by Maria Mize
...a stark and honest perspective
Al-Anon is a spiritual program. My experience, strength and hope are reinforced by a personal relationship with my higher power.
I was born at Middletown Hospital, Middletown, Ohio on Saturday, June 14, many years ago.
After a nap when I was about three, sitting alone with my back to the dresser, I wondered where I came from and why I was here.
In the early years, mom and dad had three girls---born eighteen months apart. I was in the middle. (Later they had two more daughters.) Incidentally, my parents are both adult children of alcoholics, and in September 2018, they celebrated 63 years of marriage.
My dad wasn’t home much when we were growing up. He worked two jobs and took every extra shift he could to provide for us---or maybe just to get away from us. My mom screamed a lot. She was nice one minute and angry the next. My dad’s absence was tangible; we were affected.
My parents argued often and at one point didn’t speak to each other for about a year. They took good care of physical needs and provided a semblance of stability. Mom and dad often made comparisons between my sisters and I; and we were competing rivals. To this day, though I am competitive, I do not like competition.
As a kid, I had nightmares and often sleep-walked.
As an adult and after my daughter was grown and living her own life, whenever my parents planned a visit---worry about my mother’s unpredictable behavior brought on a recurrence of nightmares.
Today I know that whatever someone else may think of me or say about me is none of my business. I am kinder to myself and more understanding toward others.
My parents did their best. I have no hard feelings.
When I was a kid, I was taught about God and grew up believing and praying to Him. He was always good to me, never imposing. He allows me to stray as far away as I like---and I reap repercussions from my choices. I’ve often blamed God for things. He was not at fault, always providing alternative options, which I often brushed aside. God uses my character defects to draw me close.
As a result of my dad’s absence during much of our childhood, I didn’t know much about men. Relationships were awkward.
As a teenager, I thought less about God and more about myself… what I wanted… apart from and despite God. As a senior in high school, I could hardly wait to sleep with my boyfriend---curious about intimacy. Everyone was doing it. After the first time, it became routine---perhaps the only thing he thought about. It was the focus of our relationship.
When our relationship ended, I naturally slept with most of the guys I dated. But when intimacy entered the picture, the boy would soon exit.
I thought you got married, had children and lived happily ever after. Surely I got that from the movies.
I started seeing a man---a boy I went to school with---whom I later married.
After I didn’t come home one night, my parents kicked me out. He and I had fallen asleep and didn’t waken until morning. This occurred on at least two prior occasions. The third time was a charm.
When I arrived home, my parents and two youngest sisters were at church. My oldest sister was married and my sister directly under me left home the previous Christmas after being scolded for her choices. She didn’t complete high school at that time. [Later she got her GED.]
When my family returned home, I was taking a bath. Mom was on a rampage and told me to pack and move-out by the next week-end. I was 19. All I needed was someone to talk to me. But she was irrational. This event pushed me in the wrong direction.
No one helped me pack or move. My dad read the paper. Everyone acted as if nothing was happening as I went in and out of the house moving my things. My uncle came and helped me move the heavy stuff like my bed, dressers, etc. My parents were in la-la land.
Feeling abandoned, I was propelled deeper into a relationship that wasn’t right. I didn’t know my boyfriend was alcoholic and that he came from a family with active alcoholism and extreme physical abuse. Much later in life I learned both of my own grandfathers were alcoholic.
I did my part to restore a relationship with my parents who were actively shunning me. I thought it was because I was living with my boyfriend, and we weren’t married. So, I made an ultimatum to my boyfriend, “We either get married or break up.” He opted for marriage.
He never worked the whole time we were together. I had faith he would eventually find work; and we would live happily ever after. We married in December of 1978. Prior to marriage, I had persistent hesitancy; God was trying to get my attention, but I pushed on. My boyfriend was co-dependent and so was I.
I got pregnant right away; and our daughter was born in September of 1979.
I loved my husband, and I am quite sure he loved me; but our marriage was doomed. We really didn’t know how to love each other; and the marriage failed quickly. Daily, I nagged him about getting a job. It didn't help.
I regularly came home from work to a trashed apartment, provoking more nagging. Though I stocked the refrigerator and cabinets whenever I got paid, he would eat up most of it throughout the week while I was at work. He drank alcohol, sniffed paint and ingested other substances as well---resulting in multiple episodes of physical abuse. The fumes were thick in our apartment whenever I came home from work; and I was pregnant. I mostly lived off French fries and cream of wheat, which was high in iron. I also took pre-natal vitamins; so, I thought my baby would be fine.
