The Conversation That Changed My Life

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Let me take you back 25 years to a conversation that helped me understand who I am, what I do and more importantly, why I do it.

I was Executive Director of a Rescue Mission in Washington, DC. A Promise Keeper rally was scheduled to come to the DC metro area.  I encouraged the pastor of the church I attended to get the men in the church to attend.  He assigned me to Chris, one of his associate ministers, as my point of contact.

Chris and I developed a plan to promote the rally.  Since he was the counseling pastor and I’m cheap, I figured I’d get a free counseling session.   I explained when I had to fire someone, I stopped breathing.  My diaphragm stopped working and I had no breath in my lungs.  If the person asked me a question, I couldn’t respond because I couldn’t breathe. After some dialogue, he said I was an adult child of an alcoholic.  I explained there was no alcoholism in my family.  He was emphatic that he was right.  Chris was right, and he was wrong.

Growing up, we had a full bar in our basement.  The walls had beautiful knotty pine paneling.  There was a neon Pabst Blue Ribbon sign, and two large cabinets of hard liquor.  Yet, it never was consumed.  If there was no alcohol consumed, how could Chris be right.

In the dysfunctional family, the drugs of choice are more than alcohol and drugs.  They include:  work, food, sex, gambling, power, spending, religion and rage.  In my family, my father was a rageaholic.  When my dad “acted out” by yelling at people, all the shame in his life went away.  For the rest of our family members, we felt like a hand grenade went off in our vicinity.  We were bleeding, while my dad felt relief.

When my dad verbally laid into a waitress, I acted like any kid growing up in an addicted family; I bowed my head, closed my eyes and pleaded with God to make it stop.  It never did.  I would go behind each person and clean up the wreckage of humanity who had just endured his verbal assault.

Chris enrolled me in a 12-week workshop based on the workbook written by Tim Sledge, “Making Peace With Your Past; help for adult children of dysfunctional families.”

In the addicted family, the children take on roles to keep the family “functioning”.  The oldest is labeled, “The Hero”.  They overachieve to prove the family isn’t crazy.  The second born is the “Scape Goat”.  They bear the brunt of why the family is “wobblily.”  The third child is the “Lost Child.”  They observe the first two siblings and decide the only way to survive is to become invisible.  The fourth child is the “Clown” whose role is to bring humor into the family.   My dad treated me as the Scape Goat.  I could do no right. The confusing part of my story is I should have rebelled and gotten into drugs and alcohol with tattoos on my body.  Instead, I responded as the Lost Child, totally compliant.

In the healthy family, the parents meet the emotional needs of the children but in the addicted family, the children meet the emotional needs of the parents.  It sounds like God’s plan, but it’s just far enough off course to cause someone who grew up in the addicted family to run through life with their shoes tied together, falling and breaking their nose.  Over the last 25 years, I have worked hard to break the cycle of dysfunctional behavior that was passed to me, so I don’t pass it to my children.

I’ll be back in two weeks.  Until then, live well my friend.

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