I don’t know what got me thinking about it, but I keep going to Amazon to look at a book called Adult Children of Alcoholics. It is what led me to googling an organisation called Al-Anon, which led me to reading about Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families Anonymous (now that shit is a mouthful!). I bought the Alcoholics Anonymous book in a charity shop yesterday, and reading it makes me feel squicky. The concept of not being able to change as a human being without surrendering to god? I’m not down with it.
Nevertheless, I am interested in how this aspect of my childhood has impacted on me. I found a list of twenty questions Al-Anon uses to help people determine if they could benefit from meetings. This list is what has captured me. I think of myself, my sister. Anyway. Look:
Do people in authority tend to frighten you?
Do you find yourself constantly seeking the approval of others?
As a child, I suppose I did. I was more crushed when my volleyball coach (at age 9) ignored me than when the other kids did. I wanted approval, but specifically from those I felt had a right to give it – teachers, my parents, etc.
Do you see yourself as a victim or look at the world from the perspective of a victim?
No. But I have done on occasion; it’s made things more bearable. Like when I came out to my mother and the world cracked open? I liked being the victim there.
Do you consider the needs of others to the point of neglecting your own wants or needs?
Ha – I’d say I am the opposite of this. I spent so many years cowering in my locked bedroom that once I broke out, I wasn’t about to be pushed back into (my own) silence and other people’s demands, yelling, punishments.
Saying that, though, I DO or have done this with my parents.
Do you ever have relationships with people who need to be taken care of or need you to rescue them?
My first girlfriend was a huge mess. She threatened to kill herself if I left her, so I proposed (wtf). Yes, I obviously came to and got out of there. Other early relationships with partners….uh, I like strong people. But have always been in relationships with strong people (excepting my first girlfriend, who I think I dated just because she was a girl) who are outsiders in some way.
I know working as a counsellor, my least favourite client were ones that mirrored one of the mental illnesses my father had. I think I rebel at being drawn back into those early childhood situations.
I am a survivor.
Do you judge yourself harshly, especially when things do not turn out perfectly?
Yes, a thousand times YES. Perhaps I have mellowed in the last decade of marriage, therapy, motherhood, but it’s still there.
Do you find you have difficulty having fun?
When I was young, yes. I had a lot of fun with myself – and spent virtually all of my time alone, living in a world of my own imagining. I enjoyed that. But with other children? I didn’t know how to play or make friends. Camp changed that for me, ironically once I was in a position of helping other children learn to play. I suppose I was really nurturing myself during those years.
Now I embrace fun in whatever shape it comes in.
Do you feel you are basically different from other ‘normal’ people?
Always, always, as a child. I felt smarter, more alone, but always different. I largely think that was due to my sexuality, though of course my home life didn’t exactly offer me a chance to learn a healthy way to relate to people.
Now I feel different, but in a good way. A way I am proud of.
Do you have a tendency to be super responsible or super irresponsible?
Yes. Both. At the same time.
Do you have difficulty having intimate relationships?
This was the story of my life pre-TMD. Every relationship was wrong in some way, mainly the way I related to it. I got into them for the wrong reasons, I stayed in them for the wrong reasons, I treated the other person poorly.
Thinking I was broken in some way, thinking I’d never find someone I could be happy with, was a defining feature of my life.
Maybe one day I’ll write about how that changed.
Do you have a tendency to isolate yourself from others, especially when things are not going well?
I don’t know. I have a lot to say about this. I’ll skip it for now.
When others disapprove of you, do you feel a need to change their minds?
Yes, I think. With my mother, yes. With crazy people online, yes. Okay, okay, maybe with most people, though this is at odds with how I see myself. Because, after all, why does it matter if someone thinks I’m shit when I know I’m NOT shit? I don’t know, but it does.
Have you ever been in a relationship with an alcoholic, addict, or other compulsive behaviour?
No. Not that I know of.
Do angry people tend to frighten you?
My father, yes.
Other people….thinking specifically about my mother, or peers….um, I guess I don’t react in a way that could classically be interpretted as ‘fear,’ though I have a definite response. I’ll say no, though. My counselling training extensively covered being in relationship with people who were angry (at you, or angry in the same room as you) and I am genuinely okay with it.
Do you enjoy being on the edge or enjoy taking risks?
Feck. Yes? No? I’d never bungee jump or parachute my ass down from 5,000 feet. But ‘on the edge?’ Depending on your definition, yes. I feel more alive in crisis, more capable, more defined.
Is it easier to give into the demands of other than stand up for yourself?
I’ve always teetered back and forth on this. As a young child, I rebelled against strict eating rules in our house by smuggling food up to my room, eating, and hiding the evidence. I don’t say this was a healthy thing to do, but I think it does illuminate that I wanted to stand up for myself.
As a teen, I got into some pretty raging scream fests with my mom. I think this is normal.
I got power over my father by refusing to talk to him or see him for years.
And now, well, it depends on the situation. Some things I don’t bother with, some things I SHOULD bother with but don’t, some things I DO bother with. I would imagine most people could say this.
Do you have difficulty in telling others your feelings?
I did. Prior to training as a therapist, prior to being in therapy myself, prior to meeting the amazing TMD.
I have evolved into someone who is very open, very in touch and able to name and express her emotions, someone who is okay letting other people know how I’m feeling (when appropriate, folks, I’m not socially freaky).
Do you tend to hold on to relationships, even when they become one-sided or very painful?
Do you tend to lock yourself into a course of action, even when it appears the outcome will not be as you planned?
Now, NO. In the past, yes and no – I struggled very much with being flexible on certain things. Though I did it, it pained me and caused me a lot of angst. When younger? I don’t know. I don’t feel I had much control over anything as a child, except the worlds I created.
Do you feel you spend a lot of time cleaning up after problems others have created?
Now? No. I purposely don’t do it (again, speaking in generalities). As a child? I don’t know. I often ignored my surroundings, or just observed them in a clinical way. Again, perhaps I’ll blog about this soon.
I wonder how very different my answers would be if I hadn’t undergone intense personal growth, much of it in the context of my training course (which was therapeutic in itself, as well as required I attend intense therapy on a one-to-one basis). I wonder about my sister.