“There’s no question that our behavior, thinking, and emotions are both hardwired within us and influenced by our environment”, says Brene Brown in ‘Daring Greatly’. “I have no doubt, however, that when it comes to our sense of love, belonging, and worthiness, we are most radically shaped by our families of origin – what we here, what we are told, and perhaps most importantly, how we observe our parents engaging with the world”.
I love that chapter of the book because in trying to explain how I can be an effective parent to my child, I realize through Brene’s examination that my parents did the best that they could with the resources available to them. And I am okay with that NOW!
First of all, let me say, I didn’t think all my life that there is something wrong with the way I am because of my parents. In fact, almost the opposite is true. I felt “Why am I such a Fuck Up when I had such great parents and a wonderful family?” “How come I can’t stop drinking?”
The tragedy in this for the still drinking alcoholic or using addict is that it is impossible to resolve basic genetic, environmental, and spiritual ailments when you’re IN IT.
When I finally gave up…I mean succumbed…I mean laid down my weapons and GAVE UP, I was assisted to the First Aid room by some kindly alchies and given the breath of life.
That is, I was offered a chance to rest and recover from the abuse I was dishing out to myself, long enough to do some reflection.
You see, I had done a lot of reflection in my addiction, but it was next to useless. It’s like asking a Kenyan who had never left the mountains to imagine the seaside. It’s a picture based on imagination and words without real connection and meaning. Once you have been to the ocean, only then can you feel the breeze and smell the salt and a marine life.
I was imagining a life of happiness and sobriety without
- How to attain it
- How it would feel
- A good enough WHY
- Any aids to getting there (wherever THERE was)
Add to that the fear of letting go of my best friend of 30 years…well, you want me to do WHAT? No wonder Pete my Brother-In-Arms chose death over the destruction of the ego.
Your family of origin (as distinct from the family you create with a sex partner) is the sandpit from which you emerge eager to be your own individual.
There are at least two things that I feel can’t be done much about when you’re out of the womb. The genes that you’ve got and the culture you’re born into.
Your genetic makeup is the combination of your parent’s genes and millions of years of evolution. Last year I had the privilege of studying two Biology classes. The phenotypes and genotypes information is absolutely incredible. The fact that I was in high school when the first genome was mapped and here I am in University doing a recombinant genetics experiment in a laboratory as part of year one Biology!
Well, basically, if you’re born with three ears then that’s that. I was born (probably) with a predisposition to alcoholism and my two sisters got good looks. That’s that!
The NIAAA reports that genetics may account for only half of all patients with Alcohol Use Disorder. One Norwegian study that I remember studied at length the environmental risk and genetic predisposition and found the stepchildren of alcoholics suffer also with the disease of alcoholism in roughly similar proportions.
I have to admit, I have a step-daughter whose biological dad and I are both alcoholic (although he passed away). She has, so far, remained relatively ‘normal’.
There are whole libraries of books on the subject of parenting and behavioral outcomes. I would like to just briefly focus on shame and vulnerability as passed on traits because they have been significant life changers for me.
Both from the personal experience and research findings of Brene Brown and John Bradshaw, I have learned a lot about my own childhood and alcoholism.
From John Bradshaw’s ‘Healing The Shame That Binds You”,
“Shame-based people find other shame-based people and get married. As each member of a couple carries the shame from his or her own family system, their marriage will be grounded in their shame-core”.
Here Bradshaw explains in as few words as possible how the children of shame-based people come into the world. If this is you, then it was a sort of predestination, although not all children of shame-based parents end up the same way – far from it.
This is the beginning of a life of addict for most of us though.
When I was first made aware of this I was transfixed. I was sure that reading Healing The Shame That Binds You was written just for me. It took me at least two more years to read the second half of that book – The Solution. I was so terrified that I was doomed and that there was no way out. My sobriety had just gotten really serious.
Spoiler alert – I did stay sober and I did read the second half of that book. I now even have the luxury of a sponsor who knew John Bradshaw when he was writing the book and subsequently has helped many people learn about their true nature.
For your information, here are some of the things Bradshaw speaks about parent modeling and why shame-based parents have little ability in these matters.
‘Modeling includes how to be a man or a woman; how to relate intimately to another person; how to acknowledge and express emotions; how to fight fairly; how to have physical, emotional, and intellectual boundaries; how to communicate;how to cope and survive life’s unending problems; how obe self-disciplined; and how to love oneself and another. Shame-based parents cannot do any of these”.
There’s no question that our behavior, thinking, and emotions are both hardwired within us and influenced by our environment. From alcoholism to masturbation addiction and everything known to man, the mind and it’s development in childhood still holds a lot of answers to our physical and emotional problems.
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