Thursday, 31 July 2008

Anger, not fear

A book has come my way from "The Adult Children of Alcoholics Series". Entitled "The Self-Sabotage Syndrome: Adult Children in the Workplace". My parents are not apparently alcoholics, though at times they have not behaved well with alcohol but ACoCs is a term that can be used for anyone who has grown up in a dysfunctional family.

As an aside, I wonder how many people it takes for a family to become dysfunctional? Is just one mad parent enough and then everyone else runs around them? Or are we all within the family dysfunctional in our own sweet ways?

The term "adult children" speaks to me. Just by itself. And then the book begins with ascertaining that because of their upbringing ACoCs have no sense of what is "normal" saying "Adult Children of Alcoholics Guess at What Normal Is". Oh yes, that so resonates. That feeling of being always out on a limb and never being sure, of always feeling that I was making things up, of making up my own definitions to anything and everything. Which means that at any moment everything can come crashing down. Because I just made it up. Because I'm a fraud and I'm going to be caught out.

There is an aspect about ACoCs that I've read so far that I don't identify with and that is concerning my relationships and friendships. In fact just this month I have been realising that my friendships are one area of my life in which I am blessed and function really well. I'd don't feel all the pain and angst that I feel in other areas of my life and I wonder why that it is. Why, when my parents have not set any good examples of friendships in my childhood or since.

Laying in bed this morning thinking about this, with my constant self-analysis: stepping stones that tangle across my mind sometimes leaving me marooned in scary waters with no clear way across; I had a eureka moment. As a child we moved house and location about every two years. I never had good friendships as a kid so the moving actually became quite useful. I may not have had to face up to difficult situations in the long term, on the other hand I had plenty of experience of starting again. I actually welcomed the chance to start again and each time we moved, and being a kid, relationships were my priority. And I had plenty of chances to experiment. They were never right and I took a lot of hard knocks. I learned not to expect anything from anyone which was probably mainly due to my relationship with my parents, but reinforced by childhood relationships. I'm not sure what good things I learned from those times but I think I had the chance to find out what didn't work.

Since the age of seven I had the companionship and love of my little sister. This can not be under-estimated. I "had" to love her and protect her from the madness that was my mother. I became a mini-parent but more than that I was able to love her and she let me. Physical affection came from her, even if it was me holding her hand. When it came to me choosing between life or something else at 16 I had to walk away and leave her. Without saying a word. That was incredibly painful but she was already on her own destiny pathway and I knew she would make it. And she did. And we are very close now, but I think I still don't know the half of what she went through which makes me feel a little sad and selfish.

So when I left home at sixteen for the world of work I became the perfect ACoC employee and was easily exploited. But I was wide-eyed and enthralled by adult people. I loved meeting people and listening to them. I still am that wide-eyed girl and embrace people and situations in that way. I suppose luck comes into play that some beautiful people came into my life at different times throughout my life. I have had some friends come and go and I am still able to move on from places and leave people behind which does sound rather harsh and cold-hearted. But a core of people remain very special. A growing core even.

Boundaries in my friendships might have been a problem but I sorted that one pretty early by, on the one hand being able to love and be truly interested in other people and on the other to keep a tight reign on myself and not actually truly say too much about me. It wasn't until I was 31 years old that I told one of my girlfriends about some of my more difficult memories and then years go by and I only let out little tiny snippets. And then with my darling Mr Doris, one of my dearest friends, early on in our relationship I gave him something to read that I had written about me. Because I wanted him to know about the deep and dark depths I have. I didn't want to con him or for him to be shocked by someone different one day "when I might leak out". And then into my life comes someone who I had known of for years but suddenly we click and become immense friends and I find myself sharing depths. And then I get to my blogging years and I am haemorraghing all over the blog but in a way that has been constructive to me and now another friend is drawing depths out of me too that I didn't know I could share and I find I am changing.

Always a work in progress, for the first time in a very long time I feel like I am making progress. And this brings me to my anger. With the current financial situation in this world, life has dealt some interesting cards. Such that it seems likely when we sell our house, it won't be at a loss but there will not be much in the way of a profit. We will go into private rented and will start again with a clean slate. No debts. Just going forward and reconstruct. And in my self-analysis this morning I realised I am not scared of starting again. Picking myself and starting again is second nature to me. What I recognise is that I am so flaming angry about having to start again. My anger is such that it seethes underneath and leaks out in all the wrong places at the wrong times to the wrong people. Usually my kids but mainly directed back at me and internalised. I can feel it like a pit of badness inside me that I know has to stop or I'll be thoroughly ill.

