Effects of Emotionally Unavailable Parents.

Recently the question, “What were the effects on your life from having an emotionally unavailable parent?”

Whether due to a medical condition, a drug or alcohol problem, or an emotionally immature parent.

My experience is one that due to dire circumstances, resulted in the emotional absence of both my parents.

I was the youngest of my parents six kids. They had a very unhappy marriage. It was riddled with violence through the first four kids. They tried to pull it together just before their fifth and sixth were born; the violence stopped and we became an alcohol free household.

My parents tried to get their footing through various extreme church/religious practices and self-help trends but never really recovered from their own childhood traumas, which resulted in years of poverty, dysfunction and conflict. They lived from crisis to crisis. In fact, their home burned down when my mother was eight months pregnant with me and they moved in with her parents.

They had a lot of drama! I was brought home to loud, chaotic misery.

By the time I came along my dad was older with a few health issues, his routine was to leave for work every morning at before 6:00AM (just as most of us were waking up); he came home and went to bed by 6:00PM (just as most were coming home). He often seemed like a shadowy figure to me, one that everyone seemed to be afraid of.

My dad and I had as much interaction as possible in the hours he was present. He gave me a lot of good advice and skills as far as ways to look at life…but he just wasn’t consistently available.

As for my mother, she had spiraled into mental illness before I was born, struggled with severe codependency, fears, delusions, and prescription pill abuse.  She was a steadfast manipulator, as she was pretty well known as “THE Church Lady.” She doesn’t drink, cuss, etc., but she is addicted and unwell.

Opiates became her main addiction by the time I was 12 years-old after she was in a car accident.  Abusing narcotic pain medication and Ambien is her routine to this day. Prescriptions, weekly doctor visits, buying extra pills from relatives and friends after she runs out, along with frequent pain clinics are now her way of life (all while condemning others with the Bible).

Not shaming her, these are just the facts.  It’s been frustrating and painful.

That was life in our loud, rowdy household in a nutshell.  The theme of the home was urgency, crisis, religious outrage and misery.  There was not a lot of emotional support, or guidance regarding how to live. I certainly did not feel a presence of love.

Due to lack of healthy conversation, love, guidance or care-taking…many things about me were feral as a child.

I was sent to school with very little awareness as to why I was there.  Often dirty, not prepared, without lunch money, etc.  That didn’t make me feel sorry for myself and to this day I do not, but it certainly made me feel lost.

When you are a welfare kid, or a child who is uncared for you develop a sense of shame so deep within that it can take decades to unravel it, if you even become aware that it’s your issue.

Family shame can stunt your life.  

The effects were that I had zero self-worth. Zero.  I hated myself more than anyone else could ever possibly hate me.  I absorbed blame and shame like a sponge. I took on every problem, or difficult personality as my fault. If someone was an angry or mean person, I thought I caused it.  All roads led back to how “bad” I was, in my broken perception.

This thinking set me up for many years of chaotic, codependent, blame-shifting, advantage-taking relationships, and friendships.

However, hating the dysfunction and misery, along with despising myself and my life drove me to spend a lot of my young adult years going to the library, and seeking out classes, counselors and teachers out of desperation to figure life OUT.

Or better said, I was desperate to figure a way out of my life.

The issues and my response to them, over time, had a profound effect that gradually overlapped the damaging effects…my history made me a seeker, and it saved me.

I became a seeker of truth, recovery, information, confidence, therapy, health, wellness, logic, sanity, healing, forgiveness, PEACE, and improvement anywhere it might be found.  I looked for it all.  I wanted ALL of it!

Years later, when my son became addicted to prescribed opiates after a football injury, I went right into seeker mode again to find out the best possible responses.  He’s now six years out of that and living a great life.

As a result of my upbringing and what it led me to do to survive it, my life is healthy, and full of joy.  I have worked hard to have safe, kind, healthy connections with the people close to me.  The difference of who and what I allow into my personal life is now based on health, self-compassion, wisdom and trusting my inner guides of intuition and peace.

Life is actually pretty great on this side of the early madness. Which is why I openly and as real and raw as possible write, talk, tell, podcast, and speak about all of the above.

The passion of my life is to tell anyone who needs to hear it –  No matter how dark, no matter how low and disadvantaged you started out, no matter who dropped the ball on you… you can have an AMAZING life as an adult.

You can recover from anything!  If you do the work to heal, all can be made well.

I wish you well,



Divorced, not Divided; A House Divided Stands No Chance


Divorce, Division and the Disease of Addiction

I think any respectful, right-minded person would agree that it’s important within a group or family setting to be on the same page when making decisions and navigating circumstances. This is especially true as it relates to managing crisis.

