As far as being an ACOA, I'll tell you what I wish someone told me- as I can. This is for those of us who:
1. Knew if we would get to play that day by what was in our parents' hands when we got up in the mornings.
2. Know that sober does not equate healthy, and are finding out that your aging parents' stress can awaken some of these unhealthy behaviors. In them AND you.
2. Are tired of the self "help" books that make you feel worse than before you opened it.
3. Ever had the silly notion that this shit was ever really done and over with, only to be smacked upside the head again. For God's sake, its like Micheal Myers in Halloween. It just keeps coming back, like a bad, sticky booger of unknown origin. On your pants... no, now your finger, now your hair! (Don't worry, everyone's had one of those, more if they've had brothers or kids.)
I'm right there with 'ya. So, in life, I'm guessing you probably did some self-destructive stuff, self help book reading, beat yourself up over things you did when you didn't know better, had some therapy, read "Codependent No More" for the 100th time, got some emotional distance, learned how to be happy and not-on-edge, gained a relationship (or not) with God, had your own kids, had aha moments, enjoyed the serenity and mundane-ness of a healthy life.... and now a parent is aging and ailing in health.
You'll probably feel all the normal things that come with that- feeling bad for them, feeling bad for you, missing and greiving the parent you had, trying to do the most with what you have. Helplessness sucks. Thats tough stuff on a GOOD day. Add to that, you've got every day stuff to deal with, too.... but...
WAIT! There's MORE!! If you worked through codependency issues, something about this scenerio will smell familiar. Ummm... I think its shit. Yep, thats definitely it. Somehow, there's still some stuck to your shoe. Oh well, we're going to fertilize something with it this time. You remember the drill, taking over jobs that aren't yours- "do you need to go to the doctor?", parentification (being your parents' parent), controling behaviors- "Take your damn meds or else you'll have to go to the ER again!", no boundaries- or fuzzy ones where you're in their business and vice versa, chaos- "Having dinner (or none at all) at 9 pm cuz Nana's sick", never ending crises- "3 ER trips in a month" and something consuming your life.
Hopefully, the very last part is what we'll avoid by being conscious about it. So lets get through the part that we all know: you love your parent. And he/she is becoming more dependent and their time is becoming finite. The awareness of how "finite your time with them is" is sometimes consumingly sad and we are helpless to get out of this situation. This is part of the normal, healthy grief process.
But what normal, healthy people don't know is this is the part that you dreaded and worked so hard to prevent as a kid by cleaning up their messes, covering for them, helping them up stairs or hiding their guns and keys. The fact that your ultimate fear as a child is really here is... too big for words. And, what you're probably realizing now is that even tho your relationship with that parent may have been healed, or may not have been healed, the reality is that this situation still might feel like it did so long ago even though you're an adult.
So, if it does, just accept it. Don't fight it because it makes you feel guilty. The truth is, you can't move past anything that you're fighting. The essence of fighting an emotion means you're stuck in it. (Which really sucks for me because I am a fighter :) ) Just surrender and be willing to entertain it as an old, annoying friend. This is mental Judo, the art of using an attacker's momentem against itself instead wasting your energy to block it.
Now, lets move past it so we can do the healthy things and lets look at this. So, the differences are: you're an adult. You control you. You have a life. You are responsible for you and your children, job, etc.
The similarities come from the CONFUSION from the questions you have to answer for your own personal health. You, like me, probably had resolved this stuff long ago, but unfortunately with new life stages come new evaluations. Just some of the questions that confound me are below. I'm sure there'll be more.
About your parent's "stuff"
- What and when should I take over? Or should I even take over?
- What is your parent capable of and what are they not?
- What part of their care can he/she NOT attend to?
- Are they falling back into old personality habits? (My mom is.)
- What part of their "clinginess" is their actual medical issues and what part is their anxiety or old "take care of me" behaviors?
About your "stuff"
- Are you ready for your life to become about keeping another person alive again?
- What are you realistically (emotionally, psychologically, financially) capable?
- Do you have enough resources? (time, patience, nerve-meds, money)
- Are you responsible for the public's welfare by an elder driving?
- Are YOU falling back into your old personality habits? (Me? Sometimes. Irritability from stress is probably universal :) )
- Do you have resilience against the guilt you are going to have after this is all over, no matter what you choose? Are you going to beat yourself up about not having spent time with them while you had the chance, only forgetting that you felt wore out if you did even one more second?
- If you're there with them and you're overwhelmed and grouchy, are you ok with that? If you take a break and/or "put them someplace", are you going to be able to psychologically survive the guilt of that?
- Do you have coping skills? A support system? Another life besides the ailing parent? You'd better make sure that you do. You're gonna need it.
I suppose the question boils down to what you are capable of emotionally and psychologically in respects to your past and present. It also boils down to where the line is drawn in the sand between healthy and unhealthy for you and your surviving family. In re-reading this, it sounds silly, common sensical and dry. But trust me, when you're going through it, it feels like you're digging through hell with your bare hands. And its ok to stop and take a breath sometime.
Later, I wanna write about all the "issues" we have because we were raised by alcoholics. Not the OH YOU ARE SUCH A HELPER, YOU ARE SUCH A RESCUER, YOU SCAPEGOAT, YOU!!! HOW HORRIBLE!! kinda stuff, but after some therapy and tempering, how these things actually benefit society AND our self esteems.
Pssst: some thoughts to think on...
The difference between coal and diamonds is time and pressure. We've had both, so sparkle, baby.
Read some comic books and you'll find that most superheroes started out as victims, too.
And, every one of the apostles had something "wrong" with them.
Just remember, it takes extraordinary circumstances to make extraordinary people.