Part of the ACoA thing is anger and anger issues. They flip out at the wrong time and inappropriately. I said that already but this is what the book says. I've never been allowed to be angry. Never known how to process anger properly. It always had to be subsumed and hidden because only my mother (or brother) could be angry. For a few months I have been aware of my feelings of anger. Like arrows flying off in all sorts of different directions and yet always avoiding the target but I don't know what the target is or should be. I don't want to be feeling this as I am not an angry and aggressive person but I suppose that is where the problem lays. I can not just feel anger and move on from it because I have seen anger as something to do with aggressiveness and as a whole character trait when that should not be the case. This area is a work in progress. And another diversion from what is probably needed - another ACoA trait. Apparently ACoAs have procrastination down to a fine art.


Anji said...

There is so much written there that speaks to me. My mum is an alcoholic, but it started when I was grown up and far away. It hurts me a lot to think of the person I thought of as strong all my life has disintergrated so much.(I only phone her in the mornings because she is too slirred in the afternoons and eveings) We lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere, my poor mum had been a townie surrounded by family and friends, she was stuck with 4 small children and a workaholic husband (farming is 24/24, 365days of the year). The bitterness and anger which drove her to drink didn't come out until we were all grown and they had moved from the farm.

As for dysfunctional families, we were offcially noted as one by our son's psychiatrist. This has lead us to believe that probably every family is dysfonctional at times.

Making friends has always been difficult for me; firstly because of where I lived as a child, we rarely saw anyone during the holidays and my parents had few visitors. When I was 8 my best friend at school was killed in a car accident, so I'm a bit wary of 'friends'. Thank goodness for blogging!

As for the house situation, I think that life as we know it is going to change in the next few years. the cosy idea of 'get married', buy a house, children, work, retirement is going to disappear - nothing is certain anymore - not even the planet!

I'm going to look out for that book.

Doris said...

Hi there :-) Itis one thing coming from a dysfunctional family but must be quite painful, if you are aware like I think you are, to be told that you have your own dysfunctional family! It is an easy term to banter around and sure enuogh we must all fall into that category at some time or other.

Thank you for sharing more about your own life .... blogging is quite amazing because I wonder how much of this would we have actually shared if we were just in a cafe chatting over a coffee?

Losing a friend is devasting. Losing an older person in your life that might have been expected to die is hard enough but to lose a young peer must be quite shattering and make you question everything.

I haven't finished reading the book - it is supposed to be to help workplace counsellors but so far I have ony read identifying traits and experiences than any actual help. Perhaps that is all that is needed. ACoA is a new term to me.

For a while I have felt a need to downsize and simplify my life for the "just in case" in this world but I didn't expect it to happen to just us! Which of course it isn't just "us" and our situation is ony mild compared to others but it is still tough. But hasn't every generation felt an "end of the world" feeling, or at least an change of what has been traditional. In the end I wonder how traditional anything really is as traditions only go back decades.


RiverPoet said...

Very well said! I've been in therapy and/or recovery for the last couple of years trying to sort all of this out for myself. It's amazing to me how resilient we humans are that we can bounce back again and again from things we think should have killed us.

You and I have such a similar background. It's uncanny, really.

Peace - D
(the other Doris)

Anji said...

All French psychology students have to read a paper in their first year. It’s called “On being sane in insane places” by David Rosenhan. ‘Sane ‘ people faked mental illness and managed to fool everyone on the staff in mental hospitals except for the other patients. Dom gave it to me to read last year and it helped me to see that our family were regarded as dysfunctional because there was a problem (Christian’s depression), not because we were. It is fascinating reading and I was pleased to find it online and an entry on Wikipedia. Thought you might be interested.

it's useful having a resident psychologist around!

Doris said...

I love your user name and of course your D name! Our lives do seem to have an uncanny similarity, that's for sure, and so surprising to me. I agree, what people survive is quite surprising. I wish you very well in your new discoveries about yourself and life. I find it sad that at our age we are having to spend all this time sorting oursleves out but I suppose better late than never.

That was such a fascinating read - thank you. I was once upon a time a first year psychology student in the UK - BSc - (I didn't get much beyond the first year due to pregnancy) but I don't recall ever reading that paper. Something like that would have been etched in my memory. I am amazed that the subjects were brave enough to get themselves falsely admitted to mental institutions. I'd be terrified about what could go wrong but I suppose they had some sort of get out plan in place. But it is so indicting of the system that lying your way into a mental institution is even possible.

Scary to think about the misdiagnoses that must be taking place.

Thanks also for answering my question about dysfunctional families .... so it only took one person to appear to have a depression for the whole family to be labelled. Hmm.