While we all may agree that unity is critical, this ideal is useless if our actions don’t corroborate our claims. We can all find ourselves locking horns with those we’re called to unite with for a common cause.

When the goal is centered around a loved one who struggles with substances, united not divided is of utmost importance.

If division is occurring within the home (or homes), it’s crucial to resolve differences in a fair and honest manner in order to obtain peaceful solutions.

Concerning alcoholism, addiction, and SUD, most people have stories of division. Some occur within a marriage where everyone in the household is pulled in different directions. There can be a good cop/bad cop situation in play, siblings played against one another, and so on.

Coming to terms with the huge importance of having a united front is crucial.

In families where there has been a divorce, it would seem division may be already in place, but from my own experience I know that unity is possible.

Division may come from well-intended family members or friends. Division can come from people pulled in or perhaps outsiders taking it upon themselves to become involved. Division can be motivated by fear, guilt, or more sinister motives such as selfishness or a hidden agenda. Whatever the case may be, division is an area of weakness that allows the disease of addiction and the manipulation it needs to survive, to wreak absolute havoc within a family.

Cracks of division, similar to cracks in a foundation, will bring a house down. Wherever those cracks appear, deception and manipulation can get in, which will deter truth and peace and can postpone the path to recovery.

My personal experience

I don’t write as an expert; I write from experience. The following is my experience with solutions in place for division:

– Divorced not Divided

My ex-husband and I kept a pretty good truce going for the decade we shared the responsibility of raising our son after our divorce. Of course it was awkward and even hostile in the initial phases of separating. In the early days we were prone to heated conversations and blame (never in the presence of our son) and it made for discomfort when our paths crossed.

Two years after the divorce, we met in person to have a conversation that cleared the air. We put our issues to rest moving forward from them with a commitment to positively parent our child. We set clear guidelines to prevent our exchanges from becoming cluttered with issues.

This allowed for strong unity when SUD and crisis came roaring through our lives later.

The following are a few ways we avoided division going forward:

Decide on goals and ground rules


Having common goals: peace, health, happiness, and well-being for every child you share is of the highest priority. Never forget, it’s about them.

Giving our shared child a fighting chance at the life of stability we felt we didn’t get growing up was important. Giving our son a strong sense of family despite having divorced parents was crucial. These goals were important as a lifestyle for the years prior to crisis, and they became priority during.

Ground Rules:

Anything you do or say (within reason) wont be held against you. We can choose to not have paper thin skin in dealing with one another. Cooler heads must prevail. If you make a mistake you are still respected as an important part of the family. It’s not going to get rubbed in your face. Moving on is constant.

Lets not demonize one another. It is never healthy to say negative or destructive things about someone your child half-identifies with. If a child is not under threat of serious harm, truths will come out if they need to. Attacking one another and shoving poison in the ear of your shared child(ren) causes confusion, negativity, and will pave the way for unneeded struggles for them down the road.

Lets not rush to react, pounce on, or punish each other. Not everything is an ordeal to freak out about. Making a mistake does not classify you as the villain of our equation.

I prioritized this, having come from a condemning, shaming, punishing background. Which is a very difficult culture to be a part of—it makes it impossible to relax enough to just be. If one lays in wait for another to mess up in order to pounce, there can never truly be peace.

No petty, spiteful moves. That would only be wounds from the past manipulating current behavior. That includes not passive-aggressively planting negative seeds about one another in the mind of a child. No competitive parenting, such as good guy versus bad guy mentalities. If one needs to lose for the other to win, not only does no one really win, but the shared child, group, and goals are the real losers.

Incidentally, its good to remember that the behavior we engage in may turn up later in our sons and daughters. If I am engaging in (or accommodating) spiteful, manipulative, game-playing, or unfair tactics, chances are my son will grow up to date, marry, or become someone like that. By virtue of this behavior being woven as if normal into the fabric of his being, he may come to believe its acceptable and okay. Its not acceptable or okay.

Those things will always come back to bite.

Agree to approach things humbly and bypass childishness. Our sons and daughters are way too important for us to engage in arrogant, right-fighting immaturity. It really helps to be a proud “I dont know-it-all.” It’s not about just one of us, our history, our unresolved feelings, or who is the better parent. Its about the goal: the well-being of our kid(s). We must compromise, come to agreement as much as possible, and unite for what is right, fair, and true. This is about what is best for the greater good.

White flags go up immediately. When it comes to our sons and daughters, cease-fire should be quick, regardless of how we may feel about one another. If we are at odds, a peace treaty can still happen by virtue of having a shared mission.

