Put it in words. Change happens. #alcoholism #addiction #recovery #mentalhealth

September 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

I have been ruminating on this feeling of discontent about my relationship with Brother1. Over all these years, when he perceived me to be ‘shutting him out’ and now, the idea that my estrangement from Dad is about money, he has never shown interest or empathy toward me. I have been judged, I have been dismissed, and I have been invalidated. But I have never been afforded an equal respect to other members of the family, including my dad.

I am writing about sibling collateral damage perpetrated by a shame-based alcoholic father. A big part of my father’s expression of shame and anxiety is to perform – to literally get up on a stage and perform music, and to also perform feats of extra-ordinary craftsmanship. All to secure the admiring gaze of onlookers in hopes they won’t look behind the curtain and see the sorry coward that hides within. None of my siblings can talk to me realistically about my father. They seem unable to entertain the possibility that he may be less than perfect, and that I might be more than the shameful angry person they appear to hold in their minds. It is this circle of emotional deprival, invalidation and dismissal that has been so difficult to deal with over the years.

Now that I have no longer accepted that interpretation of me, that representation of my person, my ethics, my intelligence or my courage, it is causing problems for some of them. I know I shouldn’t group all my siblings into one generalization, they are all different, unique, damaged in their own special ways. The net result of our family system as incapable of providing appropriate support, confidence, and a sense of security is that we all suffer individually and that suffering looks the same on the outside. What I am addressing is the absence of meaningful discussion about our shared history. We share that in common, even if our expression of that common history is different for each one of us.

When we are unable to put our experiences into words they do not go away. That wordless experience exists in our memories as emotional memory and fragments of sensual impressions – what we saw, what we heard, what we smelled, what we felt on our skin, what we tasted. That is why stimulating different senses through music can bring back memories in alzeimer’s patients. Our routes into value-category memory systems are multi-variate. This becomes a problem when we have not had the opportunity to put our memories into words. They exist in our memories as wordless sensations. If those memories are of traumatic events, the experience of similar sensual cues in current time can trigger an emotional flashback. If we don’t have language to explain our experience to ourselves, we are more vulnerable to triggering events because we cannot identify the emotion laden triggers we might encounter.

In my relationships with my siblings I can count on getting triggered when I spend time with them. We have this deep chaotic shared history and it doesn’t take much for one or the other of us to provoke those compartmentalized feelings. It doesn’t take much to destabilize our current relationship and then, once one of us is triggered, the other is reflexively triggered. It is very, very difficult to stop the circuitry of recursive emotional triggering.

I know this is probably a little bit of a wandering piece. It does help me understand why I elect to avoid family gatherings and one to one interactions with my siblings, even as I long for connection and to build new family relationships. When we can put our experiences into words it gives us an opportunity to re-contextualize our experiences because we can talk about it. If we can’t talk about them we cannot decontextualize them and they continue to exist in a state of wordless purgatory.

Put it in words. Change happens.

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§ One Response to Put it in words. Change happens. #alcoholism #addiction #recovery #mentalhealth

  • Chris says:

    Thanks for sharing that. I’ve got an actuve sibling and parent and it helped me think about my own current familial issues of denial, enabling, anger, shame…etc. I appreciate it.

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