What’s Your Normal?

On the first morning that you work with us, we note that we “do not spend a lot of time mucking around in the past,” but spend our time together exploring where you are now, where you want to be, and how are we going to get you there?

Considering that, there is one aspect of your history that does need to be taken into account.

All of us grow up in families with varying degrees of dysfunction. Most of you who find yourselves working with us come from childhoods that stray far from anything that resembles a Norman Rockwell “normal.” But what does that have to do with our alcohol abuse?

The interesting thing about “normal” is that we each harbor our own unique version, a version we acquired by osmosis as we were growing up. Regardless of whether we were raised by drunks, psychopaths, narcissists, wolves, or worse, that environment and those traits become part of our internalized normal.

Additionally, no matter how much we hated it, and vowed to escape, there remains the unconscious attraction to the familiar – what we refer to as the “security of familiar miseries.”

If we are going to really escape our roots, and we can, we first need to know what that hidden, personal normal is, how it varies from societal norms, how that effects our drinking habits, and how awareness – not history – can direct our decision making.

Sound like a tall order and years of psychoanalysis?

That is one approach and I have a friend who has spent 35 years going to weekly sessions with his analyst who assures him that they are about to make a “breakthrough.” What do you think the chances are? About as good as recovering through AA?

Happily, there is a much quicker, easier, and more effective route.

The one piece of formal assessment we do with you is Dr. Jane Loevinger’s Washington University Sentence Completion Test. Dr. Loevinger developed the test between 1950 and 2000 and it is essentially a measure of maturity.

She also did something else that no one did before or, for the most part, since. As a by-product of her studies, she defined “normal.” With that accidental aside, she made it possible to measure just how far, and in what ways, we may have strayed from that standard as a result of our childhood experiences.

“So what?” you may fairly ask.

And the answer is that straying too far is a very common cause of loneliness, boredom, and isolation which, in turn, are powerful causes of alcohol abuse. “So what?” indeed.

How does your “normal” compare?

How skewed are your perspectives? Values? Reactions? Responses?

How do you become more self-aware?

How do you address loneliness and isolation?

How do you accept and exploit your own individual idiosyncrasies and eccentricities?

How do you stop self-medicating and return to living?

There are answers to these questions and concerns and they don’t require rocket science or years of therapy. They take – surprise, surprise – about 5 days of concentrated individual focus and 12 weeks of support.

But you can always opt for decades of drinking, analysis, or “being in recovery,” but never actually getting anywhere. Stay secure in your familiar miseries if you prefer. But if it’s time to play with other possibilities…..

A Pair of Case Studies

It’s sometimes helpful to briefly consider how our childhood environments affect our adult decision making.

Grace grew up with, among other things, a violent, drunken, and unpredictable father and a passive mother. Out of necessity, she became hyper-vigilant simply as a matter of survival.

The problem? As an adult Grace remained hyper-vigilant and self-protective even though she had left most of the actual danger behind. As a result, she was nearly paralyzed. She married the first man who offered protection and she retreated to the security of isolation.

You can probably figure out what happen over the years as her children grew up and left home and her husband, now bored and lonely himself, disappeared into his work and other friends and activities.

Grace had spent 30 years protecting herself from a threat that didn’t exist and in the process had lost three decades of her life.

Tom, on the other hand, had grown up with a psychopathic mother and an infantile father. He too learned to keep his head down until he could escape to college, never to return.

But he too made a mistake – the opposite one. Having successfully fled the very real dangers of his childhood, he now assumed he was safe. Oops.

You can, I am sure, see where this is going.

Grace lost 30 years protecting herself from dangers that no longer existed, while Tom kept being blindsided by real dangers he assumed only existed “back home.”

Both of these cases are simplified, admittedly, but both demonstrate why informed awareness about our unconscious beliefs helps a lot in moving from today’s problems to tomorrow’s solutions.

Dr. Loevinger noted that the process of maturation includes “bringing more of the unconscious to consciousness” – what in today’s jargon is called self-awareness or mindfulness.

That is the foundation upon which we help you create an engaged life to replace the medicated disengagement into which you have, understandably, fallen.

{Click on Dr. Jane Loevinger for more information on her and the SCT.}