Sunday, December 2, 2007
Addicted to chaos
As the holidays approach many of us have conflicted feelings about family, or what Erma Bombeck used to refer to as “the ties that bind and gag”. Visiting with relatives in this hypothetically joyous season tends to illicit fantasy expectations about what it means to be home for the holidays. The reality in many cases is we are returning to our chaotic roots.
A significant number of us grew up in an alcoholic/addicted family system, what is known today as a dysfunctional family. We never felt safe in our family of origin and the only thing we knew for sure was that nothing was for sure. Life was totally unpredictable and we became conditioned to living in chaos. When I talk about chaos in our lives, it was often not the kind that can be seen. In fact, many alcoholic/addict mothers were also super controllers and on the surface, our lives appeared to be perfect. The unsafe and chaotic living conditions of our lives were not visible or obvious to the outside world.
Despite the appearance of everything being under control, we experienced continued chaos, developed a tolerance for chaos and I believe became addicted to chaos. I think it is important to say I have never done a scientific experiment to investigate this theory. It is based on observation of numerous alcoholic/addicts and their behavior.
During the recovery process life becomes more manageable and less chaotic. The alcoholic/addict begins to feel a sense of autonomy and safety. A feeling of calm settles over their life. The paradox for the alcoholic/addict is that feeling calm is so unfamiliar it induces anxiety. There is a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. When there is a crisis, whether real or perceived, we actually experience a physical exhilaration and it feels remarkably like being active. From there it can be a very short distance to a relapse. Even if we don’t pick up we are not in a sober frame of mind.
Addiction to chaos can be very damaging. Once engaged in someone else’s crisis we abandon ourselves and often develop resentments, especially if it is someone we love or are close to. Family chaos is the “best” because it's so familiar and we can really get off on it. When there is a crisis with family or friends we feel compelled to listen to every sordid detail and/or take action. We are unable to let go, we need to be in the mix even though it is painful and upsetting. It requires tremendous effort to detach and not jump in with both feet to the detriment to our well being.
It's important to learn how to determine which events require our attention and which ones do not. We need to ask ourselves: Is this problem mine? What effect will the outcome of the problem have on my life? What can I do to affect the outcome of the problem? What impact will allowing myself to be drawn into someone else’s problem have on my sober thinking? We need to change our behavior and resist getting involved - to detach from the drama.
When we become aware of a problem, we need to resist the compulsion to react.We need to take a positive action, like calling someone we trust and reviewing the questions with them, someone who can remind us that our needs are just as important as the other person's. Initially this will be very difficult because when we are addicted to chaos we experience an intense struggle with our own will to "rescue" the ones we love, and many times others are pressuring us to join them in this self-defeating behavior.
If and when we manage to detach ourselves from the chaos, we may experience guilt and anxiety for not responding to a friend or loved one's problem. Each time we are able to resist we are teaching ourselves to appreciate the lack of chaos in our lives. That appreciation will eventually evolve into a feeling of confidence and soon the impulse to jump into someone else’s chaos lessens.
A sober mind requires that we keep the focus on us, not on the chaos around us. That means doing what is right for us, keeping our head where our feet are, and avoiding people who don’t make us feel good about ourselves.