Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Not just a river in Egypt.

kStyle asks a very good question in a comment to the last post--why did I mention no addiction history as relevant? First, let me say that, although the only addictions that appear in my family tree are to nicotine--and I've come to believe that there are probably some genetic links to that one, too--I've worked for substance abuse treatment agencies, I've come to know a lot of recovering addicts of one kind or another, and I live with a recovering alcoholic, so I have a little bit of experience around these issues. Here are the multitude of ways that addiction can be relevant:

1. Many people who grow up around an alcoholic (or other-addicted) parent learn a strange notion of truth: on one hand, it's important to be able to tell immediately (e.g., upon getting home from school) whether mom/dad is drunk. What your subsequent hours are likely to hold is related to that. On the other hand, in many families, this information does NOT get discussed. Therefore, one must simultaneously identify the drunkenness while pretending it doesn't exist. I know of at least one situation where the non-addicted family members did discuss what was happening, and the kids are probably a lot healthier as a result, but that's not necessarily common.

2. People with addiction, particularly alcoholism, in their family tree are more susceptible to alcoholism themselves, even if the parent is in recovery by the time the kids are born. There appears to be a genetic link to it, but, as with heart disease, for example, it's not a destiny so much as a predisposition--it's "easier" for you to acquire the condition, if you've inherited the tendencies, than it is for someone in whose family such things do not occur. Thus, the relatively normal teenage experimentation can have more dire consequences--it can be easier to get sidetracked into drug and alcohol use.

3. There are behavior patterns common with addiction that can persist even after the addicted person stops using and even if the addicted person "works the program" (as they say in AA). Denial is the most common (and it's not just a river . . .). When you have your own addiction, combined with the denial of reality described in 1. above, it can be a pretty potent mix. Basically, the opposite of denial is the truth--and those who are still exhibiting addiction behaviors can't handle, or don't want to handle, the truth.

The flip side of all this, as kStyle suggested, is that children of addicted parents can become quite firm in their own avoidance of such behaviors. They may still have some difficulties around figuring out what "normal" is--even given the wide variety in normals--but the negative example set by their own parent is often a useful object lesson. In addition, even if one does become an addict oneself, the recovery process is really all about honesty with oneself and with others. The recovery process thus can spur someone out of the comfort zone that addiction creates (at least temporarily). There are a few tricks to this, though: one is the process of figuring out how much of one's "weirdness," if you will, is related to the addiction, and how much is just part of one's personality. My SO, for example, thought that it was all because of the addiction, that once he got sober he'd be happy in the suburbs in a little house w/ a white picket fence. That turned out to be not true, but learning it was a painful process. A second trick is remembering the 10th step, which has to do with continuing to be vigilent for dishonesty, mistakes, etc., and owning up to them promptly. One thing I've seen with some people is that they go through the difficult process of recovery and then think, "Okay; done with that." But it's a process, not an event. We all screw up, we all make mistakes--the question is how we deal with those times.

In short, then, addiction history can slow the process--if denial is part of one's own or one's family's behaviors--but it can also accelerate it, either through the object lesson or through one's own addiction and recovery process. I would say that it's a less straightforward process, though, and that's why I mentioned it below.


Blogger kStyle said...

very interesting. thanks for the nice, long answer. when i'm less exhausted, and have time to formulate some thoughts, maybe i'll comment more.

9:05 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

So, I'll share that my maternal grandfather has an alcohol and valium addiciton history, and that my mom, as the eldest child in her family, took on much of the responsibilties of running the house. And I see this thing in my mother, who is a wonderful intelligent woman, where she just does NOT want to see the bad in things, and she always looks on the bright side and is prone to asking me why I can't just forget about bad things and why do I have to complain or work things out or whatever. Can't you just look at what's good? The silver lining? And she always has to be Good; I don't think she's done a rebellious thing in her life. One does one's own job well and one does not stand up to authority. I only realized relatively recently, within the past few years, that this is, in fact, a pattern of hers and that it is not "normal" or necessarily "right". It never occurred to me that this pattern was related to her father's addictions, but it makes sense now.

And I still catch myself thinking that I am not being good enough/am not good enough, and it's only recently that I've begun to hear myself thinking these things and know that they are ridiculous, or thinking the words wthout feeling that Guilt emotion. So I guess that's what an addiction history can do. Even if the addiction itself stops, does not pass between generations, certain behavioral patterns can carry down between generations.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

Wow--thank you for sharing that! One of the things that happens with kids who have an addicted parent is that the kids think (in their kid way) that, if they are Good, then mom/dad won't drink, that the parent's addiction is a result of the kid's misbehavior. Of course, this magical thinking doesn't work, but the behavior can become ingrained.

4:58 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

wow, that's really interesting and makes a lot of sense. add catholicism to the mix and...

7:03 PM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

I think one of the hardest things to balance is knowing that we cannot change other people's behavior but still finding ways to accommodate it without getting sucked into it. And with parents and children, well, you know the line--parents are so good at pushing our buttons because they installed them!

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