First Things First

Last week I believe I actually started on a path that is my path to recovery. For nearly 37 years I had no idea that I was injured in the way that I am, or that my life looked like what it really seems to. In this moment I feel like I am Alice stepping through the looking glass back into the world of reality and sanity, having never lived there before and only glimpsed skewed views of what that world looked like. And as I start on this journey as much as in my soul I know that this is the path that I need to be on, and I am headed to a place of sanity, health and wholeness I am terrified. A huge part of me wants to go back to where I came from because that is what I have known, what I have grown up knowing and the voices from that place are calling after me, trying to recall me to their world where everything has been turned on its head.

I am the child of alcoholic addicts. I have always been the child of alcoholic addicts and it has taken almost 37 years of my life to see this. Even as I write these words I can hear them saying to me that I am exaggerating, misrepresenting and being dramatic. I can hear them saying that I am a liar, and that I have always been a liar and a master manipulator – from the time that I was a small child. And if they are right and I am wrong than I actually must be the most confused, insecure sociopath on the face of the earth. But they are wrong. They have been wrong about many things and they have dragged me along in their unreality for long enough. Today I get to start defining myself and today I start to look at reality regardless of the consequences to those around me – there will be no more pretending, no more lying, no more collusion with a story that I did not choose to participate in anyway.

First things first: Whether you like it or not marijuana is a drug, just like alcohol is a drug, and not dissimilar to cocaine or heroine or percocet or whatever happens to be your substance of familiarity. We can spend a long time debating the relative addictive quality of marijuana, and the history or the ‘herb’ but at the end of the day it is a mind altering substance and if it takes on a position of such importance in your life that it influences your decision making in day to day activities it is a problem. Anything might be like that, anything that gets in the way of other life responsibilities you have or that prohibits you from engaging in other parts of your life that need attention. The fact that it was a way to feel connected and peaceful and loving during a major social movement in this country does not fundamentally change the reality of abuse of the substance. Abuse is abuse – there is no exemption because this drug is how you define being a hippy and that was supposed to be fundamentally good.

My personal political opinion about decriminalization of drugs aside, any substance out there can create major problems in your life and the lives of those around you if you abuse that substance. If you spend every day thinking about getting your next package of Hostess cupcakes and spend long hours every afternoon driving from store to store to load up on cupcakes and then spend hours more eating those cupcakes and forget that you have other responsibilities it would not be unreasonable to suggest that you have a problem. I am not suggesting that everything that people could abuse is a bad thing, and I’m not even passing judgment on marijuana itself. What I’m doing is playing in reality. Reality is that using something everyday, building routines around that use and making decisions that have a negative impact on the health and well being of the people you care for in order to support that use is not recreational, it is abuse and it makes you an addict.

I have spent everyday of my life up until the last week or so very conflicted about my parents drug use. First things first in my young life I was made to understand that their primary substance of choice, the substance they used upwards of 90% of my life was not a drug and was therefore not a problem. Interestingly I was also made to understand that I shouldn’t tell anyone about what they did, not that there was anything wrong with it mind you, but I just wasn’t to tell. Not anyone, ever, under any circumstances, because bad things could happen – to me, and to them. So I didn’t and I couldn’t – not my grandparents, not my friends, not my teachers, no one. My parents got stoned almost every single day of my minority (and my majority though I don’t live there anymore so who cares) when my dad got home from work, and it was okay, it was totally normal and healthy and all right but I was not to ever talk about it – not even with them.

This kind of contradiction makes for a very confused understanding of the world. My parents were the cool, good guys and sometimes they would find other cool people to hang out with who were like them but you still didn’t talk about this and even though they were the good guys you couldn’t acknowledge what was happening. And also this is okay for them to do, but not for you to do, and no you should not interrupt and bother them while they were doing this because you should just go play so they can “take a break” (alternately I could sit on the floor of the bedroom while they lay in bed smoking dope – that was together time). So the first real behavior I learned when I was a young child being sent out into the world, the time in your life when you are starting school, in my case when I went to kindergarten at 4, was that the major interaction I saw my parents engage in together each day was something that should not be spoken about.

Now I don’t remember the details of my 4 year old self so I am making some logical guesses here about the reactions and behavior of typical 4 year olds when presented with this kind of situation (pulled from my close observation of my children and their playmates as well as reading a lot about parenting and child development). One guess that I am making is that this kind of situation, “don’t talk about how we ‘take a break’” would lead to the need to craft some kind of response to ‘what do you like to do’ or ‘what goes on at home’ or whatever flavor of question might precipitate someone talking about their home life: I would have to make something up, I would have to lie and I would have to convince myself that whatever I was making up in my own head was reality because the true reality was not really happening. I am a well educated 36 year old as I write this and I’m confused – what the hell would this kind of situation do to a young child?

But I did lie as a young child and I know now that lying is a normal part of child development that requires the parents to acknowledge the behavior and create some sort of guideline for the value of truth telling. My parents did this, sort of. I would get caught lying, because guess what, children are not very good liars, and then they would tell me I was a terrible person who could never be trusted because of the lie. And in fact they have been honest in at least part of that assessment since they will still publicly declare that I am liar based on my childhood behavior. But I digress: back to the youthful fabrication. So this call and response of moral behavior would go on sometimes in our home, privately (‘who took the cookie?’ ‘not me,’ ‘liar, you have crumbs on your face, now we will never be able to trust you.’), and it would take place in public, most often school settings:

Teacher: “So Paula, Maggie tells me you have two dogs and a pony that she rides every afternoon, that must be a lot of work, but so much fun.”

Mother: “What? Of course not. She just makes things up all the time, you really can’t trust anything she says.”

Now to be fair to my mom, that middle part is true, I did make up a lot of things and I told a lot of stories about adventures I had and vacations we took and friends who came over, things that never happened. But now let’s be fair to me: what was I supposed to do? Little brains at 4, 5, 6, 7 hell up to the teens can’t process the message I was getting at home: “don’t ever talk about this huge thing that takes up an enormous part of life and that we revolve much of our life around,” but also don’t lie. So I guess I should have not spoken at all?

We would play this Maggie is a liar game over and over, and of course whenever you tell a child something about themselves over and over they come to believe that it is true. I catch on to things pretty fast so my guess is that I got the hang of this pretty quick and it didn’t take long for me to know that in fact I had this compulsive character defect and was a horrible liar. And theoretically this was the good outcome for my parents because otherwise they would have been the liars, right? The real problem with me lying publicly was that they couldn’t keep up with the stories I was telling to compensate for the fact that I couldn’t talk about real life, and caught off guard they couldn’t keep the story moving (this is the fundamental problem with lying which is in fact why I don’t do it – also it’s wrong).

I have been confused for a very long time, living in that upside down world where there are rules about good and bad but a fundamental dishonesty about facts in order to fit the needs of the people in charge.

So first things first for me, for today is learning to live in reality. The real reality where using a mind altering substance daily is an addiction, and where asking a young child to keep secrets for you is wrong. This is my first step in my recovery: learning how to trust myself, how to believe myself and how to believe that the world around me is as it seems, because sometime when it walks like a duck, and quacks like it duck it is in fact a duck.

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