By Sandy Valentine, Guest Blogger
I poured through the box of memorabilia, long forgotten and buried in the basement. I chuckled over finding my old record albums – Bee Gees, Shaun Cassidy, Rick Springfield – remembering how often I spent evenings listening to them in the dining room of my childhood home.
And then, there it was – my high school graduation tassels. One maroon and white, the colors of Windsor High School. The other silver. 37 years later and there was still a remnant of emotion from the day I brought those tassels home. I was graduating 36 out of 402, top 10% of my graduating class. I was awarded a silver tassel to wear for the graduation ceremony. I was excited to share with my parents.
“Huh, where is the gold?” responded my father. Disappointment replaced the excitement. I was never, ever going to be good enough for this man. I had tried to follow all the rules – don’t cheat, don’t lie, work hard, listen to your mother. I had also broken some – I wore “dungarees” (aka blue jeans), painter’s pants, and the color black. I plucked my eyebrows and talked about sex with my friends at school.
I craved his love and admiration. Where is the gold? Well, the gold went to my friends who were smarter, more dedicated, and more interested in what they studied. I’m not gold, and I am DONE trying to please you.
I was a 17 year old girl with excruciating low self-esteem. I used my father’s comment to pivot my entire life. What came after was an incredibly sick relationship with a man 15 years older, an escalating use of alcohol, three years attending college but rarely attending classes, and an ever-heightening mountain of shame. If you can’t love me when I’m trying to be a “good girl”, then I might as well be a “bad” one.
In my early recovery, I began to understand that my father’s one comment did not justify the choices I made after it. I made the decision to drink daily to feel better. I made the decision to be in a horrific relationship, because I thought I was unworthy of anything better. It wasn’t until I began to grow a personal relationship with my higher power that I began to understand that I had placed my identity in all the wrong places.
During a worship service, I went forward for prayer. I was a visitor to this church, they didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them. I didn’t say anything. The woman placed her hands on me began to pray. “Father, this is your daughter whom you love just as she is. Let her know that there is no perfect father on earth, You are our heavenly Father, her Abba, and let her feel the flowing river of your unending love for her, that she is perfect in Your eyes.”
God as my “Daddy”. Wow.
It was a turning point in my recovery. My resentment toward my father on earth began to dissipate. Over the last ten years, I learned a lot about my father who passed away in 2002. He had a difficult childhood, married a difficult woman, and had the capacity to achieve more if his opportunities had been better. He was an imperfect human, just as I am. I know that I have delivered words to my children that have stung and wounded. My hope is that they can tell me that it hurt. As in the words of Oprah, if I know better, I can do better.
I moved beyond the tassels in the box and my heart filled as I looked at cards and notes from family and friends. How easily I can forget how loved I am. At the same time, I realized I still have more work to do on my recovery. I still have moments where those words don’t change the inner belief that I am not worthy. Progress not perfection, but I’m still trying to earn that “gold” tassel.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
~Psalm 139: 13-16 (The Message)
As a person in long term recovery from alcoholism, Sandy is passionate about supporting others seeking recovery from alcohol and other drugs. She has over 30+ years of corporate experience in risk management, human resources, performance improvement, adult learning and professional development. Sandy currently works with students in recovery at the University of Connecticut. She is a certified Recovery Coach Academy Facilitator, and received her Recovery Coach Professional (RCP) certification.