Give me predictability. Stability. A beautiful, detailed plan. And I’ll be a content (adult child of an alcoholic) woman.
Yesterday, I spent the day with sister and her boyfriend on the campus of my alma mater, Michigan State University, for a football game. I had planned to be home by a certain time to get a few things done and to make sure Rocco wasn’t alone for an excessive period. But a later-than-expected arrival time on campus and other factors meant we ended up leaving campus three hours later than I expected. I was hungry, tired, dehydrated and worried about Rocco.
When self-care slips, so does the ability to cope with stress. On top of basic physical needs not being met, I don’t particularly enjoy being in large crowds of people (even though it was exceptionally beautiful in that stadium – look below!).
I was stressed and worried about finding a place for dinner and then driving the long way home in the dark. It was a long walk to the north side of campus for dinner. I was quiet and short as we made our way there. When my sister announced she had planned plans to “say hi” to a few friends, whom we were still waiting for by the time we finished eating dinner, I was quite annoyed. I just wanted to get back on the track of what I thought my night was going to look like. Plus, we had a long ride home and it was getting late by the standard of a 34-year-old woman (not my 20-year-old sister).
My sister detected my mood change and it bothered her.
Why can’t you relax, she asked.
Why can’t you plan better, I asked.
So, the remainder of dinner was uncomfortable and unpleasant. We argued about one another’s unreasonableness and then decided silence was best.
And our terse interaction gave me sadness today.
I wish I didn’t have this kind of annoyed reaction to changed plans. I wish I could roll with all of it, the way my sister wishes I would.
The ACoA Trauma Syndrome
But I know through education that my overreaction to surprises, changes in plans and lack of planning is directly connected to my ACoA Trauma Syndrome. If you haven’t read Dr. Tian Dayton’s The ACoA Trauma Syndrome, you should. I experienced trauma as a child, teenager and adult dealing with our mother’s alcoholism. It was always me saving the day – thrown suddenly into terrible situations. I was always picking up the pieces and cleaning up the messes. When stuff went wrong because of Mom’s drinking, I was there to “fix” it. I craved predictability and stability wherever I could get it because life with Mom was chaotic and it threw me into survival mode constantly.
So, it’s only natural that today, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop, as they say. While I have made progress on this front in my adult child of an alcoholic healing journey, I still don’t like surprises or changes in plans. I want to know what will happen and when and where, so I can be completely mentally prepared and have a solution in hand should this or that go wrong. I feel guilty about this way of thinking because it feels selfish and abnormal. I feel I should be flexible and accommodating and laidback and chill for the benefit of others who live more spontaneously like my sister. Plus, it causes me a lot of anxiety. But my brain is programmed to react to changes negatively. I am on alert for what will go wrong, and you know, it’s all on me, always, because that’s the way it’s always been.
As Dr. Dayton explains about the ACoA Trauma Syndrome in this HuffPost article:
“Intense feeling states get wired into kids, and rather than absorb skills of emotional calm and regulation from their homes they absorb states of emotional chaos and extremes. (You might say they get skilled at over- or under-reacting.)”
I know I need to work on reacting just right to life. Perhaps I miss out on good times because they weren’t originally part of the plans. There’s a careful balance between rigidity and flexibility – but gosh, it’s hard to change this particular part of me.
Does this resonate with you? In the comments below, would love to know how you’ve learned to change the way you react to changed plans.
I hope you are well in your journey.