I describe my childhood as my ‘dark ages’. I grew up without approval, acceptance, unconditional love, warmth, openness or understanding. Instead I faced judgment, criticism, shame, guilt, avoidance, transference, anger, raised voices, slamming doors, codependence, manipulation, denial and the tag-along silent treatment. In recovery I discovered acceptance and understanding. I found the confidence to be myself and to speak my truth. I was given access to suggestions, and tools.

As a child, I was necessarily present any time something went wrong, but I became instantly invisible as soon as I needed something. My parents communicated minimally with me and my siblings. When they did communicate – it was almost certainly negative. In turn, my siblings and I also failed to relate positively to each other.

“Feeling” was the equivalent ‘F-word’ in my childhood. It still is to my adult siblings. I always knew my feelings didn’t matter.

The atmosphere in my parents’ house was determined solely by my mother’s mood. If she was in a good mood, everything was wonderful. If someone angered her, or her mood plummeted for any other reason, her wrath came spewing out.

Unfortunately, as a child I was too young to understand that her moodiness was not caused by any external stimuli – it stemmed from within. With typical childlike understanding, I absorbed her vitriol with no filters or boundaries.

Through recovery I’ve come to understand and recognize the unreasonable responsibility my mother placed on my siblings and me, expecting us to be gate-keepers of her happiness.

In recovery I’ve met others who understand me. I’ve found friends, with whom I feel comfortable to chat, vent, sit in silence or cry without feeling self-conscious. Recovery has introduced me to people with whom I can share my story without worrying about what they might think or who they might tell. That’s not what our relationship is about. It’s about me and my recovery, about them and their recovery. It’s about supporting one another. It’s about building trust, openness, acceptance and understanding.

In recovery I’ve acquired tools to help me through tough encounters with peers who are less than aware, less than open, less than willing. I’ve learned to react from a balanced, healthy and open place, in a way that preserves my dignity and sense of self.

Recovery has taught me how to stand up for myself and allow myself the dignity and respect that I deserve. I’ve learned that I’m under no obligation to enter into situations that are unhealthy, unsafe or which further the dysfunction. I feel stronger now, able to walk away from unhealthy situations without giving explanations or becoming defensive. I’ve learned how to protect myself.

Using the information and tools I’ve obtained in recovery I continue to work through the grueling process of Step Four – to look at the darkness and see it for what it really is. It is part of me, most likely a learned coping mechanism – not a big part of me and, more importantly, not the real me. It’s learned and it can be unlearned – through training, awareness and vigilance; through acceptance, compassion and understanding.

My journey of recovery has released me from the expectation of having my needs filled by those who cannot fill them. Instead, I’ve learned to find other, better, sources of love, acceptance and understanding. Recovery has changed my self-perception. I am not the person others named me – I am not their ‘stupid little sister’ or daughter who just ‘can’t get it right’ or ‘doesn’t toe the line.’ I am His child, searching for truth, a place to call my own and a bit of happiness and peace along the way.

Recovery has imbued me with the courage to pursue my dreams. I’ve summoned the courage to express my truth in front of a room full of strangers and to recognize my feelings without shame or excuses. My fellow meeting-attendees continue to support me week after week. Even after I quit and dragged myself back, these strangers accepted my return with understanding, acceptance and I’ve-been-there hugs. These strangers quickly became my new family – my ‘chosen family’.

Recovery gave me, and continues to give me, the courage to look in the mirror, change the parts of myself I am able to change and accept the parts I can’t. I’ve learned to look inward, to acknowledge and accept. I’ve been awarded the ability to appreciate the good in my life – the friends who love and accept me unconditionally.

Most of all, recovery has taught me to put myself aside and offer compassion to another in sorrow or pain. And by being there for another, my inner child gains a measure of healing. By sharing some of my experiences, I can help guide another to avoid a painful fall or misstep.

Slowly but surely, recovery has shown me that healing is possible, and that ultimately, to quote a fellow member in recovery, “the joy in our lives is proportionate with the pain we’ve experienced”.