Beads of sweat formed on Susan's forehead as her breath stuck in her quivering throat. As he leaned over her desk, she could barely meet his penetrating gaze. He spoke, and her heart stopped.
"Good morning, Susan. Good to see you! Hope you had a good vacation. We missed you; it's good to have my right arm back."
He may as well have been screaming. Frozen from the first, Susan hadn't heard a word.
Susan, an adult child of an alcoholic, felt consumed with a fear encased in her gut from years of fighting her father's crazy, unpredictable drinking. Sometimes, she had felt like a soldier, who could only sleep when keeping one eye open. Any random movement might signal an attack; a sign that her life might suddenly spin violently out of control.
An adult child overreacts to situations over which she feels powerless. This fear emanates from her family, where any pretext could send the drinker into another drunken spiral.
So the adult child becomes obsessed with arranging a conflict free world. Riding the waves on a sea of turmoil, she maneuvers to maintain calm, yet never knows a moment's peace.
Striking a pose of blamelessness, she struggles for perfection. As a child, she unconsciously believed that making her family proud would end the drinking. Hungry for approval, she still strives to be that ideal little girl to finally feel worthy of love.
But she pays a price. Ignoring her body's signals, she runs like a mouse in a maze, spinning and bouncing off walls.
And her headaches pound incessantly: payment for ignoring her inner ache. Sometimes pain consumes her, with an ulcer or colon attack shouting a plea to slow down. Meanwhile, her muscles harden like armor, as the terror lurks, ticking away the time to strike.
So she clutches life with a death grip, as blood drains from her veins whenever confronting change. Numb, she drags through each day, until evening yields to the beckoning blackness of sleep.
Her loneliness runs fathoms deep. Longing for touch, she withdraws to cradle her raw and burning heart, protecting herself from contact. Resenting friends who have found love, she sinks in self pity, as walls of fear close in.
Her depression pounds down like acid rain. Dredging her last drops of strength, she comes up empty, as parched as a drought stricken well.
Lonely, tired, and defeated, she shivers alone, with no one to fill her hollow heart. Her desk chair grows cold, as she lies in bed stricken with covers pulled to her chin. And the dream of saving her family dies when she can't seem to save herself.
But when a baby cries out in the night, a loving parent comforts her pain until the sobbing stops. Likewise, the adult child can hear the ache of her inner child, who has suffered from years of abuse and neglect.
Respecting the simplicity of her needs, the adult child learns to rest when tired, eat when hungry, and seek help when necessary. Slowing down, she becomes mindful of newly emerging feelings, and the right to make sense of a crazy and chaotic life.
And as she shares her story with caring friends and a support group of fellow survivors, she finds compassion for her fear, and an ever expanding path through her pain towards self acceptance and peace.