The legacy of dysfunction

I’m working through Claudia Black’s It Will Never Happen to Me.  I find reading the literature about living with chemically addicted people to be quite helpful at this point in my journey.    I talk about my experience with living with my husband’s addiction, and one of my own maladaptive coping strategies – self-harm.  I really don’t mind if you skip this post, but if you insist, read on..if you want to skip down past the heavy stuff to the cute cat video at the end, you may do that as well.

I find that it’s not the abuse I sustained in my childhood that has hurt me the most as an adult, even though it was hard to go through it as a child.

The dysfunctional family rules (Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, Don’t Feel…and Don’t Think, Don’t Ask, Don’t Question, Don’t Play) are a way of life in addictive families.  Children learn how to live without the truth being told.  They learn to keep their mouths shut and pretend problems do not exist.  Denial of what is going on in the home creates a severe distortion of perception.  Children learn not to see the world clearly. As they move into adulthood, they find themselves wearing a distorted pair of glasses with which they view the world.  They continue to discount, minimize, and tolerate inappropriate behavior by not questioning.  As part of this process, they develop a painful, high tolerance for inappropriate behavior.

~ Claudia Black, It Will Never Happen To Me

It’s not the smacks across the face that hurt.  It’s not the threat of being constantly under verbal, physical or psychological attack.  It’s not the denigration and humiliation of my personhood.  No, what affected me the most as an adult is the legacy of the denial and warping of reality that left me with that high degree of tolerance for inappropriate behavior in my adult relationships.

When I first started dating my husband, there were red flags about his drinking and his temper that I saw that initially alarmed me.  In fact, I stopped dead in my tracks one night when we went to a bar.  He’d said something that struck me as inappropriate and potentially dangerous (no, I’m not sure what it was he said, I just remember that I had a visceral reaction to it).  It hit me then that something wasn’t right and I had a foreshadowing thought about “what if he pulled this on me when we were married?”

Children learn to suppress their fears, sadness, anger and humiliation.

~Claudia  Black, It Will Never Happen to Me.

I remember distinctly shaking off the feeling, telling myself I was overreacting and went on with our date without saying anything further.  We continued dating and I forgot about that incident until much later.  After 9 months of dating, I moved 3 hours away for a forensic training program for 18 months.  Aside from phone calls, emails and coming home one weekend a month, I didn’t see how he was spending his time.  He was living with our closest friend, Greg, who I myself lived with for four months when I moved out of my family home.  Greg was an even bigger drinker than my husband was and the two of them spent a lot of time together.  I think, while I loved Greg dearly as a friend, looking back now, I can see how much drinking was a way of life for him…a way to self-medicate and self-regulate and my husband did that too, but to a lesser degree.  We’d gotten a letter from his wife a few Christmases ago and strangely enough, she mentioned that Greg still spent a lot of time in the bar scene.

I think now of how much inappropriate behavior I’d tolerated.   I remember at least one or two times when I called off my husband from work, because he’d have too much to drink.  I remember my husband’s post drinking behavior – he’d throw up, and then feel bad and ask me how I could ever love a “f***up” like him, and I’d spend the next two or three hours trying to comfort him and make him feel better about himself, even though I had work the next day.

I downplayed the severity of the problem and I didn’t go get help.

There was one time my husband threw up on the way back from a Halloween party – the one party I wanted to go to all year long because my friend from my crime lab days always invited me.  Because we were on the highway, it made a huge mess alongside our car.  I didn’t want to be embarrassed, didn’t want my husband to be embarrassed, so when we came home at 2 in the morning, I put him to bed and then went outside in the cold, cleaning off the car.

There was that one time, he threw up at his friends house, and I cleaned up the wall as best I could because he missed the toilet.

There was that time he passed out on the bathroom floor after throwing up and I got him up and put him to bed.

There was all those other times when he came home late, and I could predict based on the time he came home, and the sounds he would make when he laid down, whether or not he’d throw up.

I always grew tense waiting for it to happen.  And then the anger and sadness would follow.

I downplayed the severity of the problem and I didn’t go get help.

There were times when my husband would just get extremely angry when I cautioned him he was drinking too much.  He would turn on me, and be very angry with me.  And if I fought back, he took off from wherever he was.

This happened once at his very own birthday party once.  Two of our friends went to go look for him.

I downplayed the severity of the problem and I didn’t go get help.

