Read Dirtballs, Part 1 here.
You see, although I thought I was crying for the kids I was working with, what I didn't realize until later was that I was actually crying for myself; their stories were tapping into a well of emotion in my own heart. Finally, I was ready to pull up the bucket and see what was in it.
I began attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) meetings, where I saw myself clearly in the effects of growing up with an alcoholic parent, and learned about the solutions.) I'll never forget that first ACA meeting, because I was introduced to the 12-Step program. In particular, the very first step changed my life: Recognizing that I was powerless; that a Higher Power, not I, was in control.
You mean I wasn't in responsible for fixing the unhealthy people in my life (my dad, my boyfriend, etc.)?? Wow. Thank GOD!
I cannot tell you what a relief it was to finally have permission to stop trying to save everyone around me. My life had become unmanageable as a result of my trying to control everyone and everything around me (in order to feel secure.) I was a control freak, and it was exhausting. It caused me to choose the wrong men (with plans of changing them, of course). It was so liberating to finally let go.
I had found myself attracted to drama wherever I went. Many people who grow up in alcoholic households tend to become addicted to drama, and they actually seek it out (subconsciously, in my case), because that's what they're used to. It's no surprise that ACAs often grow up to work in high-adrenalin jobs, such as emergency room personnel, nurses, police officers, and other high-stress jobs. I had found myself drawn to a group home full of people living dysfunctional lives, and that was no coincidence.
Over time, I grew through my own work in ACA and through reading self-help books on the subject. I also discovered the work of Bradshaw ("Inner Child" stuff). Eventually, I moved to another state (and another group home), and continued my journey. I began working with a mentor (a talented clinical psychologist named Vern who also became a great friend) and further unpacked my own "baggage." Vern taught me a lot. He also encouraged me to seek private counseling for a separate issue that that had plagued me for years, and I took his advice (more on that, maybe, some day).
I saw a clear evolution in the way I worked with kids struggling with emotional issues after I had healed my own. In the past, when I was around someone experiencing emotional pain, it terrified me (because it tapped into my own). I filled every available moment of silence with chatter; anything to avoid silence (and reflection). Through working through my own issues, I learned that a person does not have to go around emotions, but can safely (with support) go through them.
Today, I embrace my negative emotions, rather than running from them, because I know that they are healthy and that I'll get through them. When I encounter someone crying in emotional pain, I am sad for them, but I am also happy for them, because I know that expressing emotions is necessary for healing. I reassure the person, without sending a message that their pain is too great to bear. I know that "swallowing" emotions does not heal them; it just creates infections that can lay dormant for years but always come out in the end. If you can cry, that means you are alive and living in truth, generally speaking. I'd rather be alive than be dead emotionally, even if it's painful.
This is why there is such a great burnout rate among people working in my field; if you have a lot of buttons to push, these kids can find them in a heartbeat, and you will soon grow weary (or too afraid) to continue. If you work on your "stuff," however, these kids are less likely to tap into a well of emotion, and you don't find yourself hurting all the time from other people's pain. I no longer fear emotional intimacy, and a spell of silence in a conversation no longer fills me with anxiety; I know it has the potential for growth.
So, really, I've learned through writing this post that the reason that I love working with students with EBD (Emotional Behavioral Disabilities) is that those "dirtballs" from long ago actually saved me; not the other way around. Kids with EBD sacrifice themselves; their health, safety, reputations in order to draw attention to problems in their lives; ones that others often pretend are not there. Working with them, seeing their bravery in facing such tough issues, led me to my own path of recovery; a path that changed my life and has allowed me to make a difference.
I no longer run from my emotions; if I'm angry with you, I will tell you, and I hope you will do the same. Unless you are a dangerous person (or one who is terrified of intimacy and cannot handle it), I will not fear talking intimately with you; in fact, I will welcome it. I'm not perfect, but I'm at peace with myself, with my dad, with others who have hurt me in the past. I'm certainly not the poster child for emotional wellness, but I'm doing very well. I've broken a family cycle and have used my skills to help others heal. It's a great feeling.
I still carry some baggage.....but it's only a little overnight bag.
Wondering if your family was dysfunctional? Don’t Google it; I’ll warn you, it’s a bunch of goofy links. If your relationships are often filled with drama, that’s one clue. If you’re upset on a regular basis over relationship issues, that, too, is a clue. If you hold emotions inside because you don’t feel safe talking about them, you probably come from a dysfunctional family. If you’re constantly trying to save people or if you’re a people-pleaser, you probably come from a dysfunctional family. If you’re often angry, that’s also a clue. Being from a dysfunctional family doesn’t mean anything about your character and isn’t a judgement about your parents; it simply means that you probably have some work to do if you want to break the cycle.