Chapter 2 ‘It Will Never Happen to Me”
Most adult children grow up with a pledge they have made to themselves. For some the pledge is a secret promise that is never shared with anyone else. For others, it is a sentence shouted in a family argument. The pledge is this: “I will never be like my parents. It will never happen to me. I will not treat my children or my spouse in the manner that my family treated me. I will not hit anyone or argue with anyone. I will not be an alcoholic.”
Internalizing Our Parents
Family dysfunction is a disease that affects everyone in the family. Taking a drink is not necessary to be affected. This is an ACA axiom, and it serves as a basis for our First Step. The effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family force us to develop survival traits that are known as The Laundry List (Problem). Since the disease of family dysfunction is generational, these traits also represent the internalization of our parents’ behavior. As much as we would like to deny it, we have become our parents. If we have succeeded in acting differently than them. we still based on unwanted traits handed off to us by our parents. We unknowingly passed them on to our children. We did not mean to do this. We tried to be different. We made a pledge.
We used denial to forget our pledge and the fact that we had internalized our parents. Denial is the glue that holds together a dysfunctional home. Family secrets, ignored feelings, and predictable chaos are part of a dysfunctional family system. The system allows abuse or other unhealthy behaviors to be tolerated at harmful levels. Through repetition, the abuse is considered normal by those in the family. Because the dysfunction seemed normal or tolerable, the adult child can deny that anything unpleasant happened in childhood. At the same time, there are many adult children who can recount the horrors of their dysfunctional upbringing in great detail. Yet, many do so without feeling or without connecting the deep sense of loss that each event brought. This is a denial of feelings identified in Trait 10 of The Laundry List (Problem).
These forms of denial allow the adult child to sanitize the family story when talking about the growing-up years. Denial can also lead us to believe that we have escaped our family dysfunction when we carried it into adulthood. Step One of the Twelve Steps states that we are “powerless over the effects” of growing up in a dysfunctional family. The Step calls us to admit that our behavior today is grounded in the events that occurred in childhood. Much of that behavior mirrors the actions and thoughts of the dysfunctional parents, grandparents, or caregivers. Once we come out of denial, we realize we have internalized our parents’ behavior. We have internalized their perfectionism, control, dishonesty, self-righteousness, rage, pessimism, and judgmentalness. Whatever the pattern might be, we realize we have internalized our parents. Their behavior and thinking are our behavior and thinking if we are honest about our lives.
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 non-alcoholic parent passes on just as many traits as the identified alcoholic. This “para-alcoholic” parent also passes on his or her pattern of inside “drugging” as well. The para-alcoholic (the codependent) is driven by fear, excitement, and pain from the inside. The biochemical surge and cascade of inner “drugs” that accompany these states of distress in this parent can impact children as profoundly as outside substances. Our experience shows that the non drinking parent’s reactions to these inside drugs affects the alcoholic’s drinking affects them. We realize this may seem technical, but it is important to understand if we 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 the long-term effects of fear transferred by a non alcoholic parent can match the damaging effects of alcohol. This is why many of us can temporarily abstain from addictive behaviors after growing up, but be driven by inner drugs that can bring difficulties as we attempt to recover. Our para-alcoholism 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.