There were times, after a fight we had about his drinking, where I knew he wanted to drive off off while intoxicated, and I had to physically bar the door, apologize for my part of making him angry, and beg him to stay.

I downplayed the severity of the problem and I didn’t go get help.

There was that time after we went out to a bar in Chicago when I saw his road rage was kicking in and I didn’t want to drive with him intoxicated at the wheel.  I asked for him to let me out.  He did, on 22nd street in Chicago.  He thought he’d teach me a lesson by driving off and going around the block.  Instead, the next corner was actually the expressway, and he tried the next exit, but that was another expressway.  I was left at 10:30 at night in Chinatown.  Luckily, I called a friend who had gone out with us but who took his own car and he doubled back to come pick me up.

I downplayed the severity of the problem and I didn’t go get help.

If I was going to stay married to this person I loved and had children with, I had to suppress my fears, my sadness, my anger and my humiliation.

When I think about what I tolerated, I am not surprised about my chronic, low grade depression.  I’m not surprised I have hashimoto’s thyroiditis and adrenal fatigue.  I’m also not surprised that when I reached my limit of tolerance, that I became one very hostile woman.

In al-anon, they often talk about the non-addicted partner as a para-alcoholic, someone with the same characteristics of the alcoholic but without abusing the alcohol.  They often say that the non-alcoholic partner becomes sicker than the alcoholic.  I can see why.  All that suppressed fear, sadness, anger, and humiliation adds up.  There is panic and dread and rage mixed in with a generous dose of love and concern.  There’s a whole bunch of health problems from living in high stress.

Even as late as Sunday, I’d forgotten why I might have a film of sadness that sometimes overlays even the most beautiful of days.  I went for a walk around the track at the park while two of my daughters played at the playground and my oldest tossed a softball with my husband.

I was exhausted to the marrow.  Sunday was a gorgeous day, but I found myself having trouble feeling happy.  The weekend was busy – Friday night my oldest daughter had a dress rehearsal for her 6th grade ensemble choir.  They were competing the next day at a state music contest and they sang for the parents the night before. (By the way, her group got a gold with distinction!).

Then on Saturday, we had the Young Author’s Conference and softball practice immediately afterward.

I had some insomnia Saturday night and by Sunday I was in desperate need of rest.  I wanted to be happy.  I wanted to be hopeful.  But I was feeling deep sadness.

When I was getting ready for the YA Conference on Saturday, I noticed a bruise on my wrist where I hit the walls of my bedroom and broke a mirror.

 photo P1240793.jpg

Oh yeah, I self-harm.

I don’t talk about that much on my blog.

I didn’t talk about that to my therapists.

I don’t talk about that in my adult child of alcoholics meetings.

But I do.

I self-harm.

I don’t cut.

No, nothing that dramatic and life-threatening.

Nothing that hard to hide or heal from or explain away.

But I do hit walls.  And doors.  And steering wheels.

When the emotions erupt – anger, sadness, fear – I am vulnerable to meltdowns and self-harm.

I can’t even say that I DID those things…because I still do…sometimes.

I self-harmed last week when my friend told me he didn’t want to talk to me for a month.  The way I was seeing it, there was a multitude of things I blamed myself for that made him want to stop corresponding with me…and for a time…I hated who I was.

I hated the person that I am…that sometimes makes people want to leave me.

There are just some kinds of pain that are too great for me to talk myself down from.  All the energy of the moment just comes up and needs out.  And since I don’t want to hurt anyone else, I hurt myself.

A few years ago if you told me I had abandonment fears, I’d tell you that was not true.  I made it a point to be self-reliant.  I made it a point to armor my heart and to intellectualize most of my feelings away.  I made it a point to never put all my eggs in one basket and never to rely on any person aside from myself and to, above all, have an escape route.  I might, in time, talk about my escape routes, but not now.  I’m not ready to go there.

I can tell you that had built walls, otherwise I don’t think I could have functioned at all.  As it was, I wasn’t functioning very well.

And so now, as I’m working through the (glacially slow) deconstruction process, and reading a lot of material regarding living with someone with a substance addiction, I’m finding I understand a little more why I’ve done what I have done to do to cope with the set of circumstances I’d lived with for so long.

My husband is doing much better.  His DUI was a turning point.  His suicidal gesture a year later was MY turning point.  I finally turned him over to someone who could help him – his church.

I still need to work on me.  Where do I go from here is a big one.

I still find it very hard to rebuild my relationship with my husband.

