My piece on Honesty for http://www.thisislivinghope.com
When you work hard to build an image, to maintain a persona, it’s tough to be honest with others or with yourself. My story is messy, and, sometimes, it’s uncomfortable for me to tell. But owning my story is where my healing and my Practice of Honesty began.
I was the baby of the family, the fourth child and only boy in a household where church and God were paramount. If the church doors were open, we were there. I suppose there were good and bad things about that, but it’s what I knew, and it formed my spiritual foundation.
Our home was loving, and my early memories include being doted on by my mother and adored by my sisters. My memories of my father are less fond, partly because he wasn’t around much and partly because he was so stern when he was around. His teaching job took him away during the week, so he only had weekends to reconnect with four children and a wife. On those weekends, I felt more disciplined and corrected than affirmed and loved.
My father was a paradox and, as a result, my feelings toward him were double-sided. On the one hand, I greatly admired him for his ability to command a crowd and connect with others — he was liked and well respected! But on the other hand, I resented him for being gone so much and for his strict rules and expectations at home. I felt like perfection was expected, and there was no way I could live up to that, but I desperately wanted his love, acceptance, and approval.
Life, as I knew it, fell apart in my freshman year of high school when my parents separated and, later, divorced. Not only did this seem inconsistent with my religious upbringing, but it also didn’t seem to work with my father’s stated expectation of family, which was: we are Gears and we should behave as such. Divorce didn’t seem to fit this family construct, and I didn’t know how to process the pain I was feeling. He left, eventually remarrying. And we were left, reeling.
In response, I had my first drink my sophomore year. Emotionally, I checked out. Family was no longer a stable construct, so my friends became my family, and alcohol became my friend.
By my last year, I was barely attending school, but I had begun to have a real social life! I was known and well liked! (Just like my dad.) But I was also young and immature and completely unprepared for the news I was about to receive: I was having a daughter.
I did not handle the news well. I didn’t want to lose the persona I had worked so hard to build: I was becoming popular, girls wanted to be around me, and I loved it! So, I chose my social life over being a present parent. More than that, I wouldn’t even admit that she existed. I moved on and started a new life. (Just like my dad.)
After high school, booze and marijuana were a way of life for me. I got a job and stayed employable, but I only worked so I could party. This is who I am now, I thought, and I accepted the personality shift. Where, before, I was a nice kid who carried his Bible to school, now I was the cool guy, and I liked it. And alcohol was the vehicle to get me there.
Over the next 16 years, I had five more children with three more women, but no healthy relationship with any of them. Several of them moved away, taking my children with them. Part of me was fine with that. The women’s desire for me validated me, the alcohol numbed me, and that was all I needed. Until it wasn’t.
Something inside me was breaking. I was desperately seeking an emotional connection, but I didn’t have the maturity to realize it or achieve it. I was having babies and losing babies left and right. It was all too much. I was falling apart.
Hurt is an understatement. Shamed is an understatement. Disgraced is an understatement. The cumulative loss of them all was too much to process or change, so I continued to drink to drown the pain. And I continued to lie about the number of children I had: “Only one,” I would say. There were a few times I would try to be truthful, but the pain and the shame were too high an obstacle. For five more years after my sixth child was born, my life was a cocktail of gin or vodka with women as my mixer. And after yet another failed relationship, I attempted suicide. Consistently denying any truth of the real causes of my pain and discontentment, I drank myself to a fourth DUI.
I finally hit the wall. Something had to change. I had to change.
I began the Practice of Honesty in rehab. I knew that my dependency on alcohol was destroying me and that I needed to do some honest soul-searching to identify my true feelings about my past and take responsibility for my part in the mess I had created.
I had to acknowledge and process the hurt and rejection I felt over the absence of my father. I had to take the time to grieve the loss of all my children. I had to own the fact that I harbored a tremendous amount of self-hate — self-hate because I thought my father left because I wasn’t good enough or something was wrong with me. I had to acknowledge the fact that alcohol dependency was a byproduct of that self-hate, and my use of women wasn’t because I was “the man,” but because I was a lonely and scared little boy looking for empowerment, acceptance, and validation. I had to face the shame I felt because all but one of my children were conceived while drunk, and I felt they represented my alcoholism. I had to be honest that I lied by omission about my children, because if I admitted the truth, I would have to tap into that unresolved hurt and shame every time someone asked the dreaded question, “How many kids do you have?”
Today, I am more than 18 months sober. Since sobriety, I have reconnected with my oldest daughter, who has just finished her first year of college, and I have a relationship with my youngest son, who is getting ready to start kindergarten. There are struggles there, but I am committed to working them through. I have tried to reconnect with my other four children, but have been unsuccessful — two I can’t find, and the mother of the other two will not respond to my attempts. I can only be so upset with her. I started a new relationship and forgot about them … like my father did to me.
I feel tremendous pain over the broken relationships with my kids, but I am owning the fact that my children exist, and that is a huge step forward. I have a very tattered past, but that is what prompted the pain that has catapulted my recovery and hunger for progress, reconciliation, and balance. I have reestablished my spiritual life, and I believe it is the best thing about me. My prayer life is so important now, and I am consistently seeking to grow as close to God as possible.
None of this would be possible without Practicing Honesty and owning my truth.
My name is Ben and I am an alcoholic. I have fathered six children. I did not do everything I could have to prevent the loss of those children. I have held a mountain of self-hatred because of this, which has prevented me from fully participating in real life, because those children are a part of my real life. But my story doesn’t end there. I am now sober. I have a relationship with the children that I can (find). I am a part of real life now.
This is Living Hope.