At six months pregnant, he tried to choke me and bite off my nose. I had become his enemy. I bled all over my nightgown. As I was attending to my nose and trying to put on another nightshirt, he ripped the phone cord out of the wall and wouldn’t let me get dressed. When he was out of the room, I scrambled to reconnect the phone and call my parents. They came immediately, arriving in pajamas within twenty minutes.
We separated that night. I was six months pregnant.
My dreams were falling apart. My husband called daily---sorrowful and begging to get back together; but I resisted. My parents made it clear if I ever went back to him, they would never help me again. After a while, he stopped calling.
Without my husband, I considered giving my daughter up for adoption---afraid of raising her alone… I was also afraid I would never find another husband to love me. This was a consistent fear since childhood when my mom told me about some old maids who lived next door to her when she was growing up.
Being married was how I framed my future---with lots of children. This was my dream.
Unbeknownst to me, my husband had moved to Florida. Shortly after our daughter was born, my attorney put a public notice in the newspaper and our divorce was finalized.
After delivery, I was off for eight weeks---six weeks’ maternity leave and two weeks’ vacation. Before returning to work, I found a babysitter who cared for my baby while I was at work until she was three.
When she was three, I put her in a day care close to where I worked. It was a Christian day care called “Little People’s.”
My dating life resumed; and I slept with whomever I was seeing.
I had one boyfriend I really liked, and he worked in construction. He also had addictions---alcohol and cocaine. He began selling cocaine to support his habit. He wasn’t around much; and I was lonely.
When a guy at work asked me out, seeing he had an education and a good job, I broke it off with the guy I liked; so, I could try out this new guy. My guy was seldom around anyway. All the new guy wanted was apparently a sexual encounter. Once we slept together, he didn’t call again.
In the meantime, I found out I was pregnant by the guy I loved…, but with whom I had broken up. When I called to let him know, he said, “too bad.”
I began harassing him almost nightly, begging him to marry me, but he refused. I even tried to make deals.
[Much later, I discovered my girlfriend told him I slept with the other guy. After the betrayal, our friendship dwindled. Since coming to Al-Anon and working the steps, I discovered these hidden resentments and worked through forgiveness.]
Another friend suggested abortion, giving me an address and telephone number. Pregnant, unmarried, and not wanting to shame my parents and/or make it difficult on my daughter, I justified an abortion.
I not only ended a life but irreparably damaged myself emotionally and physically. My monthly cycles became fraught with severe, debilitating cramps. I had two female surgeries to remedy the damage. A few months later, I scheduled a face-to-face confession with our priest. I never got over the abortion.
I continued yearning for a family scenario. Someone at work told me there was a girl in another department whose prayers were being answered. I asked her to pray God would send me a husband.
In 1983, I met another man through a mutual friend. He was clean cut, worked and didn’t drink or do drugs. We dated. He didn’t seem to want to sleep together, and I wondered if he was homosexual.
After confronting him, we started sleeping together, and he soon moved in with my daughter and me.
We all took a vacation in Myrtle Beach. While there, my daughter turned four. I remember playing putt-putt together and she needed to use the bathroom. He said she could wait until we were done playing. So, we continued our game, and she pooped her pants. He got angry. This was my first clue… Draw your own conclusions.
After returning home from vacation, we looked for a house in Middletown. I told him I wanted to be married before buying a house. So, we found a house and got married prior to closing. I don’t think we loved each other. Marriage was simply our next step.
Upon marrying, the three of us moved into a yellow house at 407 Fulton Lane, next door to Christians who were praying for us. As soon as we moved in, we began looking for a church, and my husband intimated he wanted to adopt my daughter. Though I certainly never asked, I was pleased.
I was born again at a non-denominational church called the Living Word in the spring of 1984. I renewed my neglected relationship with God. My husband also made an outward confession of faith, but never surrendered his life---had no change of heart. He later told me he liked me better before. We became oil and water. As I grew closer to God, I began pressuring him to do the same.
While we were married, we were constantly at the ball field, watching him play. We travelled to Cleveland, Tennessee several times to watch him play in church tournaments. Our family life was all about him and what he wanted to do. He was an only child and used to getting all the attention.
During this marriage, I first realized mental health issues. Identified through an unhealthy work environment, from which I eventually quit.
When I was a kid, I followed the rules... did what my parents and teachers expected. In ninth grade out of about three hundred kids in four semesters, I was “Citizen of the Month” three times. I was a people pleaser, that’s how I got affirmation.
