up so early.
(It’s become an annual thing)
Baking cookies together on Christmas Eve
Taking the kids to choose a gift for each parent
Reading the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth on Christmas Eve
Everyone wearing Christmas jammies on Christmas Eve
Driving through our local festival of lights together
Watching our favorite movies over and over, but saving The Christmas Story for Christmas Eve
Going to grandma’s house Christmas morning after breakfast

Whatever your response, no matter many you listed off-
Those are your family things. 
Do them again next year, and they are now your family’s traditions.
Those are the things that your kids will look back and remember, and most likely, do with their kids as well. 

The best part is, you can start anytime, anywhere and it is never too late to start plugging new things in. You can start small. Maybe every Tuesday you will cook tacos, or every Friday you will order pizza. Take a walk around the block on Wednesday nights, start going to church together on Sundays, cook pancakes on Saturday mornings, play a board game on Sunday afternoons.

There are so many different ways to build new things within the walls of your home and the hearts and minds of your kids. There really are no wrong answers and the only requirement is you continuing to try. The more good you plug-in, the less impact power the negative stuff will have.

And no. This isn’t the answer to end generational drug-use that seems to plague families. (Families like mine.) But this is a small, easy, free way to begin to change direction.

So let’s continue to change things and please remember that you aren’t alone in this thing.

New Normals

nfsitpy
In early recovery, my secondary focus was finding peace. It could have tied for first place if staying sober was even the tiniest bit negotiable as a required prerequisite before anything else could happen, but that’s not how this recovery thing works.

Finding peace had been a priority on my to-do list my entire life. I am not sure I ever truly appreciated how much I had to exert as I reacted to my high-stress life. But I knew that I was done. I just didn’t have it in me. No more expectantly waiting in ready to either resist and fight or run and hide. I just wanted to land safely somewhere.

Despite spending  years struggling with addiction, substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, and spinning my wheels in abusive relationships, I still secretly yearned for internal and external peace. But I had been caught in the net of severe generational dysfunction my entire life and I didn’t know what to do or how to change or where to start.

Recovery offered me an opportunity to begin to imagine what healthy boundaries would look like if they were plugged into my life. I wrote down what I wanted, and most importantly, what I needed. I hoped that by creating my very first set of boundaries and a list of my own long-term goals I could finally breathe.

The doubt and discouraging words from my a few members of my family echoed in the back of my mind every time I would make a change in my life: “Brittany, those boundaries of yours are great, but you are crazy if you think keeping them from their flesh and blood is good for those kids; you cannot protect those boys from everything.”

But I kept believing, and have continued to honor my heart’s desire for peace.

I admit, I completely  partially agree. Somewhat.
Boundaries are super great, I just might be a tiny bit crazy depending on who you’re asking and when they knew of me, and I cannot protect these boys from everything. Holy balls. Today, more than ever, I am very much aware that I can’t “protect those boys from everything.” Every time I think I have any kind of stable, solid, footing, adulthood and parenthood laughs in my face and I am reminded yet again of how much of everything I have zero control over.

To be completely candid (surprise) I don’t want the burden of having some illusion that I have everything under control. It is my belief that is God’s job.

My job as mommy is to love my little people. To me, loving them means guiding, teaching and protecting.

Avoiding the known, pre-existing pits and pot holes that I already know exist (because I have only recently crawled my way out of them) certainly falls within that realm of protector, included in my job description.

It is my desire, my duty, and my personal obligation to keep them from harm’s way as much as is in my power and control.

And there are definitely things  that I look at and think to myself: “Yep. We’ll just leave that where it is. It doesn’t need to come with us.” And then we move forward.

Breaking cycles or being committed to stopping unhealthy patterns is all about making different choices. It’s about leaving legacies that are non-toxic or even a little bit less-shitty than what the generation that preceded it left behind. I know I cannot offer perfection to my children. They will tell you that, ask them.

Things were unfamiliar and weird for me for a long time. In fact, even now I still have certain times where I find myself lost in my own thoughts, almost missing the familiarity of my family or the idea of my family.

Isn’t it a ridiculous notion to feel like you are missing places and things that you never truly connected to, and people who you never actually bonded with?
How’s that for dysfunction?  🙂

But my children are experiencing a new normal and that makes it all worth it.

