Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vocabulary Lessons

I learned a new word today, para-alcoholic—those who grew up at the side of an alcoholic.

I learned my new word while looking at the Adult Children of Alcoholics website. (I had started out looking at the Al-Anon website, but it seems more geared toward partners, spouses, and younger children of alcoholics.)

I'd never seen that word, para-alcoholic, before today and it's like a light bulb went on in my head. I didn't know exactly what it meant when I read it, but I know what para means as a prefix so I started digging deeper. If a light bulb came on when I first read the word, then a search light came on when I read this description of the problem.

An over developed sense of responsibility? Check. People-pleaser? Check. Isolated and uneasy with other people? Oh, yeah. Choosing insecure relationships? Yup. Letting others take the initiative? Uh-huh.

If reading The Problem was a search light, then reading this article about para-alcoholism set off fireworks. I've also learned today that this compartmentalizing behavior I've been trying to describe and change in myself is more commonly referred to as "stuffing"; learning to keep your feelings down and bury them.

While I'm shocked to learn all this and to only just be connecting to the dots now, I'm also hopeful. What a relief to know I'm not alone. What a relief to have words to describe what I feel. That what I'm feeling isn't the result of some physiological or chemical defect in my brain. That all these years that I've seen myself as being weak, or paralyzed, or inferior, to know that these dysfunctional feelings and behaviors were learned, and can therefore be unlearned.

I am hopeful that I'll know what it feels like to be whole. To be genuine. To be authentic. To not just be a mirror, reflecting back to people what I think they want to see.

I think I've made some major steps in this direction beginning with when I decided to move to North Carolina—it was a conscious decision that I knew would upset some people, but it was also what I felt to be best for me. Family members have commented on how I seemed happier, more vocal, and less guarded. I was even allowing myself to be photographed and I was present, not blending into the background. (It's pretty clear in the pictures, though, that I'm stiff and not sure how to just be in my own skin.)

Up until this past week, I'd never even considered that my mother may have been an alcoholic while I was growing up.  I rarely remember her drinking, and can only recall a handful of times when she may have drank to excess. But as I've been trying to sort through my own feelings and issues, I'm recognizing that the patterns, for me, do actually go back that far.

Even though I recognize patterns going back that far, I still wouldn't label my mother an alcoholic back then. The alcoholism as an addiction and disease is something more recent—definitely within the last 3–4 years, but I suspect it's more like 8–9 years.

What I'm now thinking is that my mom was a para-alcoholic before she became an alcoholic. That given all the issues she has with her father and what I know about him, he was probably the alcoholic she grew up with. I would never say I had a terrible childhood, or that my home was abusive growing up, but I would say something was "off," and I feel like I've finally begun to recognize how, who, what, and why.

According to this review of The Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome, there are 4 types of alcoholic families. As I'm currently seeing things, my family would be a Type 3—there hasn’t been active, alcoholic drinking for a generation, or more. But your parents have inherited the emotional characteristics and behavioral handicaps from previous generations. I think I'll be ordering this book. Right. Now. Pronto!

And I shouldn't place all of this at my mother's feet, it's only that her recent struggles with alcohol are forcing me to face and discover these things. My dad grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father, and my step-mom's father was also an alcoholic. I'm sure I've learned some of their survival mechanisms, too, but I didn't grow up in my dad and step-mom's home, so I'm not sure I would recognize them.

I am so thankful for Scoob. He has been amazing. And I'm thankful that I can talk to him about all of this, but I know I need to get additional help if I want to change; Scoob cannot bear that burden for me and neither can you, though I'm likely to blog about it anyhow as I work through things.

I've found an Adult Children of Alcoholics group that meets Wednesday evenings about 30 miles from here. I would have gone tonight except I discovered the group around 5:30 and they meet at 7:00—I didn't have enough time to screw up my courage.

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