Saturday, August 28, 2010

Repeating The Effects Of Growing Up In A Dysfunctional Home

Becoming Your Own Parent, The Solution for Adult Children of Alcoholic and Other Dysfunctional Families , written by Dennis Wholey, Bantam Books, New York, New York, January 1990.
This book was first published by Doubleday in October 1988. 

This is one of the many books that I read back in the early 1990's that helped me to grow so much in my beginning years of recovery.  I gave my original copy of this book away years ago to someone else that I thought would find the information useful.  Sometime in the past year, I found my current copy in a used book store.  I haven't checked with Amazon to see if you can still get the book or if it is out of print.

You will find me quoting from this book for awhile longer yet as I continue to read through it.  Here is some more information that I found in the book that I thought you might find as valuable as I did back in the 1990's and still find very useful today.

page 182-183: 
"People coming out of a dysfunctional home always feel unlovable.  They feel they have been loved for the role they play, not for who they are.  You are only capable of re-creating with another human being the nature of the relationship you have with yourself.  If you punish yourself, you will punish your love partner.  If you hate yourself, you will end up hating your love partner.  If you are afraid of yourself, you will be afraid of your love partner.  A person is incapable of establishing a level of intimacy with another human being that is greater than the level of intimacy he or she has with himself or herself.  You can't go out and find intimacy.  What you can do is adopt a policy of attraction, and who you are limits who's going to be attracted to you.  A woman who needs to be victimized will attract a brutalizing man.  Healthy people attract healthy partners."

My very first date was when I was 19, two years after I had stood up to my dad and said no more sexual abuse is going to happen.  I was still living at home and going to a small junior college near by.  I had a crush on the guy for a year before he finally asked me out.  Even though I was no longer being sexually abused, I was still in victim mode.  I had three dates with this young man.  The first one was the only one that I asked permission from my parents.  The next one I went to spend the night at a girl friend's house and went on the second date from there.  Even though I was 19 and legally an adult, my dad was still telling me what I could do and what I couldn't.  I let him because I wasn't strong enough to do otherwise.  I was 19 but still very immature from never being given choices as a child.  I was also emotionally stuck at 11 years old or younger because of the incest.  I knew none of this when I was 19.

I thank God today that this young man did not ask me to marry him.  If he had, I would have said yes because I thought I loved him.  His version of love was the same as my dad's.  I was someone that he could control.  I would do whatever he said.  When we had sex, I let it happen rather than saying no.  To me, sex was love since that is what my dad had told me for all of my childhood years.  I believed him.  I thought if I said no that he wouldn't "love" me. 

Today I know that sex isn't love.  It can be a part of love but just the act is not love especially if it is abusive too.  Sex with this young man was abusive.  I didn't complain or say no because I didn't know how to be anything else but a victim at that time in my life.  On that first date, we went to his younger sister's where he borrowed some of her clothes for me to wear on our date.  According to him, I wasn't dressed good enough for our date.  I said nothing and went along with it even though my feelings were hurt.  I was proud of the pants suit that I had put together from the few clothes that I had.  Pants suits had become popular for girls to wear in the late 1960's.  This was his first controlling behavior toward me.

Why didn't I ask my parents before going out on the second date?  Because I knew instinctively that my dad hated this young man that had the courage to come and ask for that first date.  I didn't realize at the time that the two were probably jealous of each other.  Both sensed the predator in the other.  Both sensed the controller in each of other.  They were very much alike. They both wanted to control me, not love me.  I just didn't know it at the time.  If we had married, I would have gone from one dictator to another.  With this new dictator, there would have also been physical abuse, not just sexual abuse.  At one point during that first date, the young man made the statement that he really ought to just take me away from my dad.  He said it joyfully and spitefully.  I sensed that something was wrong but didn't know what.  Some part of me was afraid of this young man, but then again, that was familiar to me.  I was afraid of my dad.

