All night long, Jim wrestled with his mattress. Pounding his
pillow, his mind reverberated with the clamoring cries of desperate
co-workers vying for his attention, like overly excited school
children. EAch voice faded into the next, creating a tapestry
of interwoven worry that pulled ever tighter around his head.
Barely aware of skies lightened by dawn, he trudged to the medicine
cabinet, searching for an end to his pain. Then suddenly, like
a distant shot of thunder, his radio took the remainder of his
sleep. For Jim, it was the start of another day.
Jim, an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACoA), was beginning
to "burn out" at work. Overwhelmed by the demands of
his job, increasingly exhausted, Jim felt a crushing sense of
failure over his inability to cope. He had always felt able to
manage any crisis; now, attempts to deal with his life just left
him drained and depressed. He felt virtually paralyzed; worse,
he didn't have a clue about what was really wrong. Jim struggled
to make sense of his life.
Sometimes, he reflected back to his childhood, and recalled
that nothing he did ever pleased "the old man." Constantly
critical and drunk, his alcoholic father would curse Jim's successes
and belittle his attempts to grow. His mother would try to be
supportive, but nothing could protect him from the shadow that
shrouded his sagging spirits. Jim longed for a way to feel good
Desperate for recognition and a sense of accomplishment, Jim
started a paper route. The long hours were difficult; he wasn't
sure if he could maintain the job and still keep up with school.
But somehow, he found a way.
Soon, he began to enjoy the extra cash, and the status in
being the first kid to own a stereo system. For the first time,
Jim belonged. Hard work was the key that had opened the door
to his new life.
In high school, Jim expanded his sense of enterprise. He became
the neighborhood "Mr. Fixit." He even hired other kids;
he would find them jobs, and in return take a cut of their earnings.
Jim felt ten feet tall when he bought his first sports car with
the huge stereo system. When he cranked up the volume, he could
almost completely drown out the torment of his family.
Jim was driven by success. Shortly after graduation, he got
a highly sought after job with a prestigious company. His supervisors
loved him. He worked long hours, readily accepted any project
they would give him, and never complained. He got stunning evaluations,
and was promoted quickly.
But deep down, Jim felt like a fraud. Echoing still was his
father's voice, cursing his accomplishments. Jim lived in dread.
Feeling over his head, he constantly feared that his boss would
discover his incompetence, then take him down in flames. Jim
clutched his shameful secret, and worked even harder to guarantee
that no chink in his armor ever showed.
Meanwhile, his responsibilities mounted. Unable to complete
his assignments, he would stay without pay, then cart papers
home. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, work would wake
him until he resolved the problem that had captured his sleep.
He began to feel like a runaway train with a jammed throttle.
Then, he stopped sleeping.
And suddenly, Jim became ill. Very ill. Never had he felt
so frightened and alone.
And for the first time in his life, Jim was compelled to accept
the unrelenting kindness of co-workers and loved one alike, who
supported him even though he wasn't moving and shaking the world.
Losing some control over his ability to care for himself had
forced him to allow others to care for him. And few had turned
For the first time, Jim had felt a full measure of his loneliness.
His life had been an empty room. Now he was letting it fill with
a family of friends.