So yesterday evening, my daughter came running out frantically from her bedroom, “Mom! The toilet is flooding the bathroom!”
I sighed and dropped the dishes I was doing and walked down the hall to check it out. To my surprise, there was literally an inch of water covering the floor of the kids’ bathroom, running down the vent into the basement, with more water spilling over the sides of the toilet every second.
I completely panicked. I started yelling and shouting, “What did you do?!!”
She yelled back, “I just went to the bathroom and flushed the toilet!”
I ran to grab as many towels as I could find and splashed them onto the floor.
“Toilets don’t just do this!” I yelled again. “What did you DO?!? You are going to ruin our whole house!” I ran down into the basement to see water dripping down from the pipes and splashing onto our dusty furnace.
“Well…I put paper towel down the toilet…” my seven year old finally sobbed.
Luckily for me, while I was ranting and raving and running up and down the stairs with armfuls of towels like a lunatic, my ten year old daughter had grabbed the plunger and plunged until finally the water stopped running and the crisis died down.
As I reflected on this incident, a couple of things occurred to me.
- I am about the worst person you could possible have on-hand in an emergency situation.
- The emotions and feelings I experienced as I helplessly watched that toilet overflowing and flooding our bathroom felt very similar to feelings I have experienced living with my husband’s addiction.
I felt completely helpless watching that water soaking into our baseboards and running into the infrastructure of our house. I felt complete panic in the face of the filth that was seeping into the walls and floors; the foundation of our home. I also felt confusion because I knew a toilet shouldn’t just do this on its own. Deep down inside I knew I was missing information, and I couldn’t make sense of what was happening.
This helplessness led me to some of the same go-to coping strategies to deal with the situation that I have reverted to in the face of my husband’s addiction:
- Freak out, scream, rant, rave
- Blame, try to figure out whose fault this was and why it had happened
- Confusion and desperation as I tried to piece together what was going on from the incomplete information that had been given to me.
- Start calling my husband desperately over and over, expecting him to somehow fix the problem from where he was.
- Ultimately, feel stupid and incapable that I was so poorly educated that I couldn’t fix the problem, save my family, and protect our home by myself.
As silly as this may seem, this overflowing toilet brought back the very same feelings that have overwhelmed me and brought a sense of crisis to my everyday life through the worst months and years of my husband’s acting out. These feelings can still creep back up when I sense addict attitudes and behaviors sneaking back into his daily life.
So, why can it be so hard to work the program?
What stands in the way of my peace?
Well, maybe it’s because we see an overflowing toilet that is threatening the infrastructure of our home with filth, and we are completely powerless to stop it. Our first impulse tells us to rant, rave, blame, fall apart, rely on others to fix the problem, or wallow in the shame that we were unable to fix it ourselves.
I am not always sure.
I think it asks me to breathe before I scream.
I think it asks me to ask myself, “What do I have control over here?”
It asks me to use the tools I have: to pick up my plunger.
It whispers to my heart, “You can’t just sit here and hope that someone else will show up and fix this for you or make it go away. You have to face it.”
And sometimes, it might be asking me to calmly gather the children, and walk out of the house. Some toilets just won’t stop running.
At any rate, my overflowing toilet helped me see and feel again the difficulty of responding well when I feel so completely threatened, perplexed, and helpless. This brings me the gift of empathy, for myself and others, for those moments when I have been a raving lunatic.
Betrayal Trauma is not easy stuff, ladies.
Work the Steps. Soldier on. You are not alone.