Like most adult children of alcoholics, I don’t know what normal is, so I’m often unaware that I’m in an abnormal, unhealthy situation. How can I solve a problem I don’t know I have?
What children of alcoholics learn
Growing up, my parents’ anger played out like a game of poker. My mom’s strategy was to start out small, only mildly angry. I’d match her anger. She’d see my anger and then raise the stakes. This back and forth went for several turns, but my Mom wouldn’t be bested. Eventually the argument was too rich for my blood, and I would fold. Those games cost me a lot.
Unlike my mom’s anger, my dad’s temper was consistently hot. While we were all playing poker for pennies, he’d put a thousand dollars down on the table. We would all fold immediately. We knew better than to call his bluff.
Behavior for children of alcoholics is a competition
When I was 18, I left home thinking everything that happened to me happened to everyone else too. When my first serious boyfriend screamed and yelled at me for the first time, I didn’t like it, but I it was a game I knew how to play. Since my boyfriend and I were “equals” as opposed to the unequal balance in a parent/child relationship, I thought I could maybe win a few hands. I never won anything. He always seemed to win.
It never occurred to me to discuss this with my girlfriends because I thought their boyfriends were yelling at them for the same things. I thought this was normal.
I Discovered It Wasn’t Normal
I started asking co-workers and friends what their relationships were like. I wanted to know how they resolved disagreements. What did their holiday meals look like? How did their family treat them? As I listened to their answers I found myself surprised again and again how different my life was from theirs. I was beginning to see there was another way, and I began to think maybe I wanted what they had.
Would I Even Like Normal?
My quest to find normal seemed fruitless because even if I found it, I was afraid it would be boring. My life was exciting even if it was frightening. There was an adrenaline rush with every screaming episode. There was the apology and maybe even flowers. To me this was how passion looked. If there was no yelling would I even feel anything, but bored?
I Began Searching For Normal
I didn’t see my “normal” as problematic until a close friend began recovery work in Al-Anon. I saw her change. She began to smile and say what she really felt. She wasn’t afraid anymore. She got divorced. This made me wonder what behaviors were unacceptable to me. What did I want in a relationship? I had no idea, but I wanted to find out.
I began to attend Al-Anon meetings and seeing a therapist. They gave me the much needed confidence to stop pretending I was OK with being verbally abused.
- I learned I could leave the room anytime someone began yelling at me
- I found I could say, “NO” and without explanation
- I learned how to practice telling safe people what I wanted
- I started saying baby no’s
It’s not glamorous, but it’s training me for the next step in my recovery – speaking out against the abuse I called, “Normal” for most of my life. These days, I spend much of me free time figuring out what I want and how I feel about things. I’m learning to accept my feelings anger or sadness without judgement. Read Elephant in the room.
If you are in an abusive or “normal” relationship that isn’t working please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 for help.