Overreacting about Overreacting

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This is where I am today. I am overreacting again. But this time I am taking it to a WHOLE different level. I am overreacting about overreacting. I feel so bad about overreacting that I can barely focus my thoughts on anything else. AHHHH!

Why is this so common among people who love someone struggling with addiction? Why can’t we modulate our feelings? Why are we going from 0-10 instantly? I have a few theories:

1.) We often under-react to the person struggling because we don’t want to trigger them so we end up overreacting towards other people in our lives.

2.) If you were raised by the person struggling with addiction (like me), we weren’t given a good example of how to cope with stress.

3.) We are constantly expecting the worst situation or the worst out of the person.

Tell me I am not alone in these suspicions. Let me review my past 72 hours.

We have a couple friend that love to joke around. They constantly tease everyone. They tease each other, they tease their family, and they tease the crap out of me. I am a pretty hilarious, fun loving person but sometimes I just want to shake these two people. After awhile, the teasing comes off a little critical and judgmental.

Knowing I can get annoyed with them, my husband and I made the mistake of being around them too much in the past couple weeks. They tease me for what I wear, what we eat, where we eat, and anything else they can. By this weekend, I had had it. One of them made a joke about me eating lunch before 11:00 am (it was a rough morning) and I exploded. I threw a tantrum.

Luckily, I didn’t explode on them. I exploded as soon as I was away from them but I couldn’t get over it. I told my husband I was done with them, I never wanted to talk to them again, and we were fading them out as friends. I was confidently explaining that they were out of our lives forever and I didn’t care that he had been friends with the husband since early childhood. I was putting my foot down (like a brat). My husband didn’t say much because I was at a 10 out of 10 on the crazy scale at this point.

This couple has texted us several times over the weekend about getting together for Halloween and I feel TERRIBLE about my feelings being hurt by them. How does that make sense?? I am allowed to have hurt feelings, right? Yet, here I am convincing myself that me overreacting was the most childish thing I could have done and wondering why my husband even likes me.

My brain is exhausting. I overreacted then. I absolutely know that. I can’t cut out one of my husband’s best friends. I am also overreacting now. They do hurt my feelings a lot. I am allowed to be hurt by their constant criticism. I just need to modulate my reactions.

The truth is, (1) I am actually mad at my mom right now but I didn’t tell her that or even process it myself until today. She is the one I should be yelling at, not this critical couple. (2) I don’t know how to process this anger though because my mom always took to the bottle anytime her feelings were hurt, she was stressed, or things got hard. I am still developing appropriate coping skills daily. (3) Its easier for me to think that this couple hates me than to think that they are just being silly. It is less painful if the worst possible scenario is something you expected than it being a complete surprise.

This pattern often emerges when I am stressed, sad, or confused. It is easy to go to 10 instead of reacting at a 3-4 level. What have you found that helps you cope with frustrations? What helps bring you down from a 10 to a 3-4?

If you can relate or think someone else could benefit from reading about this, please share. Subscribe if you’d like to read more in the future! Thank you for reading!

-Grumpy Sunshine

 

 

3 Common Assumptions about Loving Someone with Addiction

On this journey to destigmatize addiction, I have become more open about my parent’s drinking. It isn’t the first thing I say, or even the tenth, but I am not keeping it a secret if anyone asks. I am not covering for my parents. I am not trying to fix things to protect them. I am just “living my truth” for lack of a less cheesy phrase.

While doing this, I have become amused with people’s reactions and I have found a few common themes. My mom is an alcoholic and my dad is a…functioning alcoholic. Regardless of the setting, how I share with this person, or where I share with this person, at least one of these three assumptions are usually made:

1.) Their addiction defines them.

2.) I am exaggerating.

3.) I am looking for pity.

Where do these assumptions come from? Well that’s hard to nail down. Movies…television shows…books…personal experiences…society’s view on addiction. Take your pick. It is almost ALWAYS one of these three responses though. Here are a few examples.

1.) Their addiction defines them

I always have one friend that acts shocked when I share that my mom did some volunteer work (that wasn’t mandated by the court) or that my dad went and played golf with my husband. Anything good that they do or accomplish, is mind blowing. Their next question is always “They must be doing better then right?” and I am like…well no? My mom does lots of nice things for people all the time. She is a wonderful lady. She is just terribly addicted to alcohol.

