You may have heard people say, “You can’t choose your family.” While true, what you can choose is self-love, self-empowerment and how you respond to difficult family circumstances.
As an Afro-Latinx with roots in Panama, Ecuador and Jamaica, I was born into a home that had more than its fair share of secrets, deception and dysfunction. My father was an emotionally wounded man, who came to the United States with a handful of English words at the age of 21 to find and live the American Dream. Like most immigrants, he made his hard-earned American dollars and faithfully sent money home to support his family who lived in poverty in Ecuador.
He settled in Los Angeles, California where he met and married my mother in 1955. Four children later, we would find ourselves deep into my dad’s disease of alcoholism, deep into his drunken episodes, and deep into his venomous, vitriolic words he would spew toward my mother.
My mother was a beautiful soul, but powerless against my father’s disease. This made her painfully co-dependent and a victim. I was six when I realized something was different about my home. When daddy was “mad,” he hit my mother, made her cry and broke things around the house. At this age, one can’t reconcile the wrath and ugliness of alcoholism, especially when your dad wields a gun and threatens to shoot everyone in the home. Through my eyes, I could only conclude that daddy was mad just about every day.
For decades, my environment seemed destined to break me. I was broken, insecure, lacked self-worth and self-esteem. These are classic signs of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA). I entered adulthood ill-prepared. I attracted men who were just like my father – controlling, abusive, violent, addicts. I looked for men to validate me. I had a child when I was 19 by a man who was 15 years my senior because I needed something of my own to love.
In the storm, however, I always found a beacon of light. There was always a will and desire to see a better life for myself. I always dreamed of attending and finishing college, getting a good job, and moving out of my parents’ home.
While living in and managing through the drunken episodes, I entered into community college as a single mother. I was not going to be deterred or defeated, even though daily it felt as though I was losing the battle. My goals and dreams were constantly colliding with my circumstances. But I was determined to follow my North Star. So many times, I wanted to drop out of college, get a better paying job, and find an apartment just to get freedom from the episodes.
At the age of 23, I came to the realization that the only way I was going to finish a four-year degree faster was to get on welfare. This would provide monthly income, while attending college full time. It felt degrading being on welfare and using food stamps, but my determination outlived my embarrassment. Four years later, I earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies. As soon as I graduated, I immediately came off of welfare, found a job and an apartment. I continued my education and received a master’s degree in Organizational Management. I built a stellar career as a human resources professional.
While I was succeeding professionally, this was not the case for succeeding in love. The broken adult showed up in relationships over and over again. I reached a breaking point when I entered into a relationship in 2005. I was being controlled in a way that was not healthy. When the relationship ended, it devastated me. But this relationship smacked me awake. I sought help through a therapist, who told me that my relationship was emotionally abusive. Yet, I did not see it. And it was at this point that I began my journey of self-discovery, my journey to change my behavior and clean my emotional house.
This led to writing my book, now available on Amazon, Looking for Love in a Garbage Can: A Journey of Healing. How I Survived an Alcoholic Environment. My memoir discusses in more chilling details my life living in an alcoholic home environment. Readers will ride along on my mental health journey to revisit the drunken episodes, child molestation, teen pregnancy and other difficult life experiences, which impacted my mental health, engagement at work and school, self-esteem and self-worth. As an ACOA, my environment impacted my interpersonal and love relationships, which led to looking for love in a garbage can or in all the wrong places. Despite the obstacles, challenges and tribulations, readers will find there is a path forward through forgiveness, perseverance, resilience and a determination to heal from childhood trauma.
Even though my father passed away in March 2017, the experiences never go away. The label of an “ACOA” can have long-lasting effects if healing does not occur. I give ACOA a new meaning: A Course of Action. It takes action to change your life, it takes action to stop living in the past, it takes action to forgive – all of which require taking control over your choices. As the Founder and CEO of JustDigIn2It LLC, I provide life coach services to help people who come from dysfunctional families and relationships break through their challenges and mental blocks so they can live more fulfilled and productive lives.
Life can be hard. We are faced with trials and challenges that at times may seem insurmountable. But we cannot let that be our story, our narrative. We have more resilience than we know. It is not enough to lean in. We just have to dig in and do the work to get through each challenge and obstacle. My purpose in life now is to help others do just that…if they are open to the awakening.
Lisa M. Sanchez can be reached at Lisa@justdigin2it.com or (626) 529-5488.
Written By Lisa M Sanchez