Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The Invisible Addiction
"We became addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable relationships".
The Operational Statement Of The Problem explains the mechanics of addiction to conflict:
This addiction to excitement can be seen as an internal addiction to conflict. A continuously repeating cycle of alarm and collapse or "fight, flight and exhaustion".
Children learn that they can pull themselves out of depression and despair by focusing on the conflicts going on around them, which they then internalize in symbolic form. Their world is filled with the sights and sounds of conflict that drives them until they collapse in exhaustion. Only to get back up and do the same thing all over again.
Children are forced to remain in this pattern of addiction in order to stay above the ever increasing sense of demoralization they feel at being trapped in a cycle of despair. This cycle becomes self sustaining.
So from an early age, an ACA begins to use constant upset and conflict in an attempt to make themselves feel better. Growing up in a house filled with conflict, children of alcoholics may feel ostracized and isolated. Having few external outlets to turn to for comfort and solace they turn inwards and use the physical resources of their own bodies to give themselves an emotional lift.
They learn instinctively that emotional turmoil and anger release hormones and neurotransmitters such as adrenaline. Anger hormones have a similarity to methamphetamine and are addictive and intoxicating. The ACA becomes addicted to the internal drugs their own bodies produce to help them deal with the difficulties of being trapped living with addictive, abusive and dysfunctional caretakers.
By the time they become adults, this pattern has become ingrained.
Listen to recovery expert Marty S., author of the ACA Identity Papers, lead a workshop on how addiction to the "inside drugs" confounds our efforts at lasting recovery.
Click here and a new audio window will open: Confusing the Outside with the Inside mp3 audio
Workshop Handout and Graphics
Internal Addiction: The Hidden Problem
Adapted from: ACA Fellowship Text (formerly Handbook) pp. 23-24.
© Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, Inc.
It is important to note that we have taken in or internalized both parents. This includes the parent who appears more functional compared to the alcoholic or chemically addicted parent. Our experience shows that the "functional" or nonalcoholic parent passes on just as many traits as the identified alcoholic. The nonalcoholic parent also passes on his or her pattern of “internal drug abuse”. The paraalcoholic (the nondrinking parent) is driven by fear, excitement, and pain from the inside.
The biochemical surge and cascade of inner "drugs" that accompany these states of distress and upheaval can impact children as profoundly as outside substances. Our experience shows that the nondrinking parent's reaction to these inside drugs affects the children just as the alcoholic's drinking affects them. We realize this seems technical, but it is important to understand if we are to comprehend the reach of a dysfunctional upbringing.
As children, we were affected by the alcoholic drinking from without and by the para-alcoholic drugs from within. We believe that the long-term effects of fear transferred to us by a nonalcoholic parent can match the damaging effects of alcohol. This is why many of us can abstain from drinking alcohol or other addictive behavior, but be driven by inner drugs that can bring difficulties as we attempt to recover. This legacy of fear and distorted thinking seems to drive our switching from one addictive behavior to another as we try to make changes in our lives.
To think about internal dosing another way, consider this. The alcoholic can be removed from the family by divorce or separation, but nothing in the home really changes. The alcohol abuse or other dysfunction is gone, but the home remains fearful and controlling. Boundaries are unclear. The children don't talk about feelings. They either become enmeshed with the nondrinking parent or alienated from him or her.
The rules of don't talk, don't trust, and don't feel apply even with the removal of obvious dysfunction. The inside drugs are at work. The nondrinking parent's fear, excitement, and pain have been passed to the next generation. This is the internalization of parental feelings and behavior in its purest form.
Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children