Her addiction definitely influences most aspects of her life and everyone around her but she is more than her addiction. She is a mother, a friend, a grandmother, an employee, a daughter, a cousin, a lover, a fighter, a volunteer, and a pain in my ass. She tries so hard to get sober but she fails…a lot. That doesn’t mean she cannot accomplish anything else. She is more than that.

My dad who never will admit he drinks too much is a hard worker. He has supported his family his entire life. He loves people and loves to make people laugh but his health is being affected by his drinking as is many of his personal relationships. This doesn’t mean I don’t love him or I can’t have a good day with him. It means he has a problem.

2.) I am exaggerating.

Recently, a coworker and I have become close. I had a stressful weekend with my mother and when my coworker asked about my weekend, I was honest. They immediately jumped to number 2 on the list. They started grilling me about how often she drank, when she drank, what she drank, her arrest record, etc. I thought I was on trial. As if this wasn’t insulting enough, they then googled her to see if they could find this said “arrest record”. I was really hurt. It was as if me saying my mom was an alcoholic wasn’t enough for them. After answering their questions (and passing their test), they then became empathetic.

Where does that stem from? Why don’t we ever believe people? What kind of proof do we need to provide in order for someone to accept what we are saying is honest? This is a very common theme, especially when I am talking to men about my parent’s drinking. I don’t mean to be sexist but I am just speaking from my own experience. Anytime I have shared with a guy that my parents’ have a drinking problem, they immediately want to downplay it or prove that I am mistaken. Its exasperating.

I am lucky, well actually this is unlucky, that my mom does have quite a resume for alcoholism. She has been arrested, she has lost jobs because of her drinking, she binge drinks, she hides her drinking, and it has been going on for years. She knows its a problem. She goes to AA and goes to therapy. She just…isn’t doing great regardless. Because of these things, people usually end up believing me. What if she hadn’t been arrested though? What if she hadn’t lost any jobs? What if she was just unbelievably lucky and scooted past authorities and coworkers? Would these guys have dismissed my mother’s alcoholism and assumed I was stretching the truth? I can’t say. It does seem that I really have to convince them of this first before we can move on to empathy. Newsflash, I have been dealing with this my whole life. I know what it is and I know what defines it. Trust me, she meets the criteria.

3.) I am looking for pity.

This is my least favorite. People assuming I want them to feel bad for me makes my blood boil. Sometimes I share because I am tired of keeping it a secret or I think it might help them understand what I am going through. There’s a million different reasons I may share with someone but not a single one of those reasons is pity.

I don’t need pats on my arm saying “You poor dear”, “How do you do it?”, and “I just hate that for you”. I know that it sucks and I may be looking for understanding but not pity. I hate the look of it. I hate how condescending it is. Don’t look at me with pity. I am a fully functioning non-alcoholic with a great life ahead of me. There is no need to pity me. Pity is not empathetic. I am stronger than whatever struggle I am sharing with you. You can admire me or just listen and say you are there for me. But don’t you “Bless your heart” me (if you are from the south, you understand that phrase). If you think what you are about to say may come across as pity, just hold your tongue.

Maybe these assumptions people have made are only happening to me but I find that hard to believe. I will say that there are always exceptions. I have had some people respond so kindly, so welcoming, and so inspiring that my faith in the world was restored almost instantly. Regardless of people’s responses, I will continue to “live my truth” because the more we talk about this, the less stigmatized it will be.

I would love to hear what your experiences have been. Have you had the same reaction multiple times when you have shared with others about your loved one? What were they? What is the best thing someone said to you when you shared with them? What was the worst? I have really enjoyed the feedback from readers over the past few weeks. The emails and messages have been really encouraging!

Thanks for reading! Please subscribe if you would like to read more in the future or share this with others if you think it would help destigmatize addiction.

-Grumpy Sunshine

 

 

 

The Drama Triangle

The persecutor, the rescuer, and the victim…who are you?

