I talk a lot about “breaking the cycle”. I realize that this probably makes me one of those really annoying people who make the people around them uncomfortable by talking about things that no one really wants to talk about, or even acknowledge occurs beyond the simple sympathetic nod in the direction of the newspaper before resuming their normal lives. This is because they have normal lives, and while humanity has been gifted with the extraordinary thing that is empathy, few who have not been in a dysfunctional situation can really wrap their minds around what dysfunction means, just as people who have lived in dysfunction have no idea about what they should have been taught as children.
For those of us who grew up in a home that was, for whatever reason, not healthy or functional, there is hope. I read a great book around this time last year, and by “great” I mean “read in little bitty sections with days in between reading so you can process and try to keep your brain from splitting open”. Please, do not skip this book if one of your parents was not specifically an alcoholic. While Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) is geared toward the effect of alcohol or drugs on a home and the ramifications of that as an adult, any kind of dysfunction, even problems your parents may have had as a result of their parents. The book covers a list of behaviors that are common in ACOA’s, see if any of these could apply to you:
- ACOA’s guess at what normal behavior is.
- They have difficulty following a project from beginning to end.
- They lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
- They judge themselves without mercy.
- They have difficulty having fun.
- They take themselves very seriously.
- They have difficulty with intimate relationships.
- They over-react to changes over which they have no control.
- They constantly seek approval and affirmation.
- They usually feel that they are different from other people.
- They are either super responsible or super irresponsible.
- They are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is undeserved.
- They are impulsive. They 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 over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.
I’ve been working through the list over the course of the last year, trying to identify the problem areas that I have and focus on the ones that are effecting my life the most. Because these behaviors are learned from our parents, it is ridiculously easy to pass them on. Even staring down an unhealthy behavior and knowing that it is unhealthy does not make it any easier to un-program that thought process from my brain.
I have a serious problem with procrastination. I take procrastination to a level that is frankly ridiculous. This entire blog post is actually probably me procrastinating on something else I should be doing (like the dishes that are sky-high in my kitchen, or the laundry that has taken over my living room, or organizing the kids’ bedroom that is still a random mess even after 4 weeks maternity leave).
The idea that ACoA presents is that in dysfunctional families, the children grow up being horrible procrastinators because they simply do not have the indirect teaching of breaking a large project down into smaller pieces and allotting a reasonable amount of time for each section. In school I struggled with not giving myself enough time to complete projects. This was only exacerbated by the fact that I was a bright student and got away with pulling all-nighters and slapped-together research papers and projects for a long time. However, that doesn’t work with trying to manage housework regularly. All I can do is try to get organized and rein myself in when I start tackling something in huge chunks that can’t possibly be handled in the amount of time I have to spend on them, otherwise the rest of the things I need to accomplish don’t get the attention that they need and it only gets backed up to the point where I have the uncontrollable urge to hide out and watch television and facebook and write blog posts and not do anything because I frankly have no idea where to start and I get overwhelmed. Even being aware that this is something I struggle with doesn’t make changing my behavior any easier. I’m trying to learn a process I should have learned gradually throughout my childhood and teen years all at once, while functioning in the adult world of work and money and all that stuff I have to pay for.
With that, I leave you with an oatmeal cookie recipe that I made and return to staring at all of the other things I should be doing, wondering what I can actually make a dent in today:
White Chocolate Apricot Oatmeal Cookies
- 1 cup shortening
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 2 cups oatmeal
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 2 tsp soda
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup diced dried apricots
- 1 cup white chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup almond slivers (optional)
Cream sugars, shortening, vanilla extract, and eggs. Add dry ingredients and add to shortening mixture. Drop by teaspoon onto greased cookie sheet and bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes. Makes 2 dozen cookies.
These cookies are very filling and can also be spread onto a cookie sheet with raised edges to make homemade nutrigrain-like snack bars. If you do this, use two cookie sheets and bake for an additional 5 minutes or so. Allow to cool halfway before slicing.