The moment I looked into my child's eyes, my breath escaped me. His fingers—perfect and all accounted for. His toes—so adorable, pudgy little extensions protruding from his chubby feet. His eyes (when I finally got to gaze into them for more than the two seconds they fluttered open after his birth) were an amazing blend of light blue and grey which still get comments five years later. He's just perfect! He's got his Dad's nose, his Dad's hair, and my lips! I begin to think about the amazing journey this little guy has just gone through. A blending of genes (yes the science kind, not the Levis), half from his father (and all of his ancestors along the way), and half from me, which includes all...of...my...ancestors...along...the...way.
That realization hits me like a proverbial DNA train—this innocent, angelic bundle of joy is not only a new human being, he has a little bit of everyone from both my husband and my families. At first I think of all the good qualities my son will probably have—from the hard work and determination from both of his Grandfathers, to the kindness and old world souls of his Great Grandmothers. And of course, my brain (still searching for all the great qualities that are available to my son) continues until a little corner of a subconscious thought begins to nag, and nag, and NAG, until, like the mother we had as teenagers, will not stop nagging until the issue is addressed. So, I go into my brain to see what it's so worked up about and lo and behold, there it is—the realization of which is like being slapped in the face with a white glove full of bricks.
Not only does my son have a great chance to develop into a fantastic human being because when the DNA dice are rolled, there is a myriad of good qualities he could possibly possess, he has just as good of a chance (maybe even better) to get some of the genetically-linked "traits" that have passed down my family line that could definitely change the course of his life.
Since my love of biology and human anatomy drove most of my reading and research in university (and it still does today), I can almost remember the exact moment when I found out that alcoholism and panic/anxiety sufferers could have been genetically predisposed. This means there is scientific evidence to support the theory that if these conditions exist in your family history, there is a chance that my sweet, loving little boy will grow up to suffer from these extremely debilitating illnesses. I grew up in an alcoholic family—a statement that unfortunately will probably be shared with a lot of people who read this story. My situation was probably a typical one in the sense that as far back in my ancestral tree as I can go, there were only a few relatives that I could say with utmost confidence were either not bitten by the alcoholic parasite, or they were able to deal with their addictions (which is difficult, but possible). My story does take an unusual twist here based on most of the stories I have heard from children of alcoholics—there was no physical abuse in our house growing up. Sure we were yelling and screaming at each other every night, which did involve many bouts of emotional abuse, and the fighting got worse as the night and the drinks increased, but anyone who has dealt with an alcoholic (or two) will know that those things come with the territory. And, with that territory (for me) came the usual bouts of low-self esteem, being on the edge of ending my pain (being a teenager was hard enough—and then to deal with all of that "stuff" on top of it...), drowning my sorrows with "the sweet nectar poison" that I knew from experience would allow me to escape the pain I was trying NOT to deal with. Which, even though it took me years to figure out, is the reason why my relatives drank in the first place. When I found out about the skeletons in my family closet that caused both my parents to turn to alcohol to "forget", it did soften my hardened heart and get me one step closer to forgiveness. As I grew older, and moved away from home, I was able to see not only the bad side of alcohol, but the reason why so many of us enjoy it. At university, I experienced the "fun", the "carefree" feeling, the inhibitions of my shy personality (that I really wish would evaporate completely) disappearing every time we went out to "party". Partying for me included indulging in the exact same liquid that caused my emotional distress as a teenager...but this time it was different, it was ME! who was in control (pppft, well, that's what I thought). Looking back it was the typical alcoholic mantras—"I control what I drink, the drink doesn't control me!", "I can quit if I want to!", and of course the most famous one "I'm not an alcoholic, I just drink socially!". I continued like this for quite awhile—looking back, that is where MY DNA started to really show; the typical cycle of nature versus nurture ... I was becoming a product of my environment (both genetically and behaviorally). One day when my head finally started to clear from a nasty hangover (which is another weird topic—no matter how bad we feel the next day, we always go back for more; can you say "sucker for punishment", which is one of the psychological explanations for our repeat behavior. But, I digress, that could be a whole other article! Anyways, as I was saying, as I was laying in my bed feeling sorry for myself, I review the night before in my head (well, what I can remember of it anyways), and I had a flashback. Fighting with my loving, caring, stuck-by-my-side through thick and thin (high-school sweetheart) boyfriend (who later became my fiance and then my husband of 14 years— and still going strong). And I was embarrassed by what I said and what I did. And then I had the thought....last night I was my "mother". That realization horrified me. Now don't get me wrong. I love my mother. When she was sober she was a great mother! But I knew, the night before, I wasn't THAT mother. I was the mother who was condescending, picking a fight to gain power and would do and say anything to make the other person feel worse than she was feeling at the time. When I drink I turn into that MOTHER! And if I turn into that MOTHER (like my mother), I knew deep down in my heart I would also be THAT mother to my children, and since I know how they would feel when they think of that mother, I needed to make changes NOW! 17 years later, I am still thanking whatever supernatural being (whether it was God, Allah, Buddha or something else), for giving me the vision, the power, the desire to stop the vicious alcoholic cycle in its tracks.
So, I went on a personal journey to deal with my psychological skeletons - and no, it wasn't easy —every day is a struggle. I am now in a position that I can enjoy a glass of wine, or a good glass of beer, KNOW my limitations and not lose control—however it took a lot of practice and it's something I need to think about every time I decide to have a drink. But, to tell you the truth, watching my children grow up in a household that is peaceful, stable, and I will not be a hypocrite when I teach my children how to be responsible when it comes to alcohol, my daily struggle is completely worth it. Fortunate, lucky, Divine intervention—I'm not sure who should get the credit, but I am so thankful that I realized early on, the situation that I was in and what personal issues needed to be dealt with before I even thought about having children. And please don't get me wrong. Just because I have tamed this beast, doesn't mean I think that I am a perfect parent, or wife, I am always on a constant journey to push myself to be better and learn from my mistakes. However, one thing is for certain— having an innocent baby in my arms, knowing that although I don't control the randomness of the combination of his amino acids to create his genetic map, I can control his environment and the memory I imprint on his brain when he remembers who his mother was and the strength she had when trying to become the best person she can be—(yes, I will be sharing this story with him when he is old enough. My philosophy is; our life experiences—both good and bad are the best teachers!) I believe it's NEVER too late to make positive changes! You just need to have a reason to do it. And I know from my own experience, gazing into an angel's eyes, knowing from that moment on, you have the power to embrace the positives (and although I've highlighted a lot of the negatives, there are also positive traits that I hope my son will have from his maternal ancestors), minimize the negatives, and most importantly STOP some vicious cycles (these could include anything from alcoholism, gambling, physical violence)—nothing and I mean NOTHING will stop you from achieving the goals you set for yourself! Let today be the first day of the rest of your life!