How do I love myself when a part of me hates who I am…and what I’ve done…and what I failed to do?

How do I forgive myself for not knowing what to do in these crises and for handling them badly?

I’m still learning how to feel what I feel and act appropriately on, not react inappropriately to what I’m being presented with.  I am learning how to sit with sadness and grief.  I’m learning to forgive myself for having pervasive sadness, low grade chronic depression and my low energy levels, but at least I can understand how I got here.

I can trust there is a better way to live…and I’m interested in finding it.  I’m interested in creating a soulful life, one that includes more opportunities for joy.

I’m interested in healthy, wholesome, authentic friendship and I’m interested in Love without enmeshment, fear, control, or addiction.

And I already have something I can be proud of.  Instead of giving into the urge to write my friend anymore, I email myself.  I write little notes of encouragement.  I give myself little bits of praise.  If I feel the need to tend to my sadness, I write a dialogue between my Inner Parent and my Inner Child.

It might seem silly to some…but it works for me.  I got the idea from John Bradshaw’s Homecoming.  And, I just yesterday read Monica’s post about the Love Letter To My Body (about the withdrawal from pharmaceutical drugs), which had got me to thinking…I need to write a few Love Letter to my Body, and to my Self for doing the best I could to cope with the insanity of the people I’d lived with all my life.

I do love my husband, but let’s face it, he was “insane”.

As was I.

And I really, really don’t want to live like that anymore.

I know I’ve spent far, far too much time, criticizing and hating myself for doing the wrong things, rather than praising myself for managing to survive this long in chaos and for the herculean efforts I have made to change what I can and accept what I can not change and most of all, do my best to break the cycle of abuse so that my daughters don’t have to experience what I have.

I know I still have a ways to go.

But I’m not unsupported in this journey.  Sometimes I do get tired along the way. Sometimes the sadness wins out.

And sometimes I get reminders along the way that I can still keep going forward.

As my new blogging friend and follower Stephanie shared:

Every single person on planet earth has a story to tell for life is a series of ups, downs and uncertainties for all of us. No one is unscathed but I really like the very next thing that Jennifer has to say and it’s this:

It may not be OK, but I will be OK.

And I’m finding that’s true.  No matter what is set in front of us.  No matter how awful.  This too shall pass. It may not be OK, but we will be OK.

And I listen to a LOT of Mumford and Sons to help me when I forget.

And in the end, I know it’s not what happens to us that matters.  It’s what we do with what happens to us that does.

And for those of you who have gotten this far to read, I am so thankful that you spent your time with me when you could have easily watched some cute cat videos instead.

Have a beautiful day, my friends.




About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in adult child of alcoholics, adult survivors of abuse, Alcoholism, Compassion, Complex-PTSD, depression, Emotional Self-Regulation, Grief and Loss, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, Healing, Healthy detachment, Inner Child, Inner Excavation, Madness, PTSD, PTSD triggers, Radical Acceptance, Radical forgiveness, Radical self-forgiveness, Recovery from child abuse, Sadness, Safety and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The legacy of dysfunction

  1. Flame On! You are a strong loveable woman 🙂

    • Casey says:

      Thank you for the encouragement, Blue.

      I’m glad that you think I’m strong and loveable, because for the longest time, I felt the opposite was true. It’s high time I correct my self-concept.

  2. “(Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, Don’t Feel…and Don’t Think, Don’t Ask, Don’t Question, Don’t Play)” I could have written this myself. For many years my motto was ‘trust no one’ and the walls I built around myself were impenetrable with the exception of the ‘crazies’ I let into my life. When I finally met the ONE who believed in me I was so messed up of course I was honor bound to ruin the relationship and now he’s gone. But as I’ve gotten older and more resilient (could be the blindness played a part as well) I’ve changed my ways.

    I remember when I worked for the management firm of our airport’s mall we had a teambuilding exercise led by this psychiatrist. In my one-on-one he read me like tea leaf and recommended the book Co-Dependent No More. I attempted many times to read the book but for me it was too painful and true. Never did finish it and when I could no longer read hard copy I gave away all of my books.

    Casey, you should know this one thing “you are worthy” and you’re not alone. ~Steph

    • Casey says:

      Thanks, Stephanie.

      I was walking/running on my treadmill when I got your message. My circulation and nervous system is going extremely wonky these days…so I’m forcing myself to get exercise.

