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Avoiding difficult emotions

Old 01-08-2009, 08:20 PM
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Avoiding difficult emotions

I was looking over the Characteristics of ACOA's in the stickies, and was thinking about these:
2. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.
5. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun.
6. Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
7. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty with intimate relationships.

Does the ACOA have this weird learned behavior of avoiding strong emotions? Fear is a trigger for drinking - do children learn that strong emotions, including love and responsibility, are to be avoided. Avoid relationships and work = feel less bad??
Or do ACOA's generate strong negative emotional reactions to fear, love, and responsibility that are totally out of proportion to the trigger, making it impossible to move forward?
I am stumbling back and forth between steps 1 and 5, trying to come up with an altogether overly thorough and detailed list of my faults. I am trying to figure out how to describe this procrastination and fear of intimacy, and it seems like they are sort of linked. Or maybe I just enjoy beating myself up.
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Old 01-09-2009, 07:52 AM
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Does the ACOA have this weird learned behavior of avoiding strong emotions? Fear is a trigger for drinking - do children learn that strong emotions, including love and responsibility, are to be avoided. Avoid relationships and work = feel less bad??

Or do ACOA's generate strong negative emotional reactions to fear, love, and responsibility that are totally out of proportion to the trigger, making it impossible to move forward?
I have known both kinds of ACOAs.

I was the first type until I was about 30. Strong emotions made me feel vulnerable to attack, so I avoided them like the plague, pretended that I didn't feel what I felt. From 30 to 40 I was the second type, and I felt empowered that I was "feeling my feelings," when in reality I was using them as a bludgeon. I'd gone from hiding to lashing out.

What about you? Which camp do you fall in? And why, d'you think?

Interesting topic, barn.
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Old 01-09-2009, 08:37 AM
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Originally Posted by grewupinabarn View Post
.... .Does the ACOA have this weird learned behavior of .... .
yes to all of the above

The way it works for me is that my emotions come in a bowl of soup. I _never_ get just one solitary emotion, I get a whole kettle full of them. Boiling, stirred up and ready to serve. Naturally, having been raised in a kettle full of dysfunctional people I have no idea which emotion is which. I get them all confused and sometimes think that empathy is love or that fear is anger.

My recovery from that toxic childhood consists of learning to separate my emotoins into their separate parts, give them names, and figuring out positive ways of dealing with them. Kinda like a 5 yr old picking the carrots out of the stew

Originally Posted by grewupinabarn View Post
.... I am stumbling back and forth between steps 1 and 5, trying to come up with an altogether overly thorough and detailed list of my faults. ..... .
yeah that never worked for me. What _did_ work was to _not_ make a list of my faults. Instead, I made a list of my character _traits_ and the _actions_ that I take based on those traits. For example.

I have the character trait of "empathy". Bucketloads of it. If I allow that empathy to guide me into doing things for other that they are unable to do for themselves then I am showing "kindness". Like when I put together a clown troupe in college and we took the show to the childrens wards in local hospitals. If I allow that same "empathy" to guide me into doing for others what _I_ think they should be doing for their own good then it's called "enabling". Like when I tried to control my pill-addicts wife intake of drugs.

For each of those actions I listed my motives; what I expected to gain from my behavior. If I expect to gain _nothing_, then it is a virtue and I should do more of it. If I expect to gain _anything_, then it is a defect and I should go to more meetings of al-anon.

By writing all down on paper, and sharing it with a good sponsor, I was able to start the process of unraveling the spaghetti pile of emotions and reactions that was forced upon me as a child. One emotion at a time I have been able to tease it appart and understand what it is I feel and how to handle it.

Not that I'm perfect. I still get stuck in the spaghetti pile from time to time. But it's become much easier and faster to clean up the mess and get back to living a life that is happy, joyous and free.

