Posted by: innerpilgrimage | September 16, 2010

Grief, My Addict’s Landfill, and That River in Egypt

      I worked a lot of stuff out about the recovery process today while working a Step Three with a sponsee.

      For the past two days, I have been struggling with some inner-child angst. The coping mechanisms that have haunted me got a bit of light on them, and although my addict self fought to hide (and fight it did), a little red AA coin from my Higher Power and my fellowship yesterday kept me going. Well, and the person who relies on me to be abstinent: my sponsee. But not as much as I would like it to have, because there are days when I feel so overwhelmed and want to run screaming from the 12-Step program (because it’s ha-a-a-a-ard!) and I want to reduce my service instead of expand it. Reducing my service would mean that I would be isolating more. That’s addicted thinking, something I have been giving in to for several days now. Today is a day in recovery. I am respecting my hunger, I am not obsessing over what I have in my refrigerator (or what my local grocery or convenience store has in theirs) to soothe the fear away.
      Just like there are some unspoken, understood recovery messages, I have some seriously buried unspoken addict messages. These “Unspoken but Broken” messages are getting illuminated slowly as I learn about grief and being to integrate the grief process into recovery. It gives Step Four a whole new meaning, I can tell you that. And, of course, it gives me the unpleasant task of getting in there and starting to dig into the memories I have buried under mounds of addict-thinking.
      These well-worn neural superhighways have names, and I am now finally getting the “local” familiarity with them.
      In traffic reports, often they will use the nickname of the route, interstate, or exchange to say where there are traffic issues. If one is not familiar with the area (like an addict who’s been in denial), those names are completely foreign and it doesn’t do a damned bit of good to know there’s a stall in the center divide of the Roundabout Way, or the Cloverleaf Roll, or the Wedding Cake, or the Short Stack, or the Grape Crush. But, over time, those names get connected with something, and they gain meaning.
      For example, a lot of addicts are overachievers, but I am an underachiever. These workaholics get stuff done, whereas I hide. How can the same damage they sustained turn into overachievement for them and complete paralysis for me. Well, I got some messages revealed, the nicknames for those superhighways.