In our home we have chosen to ditch the well-beaten (over-used, worn-out, easier) path and have chosen to take the dangerous, less-talked about, less-traveled, less-popular road. We are making our own rules, our own memories, and our own traditions.

(Which basically means that we are off-roading, and despite not being much of a risk-taker these days, the newness that accompanies the scenic route is refreshing and much more fun.)

3 Things I Have Learned About Breaking Cycles of Dysfunction

nfsitpy

Most of what was supposed to have been my childhood was actually just me, walking around pissed, in disbelief that my life was actually my life.

The rest I was just hyper-focused and centered on pre-planning my actions & reactions, and surviving day-to-day on an emotional and psychological level.

I had no idea that I was actually just one of many. There were dozens of people stuck in this cataclysmic wind-tunnel that we so graciously called our ‘family’. But it was what we knew.

My life post-acknowledging-trauma has been frustrating and blissful, but mostly dedicated to putting fragmented pieces of my past back together, (only to trash most of everything), and desperately trying to conjure up and salvage old memories in my quest to prove to myself that they actually exist and that I did have some positive experiences. And unlearning. Significant amounts of unlearning, but even more learning than unlearning.

I took a course a few years ago called ‘Family Systems’.

We were asked to dig deeper into our family histories, with a goal of gaining a clearer perspective that biological influences and environmental factors have on entire family systems and how cycles impact succeeding generations.

(I felt that I had already got my money’s worth after I learned that families are in fact, systems. News to me.)

I created my first-ever family genogram.
And ladies and gents, it got weird.

To be able to sit at my kitchen table and see generations of dysfunction, mental-illness, drug-addiction, substance use disorders, codependency, and enabling,  spelled out on paper and carefully color-coded was telling and it felt eerie.

But there it was in all of its dysfunctional, unhealthy, generational glory. My very own hand-drawn, neatly color-coded family tree staring me in the face, begging to be analyzed.

This particular project changed my perspective on generational toxicity. 
Here’s how:

It forced me to look at the people in my family more objectively.
It was like creating art and having to take a step back to take in the entire picture. Somehow that helps the artist to create balance or cohesion or to gauge what direction they need to go in next.  Sometimes when you are deeply connected to something and focused on certain areas or spots that are more important to you, it becomes difficult to see what it is in its entirety. Seeing it as a whole, as opposed to honing in on specific areas can change everything that you feel about the whole thing. This is what happened for me. I took a step back, and all of the details that I didn’t understand or know where to put, finally made sense.

It affirmed one of my deepest fears.
Shit. It was up to me. I am the one who can change things for my kids. Me. I am almost sure I probably cycled through the stages of grief realizing that it was my job to allow God to work through me and impact my life, and my children would be the recipients of the gifts of these changes.
So there I stood, in my kitchen, holding the ball in my court armed with information and experiences that allowed me to make new, fresh, smarter choices. I knew things people planted above me on this tree didn’t have the privilege of knowing and there was no going back. I felt an immense amount of pressure and relief at the same time. What a blessing it is to have the choice to make these changes, despite being one of the scariest privileges I have ever been gifted.

I realized that breaking cycles isn’t as complex or as scary as it sounds. 
It was pretty clear to see on paper just how seamless the transition could be when passing the torch of dysfunction & unhealthy habits down to the next, innocent, unsuspecting generation. But it wasn’t as scary and complicated to begin as I had thought. I have learned that we can single-handedly break generational cycles. And by single-handedly I mean one decision and one reaction and one adult parental choice at a time. I mean with the help of faith, friends, mentors, resources, and healthy relationships. One choice at a time with the hope of looking back one day, and hindsight showing me that the little things were actually the huge things, and that carefully tending to their foundation and working tirelessly to show them unconditional love, authenticity over perfection, moderate consistency, fun, and providing a safe, reliable, solid, landing-place was what I knew how to do, with what I had at the time.

So maybe for today, believe that you can do this. If you are like me, you will fall and get back up, you will be more consistent some days and less on others, you will doubt your abilities from time to time, but you will keep working because you are going to be the one to change the trajectory of this thing.

 

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