Being an Adult Child of an Alcoholic & Emotional Immaturity
In this episode of the Alcohol Minimalist podcast, Molly Watts shares her goal of helping listeners create a peaceful relationship with alcohol by reflecting on past perceptions and current attitudes towards drinking. As an avid football fan, she looks forward to enjoying the game with family, accompanied by non-alcoholic beers. Molly emphasizes the educational nature of the show and encourages those with potential physical dependence or trauma-related challenges to seek professional help. Drawing from her personal experience as an adult child of an alcoholic, Molly explores the impact of emotional immaturity and provides insights into the characteristics of adult children of alcoholics. She delves into the complexity of managing emotions and the role of cognitive behavioral therapy in her journey to change drinking habits. Molly dispels the belief in a genetic fault link, highlighting the importance of taking responsibility for one’s behavior. Referencing the book by psychologist Janet G. Woititz, Molly discusses the power of understanding past patterns and emphasizes the significance of shaping a present perspective.
You’re listening to breaking the bottle legacy with Molly watts, episode nine. Hi, I’m Molly, after a lifetime living under the influence of family alcohol abuse, spending more than 30 years worrying about alcohol and my own drinking, believing I had an unbreakable daily drinking habit, I changed my relationship with alcohol forever. If you want to change your drinking habits than breaking the bottle legacy is for you. My goal is to help you create a peaceful relationship with alcohol, past, present, and future. Each week all focus on real science and using your own brain to change your relationship with alcohol. Nothing has gone wrong, you’re not broken, you’re not sick. It’s not your genes. And creating peace is possible. I’m here to help you do it. Let’s start now. Well, hello, and welcome or welcome back to breaking the bottle legacy with me your host, Molly watts, coming to you from well, let’s say a decent February day, it’s a little cloudy, but I see the sun breaking through. It is actually Sunday, February 7, Super Bowl Sunday. And Super Bowl Sunday, of course has a lot of history with alcohol, not only for me, I’m sure but for many of you, because today It’s an event that is advertised with lots of fanfare and lots of alcohol advertising surrounding it. And history just wise. It’s an excuse. For me at least it was an excuse to go hang out with friends and drink on a Sunday. So this year, definitely different not only because we’re not going to be hanging out with a big group of friends, but because I’ve definitely been working on my relationship with alcohol for the last two years. This week, between the Superbowl and passing my mother’s birthday, she would have been 90 this year. She didn’t make it that long. If you’ve listened at all, you know that she passed away just after her 81st birthday as the result of an alcoholic binge. So this week just has a lot of reflection and thoughts about alcohol and really allowing me to look at that, and what I have thought about alcohol in the past and what I think about it now and I’m looking forward to the game, I’m looking forward to watching it for those of you who don’t know, I am a huge football fan. So going to enjoy watching the game, having some great food, hanging out with my family, probably some non alcoholic beers. And really just being able to enjoy the time and the presence and the moment and not needing alcohol to change how I’m thinking or change how I’m feeling because I am going to be thinking and feeling great and enjoying myself. This episode is an important episode. And it’s going to be all about a little bit or the first one of more episodes that I will be doing on my past as an adult child of an alcoholic. And so for a little housekeeping I want to say first, as a reminder, I’m not an addiction expert or medical professional. And everything you hear on this show is for educational and informational purposes only if you believe you have a physical dependence on alcohol, and for this episode, specifically, if you believe that the trauma from your past as an adult child of an alcoholic is impacting you in a way that makes it impossible for you to sustain basic living, holding down a job having a relationship getting up out of bed and feeding yourself daily. Those basic functions if you’re not able to do those, the trauma may need to be addressed by a medical professional. So I encourage you to seek appropriate professional help with regard to changing your both your drinking and your relationship with your past trauma. If that’s in fact you if you’re like me, and you know you were drinking more than you want to and you drink on a habit basis. If your past as an adult child of an alcoholic, it doesn’t stop you from doing your basic life like me, then hopefully this episode will help you maybe understand some of the characteristics that are prevalent amongst adult children of alcoholics where they may have come from for you what they may, how they may have impacted your own relationship with alcohol. All right, one more piece of housekeeping. If you would like a free ebook called alcohol truths, how matches save, that will help you determine how much is safe for you. Please go to www dot Molly watts.com. That’s Molly with a why watts with an s.com. And download that ebook today. And if you’d like to have the support of a community to stay motivated and or accountable with changing your relationship with alcohol, I would love to have you join my private Facebook group, it is completely private, meaning that you can search for it but you cannot your posts. Anything that you say in that group, none of your friends or family will be able to see it. If you just go to Facebook and look in groups search for breaking the bottle legacy. And I’m also going to link it in my show notes to a direct link there. So either way, come on over, we’d love to have you. Okay, that’s it for housekeeping. We are ready for today’s episode. And I’ll tell you right now that if this episode is definitely for you, if you are an adult child of an alcoholic, but honestly, I think a lot of what I’m going