Thanks again for the articles - brilliant reads.

Jay said...

I don't come from a family with alcoholic parent/s, but I do come from a little bit of a strange family. You don't realise it as a kid, of course, it all seems normal to you. I think Anji is right, all families are dysfunctional to some degree because there is no such thing as a textbook 'perfect' family.

In a way we're all playing at being normal, but clearly it's much more of a struggle for some than for others. As aunt to two children of an alcoholic mother and never really having been allowed to get close, I fear for them. So far they seem remarkably well-adjusted but we all know how good young people are at masking things.

Milly you-know-who said...

Speaking as the child of a close, loving home, may I just say that we are all making it up as we go along. If childhood gave me certainty about anything, adolescence and first contact with the real world was a rude awakening that questioned all my preconceptions. I wouldn't swap childhoods, ever, but I remember wishing at the time that I could have been less naive and trusting.

Only this year the mother of a bullying child (a friend actually) told me I was living in an ivory tower, that the 'real world' wasn't as nice or as fair as I insisted.
The thing is that whilst my kids are young, only I get to say what the real world is like. I get to paint that picture and set the rules.
Few of us realise how much we influence our children's sense of faith, hope and love, that will go with them forever.

My naive teens led me to marry the wrong man. who pulled the wool over my eyes for eight painful years. I am therefore the mother of a girl who has the same symptoms (which match PTSD, if you look).

Some personal therapies I found helpful:

Its not fair, and its not your fault. Go say it to yourself in a mirror 100 times. Preferably in a locked room where you can be a little adamant about it; and take tissues.
Pile up a load of cushions in a corner and kick the hell out of them.
Then find a railway bridge, wait for the fast train to go under, and scream your anger out at the top of your lungs where nobody can hear you.
Or not. I just think it works, and its a giggly, liberating feeling to realise you can say 'boo' without getting a black eye.

milly said...

By 'the same symptoms' - I mean same as you / the book, of course. I may buy her a copy but she may not be ready to pull that monster back out from under the carpet.

Chandira said...

That sounds like a really healthy step forward! Wow. :-)

One thing, we all are at some level of dysfunction, although some may be more dysfunctional than others, but nobody is free of dysfunction! Nobody, except maybe Jesus, Buddha, Adi Da and the Dalai Lama. ;-)
(One reason Scientology is growing so exponentially, despite it's obvious wackiness, it lures people in with a promise of curing dysfunction, which, for a huge price, it's pretty good at, to a point!)

Well, what if it can't really be 'cured'.
What if you get stuck in the processing of it all for a lifetime. Which is what keeps Scientology in business.
The way forward is to transcend it, go beyond it, not worry about the processing of it necessarily.
There are plenty of people who get very much stuck in blaming their past for their present adult dysfunction, and get caught in the eternal trap of thinking that 'one day' it will all get sorted out, and they will be happy again. Really all we have is the present.

A lot of spiritual wisdom suggests that these things can be got beyond, though not necessarily fixed, through acts of loving, service, and generally going beyond our limited ego-selves to find what is Greater. Whatever name you give that.

I think you have that one down, personally. You seem very readily to extend beyond yourself, and to put your attention elsewhere, and to love people..

One of the main precepts in Adidam, and elsewhere, is that you become what you meditate on. Meaning, if you give all your attention to the problem, it gets bigger. If you let your attention go to what is Greater, then you become That. That right there, is the Big Secret in spiritual life.

We can tie ourselves up in knots about these things, and all the while we're doing that, they're creating more dysfunction in the present time. Does that make sense?
God knows, I've spent enough time there myself..
Only this morning, I dreamt that I was with my childhood 'girlfriend', who was only that because of her living right next door, and us living in the country. I spent most of my childhood hating her, and having a love/hate relationship with her, as she was there, and I was lonely, being an only child, and was a captive audience really. She got me into smoking cigarettes and a whole other bunch of things, that I woke up RAGING about this morning, after dreaming about her. She was ultra-possessive and very insecure, and as a result, the first sign of friends getting possessive of my time, I run for the hills.. Nothing scarier than that..

So, I just lay there, and remembered something I had read about the 12 step program a while back, and started praying for her, instead. I started feeling love, instead of all that resentment. I stopped feeling like I was always her victim somehow, too. A lot of my anger at myself over the years has been because of that feeling that I never stood up to her bullying and conniving, and as her victim. I had nowhere else to go.

Chip at it a bit at a time. Ask for a bit of Grace, and remember to love what you might presently hate and feel anger towards. That is 'ego-transcending'. That gets you a lot further on the road to recovery.