“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism”. Carl Jung.
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one”. Elbert Hubbard.
The story begins decades ago, when I, my mother and my father were still a family. It lasted only 5 years. My mother was a loving wife. My father was a loving husband. But it was a problem: my father was also an impulsive psychopath with a particular taste for alcohol. At some point, his violence and his alcohol addiction caused a divorce. At 7 years of age, my family dream was over.
This entire situation left 2 important marks on myself. As a child, and with the mind of those early years, I took 2 important decisions that shaped my life ever since.
How can one loving father leave his only child? Why he chose alcohol dependence versus his love for me? Not even today, after years of psy training am I able to give an answer to these questions. I will never know. But what I know is that, starting that very moment, I lost faith in declared love. I began to trust only objective love, that is, proofs of love. I never trusted someone saying “I love you”, but someone actually doing something in the name of love. I couldn’t risk being deceived again by someone declaring love and then running away.
The second mark, or scar perhaps, is that I got a strong repulsion for alcohol. I rarely drink. And every time I see an alcoholic drink, I remember the tragedy of my life. In time, the fear and the disgust decreased, and now I am generally able to drink beer or wine, but only a couple of times a year. It is like an amputated right hand: you compensate with your left hand, at some point you are not aware that you have only one hand, but still, when you look in the mirror, you can see the void. It is there; you can’t forget it.
“Love is not enough”. I saw this book title recently in a library. I frantically searched for a relationship in which there must absolutely be love. Having doubts on my father’s love, I said to myself that, if at least one of the 2 partners loves the other, the couple is viable. First, it was I who loved. It was struggle. It didn’t work. Then, I was loved. It was better. It could have been even better because I was certain of her love. The first scar, the one about love, was finally cured. I said to myself that I can finally build on love a relationship that can last. But I forgot about the second scar, the one about dependence.
When you have an addicted father, you learn to fear any possible addiction. You witnessed his dependence and fear you might be as well dependent on something. You fear you might be him… I do not smoke, I do not drink, I do not gamble, I do not do drugs, I do not… But something was present in my blind-spot: dependence of my dreams, dependence of idealism and the fear of spending the rest of my days next to a person, the same person, despite the fact that she loved me. It was like drinking, like a drug, like being intoxicated by opium vapors… It was as if I was my father in an alcoholic coma… I do not know what I did or how I did it, but I got out of the second relationship, pursuing some impossible dreams and my unhealthy idealism. I went nowhere and I returned nowhere. Until one day.
I was speaking with a friend. She asked why do I still hold on to the long-time-dead relationship. Why do I still feel guilty? And why do I still prefer to be stuck in the past? And I began to unconsciously say something like “if I renounce the idea that she loved me, I renounce the idea that love can be the foundation of a relationship”. Fortunately, I said it loudly. And fortunately, I was aware, mindful. I heard myself. What was I saying? That I was still blocked in a dead-end because I didn’t want to accept that love alone cannot hold together 2 persons? Yes, that was what I was trying to say to myself, or my unconscious mind was trying to tell to my conscious mind. Love is not enough. You need an extra ingredient. Dependence.
So… in order to be in a couple, you need both love and dependence. ‘Cause you can love from the distance! But what can you do if you fear dependence because you know what alcohol dependence can do to your family? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!
Fortunately, I am no longer that child who promised to himself that he will never drink and will avoid any dependence. I’m a little bit more grown up… I can finally make my own decisions and choose my own dependences.
Each of us has a life story that can be shortened to one phrase. Mine is “I am the child of a couple who got separated because of the alcoholism of the father and I had to be raised by my mother alone”. Inside this simple phrase there are some keywords like “alcoholism” or “separation” or “loneliness”. They are the greatest challenges of my life, the tasks I must solve so as to cure my life story.
Every time there is an addiction or dependence issue in a family, think about the fear of the child that they might do the same mistakes and become addicted to something. That something can come in subtle and unusual forms.
For someone “with issues”, fear beats love. Fear is a sub-cortical emotion that is stronger and more pervasive than the neo-cortical feeling of love. Years of psychotherapy weren’t enough to rebalance me. I had to suffer and one day to be lucky enough to hear my own words loudly. Only now can I finally accept that I’ve been plagued by fear of dependence. And only now can I hope to make decisions freely. It is only now that I can make the decision to allow dependence in my life as a necessary ingredient of a relationship, finally ending a longtime unfinished emotional affair.
Just like in the above metaphor of the absent hand, dependence will remain a “known issue”. Life scars us. But it no longer has control on me. And this means freedom.
They say that the recipe for a perfect couple and family is that both lovers love each other. I doubt. Two people can love each other and still remain separated in separate couples or families. It is only dependence and a commitment to a common life that makes their couple a lasting one.
The sculpture in the image is Love Everlasting by Gaylord Ho.