I have been researching different communication styles, theories on family interactions, and models of therapy for dysfunctional families. Why? With alcoholism in the household, I am constantly researching better ways to work on myself and to communicate better with my parents. I came across an idea in which I was unfamiliar, Karpman’s Triangle (See above). AKA The Drama Triangle.

This concept was developed by Stephen Karpman, M.D. who studied at Duke University under Eric Bearne, M.D. Dr. Bearne may ring a bell because he is considered the “father” of Transactional Analysis. I won’t go into too much boring detail about that but check out my references if you want to learn more about where these ideas originated.

As you can see, there are three roles in this drama triangle. There is the victim, the rescuer, and the persecutor. Before I even begin to delve into how this is my family, are you already formulating ideas as to who you are in your family? It was immediately clear to me even before I read the descriptions.

The victim isn’t really a victim. It is the person who THINKS they are a victim. They are in a state of hopelessness, helplessness, and bring in the persecutor and rescuer to not only save the day but to also continue the cycle of their helplessness.

My mother would be the victim in our family. She is an alcoholic and constantly in a state of helplessness. She often finds the idea of recovery hopeless. She feels bad for herself often. She doesn’t accept responsibility for the choices that she has made to get herself into her current situation. She often needs others to come in and fix whatever mess she has gotten herself into. Textbook victim.

The persecutor is controlling, critical, angry, and full of blame. They are quick to show the victim that this is their fault and they clarify where the problems lie.

This would be my dad. He is an angry person. He is married to an alcoholic so who could blame him? He is very critical of my mom, even when she is doing well. He tries to control her and thinks that the drinking will then be controlled but its been a few decades of that method and it hasn’t improved…duh. Textbook persecutor.

The rescuer is the enabler of the drama. They try to fix everything for everyone. They feel guilty if they aren’t involved and doing everything they can to soothe the victim, to calm down the persecutor, and to find the family peace.

I, unfortunately, fell into the role of the rescuer. I hated when my dad was angry with my mom even if he was rightfully angry. My mom would get arrested or lose her job because of drinking. She would be so pitiful and full of self-hatred. My dad would have no pity or understanding. He would just be angry. He would scream and yell. She would shrivel up and tell her therapist how mean her husband was. I wanted to solve all of their problems. I didn’t mind driving my mom when she lost her license. I didn’t mind filling in for her roles when she went missing so my dad wouldn’t be upset. It was enabling and it was unhealthy. Our cycle continued for years.

How do we fix this unhealthy triangle? How do we stop this cycle? Well, it depends on the role you play.

For victims, it’s important to acknowledge their vulnerability. They need to become self-aware of what they are doing so that they can accept responsibility for putting themselves in this situation. Things may be hard for them but often its because of choices they made that those things are so difficult.

For persecutors, they should acknowledge that assertiveness can be a strength but it shouldn’t be used for punishment. Instead of blaming the victim and clarifying what is wrong with them, have them find it on their own. This will help both grow.

For rescuers, remember that the victim is capable of making their own choices. Rescuers do not have to step in and fix the problems victims created. Victims will never fix their own problems if they can always rely on rescuers to do it for them.

Obviously these things are easier said than done but it is an interesting concept to consider. Becoming self-aware about these kinds of dysfunctional communication can hep us learn from our mistakes. I am constantly advocating that those who are enabling are doing harmful damage even if they think they are caring. I advocate so strongly because I am the best example of an enabler. I am trying to break free of that role and every step I take away from it, the better I feel and the better off my family is.

Thanks for reading! If you are interested in reading more, subscribe to my blog! If you think this would help someone, please share! I want to spread more understanding about what it is like to love someone with addiction.

-Grumpy Sunshine

 

If you are interested in learning more about these roles and how to reverse these roles, check out the information below under References.

References:

David Emerald, David (2016). The Power of TED (3rd ed.). Polaris Publishing. pp. 1–138. ISBN 978-09968718-0-8.

Karpmen, MD, Stephen. “Eric Berne Memorial Scientific Award” (PDF). karpmandramatriangle.com. Retrieved October 17, 2017

Karpman, M.D., Stephen B. “The New Drama Triangles USATAA/ITAA Conference Lecture” (PDF). karpmandramatriangle.com. Retrieved October 17, 2017.

