I know, I know. You’re here expecting to slash the machete through the thicket of my complex brain while we discuss my processes through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).
Sorry to burst your bubble. Not today!
I learned something yesterday that I wanted to share first. It’s important, so bear with me. We’ll explore my jungle tomorrow.
I’m currently taking a course by Dawn Clancy called ACOA 101. Yes, I have numerous workbooks, podcasts, books, and a variety of other recovery resources I’m doing to really understand my internal pain and how to heal it. This has become my personal goal, my life mission so to speak. You’re just lucky enough to join me on this Rocky Road.
For some reason, I’m currently craving ice cream.
Anyway, what I just learned was, that as a child of a dysfunctional family, I was expected to follow three implied rules. These rules are explained in Claudia Black’s book, Children of Alcoholics: It Will Never Happen To Me.
The three rules are:
- Don’t Talk
- Don’t Trust
- Don’t Feel
Wayne Kritsberg explains “Don’t Talk” as the Rule of Silence in the book The Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome:
Members of the alcoholic [dysfunctional] family are bound by the Rule of Silence: They cannot talk about what is happening in the family. The Rule of Silence extends not only to talking to people outside the family, but also includes talking to the members of the family itself.
The Rule of Silence not only bans talking about the behavior and actions of the family, it also bans talking about feelings. This no-talk rule is so strong that children who grow up in this family system have difficulty expressing themselves for the rest of their lives. The rule of non-expression follows them, and they in turn teach it to their children.
Members of an alcoholic family are bound by the Rule of Silence: don't talk about it. Click To Tweet
This was the norm in my family. I clearly remember hearing my Grandmother say, “Kids are seen, but not heard.” During holiday dinners, we had the “kids” table and the “adult” table. I never understood when extended family was together why my parent’s generation would want to sit with “us kids”.
I understand now. Once a kid in my grandparent’s eyes, we were always kids. Better to disassociate with those older than you who constantly shame and guilt you.
When I was 39, before I started my journey of recovery, I remember asking my Grandmother why her children acted the way they did. Oldest daughter, my mother, was a people pleaser always looking for acceptance and searching for validation. Middle child was a recluse, preferring to separate himself from the family and having lots of friends that he would rather spend time with. The youngest child was an alcoholic and threw temper tantrums to get his way.
My Grandmother’s response was, “we will talk about this once, then we won’t ever talk about it again.” That was Grandma. Even at 39, I was still considered a child in her eyes, and talking about our family issues and feelings was not allowed.
I learned not to trust anyone.
Children with a no-talk rule in a dysfunctional family, have difficulty expressing themselves as adults. Click To Tweet
Claudia Black states:
Children raised in alcoholic [dysfunctional] family structures have learned how to not trust others in talking about the real issues. They have also learned it is simply best to not trust that others will be there for them, emotionally, psychologically, and possibly even physically. To trust another means investing confidence, reliance and faith in that person. Confidence, reliance and faithfulness are virtues often missing in the alcoholic [dysfunctional] home.
Children raised in alcoholic and dysfunctional families learn not to trust others. Click To Tweet
In my marriage, I had complained about the ebb and flow of my ex’s emotions. We also called it her emotional wall. She pointed out that it was my fault that her wall was so thick. Due to my actions, I created an environment where she couldn’t trust me.
I carried my own guilt and shame and I deep down I blamed myself, but I never let that on. I deflected what I thought about myself and placed it on my ex.
Our childhood issues made us a perfect template to be matched together.
I wasn’t aware that I didn’t know how to truly express my needs and wants without me too, pointing fingers and blaming her for be emotionally distant. Years ago, my finger pointing was due to her being sexually distant, because my belief, at that time, was that was how a couple expressed love. When I couldn’t use that as an excuse an longer, I later blamed her emotional wall and the ebb and flow of her emotions.
The more chaotic our relationship grew, the more we kept blaming each other. The more we blamed each other, the less trust each of us had. We recreated our childhood in our adult marriage and for years we didn’t talk about it.
With a lack of trust between the two of us, we learned it wasn’t safe for us to express emotions. It wasn’t safe to feel.
This brings me to the final rule in a dysfunctional family, especially when it came to my step-father.
Where my Grandmother was an explicit, “we don’t talk about anything,” my step-father was different. It wasn’t safe to bring up anything around him. If I talked about my feelings I was put down, pushed away, and made to look like a fool. My feelings didn’t matter. I didn’t matter.
I also had to be careful about contradicting him because he could go into a rage at the drop of a dime. Keeping the peace was necessary to feel safe in my childhood home.
I learned at a young age that feelings didn’t matter. I learned that it was unsafe to express emotions. I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut.
And yet, I longed to be heard and understood.
Like a tea kettle, I’d burst when the pressure got too high, but then I’d get quickly shut down.
These three rules, don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel, both my ex and I brought into our marriage. We set ourselves up to fail. And, by the time we tried to fix what was broken in our marriage, it was too late to heal from the damage we both caused each other.
When it's not safe for children to talk or trust others, as adults they learn not to feel. Click To Tweet
Since my ex and I learned not to talk about our emotions and since we lacked trust, we learned instead to repress our negative feelings.
My ex called it, “sweeping everything under the carpet.”
We were amazing at keeping a clean floor.