Many times in our situation we could be aggravated with one another or at odds, yet still always have the safety and ability to call and say “I have to tell you what just happened.”

Loyalty to the goal, to the truth and to what is fair and right. We don’t need to fight just to win. Logic overrules emotion.

These standards greatly mattered to us when our son was young.  They later became the strength from which we navigated him to a healthy place when our lives were in crisis.

* * *

What do the earlier years have to do with the disease of addiction? Plenty—addiction is a family disease. If the time ever comes when we might deal with issues of addiction within the family, we have a great running start against the behaviors fueled by SUD. With goals in place, we have strategies ready for managing crisis, manipulation, and division in the future.

And that can prove to be life (and sanity) saving.

Will we ever fail when it comes to abiding by the ground rules? Absolutely. Sometimes miserably! We don’t always get it right. But the foundation laid is always there to return to no matter who drops the ball. You live, you learn, you do the next right thing and keep going.

* * *

What if it’s not possible to agree and unite or if the efforts are one-sided?

Understandably, there are people we all have to deal with that refuse to play by the rules. Some operate with low-blow behavior, don’t care for the greater good, and can’t be trusted to be sincere. Other times, too much damage has been done to have safe, vulnerable communication. There are people not motivated by logic, fairness, or peace. Some folks prefer to keep the fires of conflict and discord burning.

In these situations, the reality is they are probably not going to change behaviors or become less difficult. However, we can set good boundaries and remain healthy enough within ourselves that our reactivity is not negative alongside them.

Personally, in those cases I believe it’s a thing of honor to choose to be the one who still does what is right, staying committed to integrity, boundaries, and decisions, holding hope for a peaceful outcome, despite anyone else’s decisions. Their journey is theirs to figure out—we are responsible for our own.

Show kindness, don’t ever interact with vitriol, respond with dignity, and keep moving forward.

* * *

Nelson Mandela lived by the “Ubuntu” principle. The concept is, “I need you in order to be me; and you need me in order to be you.”

We need each other. We need to be kind and respectful with one another because we need each other.

I am thankful my ex-husband and I were able to establish unity when there was so much opportunity for division. It’s possible if we all do our part.

Our mission is to give our sons and daughters a strong family which in turn will give them a fighting chance for a healthy adult life.

Our responsibility is to not further discord, conflict, or chaos.

Our outcome can be the creation of a unique family unit that will become a safe haven, which in turn makes it easier for our sons and daughters to choose a healthy adult life in which they can thrive. 

My story is not a beautifully packaged family tale. It is raw and real. But it is a true story of reality, recovery, hard work, and hope.

Peace is possible!

Still learning,


Author of books: Unhooked, and Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache

Host of:  The Unhooked Podcast

* * *

For information, comfort, encouragement and support:

Codependents Anonymous

Parent Support – TAPU

Family Recovery Support

Judge Not

In a recent meeting, a friend shared her wisdom about having been a judgmental person.  She said judgment isn’t only about judging people.  It’s also about judging situations. Something she felt she’d done a lot of.

Judging circumstances as “good or bad,” can sometimes create blind spots, because in the economy of growth, maturity, recovery and building strength—something “bad” can work for “good.”

I thought back to a time when I had to rethink a tough situation in terms of what’s good or bad.

When my son was early in recovery, he wanted to keep his job in California where his home and car were, but planned to spend a year in a different state doing therapeutic work.

He was offered a temporary role in the new location, that would preserve his regular position, but it came with some profound challenges.

Due to geography and his circumstances at the time, he would be required to get up every morning at 5:00 AM to ride the bus for close to an hour, then walk half a mile to the location in 100-degree Texas heat.

He’d have to clean up again when he got into work, work all day, and later catch the same bus route back to his residence.

More than a few of those conditions were new for him.

Many days he would call sounding exhausted, stressed and frustrated. Often describing how he had met someone on the bus ride who was homeless, in active addiction and sometimes in desperate condition.

A lot of days were upsetting.  But he was determined to keep his job, get through that time, do well, and continue onward.

As a Mom, that time was HARD.

I had to work through the desperate feelings the circumstances in his life ignited within me.

I still felt like I’d break having him so far from home. Loving my only child so much in relation to the things that occurred in his life could sometimes feel traumatic.

Daily I wrestled with overwhelming fear, nostalgia, and sadness.   As well, I was at a loss for how to ease his troubles.

Both of us had to accept that this was something he just had to face and get through.

I set my will to be a corner coach, and told myself that none of this was going to kill him.  In fact, it might make him stronger.