Forrest, L. (2017, January 19). The Three Faces of Victim – An Overview of the Drama Triangle. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.lynneforrest.com/articles/2008/06/the-faces-of-victim/

Grieving the Living

“Grief Sucks.”

-Everyone Ever

We all have lost someone we have loved. We all have experienced grief. We have all gone through “the stages” and were viewed as getting along “as expected”. People tend to be more understanding when they know you are grieving the loss of a loved one. People tend to bend the rules for you. People usually show you the kinder side of humanity during this terrible time in your life. This is because mourning the death of a loved one is something everyone has to go through. Even though it is a cliché to even call this a cliché, it is just a part of life.

What do you do if you are grieving the loss of a life of someone who isn’t dead nor dying?

This person doesn’t have cancer. This person isn’t in the hospital with a fatal physical illness. This person is very much with us but they are struggling from a disease that not everyone has accepted as a disease, that’s right…the addict. What do we do when we are grieving the life this person could have had had they not turned to drugs or alcohol? We aren’t shown as much understanding from the community in this sense. We aren’t always shown the kinder side of humanity either. I hope this post will enlighten those who continue to stigmatize addiction.

Before I continue, let me make this clear. I understand that watching someone struggling with addiction is not comparable to a loved one dying. What I am saying is that there is a type of grieving we do when we realize the life our loved one could have led has died.

My mom. Oh my mom. She is beautiful. She was actually asked to MY high school prom before I was. She was a talented collegiate athlete. She was on a full scholarship in school for her sport. She is smart. She helped my dad with his papers in college and tutored other athletes. She is funny. She is surprisingly crass and witty when it is completely unexpected. She is kind. She literally has to keep my dad from knowing all of the things she does for others because he worries people take advantage of her generosity. A person like this should lead a fulfilling and beautiful life. The opportunities are endless for someone with such wonderful characteristics.

Unfortunately, she is also an alcoholic. Her DUIs have lost her jobs. Her showing up drunk to work has prevented her from getting any references. Her kindness is looked as a way to make up for all of the chaos she has caused her family. Her humor is overlooked because people think she is using it as a defense mechanism. Everything that she has accomplished is overshadowed by this terrible disease.

My mom is no saint and she does need to be held accountable for the poor decisions she has made. BUT can you imagine her potential if she wasn’t an alcoholic? Someone so smart, charming, beautiful, and kind could be anything they wanted. Maybe that scared her when she was younger. I couldn’t tell you how she got on this path but I know where she is now.

It makes me sad for my mom. I hope one day that when I look back on my life and all I have or have not accomplished, I will be proud of myself. When my mom looks back on her life, she shares a lot of regrets and embarrassment. Her life, my life, and everyone in my family’s life would be drastically different had she not been an alcoholic. This is when grieving comes into play. I used to grieve the life I could have had. I think about the memories we could have shared during the holidays. I imagine the vacations we could have taken as a family. I picture the neighbors sharing funny light-hearted stories about their goofy loving neighbors (us).

This isn’t something I do often. There is nothing I can do to change it so why take up a lot of time mourning? Well, because it’s natural. I did lose a life. I lost a life I could have had. My mom lost the life she could have led.  When the holidays are rough or a family visit goes awry, I grieve. I think about what could have been. I even go through the stages.

At first, I may be in denial that anything is wrong. That can only last so long because the truth is staring at me in the face…usually with an empty bottle of vodka nearby. I then become angry. I want to blame anyone and everyone and I explode with fiery emotions. I begin to bargain. I seek in vain for a way out of this cycle of grief. I become depressed when it finally sinks in that this is inevitable and a part of my life. I then hit acceptance and I am usually exhausted but at peace.

These emotions may all play out over a few weeks, a few days, or even a few hours depending on the circumstances. I felt dramatic at first when I realized what I was doing was grieving. Then I felt incredibly empowered. I have the right to grieve. No one can take that away from me. It isn’t selfish and as long as I progress through the stages without ruining important aspects of my life, I will continue to grieve as needed.

My mom has made and continues to make bad decisions that affect everyone. I pray that these decisions don’t lead to me having to grieve the loss of her completely but that is a reality we have to face when loving someone struggling with addiction.