Mike
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Old 01-09-2009, 02:05 PM
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Originally Posted by grewupinabarn View Post
I was looking over the Characteristics of ACOA's in the stickies, and was thinking about these:
2. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.
5. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun.
6. Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
7. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty with intimate relationships.
2. This may not be a great fit for me, but it does sometimes crop up -- I'm sometimes great at doing the first 90-95% of something, and not so great at wrapping up the last 5-10%.

5. Yup. For a long time, I used to say (and feel -- or think I felt, at any rate) that I was not interested in fun, that life was not supposed to be fun. Also that I had a lot of goals in life, but that happiness was not one of them.

6. Yup. I guess at the end of the day, I still feel that... if you don't take yourself seriously, you're just setting up the "Oh, I wasn't really trying" excuse. But I'm not as bad as I used to be -- I can laugh at myself, e.g., when I scuff a golf ball into the woods or into a pond.

7. Yup. Never had so much as a date (of any kind whatsoever, that would be considered a date by any generally accepted standard) 'til I was 30. Got married at 34, but that was through a lucky accident. Long story, but one with a reasonably happy ...not ending, but continuation at least -- we're still going. I'm 45, and have a ring on my finger, but have never broken up with anyone. Is that weird, or what? :wtf2

T
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Old 01-09-2009, 03:22 PM
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I believe I must fall into DesertEye's description. The emotions come in a pile and it is tricky to figure out what is going on.
I separated the two but I actually think the reaction of an ACOA happens on a spectrum between avoiding emotions and overreacting to circumstances. As GL pointed out one can move from one side to the other. My only proof is that the combination provides a hearty strong motivation for drinking in an alcoholic, and the children learn that overreacting+avoiding is a normal response. ACOA's (if lucky) seem to not learn that the next step in the emotional reaction is to get drunk.
My question probably seems a bit academic, with maybe a bit too much navel-gazing. I am trying to strengthen my awareness of these reactions by figuring out which road they are coming in on so, so to speak. The reactions are part of my powerlessness - and I think of them as 'unhappy child thoughts' - powerless to make any good happen. If I can say 'these are just things I learned to do as a child' it gives me a way to break away from obsessing. I didn't take in the next step in the lesson, which is to get drunk, but sometimes it feels like I am getting so wound up in my thoughts, avoiding whatever task/person is in front of me, that I am essentially 'drunk'. I have taken ADD medication and it really just makes me get more wound up in thoughts that have little to do with .....reality. A buddhist would see this as focusing on everything but the present.

Another question is how one fills in the vacuum in the cerebral cortex that is left after the unhappy child thoughts have been calmed down. I guess it would be the HP. That in itself is a struggle - The unhappy child thoughts (emotional jumpiness of a rabbit but the empathy of a stone) creep their way in soon after the serenity prayer has left my lips. Hopefully, I can get to DesertEye's skill of reflecting and untangling thoughts, motivations, and emotions.
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Old 01-09-2009, 04:20 PM
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Originally Posted by grewupinabarn View Post
Another question is how one fills in the vacuum in the cerebral cortex that is left after the unhappy child thoughts have been calmed down.
I think I'm starting to find out that it doesn't have to be filled. I'm learning that it's okay to just...........be. And when you can just be, life becomes satisfying. Whatever is happening right now becomes just fine. (*edit to add: in the sense of accepting what is, rather than resisting it) That void is a gift. Eckhart Tolle calls it the "conscious presence," Deepak Chopra calls it "the gap," (as in the gap between thoughts), M. Scott Peck calls it "grace," you can call it HP, but no matter what you call it, it is where life resides.

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Old 01-09-2009, 04:44 PM
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barn,

I had trouble remaining "unfilled" when my unhappy child thoughts left me. I kept going back to them because they made me feel something. Just being, as much as I wanted it to be enough, never was, regardless of my spiritual practice, meditation, recovery tools, etc. I consider that a personal flaw....but it's a flaw I found I had to deal with because it just wouldn't go away even after years.