      The “I Have To Do It Alone” Interstate. In my childhood, there were times I recognized I did not have enough information or education to complete a task. I asked for help and either (a) did not get it or (b) got useless help. The biggest memory is one I’ve joked about, but it has deeply and profoundly affected me. I had a test in history, and I asked my father to help me study for it. I had flash cards I wanted to use. Instead of quizzing me on the flash cards, he had me listen to speeches by an illustrious politician instead. We didn’t even work with the flash cards. Forty-five minutes later, the time was gone, I had to go to bed, and I was no closer to knowing the test material. I did poorly on the test but learned a valuable lesson: “Don’t ask for help because I will be blamed for not getting the right kind of help when I do. If I do it on my own, at least I can control it–even if I am in over my head.”
      Those speeches were for another time–not then. My father disrespected my needs and ignored my begging. And my mother did not stand up for me and tell my father to play the speeches the next night and help me how I needed that night, nor did she even offer to do it, herself. I can excuse it as them doing the best they could, but that won’t help. I am resentful because of that event, and that is VERY real. I have to grieve that loss and learn that I can ask for help and get it. In fact, I did ask for help for something from my spouse two days ago (in a roundabout way), and he gave me useful support that will get the work done and make me feel less alone.
      He’s coming through for me. Asking for help may not get the answer I want, but I can ask for help and rely on some people to come through for me. My HP can guide me to the right people and give me the willingness to ask.
      “I Can’t Do It Perfectly” Highway. This connects with the “I Have to Do It Alone” Interstate at the “Why Even Try If I’m Going to Fail Anyway?” Interchange. And there is the solution to why I don’t try at all. Overachievers must have a different highway name, like “I Gotta Keep Trying to Earn Their Acceptance”, which changes the interchange to something like “I’ll Keep Pushing Myself Until I Fall Over From Exhaustion” Interchange. The point is, the same need for control in this situation is expressed differently. Some people push themselves so hard that they can be too busy to deal with the grief because maybe they got praise for being an overachiever; I freeze because I don’t want to be punished then pretend it doesn’t matter to me that even perfection isn’t enough. Not only did I have to get the highest grade in the class (like there was an A+++ available, a 10.0 out of 4.0), I had to get better than 100%. Instead of 97% being acceptable (Which earned the same A), I was expected to get over 100%. And when I did, it wasn’t enough. That lesson, “Even better-than-perfect grades earn the same disappointment”, drove me to give up completely and retreat . . . or outbursts of anger and shock associated with the loss. And when that ended up colliding with the “Perfect Family” image, the punishment and rejection increased until I fell in line. So, I fell in line and fell apart, and I was labeled unbalanced for my troubles. And I felt unbalanced, out-of-control, completely without order in my life. Like a beautiful house filled with rotting trash, the door was closed and people could coo over how it looked–despite being overwhelmed by the horror of living in uninhabitable and insane conditions behind the closed door.
      As much as I hate to “betray” my family secret, it’s not like it wasn’t noticeable. I was stuck in a loop, trying to be the “good girl” yet sitting mired in Hell. I wanted to be that family we were supposed to be on the outside, and I rebelled against the lie. I didn’t want “The Worse”, which I knew was out there, having seen a friend devastated by being removed from a home situation into foster care. I have no idea how I could have reconciled the insanity without going insane. So I ate, and I was attacked for that, too. A lose-lose situation, where I felt I was going mad because everyone else seemed fine in public. I guess I did take on the role of the “Child Who Was Hypersensitive and Insane Through No Fault of Our Own” with relish. I couldn’t be reasoned with at a certain point.
      Something that I recall is that I did not laugh for almost a year, until I saw a movie. I smiled, but I did not laugh genuinely until that day. I was 13 and 14 at the time. I recall that I was older. And I am trying to remember laughing genuinely at the time, and all I remember is that I got into my head that I was so sad that I couldn’t laugh. I remember feeling broken, feeling sad. And I remember seeing the comedy (even though I had seen comedies in that time) and I just . . . let my inner child out. Something else that sticks is the regular comment by people that even when I smiled or laughed, my eyes were always so sad. That happened for decades.
      Anyway, back to the Crazy Child. I think that perhaps it allowed it to be my fault. If I were really insane, chemically imbalanced, I could act irrationally and it could be my fault–not theirs. Well, at 40, I am seeing I’m not chemically imbalanced. When I was on anti-psychotic medication, I got a taste of chemically-induced numbness. And I craved it. I learned to love it. I was not destructive, not raging, but I wasn’t there. In order to stop the chaos, the order I chose put me into an asylum that extended as far as my skin.
      The 12-Step program works for me because it is spiritual, in my case. Not religious, spiritual. I have so much grief to process, and the knowledge I want to find meaning in my life has exposed it. Was there a purpose to the chaos under the thin veneer of order?
      The purpose I see, at this point, is that I have a chance to grow up. To mature. To find the womanly grace I have craved since youth. To leave the crocodile-infested and lotus-studded banks of Denial. To found a new city, a new life based in reality. In other words, I have the promise of finally finding out what I am going to be when I grow up.
      To do that, I have to sort through the debris of my past. I need to practice healthy grieving so I can learn to do it with sanity, serenity, and acceptance. And the fact that I recognize that I indulged in playing the crazy kid to punish my parents is giving me something to do for my Eighth and Ninth Stepwork with them. I did it for so long that clearly I got a payoff from it. I need to learn what the perceived payoff was.
      I didn’t get a well-adjusted childhood. I can’t go back and make it not happen or will it to have happened differently. Now comes facing the pain yet again, as it was back then. The shock of realizing that I didn’t overachieve and that I worked the insane child angle through my adolescence needs to be given its time of real grief work. I chose to be labeled insane. The grief work is to go back and understand why a child would wrap that label around herself like a security blanket, as an excuse to absolve others and set the blame squarely and completely on me. As an excuse to act out rage, pain, depression, fear, self-loathing publicly. What drove me to choose that level of self-abuse? Did I feel so alone that perhaps I used it as a rationale for my isolation? I have so many questions, so much awareness to bring forward. Well, it’s time to walk through this. I’m already in the Inferno, and I accept there is no exit but the one in front of me, one which exposes my weakness to its core so I can transition to the spiritual enlightenment at the end of the journey. I have a Virgil in my Higher Power, a guide through the path of Hell.
      I’m still wondering why I would choose acting out insanity through my adolescence. I’m stunned and even alarmed that I would choose to appear insane. Why I would succumb to it instead of fight. What in my childhood would drive me to decide that option was better than trying to achieve for myself? Did I consider it the ultimate act of failure and found it easier than fighting for my sanity? Did it get my parents off my back? Did it allow me to express real feelings? And if I could express real feelings through it, was that expression tainted because it was labeled as insane child behavior? Hm. Lots to consider. The question, then, is how to get through the active grief stage so I can learn to live after its associated loss.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict. My body is telling me it’s hungry. This is the first day in a week or so that I haven’t been obsessed with the food in my kitchen or in my grocery. Something’s changed, and I have a sense of serenity and sanity despite the acknowledgement that I chose to express the chaos in my life externally while I was a child. I’m still baffled by the fact I did that instead of overachieving like most addicts seem to in order to cover their pain.


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