|Pat and Gene|
Pat came from a large family of nine children. Her dad owned his own business and was a chronic alcoholic until he died at age fifty-two. Since Pat was second oldest, she had become a good caretaker, not only of brothers and sisters, but of her dad, too. Dad could only have emotions while drunk, which was daily. Pat's mom would leave nightly to escape confrontations with her drunken husband, who was physically abusive with one of his two sons. Pat's parents had a very passive-aggressive relationship, which the children learned along with blame, dishonesty, denial and hopelessness.
At age seventeen, Pat's mom kicked her out of the house in anger one night when Pat hadn't done all the dishes. Pat decided to move in with her sister. A year later she went to Europe for two years while her parents separated. Her dad went to a halfway house. Pat was always in the middle of her parents' marriage. The night her dad died, she was at the hospital with her mom, whom Pat had called to come.
"Why?" they each asked her privately.
"Because you love each other," she said. No one had told her they didn't or that it was not her job to keep them together. (This triangle pattern has been an important issue for Pat in her recovery.)
Pat spent the next five years working on her individual recovery in 12 Step programs while also attending the University of Minnesota.
Gene's dad was a survivor of the Holocaust. Only a few family members lived to tell about it, although things were kept pretty secretive. His dad turned against God in anger over this tragedy and became an atheist/agnostic. His dad's profession took Gene's family all over the world. They moved on a regular basis.
Gene's mom was emotionally and physically abusive to him from the age of three. His dad was not present much, either physically or emotionally.
Gene became chemically dependent in his early teens and was capable of violence in his disease. After eight years of destructive behavior, Gene finally entered detox and began his recovery. Gene's family (one sister) chose not to participate or support him in his recovery. There was also a hopeless theme in his family.
Gene and Pat had some parallel experiences: each had come from a dysfunctional family; each had been in their individual recovery for five years; neither had been in a serious relationship since they'd moved out from their significant others, five years earlier. They were ready to give things a try between themselves.
Because they attended a support group together, they quickly became aware of some of the issues they had as a couple. Anger was a major problem. Although Pat was attracted to the way Gene could express his anger so easily, it soon became difficult for both of them when she expressed hers. Gene was attracted to Pat's ability to express her other feelings, except when she got angry; then he would shut down completely.
Something was feeling very familiar. They were reliving their parents' relationships of rage and emotional withdrawal. Both of them felt trapped and neither of them knew how to break the cycle that seemed to overwhelm them. Pat was into smoking and food addiction and could not figure out what was wrong even though she and Gene were in counseling on and off for several years.
Since things didn't seem to be getting better, Pat thought being a mother would help fulfill her needs. Getting pregnant was a power struggle. In fact, life for Pat and Gene was one power struggle after another for a long time. They were both good reactors.
In five years, Pat and Gene had gotten married, had two babies (major surgery), bought a house, maintained their jobs, and attended individual recovery programs as well as kept up friendships. Life was busy and their focus was on the external rather than on their marriage.
They hit bottom the year following their second child's birth. Either they wouldn't talk to each other at all, or there was lots of sarcasm. Pat had quit smoking before getting pregnant but was just beginning to deal with her food addiction. As the months went by they were spending less time together and becoming more distant. They finally ended up in separate bedrooms.
The tension level was always high; there was no laughter; no time for family activities and no peace. The screaming and shouting got out of control. They quit their long-time therapist and saw a crisis counselor, who helped mediate all the anger. By this time Pat, was in a 12-Step program for her food addiction. They continued seeing this counselor for a year. Then Pat realized that this counselor could not hear her when she got underneath the anger to the other emotions. Gene was ready to leave.
Pat and Gene had left therapy for four months and still felt stuck. Neither one was interested in further therapy. They had learned about a couples' 12-Step group a few years before. They went one night while Gene was on vacation just to check it out. That was their first RCA meeting. Immediately, they felt at home, they were terrified of what would happen yet knowing they too belonged.
Things have changed a lot since that first meeting. They have realized how difficult it was to try to resolve some of Pat's "triangle issues" because the therapists re-activated the pattern in an unhealthy way.
It has been a gift to have other couples be so honest and share their struggles with us. We have been much more respectful of each other and can let go of our "unresolvable issues," knowing that God is with us. Even though both of us had been in individual recovery programs for fifteen years, we had not learned to "let go and let God" as a couple. It was a big step to release ourselves from the blame and the need to have all the answers.
Now we can bring our strength and experience to the group and support others like ourselves. The shame is still there at times, but we can release it and heal from the past. "You will know a new freedom...;" "Keep coming back; it's working..." Things may not be perfect, but we're learning to accept ourselves for who we are, individually and as a couple.