Solution: (for searching-seeking me) was to find my place in the world, in the "family of things". I had to get a crystal-clear vision of the kind of person I wanted to be, down to the last idiom, and know what kind of influence(s) I wanted to have on the world before I kick off. Without a goal, I am dead in the water and I know it. But once I had a vision, wrote it down, found role models, figured out what my gifts were, figured out where I could put them to work, and for whom.............then I could rotate everything I did -- EVERY decision I made, EVERY word that came out of my mouth -- around that axis, and it kept me from spinning off into space.

I know. Idealistic [email protected] But it doesn't have to be idealistic. I mean, I could have a vision that I want to be a great bank robber, televangelist, or counselor to other ACOAs.....it doesn't matter. With a life-sized cutout of the person I want to be standing right in front of me, then everything I did and said could be held up to it, and I could decide: Would the healthy, powerful, detached Me do/say this? Does this match Me, or is it the old stuff exerting it's sticky influence?

To do that, I worked not with a counselor, but a coach. Best investment I ever made in Me.

Heaven knows I'm nowhere near where I want to be, and I wish to god there were some kind of map (for example, I'm having a codie meltdown tonight, wheeeeeeeeee). But I DO know where I want to end up, and I have a set of topographical landmarks I can use to keep me pointed in the right direction, and I take comfort in all of that in the space the unhappy child thoughts left. It keeps me too busy to go back.

Love and compasses to you



p.s. let me know if you'd like me to send you the very first exercise my coach ever made me do. I still go back and look at this thing at least once a month.
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Old 01-11-2009, 07:03 PM
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Thanks so much for the help everyone.
Some thoughts from what all you have wonderfully posted here:
1) There is a point in any recovery when you need to get a sponsor. For me that time is now.
2) These emotional reactions are learned habits from childhood. Stress or worry provoke a strong 'run away' response (insert Monty Python scene). Where the mind 'runs to', if not addictive substances, is essentially a pandora's box of thoughts and feelings that must feel good for some part of the brain.
3) The 1st step is harder than I thought. These thoughts are powerless to produce any good (other than some part of the brain getting some joy out of it) or any change at all. And I am powerless over these thoughts as long as I choose to focus on them and not on a HP. Its like a alcoholic losing any power once they take a drink.
4) Some of my Step 4 lists must include the mistakes I make by focusing on whats going on in my head and not what it going on in the present moment. The mistakes should be generalized to avoid making an absurdly long list.
>> oops - I already made an absurdly long list. Well, that's what 'delete' is for.
5) The tricky part is getting something to focus on. It should be the will of the HP, but short of seeing a burning bush, I don't know how to do that. It may be LTD's Tolle way (It is so great that he has been a hit author - there is hope for us all) or GL's not-so-cr**** idealistic image of oneself (it is sort of like the not-so-secret principle behind 'the secret', but I won't go there). I have done some work with Buddhist meditation and I think there may be an answer there.
6) Hey, I think I got some progress. Yeah-hey! A Wicked big thanks to all, again and again.
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Old 01-12-2009, 07:59 AM
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I have done some work with Buddhist meditation and I think there may be an answer there.
I found some very good stuff there too.

I resonated better with Shambhala, slightly different from Buddhism and very focused on courageousness and breaking old habitual patterns than just "being" Hooray for progress!!
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Old 01-12-2009, 09:25 AM
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Good for you! I think you're on the right track. By that, I mean exploring lots of things. I find that I'm really not the type to "buy in" to any one particular set of ideas. I read lots of things. Some resonate with me more than others, but I like considering all the different ideas and merging the ones that work for me into my own personal "philosophy of life."

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Old 01-18-2009, 04:53 PM
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there is a step which includes meditating to become closer to your HP. I find that the best way to get a "gap" in the neverending streams of consciousness is to breathe. just breathe. listen to your breath listen to the stillness in your breath. go in and let it out and listen. it may be in that moment you will find your break as well as your connection.....do this as long as you need to relax, but don't breathe too hard or you will hyperventilate.
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