We had the shiniest, brightest, most polished floor in the world. There was not a speck of dirt for our friends and family to see. No one knew how bad our marriage had gotten.
Everyone saw us as the idealized family and could never picture us separated.
It’s what we learned best growing up; show the world a good front, repress everything else.
In many ways, we were more present with our two girls when we swept our emotions, fears, and anger under the carpet. The minute we had to deal with our own emotions and issues, it was hard for us to be present for them.
Enter the world of recovery. Someone picked up our carpet, shook it out, and threw it in the corner.
Our spotless floor now had piles of dirt, mildew, and mold everywhere. We no longer had the safety net of the carpet to protect us. We had to learn how to manage our emotions, our feelings, and try to clean up all the shit we had hidden all these years with no place to hide.
Unfortunately, for us, we found an out. We learned to displace our feelings of pain, anger, jealousy, fear, betrayal, and lack of trust onto the each other.
Initially, that’s kind of like sweeping it under the carpet. Once I say it’s “your fault,” I’ve thrown all the dirt in your direction to clean up. You clean it up because you caused it, not me.
Eventually, I had to look at my own crap, get down on my knees, and, like Cinderella in her ballroom gown, start scrubbing the floor.
As I tried to manage what I had never managed before, I became reactive. I’d hold it in, thinking I was managing my emotions, until the fuse reached the detonator and I’d explode. Not always rage, but pain and hurt. It was like my little boy in his room throwing a tantrum because he wanted to be heard but no one was listening.
On top of that, every one of my therapists said, I could not make it about me. I could not flip it. It didn’t matter what I felt. Because of my actions, I gave up my right to my feelings in my marriage.
Once again, I was told not to talk about my stuff and not to feel.
What mattered was to allow my ex to feel her anger, her pain, and give her the space to heal. I needed to take a step back and listen to her, understand her, have compassion for her, and support her every way I could. I had damaged her and caused the PTSD symptoms in her and I needed to help her heal.
I worked hard on that. I truly did.
But then, something would happen and my childhood trauma would get triggered. I would snap again. The physical pain was unbearable and my emotions became a wave that would crash down upon. I struggled to catch breath as I was sucking salt water down my throat. I would only thrash, kick, and struggle harder. It’s all I knew to do to survive.
These were the times when I would lash out with blame, guilt, and shame over what my ex was “doing to me.”
The two of us needed a break. We needed a break from each other.
On the other hand, both of us didn’t want to be completely abandoned either. So, we came back to what we knew, the comfort we sought from one another. And then, we would hurt each other once again starting the cycle from the beginning.
What a painful sequence we created in our lives.
What I Need to Do
I see my piece. I see that my overwhelming emotions came are carried crap from childhood.
I was never given the tools to manage my emotions. I never learned how to work through the childhood junk that was still stuck in my body. And until I realized that I had no chance of reconciling my marriage, I needed to figure out how to stop my pain.
EMDR is one step. EFT is another I want to bring back into the mix. I want to increase my meditation. I need to continue the work with DBT. I need to continue working on my trauma piece. I need to do the work on ACOA. And I need to grieve the loss of my marriage.
So much left to do before I can even think of getting into another relationship.
Which brings up another question? Why is it that people believe you need to get into another relationship to “move on”? They want to help you, but their idea of help is to keep you blind to what you need to do to heal yourself. It only sets us up to fail once again.
I don’t want to make the same mistakes. I don’t want the same fears to permeate my relationships. I don’t want to hurt someone as much as I’ve hurt my ex. I don’t want to hurt my girls anymore with my unmanageable emotions.
I want to be a solid rock, a foundation for my girls to turn to. I want to be a father that listens, a father that allows his girls to express their feelings, and a father that supports them however they need to be supported, not the way I believe they need to be supported.
I want to be a better person for my friends and my co-workers. I want to be the kind of man a woman deserves. I hope that when I’m ready, I find someone who’ll be the same for me.
A year ago my ex said, “When I’m disconnected with Phoenix, I feel connected. When I’m connected with Phoenix, I feel disconnected.”
I see her pattern and I understand it.
I can finally understand why I always tried to connect with someone who was not emotionally available to me (regardless of if it was my fault or not). This was what I had done since I was three years old. It’s all I ever knew. It was my template. She was my template.
It’s no wonder why, understanding my childhood trauma, my marriage was so triggering to me.
I need to feel connected with me. I need to love me. I need to not need someone else to give me validation or nurturing to feel complete with myself.
As Lisa Nichols says, “I need to find someone who will celebrate my completeness, not someone who completes me.”
Find someone who will celebrate your completeness. - Lisa Nichols Click To Tweet
My internal struggle and the pain I’ve created within myself has nothing to do about me and who I am.
My internal struggle these past few years has been that I hold onto someone who’s not emotionally available to me, who uses my past actions as a reason not to take the risk to learn how to be emotionally available, who blames me for all of her pain, and who is now searching for connection in another, but like me, hasn’t learned how to connect with herself first.
I can’t protect her. I can’t help her. I can’t guide her. That’s me trying to recreate the past and take care of Mom.
But I can take care of me.
Connection with myself is true healing. It’s what I will continue to work on.
Speaking of work, tomorrow let’s talk about how my first EMDR session has helped me become more grounded than I have been in years.
May you too, find the courage you need, so that you can heal from the pain of your past.