Monday, February 19, 2007

When All Is Right, What is Wrong?

I lost a great quote from a self-help book. I read them on a selective basis and this one had to do with dysfunctional families. (No surprise there)

It had to do with chaotic parenting. Basically, a child is raised by a parent or parents who bounce from crisis to crisis.

At first, I didn't think this had anything to do with MY adoptive family. Narcissism and self-absorbtion, sure. But not chaos.

And then I had a hot tub epiphany.

There I was, last night, sitting with my husband in our brand new hot tub. It was a nightmare getting it installed and we were finally enjoying the steaming water, the clear night sky and the scent of jasmine wafting from the newly blooming vines.

Everything was right with the world.

Had just talked to my youngest daughter on her first away trip with another family. Safe and sound. Check.

Oldest daughter upstairs with two girlfriends. We could hear screechy girly noises and the sound of instant messages being received. All good. Check.

Husband. Bad back being relieved by hot tub, which is why we got it in the first place. Check.

Me? Great. Sitting in the hot tub, I did not feel adopted or like the daughter of a whacky narcissist nor did I feel abandoned by my birthmother. Wasn't thinking of any of those issues.

BUT, somehow, I couldn't totally relax. Or maybe the problem was that I WAS relaxed but was feeling guilty. Like things were just too good to be true. So I began casting about. Did I forget something? What if my youngest tried to call and I'd left the phone inside? Okay, oldest daughter would pick it up. Had I forgotten to call my Dad? No. I had to FORCE myself to stay in the moment and enjoy. And I did.

This morning I realized I've always done this. That I ruin perfectly beautiful moments batting away a looming feeling of dread. Is it that I think I am unworthy of happiness? Could this be related to being relinquished as an infant? That I am always on my guard because my entire world might change - for the worse - in a flash?

Or is it due to the chaos of childhood?

Besides being a narcissist, my adoptive father also suffers from acute anxiety. When he traveled to Hawaii he spent weeks fretting about what could go wrong. The second his feet touched Hawaiian soil, he began worrying about the trip to the volcano and, once at the volcano, began worrying about the drive back. Then he worried nonstop over the plane ride home. You get the picture. Trips to the dentist, a simple cold, an unreturned item borrowed from a neighbor, all were causes of DRAMA. All were treated as if the stakes were high and the consequences catastrophic. And on the day with nothing much going on, even the arrival of the phone bill could cause of a fuss. We must drop everything because he had to dash to the phone company and pay the bill in person. Mundane life was lived at high intensity. Simple conversations were equally intense. Small talk did not exist for him. He must recount his many troubles to casual acquaintenaces in the supermarket isle. He demanded attention and intensity.

My husband has long noticed this about my a-Dad. That he moves from crisis to crisis and if there isn't one, he'll create one.

I never connected this to my struggles to relax, to stay firmly rooted in the moment. If you are raised by such a person, then you have this modeled for you. You have to learn - from other people and later in life - how to regulate one's emotions. To learn to power down. To learn that such intensity is draining and harmful and UNNATURAL. That you can slam the door on a life of chaos and say, "Good riddance!"

16 Comments:

Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

I have run across people who are not happy unless they are sad...who look for bad news stories...who are obsessive/compulsive. They either live only in the moment or never in the moment. They can't seem to find a balance because as you say, they live from crisis to crisis by obsessing to the point of being neurotic.

You would think these folks are type "a" personalities and would eventually burnout or stroke out because of the adrenaline rushes they put themselves through. But they seem to thrive on it and the pay off is: attention to themselves.

How can you ever relax around someone who is constantly in motion? All I can say Nina is the more time you spend in the hot tub, the more you will enjoy the quiet, peaceful moments and the more you will treasure them.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Leroy. That was an interesting point you made. That there is a payoff to this kind of personality type and behavior: attention. I guess it all belongs in the same package. And did enjoy the hot tub tonight and in a fun way, too. Our girls joined us and since it's far away from cell phone, computers and other stuff...the girls were chatty and we had some nice family time: unplugged!

10:09 PM  
Anonymous kim.kim said...

Would you not have me listed as a birthmom on your links section please? You could write mother in reunion instead. I asked you once already. Thank you.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Sure Kim Kim...You are at the top of my blog to-do list.

3:45 PM  
Blogger elizabeth said...

Nina I can totally relate to the struggle to relax. though I AM getting better!

I know I can't articulate this in the way I want to, but I do understand why I have this problem. It has to do with insecurity and safety. No surprise I am a Primal Wound believer (for me anyway). I was born traumatized, and I was not safe. this is un-natural.

If I relax, then I am not on guard for bad things that can happen. I have to always be on guard, hence I can't relax. though like I said, I am getting better with this.

I think you will too, if I may say so. Blogging is great therapy.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

You explained it very well, Elizabeth! On guard for bad things - linking back to the primal wound (which I do believe in, absolutely) - makes perfect sense, especially as an adaptive strategy because it WAS bad. Did your mother ever hold you? Mine didn't. I wonder what's the difference (if any) between those of us who had a brief out-of-womb connection with their mothers and those of us who did not not?

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