Children who are trapped in an environment where the adults are abusing substances experience a real life threat to their survival. Children instinctively know they are not safe and there is no one they can turn to for protection. These children develop an overwhelming sense of responsibility. They do this not only for their own survival but for the survival of the parents that they know are out of control. They are convinced they must protect them or they themselves will die. This startling revelation sets up a pattern of survival that will haunt children long after they are grown.
In this broken family structure there is complete role reversal. The child is forced to take on the role of the adult and the adults allow themselves to act childlike. There is no modeling for what healthy family relationships really look like. It is not uncommon for children of alcoholics or substance abusers to have to guess at what normal is, because they do not know. This lack of knowing creates a pattern of role playing where children take their cues on how to act from those around them, not just in the home, but anywhere and everywhere they go. This survival skill of role playing fosters a sense of distorted reality that in turn sets the child up to isolate. Children who role play are not being phony or disingenuous. They have simply learned to cope the best way they can. When trapped in a no win situation with no way out until adulthood, children will develop survival techniques in many ways. These children are not bad, they are victims.
The fact that their parents/care givers do not display any consistent concern, if any concern at all for their well-being or safety, can be so anxiety provoking that they survive by tuning out and doing what children do best; make believe. In their fantasy and grief, the children will begin to blame themselves and make excuses for the abusers. They will minimize adult offenses, claiming to themselves that it was not that bad or it was no big deal. They will rationalize the offenses by claiming that the abuser really didn’t mean it or the only reason they get so angry and treat me bad is because they love me and it’s for my own good. In many cases, though, they will disassociate and pretend that offenses and abuses never really happened at all. These precious children are being set up for attracting abusive people in their lives, or of becoming abusers themselves. The names may change, and the geographic locations may change, but the trauma bonds developed by their early childhood years will re-appear, time and time again.
These children grow up to be adult-children. They are chronologically adult age but they suffer from severe emotional, mental and spiritual arrested development. Adult-children of alcoholics and addicts have a natural propensity to attract needy, insecure, clinging, narcissistic takers that demand more than their share of attention, love, and security. They seek the familiar and attract others who always seem to minimize them and make demands that their own wants and needs come first. The adult child will not disappoint and will allow themselves to be used over and over in the hope of being loved and accepted. They have become experts at anticipating and meeting the needs of others, with no healthy thought or care for their own well-being. Since they were never modeled or taught any healthy boundaries, they unwittingly allow others to trespass unabatedly on their boundaries, be they physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.
It is very difficult for adult-children of alcoholics to recognize the effects of having no boundaries. There is a big difference between walls to create barriers and healthy boundaries. The more aware a person becomes of the difference between barriers and boundaries, the more they will move toward boundaries. Boundaries are very self-empowering and enhance and promote the potential for healthy, authentic relationships. Healthy boundaries say, “I’m in control of my emotions, thoughts, feelings and spiritual beliefs.” These messages are the cornerstone of a life rooted in intrinsic integrity. It has often been said that the highest form of morality is being true to oneself. When we are true to our self, we are false to no one.
There is a 12 step program called Adult Children of Alcoholics. It is a wonderful place to experience the identification and validation of the Adult Child syndrome. Here, you can uncover, discover, and move through the underlying trauma bonds and hold-over survival skills that continue to contaminate the quality of life in the present.
Sobriety Navigator: The challenges of living with Sex Addicts.
A Ghost Story!
I’m just a ghost in my house. I live deep within the walls of myself. I know who I am. I know there is another world going on around me. I can’t see it, but I can feel it. When I’m by myself and I turn off the lights and look into the mirror…into my eyes…I know there is someone else in there. She is strong, aware and unafraid. She’s all-knowing, and the rare times when she come out, she’s a blast to be around. Her friends like her and fear her at the same time. They know she sees through them for who they really are and it frightens and excites them at the same time. I know the trees, houses and sky are all fake…they are props! I know nothing is at it appears. I can read peoples’ personalities and I can easily reach them and talk to them like I know them. I can read people…not in a bad way…there is a familiarity about people to me. I can see “them”! It’s not bad, it’s good, but I can’t talk about it or express it to anyone. There is no one in my life that is cognizant of the spiritual aspect of life. There is no one to reflect back to me what I can feel…sense…and embrace.
This spiritual awareness was my saving grace. I never felt alone deep down inside. And I knew that my life wouldn’t always be like this.
What I didn’t know at the time was that it would take years, a serious alcohol addiction, and the birth of a child for me to finally seek help and understanding. I was able, with the help of treatment, a sponsor, a therapist and a 12 step program, to reach that spiritually safe place where I didn’t have to live like a ghost anymore.
I didn’t have a nurturing father or mother. I was an object to contend with to the sex addict woman who bore me and the inconsequential daughter of a schizophrenic father who medicated with anything he could get his hands on. I was an unwanted byproduct of their need and greed for sex!
Sex, sex, sex, it was all about sex! I would get so sick and tired of living in a household that was saturated with ugly, dirty, sexual energy. So I hid.
They knew they couldn’t fool me and at times my mother would get in my face and say “You’re so strong minded. No one can control your mind.” This really agitated and angered her. But I played along in order to survive. I would pretend that they weren’t doing what they were doing, that nothing was wrong with their behaviors or with them. After all, these were sensitive people who had been hurt. And if ever they were to be called on their improprieties, it would victimize them. So, if they were staring at you when you were nude… if your underwear were pulled down to have a look… if you woke up because your step dad was masturbating and it woke you up…so what! So I had to stay hidden. It was not safe for me to acknowledge to them that I knew they were disgusting and inappropriate. A look, expression or movement could bring on the wrath of shame. I’m forbidden to be seen. I don’t dare challenge the authority…I speak when spoken to…I’m told what I need…what I think…what I feel. I’m told not to ask for anything. I don’t dare say, “You’re not fooling me.” When I did speak up, once, about being sexually violated, I was told to shut up. Later I was called a liar…an exaggerator. They don’t like me…no one in this house treats me like they really like me… I have no place to go so I live in a dream world where I can create anything I want…I can pretend. It’s ok to make believe…God made it so I can imagine…pretend…make believe! In my own mind I’m free to be me. An enthusiastic… excited…playful…adventurer. Who is smart…funny…fearless and connected to the other side of life, “the real world”!
I sense and am aware that they are all acting out. Literally acting! I watch them go in and out of their trances and I can sense what is coming before it happens.
Today, I can clearly see that these people had suffered at some point in their young lives. They were reenacting behaviors they had been subjected to themselves. That didn’t make it right or ok. It just made sense. By giving voice in therapy to these violations and experiences I was able to stop taking their acts of abuse and neglect personally. They would and did exhibit these behaviors to anyone they thought they could.
I am not a victim today! Today I am a survivor who avoids victims as much as possible. Adults who see themselves as victims exhibit an unbelievable false sense of entitlement. They are not safe to be around, especially when they have been triggered and gone into the “trance”. Whatever that trigger and trance is for them…it is not safe for children.