When I went to therapy today, I learned something new and interesting and potentially really helpful. I went in determined to ask what other treatment options besides individual therapy and Al-Anon were available or recommended for adult children of alcoholics, and my therapist's supervisor finally comes out from behind the two-way mirror and says (in summary): Psychology students used to have to read lots of material on adult children of alcoholics until research finally caught up with what was being taught. It turns out that adult children of alcoholics are just like anybody else who comes out of a dysfunctional or chaotic home. They all have problems in three areas:
- They have difficulties with trust.
- They have difficulties dealing with emotions.
- They have a hard time talking about it.
So I thought that was an interesting revelation. We went on to talk a bit about where each of these problems comes from, and in my opinion it boils down to growing up in an environment where reactions to things are unpredictable (you don't know if somebody's going to take offense and yell at you or hit you for doing or saying normal things -- you can't have actions or reactions without getting into trouble so you tell yourself to stop having actions and reactions at all. you end up spending your life trying to hide as much of yourself as possible so that you can't get hurt again). In my case, for example, I have a hard time trusting anyone besides my husband and children. I keep expecting rational people to suddenly turn savage on me or abandon me or I wonder about their motives for talking to me in the first place. I have a really hard time expressing emotions, so they come out in quirky ways or not at all, and sometimes I interpret my emotions poorly. And I can't generally talk about this stuff verbally without crying, which is something I really really really don't like doing in front of people, so I don't want to talk about it. I'm more likely to smile at you and tell you I'm fine just so you'll go away before I have an emotional episode.
So, my homework assignment(s) for next Monday's therapy appointment is to try to come up with answers to the following questions:
- What were the effects on my life as being the child of an alcoholic? (There are both good and bad effects.) The point of this question is to see how I can use the positive values I gained to help me get past the negative values/effects.
- How can I develop more trust with other people and develop a bigger support system? Because right now I limit myself to talking to the people I absolutely need to continue to function and shut everybody else out, and a lot of times those few people I depend on are busy with their own lives, leaving me with no support when I need it. So I need to make more friends in the different areas where I have needs (geek friends, friends with kids, friends at church). And I need to extend them more trust than I previously have (for example: admitting when I need help instead of hiding).
- How can I learn to be less emotionally reactive? When am I more emotionally reactive, and how can I decrease those times? - I was thinking that my post on irrational thoughts is relevant here, because those irrational thoughts are always caused by negative emotions.
I am to conclude with, "What did I learn? What are things I can draw from this to work on in my therapy sessions?"
So I'll be working on answering these questions this week and probably write a post for each one.
They also gave me a writing prompt structured as a free-write, which is where you're supposed to take a writing prompt and just start writing without worrying about punctuation or grammar and continue at it for at least 15 minutes without stopping. Free-writes are meant to work as a way to get your creative/mental juices flowing and weird stuff usually comes out that doesn't normally see the light of day. These free-writes (you're supposed to do them once a day for 3 or 4 consecutive days) are not for anyone else to see but the writer, so I won't be posting those. But I'll post the prompts in case anyone following along wants to try the same exercise:
- Write about something that you are thinking or worrying about too much.
- Write about something that you are dreaming about.
- Write about something that you feel is affecting your life in an unhealthy way.
- Write about something that you have been avoiding for days, weeks, or years.
- Over the next four days, write about your deepest emotions and thoughts about the most upsetting experience in your life. Really let go and explore your feelings and thoughts about it. In your writing, you might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now, or even your career. How is this experience related to who you would like to become, who you have been in the past, or who you are now? Many people have not had a single traumatic experience but all of us have had major conflicts or stressors in our lives and you can write about them as well. You can write about the same issue every day or as a series of different issues. Whatever you choose to write about, however, it is critical that you really let go and explore your very deepest emotions and thoughts.
And now that all that is finally out of my head, maybe I can sleep.