As I mentioned earlier---while growing up, I had two sisters close in age to me, and they were of a completely different mindset. They figured when mom and dad weren’t around, we didn’t have to mind them. “Two’s company; three’s a crowd,” and I was usually the odd man out.
My older sister used to say, “Okay, mom… I mean, Kim.”
As an adult, unresolved “childhood” conflicts began sabotaging interpersonal work relationships, resulting in unstable mental health. I didn’t have a clue what was wrong until my doctor started questioning me. I thought the girls at work were the problem.
I didn't know how to make it better and felt like I was going crazy. The doctor gave me Valium, which helped in the short-term. I took only half and only when things escalated. That one prescription lasted me a few years.
One day after watching “Song of the South” at the movies with my daughter, my spirit seemed to lift.
Another time while doing laundry, my husband was watching, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and I became agitated, asking him to change the channel. He refused, saying, “You don’t like it because you are crazy too.” I realized he was right and instantly prayed for help. After praying, the agitation lifted, and I felt the peace of God---serenity---descend upon me.
We separated once. Upon getting back together, we had a new house built. Our yellow house had one bathroom; and he wanted two. I hoped this change might improve our marriage. After living there six months, he suddenly wanted to sell. Thinking he was supposed to be the head of the house, I reluctantly agreed. Within just a few days of signing, he moved out, bought a brand-new sports car and served me with divorce papers.
While separated, he rented an apartment and moved another woman in with him. I had to pass his apartment every day on my drive to work. I went on a three-day fast in a last ditch effort to save my marriage. I began praying and fasting---not because it was a particularly good marriage, but because it was my marriage. It was the least I could do.
While fasting, I went to visit my parents, and my mother showed me his wedding announcement in the local newspaper---even though he was still married to me. I told mom I was still standing for my marriage. She socked me in the face and threatened to take my daughter. I grabbed my baby girl and rushed out avoiding my parents for many months.
[Over the years, I often openly communicated with my parents. I didn’t discover the foolishness of that until I was in my 50s. Today, I only discuss surface things with them---nothing deep.]
At the end of my fast, I felt a break. My husband had made his choice, and I felt the release. I later found out that he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant; that’s why they were marrying.
Our house sold, and my daughter and I moved from our new home into a small, affordable roach-infested apartment. While moving from the house to the apartment, my husband broke in and stole our only television and VCR.
During this time of unease, I called the pastor of our church whenever I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to do the right thing in the eyes of God. To quiet the inner angst enough to sleep, I sang praise and worship songs until I was relaxed. This was my routine for many months, and it helped. Eventually my second divorce was final, and we moved on.
Because of our living situation, I moved my daughter from public school to Middletown Christian School to provide stability.
During the transition, I remember crying. My daughter asked why I was crying; and I said, "because my husband left me and now I am all alone." She said, "You have me." In her youthful innocence, she exhibited great wisdom. Immature, I was too busy looking at what I didn’t have to see the blessings in front of me.
Around this time, I began serving Hope House Ministries, a ministry to the homeless in Middletown, Ohio. I served there through my local church, Harlan Park Church of God, and held nightly devotions. At the same time, I was teaching Sunday school to 4- and 5-year-olds and serving on the church bus ministry and working visitations. My daughter was always at my side.
As my parents’ choices affected me, my choices affected my daughter throughout her childhood.
Focusing on the needs of others was a nice distraction; but, my obsessive-compulsive tendencies moved into overdrive. Self-sabotage was soon to make an encore appearance.
I also went from working for a local attorney making a minimal salary, to a nuclear power plant run by the Department of Energy in Ross, Ohio.
Eventually, I asked God to open another door of ministry since I was single and many men at the shelter had alcohol, drug and even sexual addictions. The director told me that an older man we knew at the shelter was paying some of the younger men for sex---serving them steaks for dinner as compensation. I became hyper-vigilant, making sure my daughter never left my sight when we were there.
Almost immediately, the Director asked me to be house-mother at their home for unwed mothers---an answer to prayer. So, I let go of my work at the shelter and began serving as house-mother at the home for unwed mothers for the next nine months.
The church I attended went through a major, divisive and unsettling split. I let go of all my responsibilities there and began searching for another church. I found one in West Middletown, Ohio.
At work, there were rumors the power plant may be closing down and/or changing hands. So, I sought work in Miamisburg at another power plant.
Not long after that, I left that job and began working for the husband of the Director of the homeless ministry at a small technical company that provided computer/mechanical technology to large industrial companies in the surrounding area. The company was local, making it easy to commute and pick-up my daughter after school.
