I’m often the oldest in the room at RECOVER gatherings. I will be 70 this month, I’m a boomer, and have spent many years growing up in a household affected by addiction and co-dependency.
As I’ve learned through the 12-Step studies, the family of origin issues plays a significant part in repeating the addictive lifestyle. My parents met in Washington, DC, during WWII. My father, Vincent, was in the Navy, and my mother, Irene, was a secretary for the FBI. After my dad survived the war, my parents moved to Chicago and grew the family.
My father got a job at a chewing gum company, and then an ice cream company as a sales manager.
He modeled overeating and sugar addiction which would affect me later in life. There was always ice cream in our freezer, and after dinner, he would complete his meal with a pint of ice cream. Mornings involved trips to the bakery for warm bread and doughnuts. He used to say “let’s go to the local doughnut shop, but don’t tell your mother!”
My last counselor opened my eyes to see that I am an adult child of an alcoholic, something I had not acknowledged previously. Addictions are often passed down from generation to generation. When the veterans who made it home alive came back to the states, they started to form American Legion halls, which had a free flow of alcohol. Back then, PTSD was called shell shock and was considered cowardly. My father was a “binge drinker,” defined then as only drinking on the weekends, as he had a family to support. I followed the same addiction pattern growing up.
When I was a young man, I enlisted in the Marines because they would put you where they needed you, which was probably in the Army. I loved their motto: The few, the proud, the Marines. I admired my family who served in the Marines, and I faithfully served from 1971–1978, and still believe “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
When I got out, I worked in an ice cream factory in Chicago, on the 2nd shift, where I met my ex-wife Barbara. Barb and I both grew up under the Catholic church’s teaching, but I left the church when I was 18 because I didn’t want anything to do with the God they taught us about. I saw Him as A God who wanted us to work hard at being perfect, not one who extends loving grace to all. That led me into the unholy trinity of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Despite having two daughters, I spent my weekends partying while I cared for my family during the week—walking down the same path my parents paved.
As my job grew more intense, especially during the summer, my ex-wife spent a lot of time alone, and her alcohol consumption escalated. She was a daily drinker, not a binge drinker. She was hospitalized numerous times for her addictions to alcohol and prescription drugs and sadly passed away last year while drinking and taking sleep medication.
The dependent/codependent addiction cycle was ingrained in our lives. I learned my codependency from my mother, as my father was dependent on alcohol. As the youngest, I was a people pleaser to the extreme and wanted everyone to like me, and while I became the peacemaker in my family and the class clown to bring joy, I found myself struggling with depression and anxiety. I so desperately wanted to fix others, and when it didn’t work, I would self-medicate with food and sugar. I continue to struggle with codependency and overeating, and while I get frustrated at times, I have found support and accountability through RECOVER.
Through RECOVER, I have grown to see the ways my family of origin has impacted my life. I am able to identify my triggers. Instead of isolating and turning to codependent and compulsive responses, I can engage with Jesus and others, and find help. Just as Jesus modeled community with close fellowship, I also am surrounded by medium groups and small groups that hold me up when I am weak spiritually and emotionally.
If you’re struggling with addiction or codependency, take a step and seek help! Surround yourself with people who you can be honest with—and who will be honest with you. And know from my story that you’re never too old to find help!
For more on the RECOVER support group, please check out the page here.
Worried about a friend or loved one? See this article: Loving An Addict: Identifying Substance Abuse and How To Help.
Get insight from a pastor on what God believes about mental health: What Does God Think About Mental Health?
For more on practical ways to deal with mental health issues, and stories of others who have been there too, go here for our full list of resources.