Breaking the Cycle

by Rick R.

Early in my first marriage I could easily rationalize all of my alcoholic behaviors. These things meant nothing to me, at the time, but that all changed the day that I became a father. It didn’t change my behavior but it did affect my conscience. From that day forward I felt guilty about my inability to be a good father and as the result, my only son developed problems as bad as, or worse than, mine.

My wife and I separated and divorced within two years of his birth and I got sober one year after that. Have been sober ever since. My current wife of 48 years and I have done everything we could to be supportive of my first wife and my son from a distance. As he turned 10, she asked us if we would take custody of him since she was still having difficulties of her own. We understood and gladly accepted her offer. This was the right thing to do but it didn’t solve my son’s problem. He was damaged and the die was cast. He struggled with drug and alcohol problems into his late 40s and is now in the program, sober for 7 years and doing well.

Every minute counts if we want to break the cycle

From this experience and from observing newer members that come to us in the midst of a divorce or a marriage influenced by alcohol or drugs, the children are often emotionally damaged. I’ve read children of alcoholics endure chronic and extreme levels of stress. At times, children of alcoholics may begin to feel as though they are responsible for the family’s problems and are likely to develop problems with drugs and alcohol themselves. These are just a few of the things that my family and I have experienced first-hand and it was not a pretty sight. There were many sleepless nights in sobriety wondering where my son was and fearing the worst. It took many years of anguish before he finally surrendered and we finally had some peace of mind.

I hope reading my story can help others experiencing emotional damage when families split up. Divorces are messy, with the pain and disappointment of a failed relationship. My divorce was no different. Fortunately, I realized my child would witness how I treated his mom. From that day forward I have not been critical about her in or out of his presence. I speak with understanding and compassion and I taught him that same principle. In time, she came around to the same way of thinking, and we all moved on with grace.

Photo credits available upon request from thepoint@aasfmarin.org

We don’t judge, but we can help them when they are ready

When my grandson was born, the same thing happened when his mom and dad separated. My wife and I had the chance to provide virtually all of his daycare. We had the opportunity to shield him from most of the trauma by providing him with a safe environment, with love and comfort, explaining to him that they were good people but they have problems. We cannot judge them but we can help them when they are ready. 

The main thing was the safe environment part. We had the opportunity to walk him through these things with compassion and understanding. I am happy to say that he just completed his first year of college at the age of 19 with virtually no signs of emotional damage, no drugs or alcohol, and no smoking of any kind. He is very mature. He talks to us freely about any and all subjects. We can break the cycle but we must get our priorities straight as soon as possible, consider damage to our children, put the past behind us and be strong enough to forgive. Every minute counts if we want to break the cycle.

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