2013-05-02 / Columns

Slogans and Self-Talk for Recovering People

By John MacDougall


John MacDougall John MacDougall I Want to Be a Parent
My Children Can Trust,
Not an Ancestor
They Recover From

Many of us in recovery struggle with our difficult childhoods. Many of us who are alcoholics were also raised by alcoholics.As much as we might have resolved to not be like our parents when we grew up, we often end up a lot like the parents we resented. The dysfunction of the past tends to become the dysfunction of the future, unless we take steps to break the cycle.

As we recover, we lose the endless fascination with ourselves, our hurts and disappointments, and begin to think of other people. We take our own moral inventory, and make a list of people we have harmed. If we are sincere about that list, we will find our own children on the list of people whom we have harmed. It is time to make amends.

Amends does not mean apologies. Amends means change. It is not enough to decide what we don’t want to be. We need to decide what we do want to be. I’ve decided I want to be a parent my children can trust, not just an ancestor they recover from.

The simple spiritual principle of H.O.W., from AA’s Big Book, “Honest, Open, and Willing” tells me how to build a relationship with my children. As I was getting sober, I realized that everything I said to them needed to be entirely true, in each detail. I needed to be open with them, and my wife. I needed to be willing to change for the better. If they believed that this had come true, they would give me the opportunity to change, and the chance to restore what was broken between us.

Our program tells us that our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern. We are here to be of service to our children: not to indulge them, but to serve them by showing how to grow up well. The more we try to govern teenagers, the worse things get. If we try to be of service to them by providing guidance about life’s problems, the more likely it is that they will trust us.

My children are grown up now, and I have grandchildren. It is just a few months ago that one daughter came to me, and hesitantly brought up some wretched things I said to her when I was drunk and she was a teenager. They were terrible, personal criticisms of her. They were meant to hurt her, and they did. The words were still raw wounds. I had no memory of saying those things, because of alcoholic blackouts. I felt terrible that I had ever done such a thing to her. I explained that I had done it in a blackout. I told her that I believed her, and that all I can do today is repudiate both the words and the man who said them. I told her that I think I loved her then, but I was too distorted by alcoholism to ever say it.

We both had a good cry, and I think we healed something. My consolation is that she must have trusted me enough now to finally bring it up after all these years, and now I had a chance to address it with her. I want my children, at any age, to be able to bring anything to me, and always find acceptance and love.

The spiritual life is not a theory, says AA; we have to live it. As we live it, we become the parents that our children, of any age, can trust.

John MacDougall, Director of Spiritual Guidance at Hazelden in Center City, Minn., welcomes comments at jmacdougall@hazelden.org.

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