Sun 03 Jun 2012
(NOTE: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that each year approximately 40 million debilitating illnesses or injuries occur among Americans as the result of their use of tobacco, alcohol or another addictive drug. Addiction and substance abuse is not just an individual problem, but one that affects families and communities. NIDA estimates substance abuse costs the United States an estimated $484 billion per year.)
Once again, I am in a throwdown with God, and things won’t be easier until I do this: Surrender to all the control I want to have, the approval I hope to gain, the fear I hold onto (fear of angry people and people in authority are the big ones), the perfectionism and procrastination I cling to that causes me to be late on timely commitments. I surrender. There are other character flaws I can add to the list, but I am powerless over wanting to do everything all at once, so I give up, too, on completing that list.
It’s time to turn in work and I am afraid. Truly, there are probably 10 pieces I’ve already written that would be good and good enough. But as the child of an alcoholic, even though I am 56 years old, I still feel overwhelming self-doubt and fear when I am not practicing the kind of self-care I know I need.
As one of almost 30 million children of alcoholics (COAs), I know I am not alone in having this deep-seated fear. When my fear overpowers my faith, I start trying to run things, and “forget” to practice the self-care that helps me remember that I am not in control.
(Note to self: remember that trying to control things means I need to take a deep breath, ask God for help figuring out how to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. ACTION: I take a break for 1.5 hours to attend support meeting. It is no coincidence that the topic is giving up control. God sure gives me what I need when I admit I do not have all the answers.)
My fellow co-addicts and I developed unhealthy relationship patterns in response to growing up with alcoholics or others addicted to substances or compulsive behaviors. I call what we have an addiction to “toxic intensity.”
Despite years of humbling work in therapy and support groups, if I become fearful, angry, excited, or arrogant, I can flat-out find a way to recreate the toxic dysfunction I knew as a child. Denying that there is a part of me that still has that childlike fear will kick my butt every time I forget. What is even more amazing is that when I am in that fear, I will attract others who are in their fearful, child-like states, and together we can make a monstrous mess that may take years to untangle. There are plenty of us around (again, there are 30 million children of alcoholics; further, one in four school children says alcohol or drug use causes trouble at home).
Whether at work or at home, on a phone call with a customer service person in India or Indiana, those of us affected by the chaos of addiction can trip and trigger and bring out the very worst in each other. The spiral continues. And widens. The disease, which is really the devil, really loves that. We can become the very people we do not want to be instead of the peaceful, productive, mature people we are.
When I am triggered, I have to stop and do what I wrote about in my book, the book I would love to rename as simply “TurnAround Parenting,” because I am not “THE Turnaround Mom.” I am one of millions of parents/people affected by the alcohol and drug abuse of others. There are many millions more, too, affected by the behavioral addictions of others: overeating, overspending, addictions to sex, pornography, and work. We are all part of a tribe of humans who seem to feel fear, guilt, and shame at a deep, toxic level. Feeling these feelings so deeply, we hope that if we are blessed with children, that they will be healthy, and not debilitated by the family legacies that may lead us to act out the very behaviors we swore we would not repeat, or to marry into families where those behaviors are present.
I am a mom who prays that I have done enough self-care, boundary setting, support system building, peaceful time seeking, toxic intensity avoiding, healthy relationship building and such that maybe my children won’t have the central nervous system wiring I inherited that makes me forget self-care, struggle with setting boundaries, forget about the sane people who love me, and sometimes succumb to the toxicity of “the dark side”: fear-based judgment, control, procrastination, etc.
It is so easy to abandon self-care right now: though my stepdad is in end-stage Alzheimer’s, it is my MOTHER who just went into hospice. He took care of himself, working out, eating well, doing rewarding volunteer work. She took care of him and everyone else. The irony is rich and sad and the lesson is right in front of me and my fellow children of chaos: we caretaking and controlling children of alcoholics or other dysfunction can be triggered into old behaviors by situations big, such as the illness of a parent, or small and every day, such as the early return of a loved one (YIKES! I’M NOT FINISHED CLEANING!). We can know how to care for ourselves and still end up killing ourselves trying to save others, attain perfection, control situations, justify abuse, make decisions, deny reality.
Denial wants me to forget that I cannot do it all. Fear wants me to freeze and stay in indecision while decisions are made by others. Denial wants me to believe that situations in my life that are NOT normal ARE normal, and that situations that ARE normal are NOT. Fear wants me to obsess about all of this, and miss being in THE moment, so there are even more regrets.
It’s like a giant game of whack-a-mole. Every toxic mole hit is replaced by three more, so there is no way to win. The only way to win is to put the hammer down and walk away from the game.
So the lesson learned is the lesson that may not have to be repeated: I surrender.
Today the healthy part of me – the part that is winning in this woman-against-self struggle – knows God has it under control.
If I will just take care of myself, and pull the plank from my own eye, I won’t have to kill myself trying to take the spec from anyone else’s. And we will all be happier, healthier, and less likely to become toxic.
There is help for Children of Alcoholics is at nacoa.org (National Association for Children of Alcoholics) and adultchildren.org (Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization Worldwide, Inc.)
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