This post follows on from yesterday. A new perspective about my past began to be created when I understood that…
… we didn’t miraculously stop being dysfunctional just because my father stopped drinking.
So let’s take a look at what this really means…
The mistake I made was thinking my father’s early drinking had no later effect. He stopped drinking cold turkey. He didn’t go to meetings. He didn’t get therapy. My family didn’t get help. We were still dysfunctional.
The mistake with therapists was that after ruling out an alcoholic parent, they thought I might have lost memories of incest. Granted, it didn’t help that one of the behaviours I portrayed was lost time. I was detaching, but not from incest.
Okay, to continue, something I already understood about my upbringing were the rules my brother and I learned when we were young…
- we don’t talk about the family,
- we don’t talk about ourselves to anyone outside the family,
- we don’t trust anyone outside the family.
All well and good, except we also learned early on…
- don’t talk inside the family,
- it’s not safe to have feelings in the family,
- it’s not safe to trust the family.
Doesn’t really leave much in the way of healthy interaction, does it? Also made therapy an issue. The conflicting rules also go a long way to explain why I couldn’t see the problems with the relationship with my son’s father. He was the first person I could talk to about anything, but more about that later.
Then there were the special items just for me…
- we didn’t want a daughter,
- it’s all your fault.
I guess it’s safe to say I’m past the Don’t talk crap at least *giggle*
It was while researching lost time that I found out that children of alcoholics often portray the same behaviours that children who have been victims of incest do. *cue lightning strike moment* so I went back and began looking at the effects on children with a family history of alcoholism. It was a big find, to realise that I was still affected by an alcoholic father even after he had stopped drinking.
Often, children raised in alcoholic families learn the “four Ds” early on:
- Don’t talk about what is really going on.
- Don’t trust anyone but yourself.
- Don’t feel or have needs because there is no one available to validate or respond to you.
- Deny there is a problem.
Because they don’t know what “normal” is, they may constantly seek approval or affirmation. What might be considered overachieving by others might seem routine to children of alcoholics who learned to try to be perfect so they wouldn’t disrupt things or incur the wrath of the alcoholic.
Children in such a system may also have trouble identifying or expressing their feelings. In their homes it may not have been okay to cry or be angry. Sentiments crucial to a child like “I’m sorry,” or even “I love you,” might have been absent or not authentic, delivered without an emotional foundation or behaviors consistent with such statements.
Umm, snap, anyone? Sound familiar? It gets better…
Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA’s)
Fear of losing control… ACOA’s maintain control of their feelings, their behavior, and try to control the feelings and behavior of others. They do not do this to hurt either themselves or others, but because they are afraid. They fear that their lives will get worse if they relinquish control, and they get very anxious when they cannot control a situation.
Fear of feelings… ACOA’s have buried their feelings (especially anger and sadness) since childhood and cannot feel or express emotions easily. Eventually they fear all intense feelings, even a good feeling such as joy.
Fear of conflict... ACOA’s are frightened by people in authority, angry people, and personal criticism, so that they often mistake common assertiveness on the part of others for anger. As a result of this fear ACOA’s are constantly seeking approval, and they lose their identities in the process. They often find themselves in a self-imposed state of isolation.
An over developed sense of responsibility… ACOA’s are hypersensitive to the needs of others. Their self-esteem comes from others’ opinions of them, and thus they have a compulsive need to be perfect.
Feelings of guilt when they stand up for themselves instead of demurring to others… ACOA’s sacrifice their own needs in an effort to be “responsible”, and therefore avoid guilt.
An inability to relax, let go, and have fun… Trying to have fun is stressful for ACOA’s, especially when others are watching. The child inside is terrified, and in an effort to appear perfect, exercises such strict control that spontaneity suffers.
Harsh, even fierce, self-criticism… ACOA’s are burdened with a very low sense of self-respect, no matter how competent they may be.
Denial… Whenever ACOA’s feel threatened, they tend to deny that which provoked their fears.
Difficulties with intimate relationships… Intimacy gives ACOA’s the feeling of losing control, and requires self-love and the ability to express one’s needs. As a result, ACOA’s frequently have difficulty with their sexuality, and they repeat relationship patterns.
They see themselves as victims… ACOA’s may be either aggressive or passive victims, and they are often attracted to others like them in their friendship, love, and career relationships.
Compulsive behavior… ACOA’s may work or eat compulsively, become addicted to a relationship, or behave compulsively in other ways. Tragically, ACOA’s may drink compulsively, and become alcoholics themselves.
A tendency to be more comfortable with chaos than with peace… ACOA’s become addicted to excitement and drama, which can give them their fix of adrenaline and the feeling of power which accompanies it.
The tendency to confuse love with pity… As a result, ACOA’s often love people they can rescue.
Fear of abandonment… ACOA’s will do anything to preserve a relationship, rather than face the pain of abandonment.
The tendency, when under pressure, to see everything and everyone in extremes.
Physical illness… ACOA’s are very susceptible to stress-related illnesses.
Suffering from a backlog of grief… Losses experienced during childhood were often never grieved for, since the alcoholic family does not tolerate such intensely uncomfortable feelings. Current losses cannot be felt without calling up these past feelings. As a result, ACOA’s are frequently depressed.
A tendency to react rather than to act… ACOA’s remain hypervigilant, constantly scanning the environment for potential catastrophies.
An ability to survive… If you are listening to this list, you are a survivor.
Big?? I had lightbulbs going off everywhere. “Oh, this is why I did…” “Ahh, I see why…” “OMG, I get why…” There were so many. I was making little notes everywhere. It was like a curtain of denial had been lifted. I was still in denial about some things, but for the first time I was able to see, really see, what my life had been about. Then there was the breakup and I put it all aside. For years I only had a few real questions that I wanted an answer to… Why did my brother make it? Why couldn’t I see through my son’s father? Why did I isolate myself for so long? Finally I had the missing pieces to the puzzles that I needed. But, I was still in denial about so much.
It’s understandable why a lot of the behaviours took hold as a child, but they aren’t conducive to living in an adult world. At least not happily. Oh yeah, that’s why I have a therapist *sticks tongue out*
I feel I need to explain something… I don’t like labels. When we label ourselves as something it’s almost like we limit ourselves. Even though I feel that way, these traits for ACOAs, as a complete set, have been the closest to describing most of my behaviours over the years. I’ve had most of the listed items at one stage or another of my life. You can’t see the denial I just wrote. I saw it in a later post. I’ve had all these behaviours. Some have been pushed away over time, the rest… I’m still there. Sigh.
Okay, on to the next part of this journey… why did my brother make it years ago and I crumbled? That post… here.