Instead of saying, “You poor thing.”  I cheered him on, often saying, “You’re doing incredible things!  You’ve got this, you’re doing it. This is creating amazing strength in you. You’re going to be able to handle anything after this!”

He called me often to hear those words. We both needed to believe them.

The months unfolded, things changed, and that season finally ended. But, even the ending of that time was dramatic. The day he was leaving that state to head back west, he was bit by a brown recluse spider and spent the evening in the emergency room.

Once we knew he was okay, we decided to view even that as part of the beautiful tapestry of life.  That too was part of the building experience, another scar he shows.  Proof of battle!

That season happened a few years ago.  I have to say it’s one experience my son is extremely proud of. He draws strength from the memory, which comes up often.  We both remember it with pride.

We don’t normally brag about the easy days! But we joyfully remember what mountains we climb.

That tough season developed grit, strength, and character in him. That span of time is one of the things I credit for making a strong man out of my son.

It also built resolve within me, and increased my faith that not only shall “This too pass,” but difficult things can work out even better than we expect.

It was a season. Seasons change.

We’re now both grateful for that experience.  We braved through it and ended up better for it.

How often do we want to jump in with a son, daughter, or other loved one and make difficult things easier for them?

Too many times we judge someone’s adversity or struggle as bad; when it might be the very thing to build an inner fire and the strength to handle just about anything! Which is what they’re going to need to get through life.

Don’t be judge the mountains someone you love is called to climb! Examine what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it.  And then get out of their way, tell them they can handle it, and let them climb.

Once they do, they’ll be able to face anything.

There’s victory and joy on the other side of conquering.

Strength and Peace,


Author of books: Unhooked, and Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache

Host of:  The Unhooked Podcast

* * *

For information, comfort, encouragement and support:

Codependents Anonymous

Parent Support – TAPU

Family Recovery Support










Guard Your Valuables! What We Need to Protect

Because I write openly about my struggles and recovery from trauma, I often get letters asking what I might do in certain situations involving deep, hostile family conflict or the madness that ensues from an issue of addiction or alcoholism in a home.

In years past, I didn’t have many “tools in the toolbox” for navigating those troubled waters. I’m certainly no expert. But I am experienced when it comes to turmoil and crisis. By the time our crisis transpired and in the moments when dormant issues exploded to the surface (as they are prone to do when left unattended), I realized I needed strategies in place for managing tough times and intense emotions when they occur.

First and foremost, having faith and gratitude can be some of the strongest power tools we possess. Combined, the two empower us to forgive, find hope, let go, make peace, adapt to extremely difficult situations, and get back up (over and over).

Beyond this, a set of “tools” to pull out on an as needed basis is vital. Those I have found useful…

Knowing who you are

For most of my life I allowed a background of dysfunction and the issues in my life to cause me to feel intrinsically worthless. When we come up through a toxic mess, we believe our identity to be based out of every area of deficit, which results in even more toxic connections and environments. Because it’s our normal.

Like many, I personally thought I deserved less than anyone. I spent years second guessing myself and not trusting my intuition even when it shouted at me. I’d usually believe someone else had more authority to be right about me than I did. Many times after things took a wrong turn, I’d look back and see all the signs I had ignored because I simply didn’t believe in myself.

When this is your thought pattern, you’re at the mercy of everyone around you. You will believe that drawing lines, setting boundaries, and sticking up for yourself are selfish things. But they’re not selfish, they’re healthy.

Unless we know who we are and that we were fundamentally created with value, we become easy prey for those with a dysfunctional agenda.

Therapy and recovery work

Therapy is not for the faint of heart. Therapy and recovery are strong tools that serve to identify and separate us from our issues.

Spending time with a counselor is not a sign of weakness. It’s actually quite brave to admit that we’re struggling with something. (Therapy probably kept me from having a mug shot.)

How much better to just be real and get it over with than to pretend we’re not in a struggle, put on a mask, and end up acting it out.

Spiritual Life

Alongside therapy and recovery, great tools to rely on are regular spiritual practices. We can prop ourselves up on faith and find there to be no better support.

During more than a few major storms, while facing what I felt were huge obstacles and impossible odds, I discovered that I could always find comfort in the Higher Power of my life. The Unseen Force of kindness and strength that is always for me, always helping, healing and strengthening me. The Presence of peace that never leaves us in the worst of times. Even when it feels like everyone else has.

The reminder to: “Guard your valuables!”

This incredibly powerful tool was a piece of advice frequently given to me more than a decade ago and it took almost as long to fully grasp it.