Working at the home for unwed mothers quickly became burdensome and tedious. Many of these girls had bigger problems than me. Some of their problems were identical to mine. God (my higher power) had me there for a reason, but I wasn't ready to learn.
These girls weren't much younger than me, and we all had an unspoken fear of being alone, without husbands---unwanted. Feeling stuck, trapped, I began looking for escape: re-enter self-sabotage. All the while I was working full-time, raising my daughter and going to church whenever the doors were open and taking these young women with me.
Looking back, through most of my life I was motivated by fear. An Al-Anon acronym: false evidence appearing real… a character defect that continues to rear its ugly head.
Then I ran into my first husband’s mom at the mall, and she put us in contact. He was living in Florida. Because of the heart-wrenching divorce from my second husband, I was hopeful of a reconnect with a happy family scenario vivid in mind. He quickly provided two plane tickets for a vacation in Florida, and I jumped on it. While there, I sinned sexually; thus, began another downward spiral.
Returning to Middletown, I resigned as house-mother. I knew God was not pleased with my behavior. Convicted, unclean and unfit to serve---I had also found a way of escape. God requires repentance and a change of heart, but I had other plans. Remember, being with unwed mothers reminded me of my own dire situation---no husband. My dormant fear of being alone---an old maid---rekindled. My first husband was supposedly arranging for us to join him in Florida, which never materialized. My daughter and I secured an apartment.
A few months later, he called, wanting to join us in Middletown, Ohio. I was hopeful my dreams were coming true. He moved in and the downward spiral picked up speed. This time, it was clear: he was alcoholic. He was also a distraction. I no longer had to look at myself but could focus all of my attention on him. Lucky guy.
Eventually, we moved to Monroe and I took a job at Miami University of Ohio, working there for a full year. We lived in Monroe for many months and remarried. We were barely making ends meet; but superwoman that I was, I bought us a used refrigerator and began making payments on a used van for him to begin doing heating and air-conditioning for a guy with whom we had both gone to school.
My husband, my daughter’s dad, did something unspeakable to her after school one day when he was drunk. I was still at work. The only way I knew something happened was she quit coming home from school. For a couple of nights in a row, we had to go looking for her when I got home from work. I confronted him and said, “You did something because this is not like her.” I later asked her about it; and she confirmed something happened but didn’t want to talk about it. I made arrangements with my sister, and she started going to her house every day after school, and I picked her up on my way home. Another ignored clue…
Then he quit drinking for a few months and planned a move back to Florida. The economy wasn’t good in Ohio at the time, and Florida looked promising to all of us. He would secure work and housing; then once settled, we would follow.
Another opportunity to let him go/detach, but no… Two weeks later, I quit my job and sold or gave most of our belongings away, packed the car and said a quick good-bye to my parents. My dad’s parting words were: “What are you going to do, live out of your car?” Shaking off fear, we set-out. On Memorial Day 1991, my daughter and I arrived in Pinellas County, Florida.
We moved into an efficiency motel in Clearwater. We were all in one room with two full beds, a bathroom, a small stove and refrigerator---and our dog. After a month, we signed a lease on an apartment in Largo.
Alcoholism was in full force and our living environment was hell. One day sober, the next day drunk---and his behavior like Jekyll and Hyde. An attorney I was working for---also an active alcoholic---recommended Al-Anon. We learned to avoid him (my husband), not allowing him to draw us into conversation.
My daughter and I went to a few meetings and learned some principles. I was finally able to look up and smile again. We started doing things---apart from him---and having fun despite alcoholism. When my daughter got home from school each day, if he was drunk, she went to our neighbors until I got home from work. We began attending church, again.
Then after a few episodes of domestic violence, we visited the State Attorney. In fear, my husband moved out. I immediately had the locks changed, and we were free from chaos for a little over a year.
While separated, my husband sold his work van and got a DUI while driving someone else’s vehicle. He was incarcerated for many months---maybe a year. Then he was sent into long-term inpatient treatment for indigents, where he attended regular AA meetings and turned his life over to God. After a year of treatment, he asked to come home.
My daughter and I talked it over and decided to allow him to return with the condition that if he ever started drinking again, he would have to leave. After treatment, he moved home, and we all began attending church together. All the alcoholic tendencies were still there. He worked, but not steadily. Soon he quit going to AA---all he needed was God. Then he quit going to church.
After a year of sobriety, we had a heated argument one night, and the following day he started drinking again.
Just before school let out for summer, I filed for legal separation with a stipulation that he find alternative housing. He willingly moved out for good. When he began seeing other women, I had our second divorce finalized. It was the mid-90s.
