By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A
I am an adult child of an addict, referred to in the addictions field as an ACOA. That fact will never change, regardless of the years I spent in counseling and the lifetime I will spend in active emotional recovery. But, because of the latter, many things about me have changed, drastically, including the weight I once constantly carried around.
But, before I divulge that weight-loss story, let me share a little personal history.
THE BACKGROUND STORY
I was born into a severely dysfunctional family, riddled with addiction and abuse. My mother was hooked on drugs by the age of 15. At 17, she was pregnant with me. But, incidentally, she wasn’t my abuser. She was simply the one, other than my absent biological father, who abandoned me.
Born without obvious, physical drug-related deformities—thankfully, my mother abstained from heroin, her drug of choice, throughout her pregnancy—I was the only child to my mother and sole grandbaby to her parents. As a baby, we lived with my grandparents who helped my mother raise me—co-parenting, so to speak.
My grandmother was a teetotaler. She never touched an illegal drug or consumed an alcoholic beverage. But she was a heavy smoker, an addiction that would eventually take her life.
She was the daughter of an alcoholic; a very abusive man. According to my grandmother, he had subjected her to violence all her life. Witness to the beatings of her own mother, she suffered a great deal. Through broken conversations, she also revealed his tendencies toward sexual abuse.
Eleven years older than her only sibling, she was forced to bear the abuse, alone.
She never received counseling or help of any kind. Choosing simply to steer clear of the substance she blamed for her pain, she chose a life of sobriety. Her only tool for coping was to escape her home by marrying young and burying herself in work; distractions she acquired at the early age of 15.
Her only child – my mother – suffered at the hands of her father, too. Sexually abused, my mother became obese; a common defense mechanism for victims of sexual violations. The obesity was an embarrassment to my grandmother who, due to her adverse childhood, had become afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disorder tendencies and other ACOA-related issues.
At 11 years old, my mother was prescribed amphetamine-based diet pills, at my grandmother’s request.
Four years later, she was an addict, willing to try anything to get her fix and provide an emotional escape.
My grandmother took no responsibility. From her perspective, she simply became a victim of addiction, again. Eventually, I became a victim to her and all her untreated ACOA issues, while she seemingly transformed into her father and became my main abuser.
THE EMOTIONAL RECOVERY STORY
I suffered various forms of abuse and numerous traumas throughout my childhood. Though not all were at the hands of my grandmother, the vast majority greatly resembled scenes from Mommy Dearest.
My young adulthood saw the death of my mother, who died from the disease of addiction at the young age of 38, and my grandfather, who I truly believe died of a broken heart after the loss of his daughter. I was twenty years old, and I lost both of them in less than a year’s time.
Of course, their deaths left me with no one to call “family,” other than my grandmother.
Additionally, my grandfather was the only father I’d ever known. As such, that was certainly the most emotionally challenging year of my life. However, that wasn’t to say it was the worst thing I’d experienced. It wasn’t. But, as grief and loss often do, the finality unhinged the door I’d been closing and locking on my feelings for years.
That’s when the anxiety attacks and depression kicked in; a direct result of what would later be diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As such, I found myself seeking counseling. Actually, initially, I just wanted to make the crippling anxiety attacks stop. A few bouts with suicidality also landed me in a counseling office or two, neither time of my own free will.
Eventually, the anxiety was so bad, I was willing to do whatever it took. Additionally, I was in a horribly dysfunctional and abusive relationship. The latter became the catalyst that set me on a path of personal growth and emotional recovery.
THE WEIGHT-LOSS CONNECTION
I spent the next seven years in counseling. After finding the right fit with regard to my therapist, I spent many sessions facing my pain, revisiting traumas in an effort to heal, dealing with myself and all the learned dysfunctional behaviors and finally grieving the multitude of losses. It was a long, painful and often terrifying process.
But, as I moved forward on that journey, I began to feel lighter. I was no longer carrying all the weight of my past, my dysfunctional family, their pain or stuffing down my own. The weight of their world was no longer mine to bear, and I was able to release the grief I’d been suppressing.
I had begun to write my own story, rather than just becoming another screwed up chapter in theirs. And, as such, my heart was no longer heavy. My pain was no longer weighing down my wings. I lost the dead weight of addiction, abuse and dysfunction and found myself.