I have a close friend who counsels families in crisis I would sometimes call her to complain about whatever emotional injury du’ jour that I’d sustained. Usually my frustration pertained to a snide comment from a friend or coworker that was delivered at the worst possible time. Or maybe it was an issue I was having with my mom, another relative, or my son.

Her response was never to shame them and baby me (which is important), but instead to point out that once again I “hadn’t protected my valuables.”

“You didn’t guard your valuables.” she would gently remind me.

“What are my valuables?” I’d asked in confusion.

“That’s your problem, you don’t know.” she said more than a few times. “When you figure them out, you’ll protect them.”

We established over time that valuables are the things that make up who we are. Guarding our valuables involves protecting our confidence, peace of mind, goals, problems, sorrows, dreams, and opinions; the deep places of the heart.

Guarding your valuables means being cautious with whom we reveal what is going on in our life.

She would also suggest that valuables are how we respond to others and allow them to speak to us. Self-respect and dignity are valuables.

We aren’t protecting ourselves when we’ve felt uncomfortable or unsafe around certain people yet didn’t give ourselves enough support to create a safe distance from them. We need to honor those gut feelings instead of second guessing ourselves or thinking it might be rude to be guarded.

You can only spend so many years being pulled along by others before ending up burned out and resentful, not realizing you’re betraying yourself. This is how we regularly give away our power and identity. When you live like that, it will put you at the mercy of everyone around you.

The more we grow in the knowledge of our worth and rights in those areas, the healthier our mind will become and over time confidence begins to grow.

My wise friend’s advice was a specific way of identifying boundaries along with methods of protecting myself within them. Life-saving.

* * *

Other valuables might include:

Who we spend time with

Who we do favors for, who we allow to vent to us, who we allow to know our confidential personal business, who knows us on intimate levels, and so on. These are valuable parts of us that we need to treasure and protect.

If we don’t know that—that is where the recovery work needs to be done.

We attract the results of the work we do. If we haven’t done much work on ourselves and our sense of value, we end up surrounded by people who don’t think of us much either.

Rigorous honesty

In order to recover, we have to uncover.

This is a time-saving power tool. Rigorous honesty makes life a whole lot easier when we cut to the chase. Nothing can block the flow of energy that honesty carries. Truth is a power tool.


Recognizing your participation in an unhealthy situation is a giant step toward freedom from it.

Knowing yourself, trusting your intuition when it checks you (it will always check you—it’s our built in safety system!) will protect you from being desperately hurt by people who pretend to be one thing and turn out to be another.

Open, honest, safe communication

Healthy people communicate; unhealthy people manipulate.

Maintaining peace and equanimity in the midst of chaos

Ignore those who always come running to you like their hair is on fire.

My favorite word is equanimity. Equanimity is the ability to maintain mental calmness and composure when in a difficult situation.

There are personalities who come at you to try to force you on your heels. Some people thrive on conflict, shock value, etc. Ambushes can trigger us. We have to work to remain mindful and composed. Maintaining equanimity and enough presence of mind to not merge energy with someone else’s negativity, or “hair on fire” urgency, is the goal.

Education and information are life preserving power tools

Within my own life, I prefer to have clear understanding of what is going on and what steps I need to take to find solutions. Becoming informed and educated might mean going to the internet for information, taking my questions to professionals, calling friends with similar experiences, finding books, classes and workshops on the subject, or having a counselor or therapist to call and check in with in times of stress or confusion.

When it comes to issues of addiction, alcoholism, substance use disorder and the dysfunctional behaviors they involve, clarity is the doorway to resolution. Knowing the patterns of the brain disease of addiction, understanding the situation at hand, and having tools in place when times get desperate will help build boundaries around your peace (and sanity).

A Strong, healthy support system

We all need someone to have our back and we need to be that for others in return. The ebb and flow of support is what heals people. I cannot stress the importance of support enough. Friends to call, a recovery group, a family support group, a unit that is compassionate, kind, and treats us with sincere, positive regard will heal just about anything.

* * *

Having strategies and tools on hand for tough times are as important for our lives as a toolbox or first aid kit.

When a tornado rips a house apart, once the storm is over, life does go forward, yet it’s different than before. We can’t just proceed as usual now that the winds have stopped. There’s damage to deal with and rebuilding that must take place. It takes time to gather the tools to build stronger lives. It’s a process.

Speaking from personal experience, it’s one that is definitely worth it.

Peace and equanimity are possible.

Still learning,


Author of books: Unhooked, and Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache

Host of:  The Unhooked Podcast

* * *

For information, comfort, encouragement and support:

Codependents Anonymous

Parent Support – TAPU

Family Recovery Support