Early last week a question landed in my inbox from a fellow ACOA.
What makes us, Adult Children of Alcoholics, want to isolate?
And I thought:
What a great freakin question. I have to cover this topic on GUC.
Now, I am in no way an expert on the topic of isolation but what I wanted to do today is offer up my perspective and share with you how I figured out what makes me isolate.
My hope is that you’ll take what you’re about to learn and apply it to your life wherever it makes sense. As much as I wish I had all of the answers you’re looking for I know that the answers you seek, the ones that are going to have the biggest impact on your life, have to come from your own exploring and discovery:)
And to really drive this point home to you, I’ve got a quick story to share.
A couple of nights ago, I was making myself some tea before bed. To be totally honest with you, I’m a hard core coffee drinker (the stronger the better) but lately I’ve been sipping on this licorice mint tea, especially at night when my sweet tooth kicks in.
Anyway, as I pulled the tea bag out of the packaging I noticed the message on its little paper tab.
“Your strength is your own knowledge.”
And this is exactly what I’m talking about when I say that the answers you’re looking for, the answers that will have the biggest impact on your recovery and your life are going to come directly from you. Your experiences, what you learn, all the methods or ideas you try, even the ones that don’t work are all guiding you towards the truth that you seek.
Of course that doesn’t mean that you don’t seek guidance from the world around you. It’s okay to read books, newsletters like this one, watch Youtube videos and take courses. Education is one of the major, and in my opinion, necessary components of any recovery, for sure. But always keep it in the back of your mind that your strength will ultimately come from your own knowledge.
I hope this makes sense:)
Anyway, back to today’s topic – isolation and why we Adult Children of Alcoholics do it.
Once you’ve had a chance to read, I’d love for you to share your thoughts and insights with me in the comment section below.
Tell me what makes you isolate, if you do. Even if you’ve never thought about the why or the what before, think about it now and share what you discover in the comment section. There’s no judgment here, this is all about exploring.
Remember your voice, experiences and insights are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
Until Next Tuesday,
Here’s The Big Picture On Isolation
To give you a big picture idea of what isolation is all about, I wanted to share a quick blurb from an article I found online. This one speaks in general about the many qualities and traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics or ACOAs. Here’s what the author of the article, Dr. Tian Dayton, wrote about isolation for ACOAs:
People who have felt traumatized may have a tendency to isolate and withdraw into themselves when they are feeling vulnerable. They have learned to recoil into a personless world and take refuge in avoiding connection. Isolation is also a feature of depression. Unfortunately the more we isolate, the more out of practice (we) become at making connections with people, which can further isolate us.
So as you can see not only is isolation an actual thing in the ACOA world but it’s also not an uncommon thing. Basically, what I wanted you to see is that even if you isolate and you feel alone, you’re really not alone in that experience.
Here’s What Isolation Looks Like For Me
The best way for me to describe my behavior when I isolate is to say that I become like an island that’s shut itself off from the outside world.
I get in this space where I stop interacting with life in every imaginable way. I cancel plans, I lose interest and overall I just feel disconnected. In many ways, for me, isolating feels a lot like they way I feel when I’m depressed.
Here’s What Happened Recently
Just recently, I shared about the move to Houston, Texas that Ryan and I made almost a year ago. And how having to drive everywhere to do anything has made it a ton easier for me to isolate. It also doesn’t help that when we moved here we didn’t know anyone and in order to meet new people and make friends, here in Houston, you have to get out and drive!
But here’s where I get stuck as an ACOA, I’m terrified of meeting new people. Like nearly every other ACOA that I’ve ever met, I have severe trust issues. And I know it’s because of my ACOA background and this quiet assumption I carry around in my head that people in my adult life will reject me in the same harsh and heartless ways that my drunk, abusive parents did when I was younger.
As the days turned into months here in Houston, I could feel myself melting into my usual isolation patterns. So, in an effort to shake things up and get out of my funk I signed up for a dance class that would have been less than a 10 minute drive from my apartment.
But as I already shared, I never went to any of the classes – not a single one!
Looking back at that situation now I’m able to explore why I decided not to go. Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, my need to remain isolated grew right out of the fear that I had about the people I would’ve met. In my head I already decided that they would’ve rejected me in the same horribly grand way my alcoholic parents did when I was younger.
For me, there’s something about being in a new situation, with new people, where I’m learning something new, aka being vulnerable, that causes me to pull back and away from my life and isolate.
Now this isn’t the one and only reason why but I just wanted to give you an idea of how I made this one connection in my life.
How To Answer The Question, What Makes Us, ACOAs, Want To Isolate?
So to answer the question, what makes us, Adult Children of Alcoholics, want to isolate? I’d say the answer for me was the fear of being vulnerable. In my case, I decided that the pain I associated with getting out and meeting new people was too much so, instead, I chose to not get out at all. I guess you could even say that isolating was a way for me to protect myself even if what I thought I was protecting myself from was completely imagined or just a reflexive reaction to things I’d experienced years ago at the hands of my parents.
Unfortunately, from that point forward the isolation just took on a life of its own. Where at first I was afraid of other people judging me or lashing out at me, instead, I ended up doing all that nasty stuff to myself, in my own head. Which of course only fed the cycle of isolation. Which makes me wonder if, more often than not, it’s not the outside world that I necessarily need to protect myself from but that I need to be more conscious of how I treat myself and the thoughts I indulge in my head.
Upon closer reflection I realize that those thoughts, ideas and beliefs are not my own but the old beliefs, thoughts, opinions and perceptions of my drunk parents. And they’re only a reflection of the environment I grew up in and not necessarily a reflection of the world I live in today.
So, if you want to get a clearer picture of what makes you isolate then I suggest you find a quiet place, grab your journal or open a fresh doc on your computer. From there try to think through your isolation patterns, because I bet if you look hard enough you’ll discover the patters in your behavior. What do you think about when you isolate? What do you keep repeating to yourself over and over again? What do you do when you isolate? Where do you go? Where are your favorite places to hide? Who do you avoid? What do you avoid doing? Do you tend to isolate from the real or the imagined? What triggers you? How do you know when you’re not isolating? What kind of emotional, mental or physical traumas live in your background?
Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here. You don’t need to share what you type out or scribble down on paper with anyone. This is purely for your own examination and ongoing exploration. And always remember:
“Your strength is your own knowledge.”
It’s one thing to understand isolation from a purely text book point point of view but to truly understand isolation in your life and in your world you need to understand YOU.