Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

Who’s Holding You?

For as far back as memory allows, most of the adults in my life led me to believe emotions were not to be openly expressed.  I now know this wasn’t intentional toward me but rather was taught through the generations.  Nonetheless, I can recall specific comments about my being too emotional, needing too much attention and when crying, feeling so confused to see eyes rolled or backs turned.

As a young girl I didn’t understand what was happening.  In those innocent early years I would often try to force people to pay attention and acknowledge me when I was feeling sensitive and vulnerable.  When that attempt wasn’t well received, I internalized their disregard as being about me, not my emotions.  Thus my take away was, people didn’t care about me and by all means I was to keep my emotions to myself.

When I was a teenager, our family visited relatives on my father’s side.  My brothers, sister and I had a great time hearing stories about my Dad when he was a boy.  As those words were being shared, I sensed a softness in the room which seemed to connect all of us in one way or another.

As it came time to say our goodbyes and head home, I watched as my father briefly hugged his mom.  When he stepped back, I caught a glimpse of a few tears falling down his cheek.  Somehow I intuitively knew those tears reflected a belief this might be the last time we’d see her alive.  Ultimately this prediction was right, but upon remembering the feeling after hearing all those stories just moments before, I stepped toward my father to hug him; to let him know I understood his sadness.  I was rather shocked when he pushed me away, gesturing I turn my attention to the others, not to him.

While this may seem a rather brief slice in time, what I learned left a lasting impression.  There was a very clear message that offering a physical gesture of comfort, leaning in for an embrace during an emotional moment was not OK.   That experience, layered on top of so many others through the years, reinforced what I learned as a little girl; emotions are not to be shared, they were to be dealt with in isolation.

Now that I am working to course correct so much of my life, I’m realizing the impact of being taught to shield the outside world from seeing me as unsteady, undone or emotionally injured.  I’m grieving the fact I was never offered an opportunity to have someone hold onto me during life’s hard moments.

Up until these past several years, I would resist offerings of hugs and hand holding when I was in emotional pain because I believed I had to be seen as completely together, never broken.  Yet I was breaking little by little my whole life.  I drank in isolation, feeling comforted by the warm embrace of alcohol.  I shrank in size hoping I might disappear from the pain of feeling so desperately alone even in the midst of all kinds of people.

Yet all that changed when I entered the rooms of recovery.  In my utter deflation I finally accepted a warm embrace and a helping hand.  My walls had finally crumbled to the ground and that guard I had put up completely fell away.  I was in such a desperate world of pain I was willing to do whatever necessary to in order to stay alive including allowing someone to hold me as I unraveled.

The day I met my sponsor, without saying a word, she hugged me and I allowed myself to stay there.  In her warm embrace I melted into feeling accepted and acknowledged for whatever I held inside.  For the first time in a long time, I finally felt alive.

Now, years later, I am eager to hug another woman struggling in her recovery transformation knowing one day she’ll do the same for someone else.  This is how the circle of healing works and will continue to work as long as we don’t let go.

Life is way too short to hide in shameful silence over feeling emotions we don’t want others to know we have.

This is why I will never disregard an opportunity to lend a supportive hand.  I believe together we can take a deep breath in connection and exhale whatever is causing the pain.


When was the last time you accepted a gesture of support when feeling vulnerable?  When was the last time you offered that same gesture to someone else?  Did you feel comforted?  Please share a story or two so we can all feel the power of that embrace.

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8 thoughts on “Who’s Holding You?

  1. Claudia Donohue on said:

    Alison, beautifully written and so true. I was a married woman with children before I hugged my father needily,I feeling really vulnerable, and he hugging back seeming to understand that vulnerability. I believed he so understood but couldn’t do anything but hug back & show his love for me. Thanks.

  2. You are so right Claudia. Sometimes a powerful, soul-deep embrace can offer us unspoken words of support we so need to receive.

  3. I grew up in a similar situation where I wore my heart on my sleeve as a child but came from a family that believed in keeping emotions hidden. I do have a lot of trouble now accepting help and support. I was just talking to someone else about this, that I have a lot of the mindset and behavior of an addict, although I have never used drugs and I rarely even drink… I used to joke that I wanted to become addicted to something so that I’d be able to go to rehab and get my mind straight!

    • Hi Nicki,

      Thank you for having the courage to share about your struggle to ask for and receive help. This was a major challenge for me as well which is evidenced by my history. I completely acknowledge where you are.

      I was struck by your thought (although jokingly) that you might be better served to become addicted to something in order to get your mind straight. As I read that line, I was reminded of something so important yet something I had no idea could be true. The foundation of recovery actually has little to do with alcohol, drugs, food, gambling or whatever kind of unhealthy behaviors one engages in. The core work recovery requires is about getting a firmer grasp on dealing with life without denying what’s in front of you by way of those unhealthy behaviors. I initially looked for people to tell me how to eat without needing to jump on a scale or how to drink without consequences, what I learned was my real need was to look inside to uncover what I was so afraid of. I needed to let go of my fears about being a responsible adult and start living as one which included growing up emotionally. In other words, getting your mind straight doesn’t require becoming addicted; it requires an honest search of self.

  4. Wow… First off, (HUG!) to you! Congratulations on the big steps you have taken in your live and bravo for being eager to help another woman on her journey!

    As a child my sisters and I got in trouble for crying in front of our dad. As a parent, I don’t condone crying, but when my boys are doing it to get attention rather than out of need (?), I put my foot down. Thing 2 not getting a turn to play video games is no reason to burst out in a holy downpour.

    Fast forwarding thirty years from my childhood, I’ll never forget looking at my dad at my wedding and seeing tears in his eyes because of happiness for me/us. It is a memory that will forever remain… Priceless…

    • Kim,
      Thank you for these lovely words of support and connection. It warms me to the core knowing my words resonate with others. In turn, I am touched by the description of your father at your wedding. There is a photo sitting above my fireplace of my father holding me as we danced at my wedding. I’m looking off to the left smiling with pride as he’s looking down at me with a deep, true expression of love for his daughter. Just like you said … priceless. Thank you for taking me back to that moment in time. I needed that connection today.

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