[He fatally shot himself through the heart in March of 2013. Our daughter was devastated. He had been living back in Ohio at the time. We both grieved. It took her a very long time to begin feeling somewhat “normal” again after that.]
I stayed single for many years while my daughter and I continued attending church. She graduated from Keswick Christian in St. Petersburg.
At 17, she moved out of our home and in with her boyfriend, whom she married in April of 2001.
Alone again---not long after that, I met a man in St. Pete. Another negative period that wasn’t all bad. It certainly wasn’t all good either. We married, but he was never committed. After five-plus years together, we too divorced.
Presently, he is homeless and living out of his car. He hasn’t had steady work since 2009. After taking advantage of me in 2014, I began blocking his calls and texts and not responding to him at all. I still keep my distance. Because of this program and working through the steps, I now allow some communication and have dinner with him once in a blue moon just to touch base. Do we ever really quit caring about others---no matter what they’ve done?
From 1996 through 2010, I worked for a partner at a mid-sized law firm in St. Petersburg, Florida. We were also friends.
In 2010, after a hysterectomy, I resigned due to job stress, mental health issues and to avert a nervous breakdown. I moved to Daphne, Alabama. My parents and I made plans that I would live with them (not having to work so hard); and I would also care for them as they grew old.
It was a disaster that could have been averted if only I had listened to the still small voice of God. Our relationship remains strained; and, except for divine intervention, won’t get much better. At the time, the economy in Alabama wasn’t good. While there, I was out of work for many months---eight months after first moving there----and then again (after working for about five months), I was out of work another four months.
I got behind in my rent and struggled to get caught up while making a minimal salary. When I finally thought I was caught up, the rental office told me I still owed another couple hundred dollars. I said, “I think I’ll go home and shoot myself in the head.” They sent the police to my apartment, and I hid in the kitchen while they shined lights through my front and back windows. The rental people also called my emergency contact---my parents---who came over. Sobbing, I answered the door. My dad asked mom if they had the money to cover me and she gave me enough to catch up. [Prior to this, they hadn’t spoken to me in months---though they knew I was all alone. Christmas and Thanksgiving went by without a word.]
Once I was all caught up, a year had gone by and the apartment complex offered me a smaller, more affordable apartment, but with the minimal salary I was making I knew I wouldn’t be much better off.
My parents allowed me to move back with them for a while, and more crazy stuff happened that I won’t go into.
I finally returned to St. Petersburg, Florida right after Memorial Day 2012.
Looking back, I see stubbornness and outright rebellion were prevalent character defects. I did my own thing---ignoring God entirely for much of my life, often forcing solutions. There is a scripture in a book I read: It says, "…although He was a Son, He learned obedience through the things that He suffered." There is hope for me because I too have learned obedience through suffering.
Al-Anon has taught me that most of my stress is self-induced and self-imposed. It is rarely initiated by an outside force. I have the tools and the strength to detach and set boundaries.
In writing my story, I have become more fully-aware of what happened in my life (events and the effects of my choices); I see where I went wrong in my journey; and I accept the truth of what happened. My action is setting a different course and making amends one day at a time: to God, to others whom I have hurt and to myself. I review my life and take personal inventory regularly so as to end repetitive, unhealthy behaviors, to stay in tune and walk in forgiveness to myself and others.
I re-entered the doors of Al-Anon the summer of 2012 while in a relationship with a recovering alcoholic. Since then, I have been learning and putting into practice the principles of the program in all of my affairs.
Prior to Al-Anon, I had pretty much given up on myself. But through Al-Anon, I have learned principles that work when I put them into practice; and my relationship with God (my higher power) is stronger than it’s ever been.
I remain alone in many ways, but have many true friends today, most are in the Al-Anon program also.
Since the fall of 2015, I have been working at a small father-and-son law firm in St. Petersburg. They treat me well. The pay is below average, but also low stress. My daughter lives nearby with her husband and my grandsons who, at the time of this writing, are 14 and 17 years old and in high school. I don’t see them as much as I would like, but knowing they are close-by is comforting.
I am a grateful member of Al-Anon; I work full-time and attend a small church in Clearwater. Marriage is no longer a blinding necessity; and most of the time, I live in a real world. I still have disconcerting ups and downs now and again, but God (my higher power) is always with me. He never leaves. I also have two cats who keep me company.
My prayer life is rich with morning devotions and daily readings, etc. At this point, I do only those things that lift my spirit and bring happiness. I am well---mentally and spiritually---more often than not.
There are many facets to every situation---too many and not enough time to give a complete picture. I tried to be honest and focus on myself.