DYSFUNCTION IS DYSFUNTION IS DYSFUNCTION …
Please know that I don’t say that to be facetious! Having grown up with a mother who suffered from mental illness, it’s easy to see – with hindsight – why I became a psychotherapist. I loved my mother dearly and, not being able to save her from the demons of her disease in the days when we knew so much less about mental illness and had many fewer options to offer those who were afflicted, I’ve spent the better part of the last 25 years hoping to help patients by offering talk therapy and/or referring them for medication when necessary.
However, early in my career (and training to become a therapist followed being an elementary school teacher, an editor, an entrepreneur who wrote grant proposals to help Russian immigrant musicians create programs and perform them at various venues throughout the northeast, and an oral historian) a friend suggested that I receive further certification in addiction counseling. “That’s the hot, new field,” he said, when we were all out to dinner one night. My immediate response – albeit ignorant – was to laugh. Why would I want to work with alcoholics or any drug abuser for that matter? In my family of origin, we “sipped” wine on religious holidays, never served any liquor with dinner, and I hadn’t known anyone who was an alcoholic, at least not to my knowledge. So, why would working with that population of people be of any interest to me?
The good news is that I wasn’t so unreceptive or rigid in my thinking that I did not attend an open house for a program which trained people to receive a C.A.S.A.C. (certified alcoholism and substance abuse counseling certification). I did (although skeptically)register for the evening’s event.
An hour or so into the director of the program’s welcoming speech, we were shown a film of what it’s like for children who live in homes where a parent is an alcoholic. That’s when the tears started flowing and ignorance became a big question? How different is the anxiety experienced by a child who never knows what state he/she will find a parent who is drug addicted from one whose parent suffers from mental illness? How different is the life of the addict (a person who at first chooses a drug of choice to assuage anxiety or depression and then can’t resist from choosing it again and again and again) from a person who doesn’t choose to suffer from a mental illness but nevertheless does?
The doors opened. My world was never again the same.
Some 20+ years later, I am now able to say – with great humility – that some of the patients I have found most challenging and rewarding have been recovering addicts and/or the children of addicts. Yes, dysfunction – however it is masked in any family – effects every member of the family and must be addressed, if it is not to be perpetuated, rearing its ugly head in generations that follow.
When one member of any family is hurting, it is not possible for others to escape his/her pain. Everyone will, of course, experience such pain and act it out differently – given his/her nature – but TALKING about that pain, processing it with people who are well-trained to help us understand what we see/hear/feel is the difference that makes the difference between moving beyond the scars that were so wounding and staying stuck in a past which no longer serves us and is often more destructive than the initial events that helped shape our adult attitudes and decision-making skills (or lack thereof).
So, I shall end where I began. Dysfunction is dysfunction is dysfunction, no matter what the mask, no matter what the disease … and interrupting such cycles is a choice well worth making, despite how difficult it may be.
If I’m able to help you find appropriate professionals, should you need to seek help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
With all best wishes for good health and productive life choices!