As a child growing up in an addicted or dysfunctional family there are three things you don't do. They are typified in this saying-that lingers around the rooms of 12-step programs-"Don't Talk, Don't Trust, Don't Feel."
These are the rules of almost any dysfunctional family. They are not pasted on a bulletin board, or recited as one might in elementary school. But everyone knows the rules, mostly because when we broke them inadvertently at the age of 5 or 6, the consequences were dire.
In my family I was known as the chatterbox. I talked and talked and talked. But it was all meaningless and unimportant- and largely unlistened to- which is why I talked so much. The "Don't Talk" rule showed up in that no-one said anything of importance. Our worries, concerns, and upsets were kept locked up safe in our hearts. There were no Beaver-Cleaver-like bedside discussions about how one of life's problems cold be handled. In fact, it would never be acknowledged that there even was a problem.
If everything was coming up roses, talk was good, and we chattered away. Otherwise, we kept quiet. And I can remember being distraught as a 7 or 8 year old, having been sent to my room for some transgression. I would sit there in the room, in my alone-ness- with the weight of a thousand unsaid words on my chest- and I would bang my head on the wall in rhythmic repetitions. The wall was cold, unhearing, and unforgiving. And it never asked me what was the matter, nor thought to try to ease my pain.
The don't trust rule was also a natural outcome of the don't talk rule. If you were to talk, what might happen? You never knew. Would it be a backhand to the head because you inadvertently said something wrong? Would it be that your speech would be dissected to such a degree that you no longer remembered what you had to say, nor even wanted to say it. Or perhaps if you trusted someone with your secret- some deep dark, painful secret such as addicted households have- you would be accused of lying. You might even be punished.
This don't trust rule had serious implications on me as a child when I encountered violent abuse at the hands of some neighbors. With all that had happened to me at the age of 6, I would have been best off in weekly therapy sessions. But I held my secret, and followed the rules. I even forced myself to forget what had happened. Still the effects showed up in other ways. They colored my life- my ability to function adequately and my self esteem- for almost four decades.
'Don't feel' was another rule I was very familiar with. Of course I had not labeled any of these rules, nor did I see that I didn't allow myself to feel. I simply went along, pretending to be happy- smiling into the arguments, fights, stony silences, and ruined holidays. (Later, as I got older- I also learned that getting angry would cover up the hurt.) Then finally, when I could hold it no more, I would find a place and time by myself and cry for hours. I would make sure no-one was around. I somehow knew it was bad to cry. And it felt like I was dying... like I should die.
It is interesting to note that even today it takes some thinking for me to realize that I have a feeling going on inside me. I am very used to ignoring those pesky things.
So this- "Don't Talk, Don't trust, Don't Feel"- is the second important family trait that sets a person up for later addiction or second hand addiction. As you look in your lives and you think you see this trait- but you don't see addiction- remember as I have said in Childhood Set Up-Overview & Do I Love An Addict (Part 1 & 2),
there are many ways addiction can show up in a family. Keep looking because, while we don't want to make up imaginary problems- knowledge is power and it could save a life.
And it might be yours.