I'm not a person who is particularly attached to things - I've moved so many times, and sold or given away or donated so much "stuff", that I have zero emotional attachment to furniture, dishes, clothing, any of that sort of thing. It comes, it goes, and one is equally as good as another. What I've envied is people. I've envied my friends and co-workers their loving parents and family.
I was born to alcoholics, and my mother walked out on us when I was two. My father turned us over to the Children's Aid, who separated my sisters and I and placed us into foster homes. When I met my sisters again in my mid twenties, I discovered that we had all been physically and sexually abused while in foster care. There were too many children, not enough foster homes, and a lack of oversight.
Back then, if the case worker thought a child was getting "too attached" to the foster parents, you were moved to a different foster home. I was in foster care for four years, and moved quite a few times. Then, at six years of age, I was adopted. I thought I was finally getting the loving family I'd always dreamed of, but within a very short period of time, I was once again being beaten - this time by my adoptive mother. Her rage terrified me, and she did an excellent job of convincing me that I deserved the abuse I received from her.
I looked at school friends, and their families, and I envied them with a desperation that was almost a physical ache in my chest. I was furiously angry and resentful that I had been "ripped off" when it came to family life. Why me? It wasn't fair.
Al-Anon has allowed me to make peace with my childhood.
That's something I wouldn't have thought possible when I was new to program. Now that I'm safely out of it, I can view my pain as compassion training. I understand sponsees who come into this program with a furious rage burning inside them, and I understand desperate loneliness. I've been there. I know how that feels. I also know that it is possible to heal. Friends in Al-Anon have told me that I have given them hope for themselves when I describe the person I was when I was new in program - vibrating with rage against the unfairness of life, resentful, depressed, despairing. They just can't picture me as that person.
I had to accept that my past was what it was, and I couldn't change it. My only choice was whether or not I allowed the past, and the people who had abused me, to ruin the rest of my life. I will never forget the moment when that idea finally registered with me: I felt the truth of it like a blow, and was staggered by the possibilities. (Until then, I'd been half hearing it, and giving it lip-service in a people-pleasing sort of way.)
I could go to my grave still raging against what had been done to me, or I could make a choice to let it go, start from this moment, and use that lessons of that old pain to be of service now, today.
Now, when I hear people speak of their parents and family with love and gratitude, I can feel happy that they are happy, grateful for their gratitude, without wanting to exchange lives with them.
That's the difference.