      It occurred to me a long time ago that two people from dysfunctional families does not a healthy marriage make. However…I am grateful I can say our individual crazy was complementary and because we both have held on, the sickness is leaving us both.

      I wish I could say it never left traces on our daughters, but I know that it has. I’m ashamed for my role in their fear, pain and anxiety. But I make it a point to not deny what I’m feeling, not to turn them away when they need me to help them with their intense emotions. And most of all, I am trying so hard to not let my middle daughter take on the role of the placater child and “fixer” of the family pain.

      I’m sorry you lost ‘the one’ who believed in you, however, I’d gently suggest that you already have access to ‘the one’ who believes in you and won’t abandon you. We all carry ‘the one’ with us – that loving Inner Parent…the True Self…the egoless state of Awareness.

      I am cultivating the connection to this compassionate presence. Yes, even in the face of my doubts and fears…I do know I have felt this presence.

      I know I abandon myself when I feel that connection is lost to me. I’m working on keeping that connection open and in mind. Even as I write the difficult feelings and things I write, I feel that connection.

      There’s a beautiful verse in Mumford and Sons Below My Feet that goes

      Keep the earth below my feet
      For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
      Let me learn from where I have been
      Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
      Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn

      That’s all I want…to learn from where I have been. To keep serving some greater purpose and not simply wallow in my individual suffering.

      I actually have Codependent No More. The FIRST time I picked it up, I was not ready for it. I was still in denial…and pretty much too angry and impenetrable to let anything in, even if it was good for me.

      Because my physical body is failing, I need to heal the codependence and learn how to care for my emotional and physical self otherwise I won’t be around to help my daughters develop into as healthy adults as I possibly can, something not easy to do when I really have NO clue how healthy people get that way. But, fortunately, there are a few books about adult children raising children that are on their way from Amazon ask we speak. I can’t wait.

      • Hey Casey, sorry I missed your response until now. I had some running around to do today. While I can not lay claim to being “normal” far from it in fact today my life feels more normal than it’s ever been (at least from past experiences). I surrounded myself with people who don’t bring me down and now that I’m no longer tied to a 9-5 I’m able to fulfill my life’s purpose. Advocacy has been my natural calling only I didn’t realize it until recent years and this is where my focus is.

        Regarding “the one” my “one” is my God. Were it not for Him I sincerely doubt I’d be here now. He has sustained me even through the roughest of times and I cannot take credit for being where I am today. The credit goes to Him who knew me even before I was born and I’m so grateful to be alive and to live another day to be able to make a small difference to impact positive change.

        I never did finish Co-Dependent No More and now I’m not even interested in revisiting that era. I’ve been trying to focus my energies on living in the present moment because that is all I have within my grasp.

      • Casey says:

        No worries, I understand.

        “I surrounded myself with people who don’t bring me down”.

        I don’t surround myself with anyone. I can’t find anyone who’ll be my friend, and all the male friends I did have kept making sexual comments towards me, so I kind of stopped trying to have people around. The only people I see regularly, outside of dropping my daughters’ off at their house or at the softball fields, are the people in my support groups…which is at least something, but we are all struggling to various degrees or another, even though it’s a spiritual program. At the al-anon group, they even say the Lord’s Prayer at the end.

        I’m glad you found your life’s purpose. I’m still unsure of what mine is, though I have a lot of hobbies and interests. Nothing actually jumps out at me. I keep asking my Higher Power to show me what I might do that might help us earn some income…but nothing is really evident to me. I’m not even being called in to substitute teach anymore, and I’m not sure why.

        I just made an appointment to undergo some EMG testing to check peripheral nerve damage, which I think I have in my hands and feet. Next week I have to go for a LEEP procedure on my cervix for cellular abnormalities. I have a lot of fear and anxiety that I’m not even going to live long enough for my daughters to grow up.

        To be honest, I feel abandoned sometimes by God, though other times I’m sure I’m turning my back as well.

        The books I read help me a lot. They help me understand why I feel the way I do now, in my present moment and why my life hadn’t worked out the way I planned, despite my best efforts. I’m beginning to see the ways I sabotaged my relationships, the ways I tolerated unhealthy people, and the endless need to fix everything around me…things I had no way to actually fix…except the things that REALLY needed fixing – my perceptions, my beliefs, and my defenses.

  3. The cat video is hilarious!!

    • Casey says:

      So glad you liked it!

      I have a dog, two cats and a rat…and our animals are hysterical sometimes. I looked at that video and said, yup, it’s like that!

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