I wrote all this to say that if you feel the need to grieve the loss of what your loved one’s life could have been (or what your life could have been), don’t feel guilty. This doesn’t mean you can’t help them. This doesn’t mean they won’t get better. This doesn’t mean you have given up hope. This isn’t a pity party. This is a human reaction to loss. Process your grief, know what you’re doing, and come out the other side stronger. You are worth it.

Thanks for all the kind messages and words of support. I hope these posts will spread awareness of what it is like to love someone struggling with the addiction. I want to continue to fight the stigma associated with addiction so please share this post if you think it would help someone understand. Thanks for reading and subscribe if you’d like to read more!

-Grumpy Sunshine

 

What is Normal?

When you love someone struggling with addiction, nothing is normal. The old “normal” you used to feel, never truly comes back. There will always be that fear that the current calm will be disrupted by chaos and pain. If anything, the waiting is worse.

My mom is behaving “normally” right now. She has gone a few weeks sober and I am terrified about the crash that is soon to follow. I love her and I hope she does better but I also know her. When she goes this long without drinking, the crash is typically pretty big.

For example, my mom worked really hard to be sober for my wedding. After she had been uninvited to an engagement party and a shower because of her drinking, she vowed that she would not mess up her daughter and future son-in-law’s special day. Sounds super…Everyone was on edge.

I was so excited to be getting married though and I tried to make our wedding about us. I found a wonderful man and our wedding was going to be everything we ever dreamed. There was just this one tiny concern that drunk mom would show up and kill the party. I wasn’t the only one concerned. My husband, my family, my in-laws, and anyone who knew what was going on was worried. Everyone had back up plans, excuses ready, and plans of escape. Because on your wedding day, it isn’t the time to address the addiction. It is supposed to be about the bride and groom. At some points, I felt like everyone was more focused on keeping my mom sober than they were our wedding but in the end it worked. She did not drink that entire weekend.

Our wedding was perfect. It was extravagant, it was beautiful, and it was all about my husband and I. We couldn’t have been happier. My family looked normal. Shoot, we looked better than normal! We looked awesome. The weekend went by flaw-free. I am truly grateful that my mom fought so hard to be sober for that weekend but we knew what was coming afterwards. She had gone weeks without drinking up until that point and the fall was going to be big. And BOY was it big.

After returning from our honeymoon, my dad started leaving hints that she had been drinking again. She ended up getting arrested a few weeks later for a DUI. It was in the paper the week after my wedding announcement was. Score! Looking good in our hometown. We thought that maybe that would shake her out of her downfall but it didn’t. She continued to drink.

My dad had to go out of town for work and while he was gone, my mom got drunk before she went to work and passed out at her desk. One of her coworkers had to contact my sister and I to come and get her. She continued to spiral downwards and we all were just standing by waiting for it to end. This wasn’t stressful though. This was our norm.

After a few more months of these epic relapses, my mom started to fight to get sober. That brings you up to today. She is sober today. She has been sober a few weeks. It is terrifying. I cringe every time I get a phone call from someone in the family or from an unknown number. I panic when she doesn’t return my texts or my calls. My stress is ten times worse than it is when she is full blown drinking. Expecting the unexpected is so unsettling.

What’s worse is, my mom can feel our anxiety. Of course we want her to do well but we also have to be realistic. That of course doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in her. It puts her on edge too. She tries to go out of her way to prove her sobriety. The pressure ends up pushing her over and a phone call from the police, the neighbors, or her coworker is just around the corner. Its a fun cycle.

My friends hate my perspective during this stage and I hate their perspective. They will ask how she is doing and I will say she has been sober for a few weeks. They will say “that’s awesome”, “congrats”, “I knew she could do it” and I just want to hit them. It’s not their fault. They are happy she is having a good spell. Nothing wrong with that. I however feel so wound up that if someone bumped into me on the street I may explode. I am holding my breath and walking on eggshells. The unknown is suffocating me.

So what is normal? My mom binge drinking is sort of normal because its what we are used to but definitely not healthy. Society’s “normal”…where we are all functioning as healthy, productive adults is exhausting because we are all just waiting for the tip of the iceberg. Do we get to have a normal feeling again? Will she ever be sober long enough that we aren’t holding our breath? I don’t know. I hope I get the answer one day though. I do know that I will always love her. Sober or not sober she is my mom and I want the best for her. I also want to kick her.

