The past is prologue so we are all products of our pasts to varying extents. I am the son of an alcoholic father, and my life, in part, has been shaped by that fact. Whether your father drank too much, your mother took too many pills, your older sibling or cousin relied upon legal or illegal drugs, or if you knew of someone in that situation; then you will identify with what I have to share.
My father was a good, caring, hard-working man who suffered from the disease known as alcoholism, which back then was called a drinking problem. Although he died when I was in my late twenties, it wasn’t until later in my life that I began to understand the reasons why he used alcohol to cope with his fear and shame. Understanding my father, his habits, and choices put things into perspective, but it did not change that his actions influenced my life.
Growing up in a world of uncertainty was an extreme challenge. From day to day I could not predict my father’s condition or mood, and that meant I couldn’t risk the embarrassment of bringing home friends. As an adolescent I often wondered, “What do they think? How did they look at me?” It caused me to create some very interesting stories in my mind that I carried for a long while. One “story” was that I was the only kid on this planet that had this problem. The fear of embarrassment also manifested itself whenever we were in public. If he had been drinking to excess, anything could happen and the world was judging me, or so it seemed it was in my story. Therefore, I developed techniques and habits that would drive my life. For example, by eight I learned that the more I controlled my environment, the less the chance existed that I would be surprised and hurt. I learned that uncertainty caused anxiety whereas control and being highly over organized produced safety.
Another early lesson I learned was that confronting my father when he was under the influence was not wise. I had no chance of winning the confrontation and that taught me conflict was bad and should be avoided at all costs. As readers of my columns know, this pattern does not lead to healthy relationships. It led to breakdowns in communications and a less than authentic life.
But, my challenges produced a few survival techniques or “strong suits.” I learned to evaluate my surroundings instantly. If my father was smoking a pipe it usually meant that he was not drinking and things were safe, yet if I smelled cigarette smoke, I played outside a little longer. Any object out of place was a clue that I used to deduce information about my environment. This habit to quickly assess my surroundings later helped me to read people and business situations within minutes. Since I needed to find alternatives to direct conflict, I developed creative ways around it using the power of influence. Being a professional influencer was invaluable dealing with difficult clients, both internally and externally to the company.
We develop many of our strengths because of lessons we learned as a child from how we first dealt successfully with crises. Although in many cases these strengths have helped us survive and mostly succeed they have also locked us into our current professional path with no apparent escape.
The way that I saw the world as a little boy was through lenses that were clouded and formed by the circumstances that I described, which I’m sure applies to many of my readers. Most importantly it was how I was interpreting that situation. In some cases, my first impression was twisted from the reality and would stay with me until adulthood until corrected. For example, it was a fact that my father was an alcoholic and it was a fact that I was there to witness his actions in various forms; but my interpretation that my friends and my world was laughing at me was not real and not a fact. Later I learned that they had some of the same shame and fear in their own lives.
To have a productive future with new opportunities, I had to recognize and then make friends with and shake hands with my past. Forgiving my father and embracing the facts instead of my incorrect impressions of reality gave me the power to deal with my wound and not concentrate on the person who caused it. This past, no matter how bad, was never going to give me the fuel to burn a healthy present and future.
If you have identified with my journey and can replace your life (at least in part with mine) then my suggestion to you is to totally understand that you are a wonderful whole person and that each day is a new beginning and being. Live each day by starting at the point of where you are and not through the lenses of an eight-year-old child who has developed a life of interpretations and false stories. This gives you tremendous opportunity to be and create a future full of new opportunities based on just being and living not in the past and not in the future but in the present as if you were born today. For those of you who say that this not possible, it is…. I know!