The last date we had, I was away at college.  I was still 19 or maybe had just turned 20.  We went to a drive-in movie, my first since I was about 5 years old.  We spent most of the time wrestling in the front seat of his car because I said no to sex.  By then, I had grown a little and was no longer content to be abused or to call sex love any longer.  I had been away from home for a few months.  I had gone through a summer away from home and the influence of my parents.  I loved the freedom to explore what I wanted for myself.  I knew I didn't want to be abused any longer.  I was a long way from knowing who I was but I was able to set a few small boundaries for myself - not being abused or sexual with this person was one of those first boundaries.  He didn't ask me out for another date after that night.  Thank you God.

I would have followed a path similar to the path my sister chose if I had continued to date this young man and married him.  I would have been a battered woman because at that point in my life I didn't know that I deserved better.  Only through the Grace of God did I not go down that path in life.

I was a long way from leaving the victim role behind but still beginning to feel better about myself.  I was at the point where I thought if I wasn't living at home that I could ignore the incest and that meant I wasn't still being affected by it.  I could pretend that was true.  I wanted so badly to be happy and to be free from my past that I pretended that it just didn't happen. It seemed to work for awhile.  Reality is pretending never worked but I continued to lie to myself anyway.  Another familiar pattern, everyone else lied to me so why shouldn't I lie to myself.  I just wanted to be happy and to fit in.

The next date that I attracted into my life was an alcoholic like my dad.  We only dated a few times.  I didn't know at the time that he was an alcoholic.  He dated me for a short time after he and his high school sweetheart broke up.  They went back together sometime after our few dates and eventually married.  Today he is divorced.  Does he still drink?  I have no idea.  Again, I thank God that our paths divided and he went one way and I went another.  Why was I attracted to him?  Probably because he was an alcoholic and that was familiar to me.  It wasn't what I wanted in my life but it was familiar.  I didn't see the signs.  I didn't know about all of the drinking he was doing at the time.  We don't see what we don't want to see.  Because it is familiar, we are attracted to it.  That is why many Adult Children grow up to become alcoholics themselves or they marry them.

By the time that I met my husband, I knew that I didn't want to marry an alcoholic.  Instead I married another Adult Child of an Alcoholic.  Neither of us drinks.  I don't drink because I saw the consequences of living with my dad and my grandfather and their drinking when I was a child.  Drinking scares me.  The thought of losing control like my dad and grandfather did scares me.  My husband doesn't drink because he can't.  It puts him to sleep.  He must be one of those Adult Children that is allergic to alcohol.  For whatever reason, I am grateful.

Well, when I sat down to write this post, I thought I would just give you the quote and leave it at that.  I am glad that the thoughts started pouring into my mind.  I think that the words are much better when you can back them up with personal experiences.  It also helps me to make the connections for myself as I write to you.  I think we all learn much more from the experiences shared.  Hope you are all having a glorious weekend.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Childhood Issues Can Create Dysfunctional Relationships For Adults

I am reading a book called Becoming Your Own Parent, The Solution for Adult Children of Alcoholic and Other Dysfunctional Families.  The author of this book is Dennis Wholey who also wrote the book The Courage to Change.  I read both of these great books back in the 1990's when I was first involved in recovery and 12-Step meetings.  If you haven't read them, I encourage you to check them out.  They are both a great resource for Adult Children from dysfunctional homes.

Today, I visited one of my favorite blogs Emerging From Broken written by Darlene Ouimet.  In choosing to tell her own story of recovery from abuse, Darlene is constantly told that she is also telling the story of others, both women and men, who read her blog.  She often tells bits and pieces of what could be my own story of incest.  For awhile Darlene has been writing about the lies that formed her belief system during her childhood.  She talks about the dysfunctional family that gave her this false belief system.  Darlene posted two blog articles this week talking about dysfunctional relationships.

