I had a friend once named Bob who was what is referred to now as “An Adult Child of an Alcoholic”. Both his parents had been alcoholics. He told me once that he could remember being about nine years old and coming home from school and finding both parents passed out drunk. He would fix himself and his little sister something to eat, help her with her homework, get her to bed, and then struggle to get his parents awake enough to go to bed. He spent most of his childhood like that taking care of himself and his sister and his parents. In a way he said it was a blessing when his parents were passed out as he didn’t have to worry about protecting himself or his sister from them or trying to break them up when they were fighting. Bob had to assume adult responsibilities at a very early age missing out on his own childhood.
He was a grown man with a severe weight problem when I got to know him. He ran his own cleaning business and worked 16 hours a day usually. As so often happens, he had developed a drinking problem himself after he was grown, but had stopped drinking by the time I met him. He was still troubled though. It was like there was still this little boy inside him waiting to grow up and experience all the things he had missed out on. Bob made good money at what he did, but it didn’t bring him happiness. I don’t think Bob really knew how to be happy. He had never learned to play while growing up. While other boys were playing and participating in sports Bob was busy taking care of others and worrying himself sick over what kind of mood or condition his parents were going to be in. As an adult he was still this super responsible person who took care of everyone but himself. Despite his success he never enjoyed any of it nor took any pride in what he had accomplished. The pain he was carrying from his missed childhood was driving him to work and eat like a madman.
Bob had to basically go back and re-parent himself. He first wrote out his childhood memories from his early years to put some order to them. As crazy as it sounds, he had to forgive himself for his parents’ condition and understand that none of what happened was his fault. He then had to learn the things he should have learned as a child like how to play and take joy in his own accomplishments. Bob had to learn not to feel guilty and blame himself over everything and everyone’s problems around him. It was hard work and involved dedication and a lot of pain. It meant dropping all those guards he had built up as a child as survival skills and not let every decision in his life be dictated by fear or guilt. I haven’t seen him in years, but the last time was at a historical day at Fort Defiance in Caldwell County. He had lost a considerable amount of weight and was with his fiancé. He seemed to be enjoying himself and I hope he still is.
Inspirational and motivational speaker Pat J. Schulz spoke recently at the Iredell Count Public Library in a program called, “If I Had a Hammer.” She discussed her own struggles in life and latest book, “Making Sweet Lemonade.” You’ve probably heard the old saying, “When life brings you lemons, make lemonade.” The book she says “represents resiliency and an enduring resolve to make the best of whatever life brings your way. I’ve had a number of potentially fatal occurrences over the years. In 2004 I faced another one with diagnosis of a rare health condition, whereby, I was required to undergo emergency surgery. As I say in the story, ‘God spared my life for the nth time.’ Acknowledging without any doubt that God’s favor was upon me, I praised God for life. In that moment of rejoice, the spirit of the Lord, came upon me and spoke, ‘Its not for you, it’s for the others.” The embodiment of that mandate is “Making Sweet Lemonade,”
Schultz draws on her own tumultuous childhood growing up in New York City and Lenoir, N.C in “Making Sweet Lemonade.” She has served on the Mecklenburg County Domestic Violence Advisory Board and does speaking engagements on the topic of Child Observers to Domestic Violence. She is available for speaking engagements and can be reached at ENHEART Publishing at www.enheartpublishing.com or by E-mail at email@example.com.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Friend accepted troubled past to conquer future” on Nov. 18, 2009