Your Past is Not Your Present or Your Future

Too many mental health professionals devote way too much time mucking around in your past, as though that held all of the keys to your present circumstances. But, perhaps surprisingly, your “past” is as fluid as your future.

“Wait,” you say, “my past is set in stone. How can that be fluid?”

I suppose I could resort to my first profession as a geologist and point out that stone is pretty fluid too, at times, but I’ll skip the easy response.

Instead, I will note that whatever our present circumstances, we will interpret our past in whatever way supports our current beliefs and feeling. This unconscious process is, when we’re miserable, exacerbated by our mind’s negative bias.

“Negative bias?”

Yes. Whenever we are in the grip of a “negative” emotion – depression, anxiety, loneliness, desperation – our minds naturally winnow out every negative memory we’ve ever collected to support and reinforce the emotion. But when we’re happy, we’re happy in the moment and we sure don’t waste time digging up memories supporting joy or pleasure.

However, we can learn to reflect on our circumstances much more pragmatically – and usefully.

A client was lured to California by a former girlfriend who turned out to be a raging psychopath. This did not result in any immediate happy years, obviously. Yet the man later realized that without that “mistake” his present very favorable professional success in California would never have occurred. Consequently, his view of the past has changed.

A variation on this is the oft heard lament, “If only I’d……,” which, whether it refers to marriage or education or travel, or children or anything else, always assumes that a different choice would have resulted in a superior and happier outcome.

This is another irrational though designed to make us miserable for no reason whatsoever. The only thing you will ever know is that if you had made a different choice the results would have been different. Maybe better, maybe worse, but always just different in unknowable ways.

All of this is a preliminary taste of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT) and how you can learn to manage your emotions rather than labor under the illusion that they are managing you. And it you are managing negative emotions, well, damn, you might not need to medicate them.

Imagine that?

Children Need At Least One Happy Parent. Why Not Let It Be You?

If the misuse of alcohol is leading you to read these articles, I am confident that you are not a happy person. Let’s face it, happy drunks aren’t looking to fix a habit that they don’t consider a problem.

Setting that issue aside brings us back to you.

Most of our clients are also parents whose children range in age from infants to adults in their 30s and beyond. For them, regardless of their age, your alcohol abuse is a problem they shouldn’t be saddled with.

For the youngest children who don’t yet understand “drunk” is just a confusing lack of attention and care. A lot of basic neglect.

As they four or so they think of it as some weird game you are playing while still neglecting them. By six they know they’re not supposed to talk about it and by eight they’ve learned to manipulate you with it.

All the way along they are learning, in addition to manipulation, what alcohol is for. This they do by osmosis, not direct instruction. It’s what men and/or women do and it’s a comfortable part of their internalized “normal” as well as role modeling they also incorporate.

We often ask clients who are parents if “drunk” is one of the characteristics they would include on their wish list of traits they’d like in a future son-in-law or daughter-in-law. To date, no one has said yes, so we ask them why they are teaching their children that it’s a desirable attribute?

Then there is the matter of stealing their childhood. Abusing alcohol leads to a role reversal where they are trying to figure out how to fix an unhappy parent, or what they did to cause the unhappiness. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to be doing for them?

Children of so-called alcoholics frequently grow up to be more responsible, resilient, successful, and independent than children with “normal” childhoods, but it’s not good to have to develop these by default. There are better ways.

And, yes, I know, there are organizations for people who want to ride on their alcohol ridden childhoods an excuse for their own failure to grow up and lead happier lives. Those are the ones who failed to learn the lessons in the first article, or who love escaping responsibility for their lives.

Let’s not make that an easy excuse for your children, or anyone else’s?