Here are the links for Darlene's two blog articles:
Standing up to Dysfunctional Relationship:
Standing up to Dysfunctional Relationship Part 2:

Click on the above links and go read the blog articles.  Be sure to take the time to read each of the blog comments too.  They are well worth your time to read.  So many of us know what Darlene is talking about - the dysfunctional family system and its effects upon us in our adult relationships.  Many of us recreate those childhood relationships when we are adults.

Here I am going to paraphrase,combine, and add to my comments that I left on each of her blog articles.  Much of the information also comes from the book Becoming Your Own Parent that I mentioned above. 

Dennis Wholey quotes a number of expects in the field of recovery in his book in explaining the differences between a healthy family system and an unhealthy or dysfunctional family system. One of the experts that Mr. Wholey quotes is "Therapist, lecturer, and consultant Terence T. Gorski, M. A." (page 175)  On page 176, Mr. Gorski says about dysfunctional families that "The norm is struggle, chaos, confusion, and pain.  Relationships chew you up.  Sometimes a relationship gets really good for a short period of time, but doesn't last.  It returns to the norm of being a painful, horrible place to live."

Continuing on Page 176, Terence Gorski says, " In a dysfunctional home the child learns that relationships entail a difficult, painful struggle; they temporarily feel good, but will rapidly decay back into a difficult, stuggling, and painful situation.  The child learns that at five or seven or ten or fifteen years of age."

"Children from dysfunctional environments often end up in bad relationships because they believe on a fundamental level, 'I'm not worthy of being loved and the only way I can get somebody to love me is to trick them into believing I'm somebody that I'm not.' "

On page 177, Mr. Gorski says, "People who come out of a dysfunctional home unconsciously either re-create their family of origin or the polar opposite.  A person either blindly conforms with, or blindly rebels against, what he or she was unconsciously taught as a child.  In both cases there is no free individual choice."

Also, on page 177, Gorski says, " In making the decision to conform, the child decides that the family of origin is good and he or she therefore is bad.  To be good, the child must make the family right.  In making the decision to rebel, the child believes that the family is bad and he or she is too good to live like that.  To be good, the child must do the opposite, whether or not it is in his or her best interest."

Here is part of my comment to Darlene's first post, "Something that I have found true for me is that when I work on my own childhood issues, the relationship issues with my husband often take care of themselves.  I don't say that to mean don't work on your relationship issues.  Believe me when I say that you should work on any abusive or dysfunctional relationship issues that you have.  Many, if not all, of my relationship issues came from my childhood issues.  Relationship issues are often built upon the lies about love and respect that we were taught as children.  Mine sure were."

In my childhood, my dad played the role of dictator and rage-aholic.  My mom played a role of being passive-aggressive.  She was mild and meek, following my dad's lead.  She allowed him to make all of the decisions in our family life.  I saw my dad as strong and having all of the power in their relationship.  I saw my mother as weak and powerless.  I did not want to be weak and powerless like my mother so I chose the role of controller and that left the passive-aggressive role for my husband to fill.  I promised myself when I left home that I would never be controlled by another dictator like my dad.  In rebelling against my dad's control in my childhood, I stepped into that role in my marriage.  I thought if I could control everything and everybody that I would feel safe and not be so afraid.  It seemed to work for a little while.  My husband and I both played our roles well in the beginning.  Nothing about those early years of our marriage made me happy.  I can't speak for my husband and his feelings about those early years but I doubt that he liked it much when his brothers called him henpecked.  I doubt he liked it any better than I did when his grandmother asked early on which one of us was going to "wear the pants in the family."  I didn't see myself as a controller back then and I was very hurt by her comment at the time.  I was continuing the belief system unconsciously as Mr. Gorski talked about in the quote above.  By making myself the strong and powerful controller, I abused my husband as my dad did my mom with his controlling.  By choosing to marry a passive-aggressive person, I also chose to continue the cycle of abuse.  My controlling was right out there in front for everyone to see.  Passive-aggressive behavior is much more difficult to see and overcome because it is more hidden.  It can sometimes be more destructive because it isn't out in the open. 

