Frustrated? Exhausted? Anxious or afraid? Does doing more never seem to be quite enough? Chaos, clutter, debt, and fatigue can be signs that your suffering from a deeper issue. Many of us fight superficial battles for years because we simply can’t see the root cause. Fortunately, the unmanageableness of chaos, clutter, and exhaustion leaves a trail of breadcrumbs we can use to find the gift of recovery.

How Do Things Become Unmanageable?

The three rules of family dysfunction are: Don’t trust; don’t talk, and don’t feel. Probably, no one in the family remembers who set these rules, and it’s even more probable that they’ve NEVER been spelled out, but everyone knows. These three rules perpetuate the cycle of abuse and addiction that keeps us oppressed. Following these three rules makes our lives unmanageable. Here are three steps to break out of this unmanageableness.

1. Find Real Life Examples Of Unmanageableness

First we have to break rule #2. We have to talk to other people and see how they live. Because we haven’t talked to anyone about real issues for years, our idea of “normal” mutates. Here are some real life examples of unmanageable behaviors families have grown to accept as “normal.”

Amiee is 11 years old. Her Mom Julie died three years ago. Now it’s just her and her dad Evan. Evan has PTSD from his tour in Afghanistan. He’s traumatized from losing Julie, so he refuses to let Amiee see any of Julie’s family EVER. No phone calls, no visits, no stories of what her mom was like when she was Amiee’s age. It’s like they never existed.

Don and his wife Lola have nothing in common. In fact, they’re often bitterly angry with each other. They have separate checking accounts, bedrooms, vacations, churches, and lives. Lola is still punishing Don for his addiction and abuse. Don quit drinking 40 years ago. They never speak kindly to each other but stay married because divorce is sinful.

Steve never gets fair shake in life. He’s incredibly smart, but every where Steve goes, he has an altercation. This often happens at work. As a result, Steve never keeps a job for more than a month. Steve’s Mom Bessie spends hours a day praying Steve will finally find a good job where they appreciate his leadership skills.

Chris is a single Mom who spends all of her free time caring for her adult daughter Jill and Jill’s young sons. Jill has been temporarily living with Chris for two years so she can get back on her feet. Jill hides her drinking from Chris by mixing her rum with cola. Chris balances Jill’s checkbook and makes sure she never comes up short. She also does Jill’s laundry and fixes all of the meals. Chris is always on hand with tons of activities to keep Jill’s sons busy and quiet. She doesn’t want one of the boys to set Jill off.

Judy cleans all the time yet her house is always a mess. She turns down visits with her grandkids and coffee dates with friends because she has too much cleaning to do. She lives alone and has 8 sets of fine China. All of the closets in her two-bedroom home are packed with clothes that she’ll fit back into some day. End tables store decades of magazines, and her filing cabinets are filled with bills and receipts. Stacks of mail cover both of her dining room tables. When cleaning doesn’t help, Judy rearranges the furniture or buys more.

2. Recognize Your Feelings

Thanks to rule #3, freezing our feelings becomes second nature. We deflect, minimize, justify, or rationalize what’s really happening with these statements:

  • It’s not that bad.
  • It could be worse.
  • At least it’s not __________________.
  • It will get better.

The beauty of unmanageableness is we already know thousands of things that won’t work, and they’re clues about what really bothers us. We thaw our emotions by asking what:

  1. Makes us angry?
  2. Embarrasses us the most?
  3. Secret do we protect the most?
  4. Feelings do we minimize with, “It doesn’t matter.” Or “It’s no big deal.”
  5. Advice do we give to friends that we secretly wish we could follow?
  6. Do we swear we’ll never do again?
  7. Makes us absolutely lose it?

3. Process Your Pain In The Third Person

Writing our story as a fictional tale is powerful. We can change the names to protect the innocent. Maybe we’ll switch genders, dates, and settings, but we must keep the crimes. We have permission to use all of the gory details because we don’t have to share the story with anyone. If necessary, we’ll burn it after reading.

This exercise helps us detach from our problems. Perhaps for the first time ever, we can see what actually happening. Once we see what we are really facing, it’s time to break the cardinal rule of family dysfunction. It’s time to trust others for help. We do this by going to an Al-Anon, CoDA (Codependents Anonymous), DA (Debtors Anonymous), ACoA (Adult Chilren of Alcoholics) or Celebrate Recovery. Or perhaps we talk to a therapist or a trusted friend. Breaking the silence breaks the shackles of unmanageable dysfunction and begins our recovery journey, which truly is a gift.


coloring book purple pic

Like it? Share with your friends!

What's Your Reaction?

Funny Funny
More Like This More Like This
More Like This
Helpful Helpful


Pam Carver

Pam is the author of two books: Co-dependent In The Kitchen, and Find Your True Colors In 12 Steps. She's also a contributing editor for Reach Out Recovery. She's a recovery advocate who likes long walks on the beach and chocolate.


Weekly newsletter with top 5 articles
Monthly printable calendar: coloring page and recovery tip
Special discount offers
Learn about recovery products

Sign up to receive more!

subscribe to our top stories

Weekly newsletter with top 5 articles
Printable recovery calendar & coloring page
Special discount offers on recovery products

Don't worry, we don't spam