to be talking about is relevant for you. Even if you didn’t have a parent who was an active alcoholic, if you grew up with teetotallers, or if you had a family that drank a lot, and regularly, there are lessons to be learned from your past. And that is really what I want to share with you today. I don’t pretend that just because you may be an adult children of alcoholic just like me that we share the same experience and that our journeys are the same. But there are common characteristics that have been outlined by psychologists. And we’ll be discussing those and how those characteristics played into my own habit of drinking, and how they may be influencing your relationship with alcohol as well. We’re going to dive a little deeper into emotional immaturity. What it is, why it’s a common issue in addiction, and how it influences adult children of alcoholics, specifically, emotional immaturity, just FYI, is not something that is exclusive to adult children of alcoholics or alcoholics. And quite honestly, I believe that it’s really at the core for many of us for changing any habit that doesn’t serve us, and certainly for most people who are drinking more than they want to, however much that is regardless and regardless of your past. So my past, for those of you who are just tuning in, for the first time includes living with my mother’s alcoholism for most of my life. My mother first admitted to me that she was an alcoholic when I was 13 years old. And by that time, it had been going on for at least a few years, she continued to abuse alcohol, until she ultimately died. Due to that alcoholic binge when she was 81 years old. She went through four different rehab programs, including a nine month residential program for the quote, unquote reluctant to recover when she was 77 years old. And she was the oldest at the time, and probably one of the oldest they’ve ever had patients there. And she drank three weeks after her release. So while it’s true that I was a child of an alcoholic, her addiction never was resolved my whole life. So I became an adult who had that alcohol has impact on that relationship has always, you know, on my relationship with my mother has always been a part of my whole life. And it’s also part of the reason that I allowed my own dysfunctional relationship with alcohol to develop, and why I hope that I can help other people like me, who, number one, have a daily drinking habit that feels unbreakable. And or have had or have an alcoholic parent that impacts you and your own relationship with alcohol. All right, so if you may know, you may not know I guess I’m in the process of writing a book about breaking the ball called breaking the bottle legacy, same same title. And during the course of researching for the book, I was able to talk to other adult children of alcoholics. And I was able to also do some research just independently, obviously, on being an adult child of an alcoholic and there’s there’s a lot of resources, not a lot. I’ll take that back. It’s not a lot. But there are resources for adult children of alcoholics. And some of you may be familiar with the book titled, adult children of alcoholics. And that book was written by Dr. Janet woyww tips and I believe that’s how you say her last name. She’s no longer living so I couldn’t check with her. But at any rate, she was really the first to recognize these shared characteristics or this collective experience, that adult children that children of alcoholics had as they grew up, and what she says in it The book was that that society recognized the collective experience. But there was appeared to be very little interest in the topic, the prevailing thinking in alcoholism field was that if the alcoholic got well, the family would get well, too. So attention was focused completely on the alcoholic. And so this book was really in fact, it took her a long time to even get the book published, its via came from a grassroots effect and not and then then a publisher took hold of it. And it remains today the most recognized title for adult children of alcoholics and shares strategies for recovering that were based on her work as a therapist for decades. The list and I’m going to put the list in my show notes, it’s 13 characteristics long, I’m not going to talk about all 13 of those today. But it’s definitely worth checking out. It helped me understand some of my own habitual responses and tendencies. It also assured me that I wasn’t crazy or alone in my childhood experience. And what it’s even says that she says, while the cast of characters is different in each home, the experience for children is similar. The undercurrent of tension and anxiety is ever present. For that was definitely true for me. When I spoke to other adult children of alcoholics for researching this book, about half of the characteristics in the list applied to me, and the other half did not. And that was true for about for most of the other people in the group as well. No two people appear to share the exact same characteristics. Except for there were two characteristics but that were unanimous among myself and all the other people that I spoke to. And so while I don’t think this is clearly not scientifically conclusive, I’m going to say that the two things that stuck out between myself and the people that I spoke to, were number one, the number one characteristic adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal behavior is. And characteristic number eight, adult children of alcoholics overreact to changes over which they have no control, were unanimously reported by everybody that I spoke to including myself. And both of these characteristics share a foundation in lack of control. And that adult children of alcoholic felt when they were going up, due to that inconsistent or chaotic home life, you know, for me, there was no amount of good behavior, no amount of dreaming that I would have, you know, if she just wouldn’t drink, none of that would change the change the reality, no amount of wishing she would change, no amount of pleading for her to change, change the reality of the parents drinking. So it’s very simple to understand, as a young child or a young child of an alcoholic is not in control, and the alcoholics life is inflicted on them. And in order to survive when