I want to share with you here, just in case you didn't take the time to go and read the comment section of Darlene's second article, the comment that I wrote about dysfunctional families assigning roles:  "Dysfunctional family systems assign roles to each of its members.  The roles are not flexible and are not up for discussion.  The system is very rigid.

Someone is always the scapegoat.  The scapegoat is the one who is always wrong, always blamed for everything that goes wrong in the family.  The quickest way to become a scapegoat [as an adult] is to dare to be the one to want change, to be the one who demands that the truth be told instead of continuing to believe the lies and secrets of the family.

The dysfunctional family system will do everything possible to keep the family system in tact, even resorting to disowning the one who wants to change or the one who suddenly is willing to share the family 'secrets.'  Yes, it hurts to be that person and you are worth the end result that you get - freedom from abuse."

I remember being hurt once by a comment one of my uncles made about me being an Adult Child of an Alcoholic.  It wasn't want he said.  It was the derisive tone of his voice that hurt.  I haven't been disowned by my family for breaking the silence of abuse.  I was the one who chose not to have contact with my dad for over ten years before he died because he was still an alcoholic and I wasn't convinced that he wouldn't do something to try to hurt either of my children.  Many Adult Children are disowned by their families when they decided to talk about the family secret of abuse and dysfunction.  Many of us are labeled as crazy, drama queens and troublemakers because we refuse to continue to play the roles assigned to us in our dysfunctional family of origin.  Many of us decide to stop playing those roles when we realize that the role is not who we are and we realize that in playing the role, we somehow lost ourselves.  Finding out who I am is what most of my journey of recovery has been all about.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Our 38th Wedding Anniversary

Today Daniel and I have been married for 38 years.  We are spending most of the day together to celebrate.  I was 20 years old and Daniel had just turned 23 years old when we got married.  I look back at our wedding pictures and we both looked so very young.  It was a small church wedding.  I didn't know probably half of the people there.  They were people that Daniel grew up going to church with his whole life.  Daniel's mother and oldest brother were there.  My mom and dad, my paternal grandmother and paternal great-aunt was there.  That was the extent of our family who attended.

It rained that afternoon and the electricity went off for a few hours before the wedding.  It came on as we were in route to the church.  Daniel's oldest brother used my camera and took pictures of the wedding for us.  We were college students without a lot of money.  A week after we got married, we went back to college for our Senior year.

Our Senior year, Daniel and I both had Student Employment jobs to help with our college expenses.  Then we bought a used station wagon from one of Daniel's neighbors from his hometown.  Daniel went to school from 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. and then went to work at a plywood mill in the college town that we lived in from about 3:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. 7 days a week.  He would get home around 11:30 p.m. and do whatever homework he had for the next school day.  Daniel has always been a hard worker.

We got married on August 25, 1972 and Daniel graduated from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana on August 3, 1973 a day before his 24th birthday.

We have had good years and we have had hard years with struggles with finances and struggles with my incest issues, especially when I first started dealing with my incest issues in the early 1990's.  Through all of those struggles, our love for each other and later for our children has continued to grow.  Why are we still together after all of these years?  Because we are also best friends to each other.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Steppers' Wisdom Blog Carnival - 1st Edition - August 2010

For those of you who might be interested in posts about recovery through a 12-Step program, I am posting a link to a brand new Blog Carnival called Steppers' Wisdom.  The first ever Steppers' Wisdom Blog Carnival is posted at the following link:

This month I submitted my blog post called Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics Played Major Roles In My Recovery From Incest.  Please click on the above link and read the excellent articles that were submitted for August.  If you have your own articles that you would like to see in the September edition of Steppers' Wisdom Blog Carnival, there is contact information at Steppers' Wisdom.  Thanks, Shen, for giving us a new way to reach out to other survivors of abuse.