I wrote this post because I was feeling overwhelmed with keeping these thoughts to myself. I hope that you read this or share this so understanding can be spread about how emotionally straining it is to love someone struggling with addiction, even in the good times. Thanks for reading! Subscribe if you’d like to read more in the future.

-Grumpy Sunshine

 

Is Hope Helpful or Hurtful?

“Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.”-President Snow, The Hunger Games

Why am I quoting the evil villain from The Hunger Games? Well because as evil as he may be, he has a point. How scary is hope? How beautiful is hope? How wonderfully, terribly, awesomely awful is hope? It can break your heart but it can also bring you back from the dead, emotionally speaking. Some people hold on to it forever and some people never pick it up. Both for the same reason, to avoid getting hurt. Each looking at the other with pity.

When there is addiction in the household or you love someone who is struggling with addiction, at some point you have hoped they would recover. Maybe you are still hoping. It’s a good and fragile place to be. Some people stay in this stage forever and they live by it. They never want to give up hope on someone they care about, no matter how many times that person has let them down.

This does not mean that the hopeful person is naïve. They just think there are better times ahead. They have faith. There is something to be said about that person. That person is strong. I admire them but I am not that person.

I am the other person. My hope died years ago. Hope is terrifying. I do not have any hope that my mom will get sober for a long period of time. I love her. I believe I love her as much as my sister does who has hope that my mom will “recover”. I just have gotten to the point to where hoping for that is too painful. The constant let downs, the disappointments, and that feeling that your heart is being sucked out through your spine…that’s the feeling I am not strong enough to withhold.

It’s peaceful for me to be in this stage. Her letdowns don’t surprise me. It doesn’t hurt as badly when she relapses. I don’t have any expectations so I can’t suffer any consequences, right? I don’t know. Sometimes I think I am the smarter person. I am in less pain, I am struggling with her addiction less, and I feel more distant from it. Does that make it the right way? Just because it’s the easy way, does that mean it’s right?

I struggle with this constantly. Would it be more beneficial to distance myself from my mom just because it hurts less? Is it fine just to expect her to do poorly? Am I adding fuel to the depression that is her fire? I don’t know. I strongly believe that I have no effect on her sobriety. She has to choose that for herself and I can be supportive without being hopeful. However, is the only reason I don’t have hope just because I am too weak?

Then I re-watched The Hunger Games, and this quote stuck out above me. The hope he was referring to, the people overpowering their sadistic leader, was desperately needed. They needed that fire. But when loving someone struggling from addiction, I believe President Snow is right. Hope is the only thing that can fight fear. Not just for the addict but for us too. However, we need to have realistic expectations for hope. It needs to be contained.

Hoping that our loved one will get sober and never relapse after going to one AA meeting is naïve. That kind of hope should be contained because it’s dangerous. That isn’t a good kind of hope. When we are new into the addiction and learning our way through it, I feel like this kind of hope is common. This is still our mom/sister/brother/grandfather/etc. We KNOW them we tell ourselves arrogantly. They will get sober. They won’t be another statistic. They are different from everyone else. These lies we tell ourselves to keep that hope alive is what will murder that hope down the road.

We should hope they get sober. We should hope they succeed. But we should know that it is going to be a long up/down hill battle. Some days will be easier than others. Some days will be the worst of our lives. I am working on this for me. I would be dumb to hope that my mom would never drink a drop again. That just isn’t realistic. I do hope that she finds peace and wants to fight for her sobriety. I do hope that she won’t ever give up fighting to get sober, no matter how many times she relapses. I do hope that she doesn’t ever hurt herself or someone else. These are my new hopes for her.

It’s a whole new perspective for me. I think it helps bring me out of the state of pessimism of having no hope while staying away from the naïve optimism that things will work out. I hope she stays safe. I hope she knows I love her. I have hope that she will one day see how much her family loves her, in spite of this terrible disease. These are my hopes. What are your hopes?

Thanks for reading! Subscribe if you are interested or please share this with someone you think may benefit from it.

-Grumpy Sunshine