growing up, the adult child of an alcoholic needs to turn that around, he needs to begin taking charge of his environment. And so it becomes very important and remain and remain so the child of an alcoholic learns to trust himself more than anyone else, when it’s impossible to rely on somebody else’s judgment. I think that’s pretty critical. In terms of understanding to why you might have developed a coping mechanism through drinking, right, I know for myself, it was counter, you know, it was I call it an oxymoronic habit. Because logically like I hated what alcohol meant to my relationship with my mother, I hated what it had done to my life. So for me to use alcohol myself as a coping mechanism, just like made no sense to my logical brain, but I still was doing it anyway. And definitely, this list of characteristics, helps us interpret some of those peak behavior patterns. And I think it’s important for any child of an alcoholic to read the list, and understand how these characteristics may have gotten his started in your life. It also will help you hopefully, figure out how to break the cycle. One of the things that is in the book as well, that Dr. Whitehead shares is a list of characteristics that actually emanate from the alcoholic and contribute in part to each of the characteristics of the adult child of an alcoholic. And I think that the list for alcoholics is very illuminating as well. This one’s only seven long so I’m going to read them all. I take it back. It’s 12 long. I’m going to read them all anyway, because they’re short. So these characteristics of an alcoholic include one excessive dependency two inability to express emotions. Three, low frustration tolerance for emotional immaturity five highly level of anxiety in interpersonal relationships six low self esteem, seven grandiosity eight feelings of isolation nine, perfectionism 10, ambivalence towards authority and 11 guilt, he there were 11, not 12 Sorry. So these behaviors from an alcoholic parent not only contribute to the list of characteristics for adult children of alcoholics, but the alcoholics characteristics become learned responses and emotional qualities taught to the children inadvertently and mimicked by them in their own lives. As whiteheads explains, unfortunately, you took on many characteristics of your alcoholic parent, people behave as they learned to behave, whether they like it or not, whether they want to or not. Really important, okay, so some of those these are the characteristics of the alcoholic but you may have learned as a child to behave as your parents did write. For myself, I know that an inability to express emotions, a low frustration, tolerance, emotional immaturity, low self esteem, high level of anxiety in interpersonal relationships, perfectionism, and guilt are all behaviors and emotional qualities I have struggled with in my past. And in my research with other adult children of alcoholics, who allegorically everyone struggled with at least half or more of the alcoholic behaviors as well. And in their own words, low frustration, tolerance, low self esteem, high anxiety, were present in everyone’s childhood and extended into their own adult lives. So while those characteristics here are listed those 11 characteristics, I think that there’s a theme here and it’s that theme of emotional immaturity. Definitely, for me, the key lesson I learned from my mother and a story that I unconsciously held onto as an adult, was that emotions were something to be feared, and, if possible, avoided, and that is what whiteheads and other psychologists describe as emotional immaturity, and show in short, emotional, immature people find it difficult to deal with their own feelings. And because of this inability to, quote unquote feel their own feelings, people like my mom and me for many years, feel unable to cope with just what are normal challenges of life. They tend to suffer from more stress, and they have unrealistically high expectations, leading them to frequent disappointment. As an adult, I observed that my mom was pretty much anxious about everything. She had a hard time living in the present, and was constantly replaying the past or worrying about the future. There is actually a close link between emotional immaturity and addiction. And it really isn’t hard to understand why one of the layers of alcohol is that temporary euphoric effect we discussed before in terms of the way that it impacts your neurotransmitters. And for someone who feels like they’re unable to cope with their feelings. The need for relief in that moment feels very powerful, right. The notion of self medicating is pretty prevalent in society today. But growing up with my mother’s addiction, I certainly wasn’t aware that self medicating is what started her addiction. Like other children, my mom didn’t exist as a person outside of her role as my parent, right? I could see a woman with a relatively easy life. She didn’t work outside the home, she was married to a loving, successful man, she had hobbies volunteered for various charities that her main job was just being my mom. And because we lived in an upper middle class neighborhood with a relatively affluent lifestyle, to me, it appeared that she had very little to be unhappy about. And that’s another reason that the disease model, it seemed to explain her drinking to me. What in the world would my mom have to self medicate about had to be that she was just sick, right? Of course, the reality of emotional immaturity is that it has nothing to do with the outward signs of success and everything to do with an individual’s internal dialogue. Just look around at the number of Hollywood celebrities, professional sports stars who battle addiction, and it’s very easy to see that emotional immaturity is a widespread issue, and certainly does not discriminate based on financial or professional achievements. Again, something for me, that kept me stuck in my habit for so long, was because I was successful in so many other areas of my life, that it felt like I didn’t have anything that was so bad that I needed to be drinking over it right. The guilt of Drinking when I didn’t feel like that I had any reason to feel unhappy or sad. So, emotional immaturity is not based on our age status as an adult. But it is defined by our ability to manage our minds, and to most importantly accept responsibility for our actions. I know in my own life, what started off innocently enough, as a drink after work to unwind became the easiest way for me to cope with negative emotions. I simply didn’t believe enough in myself that I had the capacity to, quote unquote, handle my emotions. And I routinely drank far beyond recommended limits as a way to escape what I was feeling. Now, don’t get me wrong, emotional immaturity, and not knowing how to manage your mind is definitely not an exclusive problem to adult children of alcoholics. So let’s make that clear. As this society, we do not teach emotional management in school or talk about it much at home. