Monday, December 14, 2015

Blogging as Therapy

There's never time enough, it seems, for a mother to take care of her own needs. Blogging (journaling) is a form of therapy for me, but it crossed my mind over the years that maybe if I blogged less, the house would be cleaner and I would be more organized and stay organized. Not to mention, get more sleep, since most of my blogging is a late-night event. I wondered...if the house was cleaner and I was more organized, and well-rested, would there be less stress around here?

Well, no.

The last ten days--ten days of no blogging--have been extremely stressful, though not without blessings. My son Peter's moderate-to-severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has us in survival mode. A cluttered house is so. not. the. problem.

Ten days is the longest I've gone without blogging since my first blog post on December 16, 2007. I started on another blog with our real names, and switched to this anonymous blog after two years.

Why is blogging so therapeutic?

The answer for me is that as I write, my jumbled thoughts line up in a neat row and clarity comes to me. The Holy Spirit's teachings then penetrate my heart better.

Some of you know that I cut off contact with my functioning alcoholic mother nearly two years ago, and after that I learned about the set of characteristics common to ACOA (Adult Child of an Alcoholic). Any adult who grew up with a toxic parent would share at least some of these characteristics (listed below), whether alcohol or drugs were involved or not.

Adult Children:

...guess at what normal is.

...have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end.

...lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
(I think this particular characteristic is more seen in severe alcoholism with abuse present as well. A couple neighbor children here display this compulsive lying. It's surmised that these children can't handle the truth of their situations, so they make things up to create a better story. If this persists over time, they lose the ability to easily discern what is lie and what is reality, and they have a harder time managing lies because they've told so many.)

...judge themselves without mercy.

...have difficulty having fun.

...take themselves very seriously.

...have difficulty with intimate relationships.

...overreact to changes over which they have no control.

...constantly seek approval and affirmation.

...feel that they are different from other people.

...are either super responsible or super irresponsible.

...are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is undeserved.

...tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self loathing, and loss of control of their environment. As a result, they spend tremendous amounts of time cleaning up the mess.

I regularly feel the pain of several or more of these characteristics. And unfortunately, the more I realize how crippled I am by these, the more I hate my mother's choices and how they affected me and my brother and sister. Forgiveness is so not a one-time event. The only way I can keep praying for and forgiving my mother and step-father is to imagine them as babies and toddlers, unaffected by dysfunction and unable to inflict pain. Their combined choices were very, very costly for me and my siblings.

While I didn't become or marry an addict, as some adult children do, I did marry someone who I felt needed rescuing (classic codependency). I do love my husband and am committed to a life-long marriage, but that doesn't mean I got into this for the right reasons. We are low-income because of my dysfunctional choice. My children suffer because of my dysfunctional choice. I suffer because of it. God in his graciousness, however, had me stay single until I both became, and met, a Christian. That my husband is a Christian is an act of incredible grace toward me and my children. 

An elderly, mostly house-bound neighbor came over to use the phone last week. He said he watches my children play in the front yard and he can't believe how happy they seem. It's true, not just a kind comment. They are happy. Not all the time, due in large part to inherited anxiety disorders, but they know how to have fun. They are not growing up in a dysfunctional home, which is tremendous progress for my family line.

Our friend Dean, over for dinner to do more drywall for us, stayed for family prayer and said in his prayers that our house is full of love. Having bipolar himself, he knows something of the angst inherent in mental disorders. He knows our struggles, but he still thinks this house is full of love.

That comment, too, reminded me of the enormity of God's grace in my life. A house full of love? What could be better?

What's missing is an acceptance of self. Call it self-love, if you will. I'm a grateful person, not inclined to focus on the negative, except when it comes to me, personally. I give myself so little grace.

As a Christian, it's necessary to realize that God doesn't erase consequences of sin. He showers us with grace, but the final fix comes in heaven. That doesn't mean that our dysfunctional starts have to define us, however. When it comes to healing our personal wounds, it doesn't matter so much why we're in pain, really. It usually isn't helpful to lie on some couch and talk about the past. Cognitive behavioral therapy is all about changing thinking and behavior. 

Therapy is helpful in identifying the cognitive distortions involved in personal pain. Going forward, when I feel pain and turmoil, I'll look at this list and try to identify what distortion matches my current thinking, and try to emerge from its oppression.

Here are the most common distortions therapists see in their practices, and if you've ever experienced anxiety or depression, you probably have some of these distortions going on, though depression can be strongly chemically based as well.

I hope something on this list helps you. My son Peter and I have both found them helpful. They aren't anything like the Holy Spirit's influence, but I think psychology can certainly complement Christian teaching. It just can't replace it or overshadow it.

The Lord saved me, and he introduced me to true love. I am rich with love. Now, if only I could show kindness to myself.

All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.

Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.

Jumping to conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.

Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don't bother to check it out.

The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.

Magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow's imperfections). This is also called the "binocular trick."

Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true."

Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. "Musts" and "oughts" are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.

Labeling and mislabeling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him, "He's a louse." Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.

Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.


Anonymous said...

I can relate. Also I know my dear boy struggles with a lot of those things that are on the list, too. His anxiety can be overwhelming at times. It certainly teaches me the meaning of patience and gentleness! My middle child tells lies, as you describe, and I do worry about it. I will show her this list and maybe it will help her, with prayer. I will continue praying for you and your lovely family and yes, a HOUSE FULL OF LOVE is the greatest blessing! Thank you, Jesus for the wonderful, healing gift of love.

Christine said...

I've met kids over the years who tell tall tales but it's not chronic and usually not covering something up. The two kids in the neighborhood I worry about both tell them chronically, and some are far from harmless tall tales. So, there are probably different reasons kids do this, and I doubt if your middle child's are anything to worry about.

Thank you for your prayers, Sandy. I wish you a very Merry Christmas, friend!