What a legacy, and an understandable legacy of keeping secrets. And if needs are kept secret, then help is not expected either. Here are the roots of secrets and not expecting help for young survivors of Jappen kampen.
- returning to the “home country” Holland in late 1945, the message was, “We suffered too, do not tell us.”
- the experiences of starvation and brutality challenged description
- why focus on the past when the present gave freedom, food and opportunity?
- after losing 4 years to imprisonment, teen survivors faced intense pressure to make up 4 years of education (often with no special help), adjust and live again
- culture/home shock. The Netherlands (Holland) was not ‘home” to those returning from the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). Climate, culture and yearning for home preoccupied young survivors.
I never talked to my family about the pain of my teen years, why I decided to become alcohol/drug free in 12 step programs, why I worked later in the treatment field as a counselor. Well, I never did for 10 years, then slowly I began to reveal. Here are the musings and life experiences that helped me face that generations after WWII trauma are often not open, and not asking for help. I’ll tell you more some time about how openness changed us.
Permission to Get Help
I remember when I started my favorite job ever as an addiction recovery unit’s counselor, at St. Luke’s AARU (Denver, CO). As this fledgling program for adolescents with addictions started, I thought over and over again. Why are they having a family day every Saturday?
No one will come,
there will be very little involvement. A limited number of parents from PDAP (Palmer Drug Abuse Program where I had sobered up as a teen) attended, while hundred and thousands of teenagers did. My own parents had tried PDAP parents group only once. Maybe, I recalled, they attended one PDAP banquet of recovery celebration. Not much involvement, no revelations from any of us, especially me.
So in those days, at St.Luke’s Hospital, (a scruffy and effective institution that housed general surgery, OBGYN, oncology, and an excellent adult alcoholism/addiction treatment program) I didn’t expect parents to show up for their teenagers. I expected the following from myself and families:
- don’t reveal secrets
- don’t expect much
- don’t ask for help
- I did expect love family members fortunately, but trapped within these cynical family rules
Then began my skepticism-popping experience at the best treatment program I ever worked for: St. Luke’s AARU: Adolescent Addiction Recovery Unit. The program did so much right: excellent counseling, excellent recovery using the 12 step recovery model, Outward Bound’s 5 day outdoor experience as part of the six weeks of hospital-based treatment, and every Saturday – Family Day, as well as weekly family counseling.
In spite of my enthusiasm for every treatment component, I knew that Family Day/Family Counseling would not work. How tragic, for this great program to be stopped in its tracks. If people showed up, I rationalized, it would work great. But hardly anyone would attend, this I knew.
I inquired discretely, of the family counselors, why they were so deluded as to imagine a high involvement rate from parents, siblings and others.
Me – Why do you think they will come?”
Wise family counselors – Well, they know about it from the beginning, that parent involvement is a requirement for their child’s enrollment in treatment.
Me – So you can make them come? You can require it?
Counselors – No, but they can choose to believe it is required, and come from the beginning. We prepare them for the idea that alcoholism/addiction is a family disease.
Me – How many do you think will come?
Counselors – Almost everyone.
They did all come. I was a counselor for the teenagers , not the entire family. I admired the family counselors and what they were able to accomplish.
I was going through a divorce at the time, no children in my life yet, truly struggling to figure out what healthy relationships were. I thought my family background had little to do with my confusion. Slowly I realized my family background had everything to do with my confusion.
Although my family members did many wonderful things for each other, this being with each other in the process of help, was not something I was accustomed to. I saw the powerful results of families who revealed secrets and asked for help.
Many parents needed to hear that their own alcohol and substance abuse was problematic, some actually entered recovery. Many teenagers listened and heard their families loved them, wanted to be there for them, communicate with them, and also not negatively enable them to easily continue to drink and drug. So I saw this recovery which was possible, and I started to communicate with my own family.
Going for Hope
“We have been taught that negative equals realistic
and positive equals unrealistic. ”
Remember how I thought I experienced virtually no family hope in my teen years? Notice how I believed I set myself up for that by not asking for help, not revealing much? The picture that starts this post is one of two PDAP family banquets we attended together. Papa of course is not in the photo, he is the photographer.
We eventually discussed all kinds of reocvery hopefully. it still tears at my hear that my Dad never talked about his war years, but given the chance, he and Mama could be so understanding. I miss my Dad since his death three years ago, I appreciate the sharing with Mom.
How is your sharing, secret revealing and asking for help going? Tell me.