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is delivered by mental health professionals only after people seek help for depression, anxiety or low self esteem. And for the adult child of an alcoholic, it’s kind of a one two punch. The combination of learned emotional immaturity, and the learned behavior of drinking as a way to buffer away emotions, or to enhance emotions and experiences are the foundation blocks for building a habit of alcohol misuse. So in my own journey to change my drinking habit, I initially believed that at least part of the reason I drank more than I wanted to was because of my quote, unquote, alcoholic gene. Right. I knew that I had strong feelings about alcohol, and those feelings were shaped in part by growing up with an alcoholic parent. But I also knew that growing up with an alcoholic parent put me at higher risk for developing alcohol use disorder. It seemed fairly logical to me that my own drinking habit was genetically linked to my alcoholic mother, a genetic fault seemed to explain my desire to drink. And given how much cloud you know, as I talked about, just before, how much I loved alcohol, and how much collateral damage it had caused in my life, believing that I had some sort of genetic fault link made it an oxymoron, moronic habit seemed more reasonable, right. As I researched the science and began to truly understand psychological dependence versus physical addiction, I realized that my genetics wasn’t the problem. I wasn’t physically dependent on alcohol, but I had created a habit of drinking alcohol, and I spent a lot of mental energy worrying about it. I had stories in my own mind, written from my childhood that perpetuated the habit of drinking, even when I felt like I was almost drinking against my own will. And once I understood why I believed those stories, where I had learned them from and who had taught them to me. I also learned that to change my relationship with alcohol, I needed to rewrite those stories. So in the book of adult children of alcoholics, which of course, I’m going to link to white tits herself, it advises adult children of alcoholics, that living in the past and blaming parents are ways to avoid living in the present and taking responsibility for your own behavior. They are ways to stay stuck. It doesn’t mean that your life wasn’t a horror show, and that your parents didn’t do terrible things. What it does mean is that you are now an adult, you create your own horror show, and you must be accountable for your behavior. You are the only one who can make you feel better about yourself. So I love that first of all, because it really again empowers you and gives you the power to change your relationship with alcohol. It also gives you the power and makes you accountable, right for the things that are not for changing anything that isn’t serving you in your life. Alcohol wasn’t to blame for my drinking habit. My mother and my childhood weren’t to blame for my drinking habit. My chaotic relationship with alcohol was not created by my genetic disposition. The reason I was drinking more than I wanted to was because of my own thinking. And here’s the thing, the beliefs we’ve had the stories we’ve held on to they are just thoughts that we’ve practiced over and over again. Many of those beliefs we were taught in childhood, they and we haven’t questioned them as adults. Growing up as a child of an alcoholic parent, we are often unconscious of some of these learned behaviors and beliefs. Way titz and other psychologists described these characteristics acts in these lists to help adult children of alcoholics become more aware of some of the unconscious thoughts and behaviors that you may have experienced. They are a jumping off point, they are the, the place for you to see and look backwards as briefly as possible. And allow yourself curiosity and compassionate for both your journey and for your parents journey. But then you need to move forward with your own realization that the past only exists today in your thoughts about it. I hope that talking a little bit about some of these characteristics and some of this emotional immaturity is a helpful start for you in exploring some of your own thoughts about alcohol, some of your own thoughts and self limiting beliefs about emotions and how and when, if you can handle them, what you are capable of doing in your life, what you’re capable of changing. I really believe that understanding where you’ve come from and some of the the habitual responses and some of those late in stories, it’s important. But now, what I am able to look back on and hold in terms of the past is the only way it exists today is how I think about it. And I think that’s so important to hear. All right. I hope you all have had by the time you hear this, the Super Bowl will be well and done. We will know whether the old guard and Tom Brady or the new guard and Patrick mahomes were successful. So let’s see what happens. I certainly hope it was a good game no matter what right? Okay, I wish you all the best this week. Friends get out there. Start changing your relationship with alcohol. And until next time, choose peace. Thank you for listening to breaking the bottle legacy. This podcast is dedicated to helping you change your drinking habits and to create a peaceful relationship with alcohol. Take something that you learned in today’s episode and apply it to your life this week. Transformation is possible. You have the power to change your relationship with alcohol. Now, for more information, please visit me at www dot Molly watts.com