1. Don’t talk.
2. Don’t trust.
3. Don’t feel.
I followed them religiously as a child.
I didn't talk. I learned at an early age not to air my family's dirty laundry in public. I protected our family secret with the vigilance of Marine in combat. I never acknowledged my dad’s out-of-control drinking—not with my friends, not with my teachers, not even with my siblings. It was a deep and pervading shame that sealed my lips. I vowed to myself that no one would know the truth of what was happening in our house.
I didn't trust. Since children are, by nature, very trusting, I had to learn not to trust. When my father's promises were routinely broken--I'll take you fishing Saturday, I'll come right home after work, I'll be at your game, I'm going to quit drinking--I learned not to believe anyone or anything. After all, if you can't trust your own father who can you trust? I reasoned that by adhering to the don't trust rule you can guard yourself from a myriad of discouragement. My childhood motto was built on distrust: If you always expect the worst, you will never be disappointed.
I didn't feel. Since I couldn't talk freely about what was going on in my life, not to mention the fact that I had no faith in anyone around me, it should come as no surprise that I began to shut down emotionally. This process was accelerated when, in moments of weakness as a young child, my attempts to express how I felt were swiftly squashed with comments like:
- You shouldn't feel that way,
- Stop being such a baby, and
- You're just too sensitive.
The strange thing is, following the don't talk, don't trust, don't feel rules actually helped me as a child. Not talking spared me from having my opinions rejected. Not trusting taught me to be self-reliant. Not feeling insulated me from untold heartache. But continuing to follow those rules in my adult life have done nothing but harm me. The very rules that protected me from hardship as a child have prevented me from wholeness as an adult.
It is God's desire that we experience intimacy in our relationship with Him and others. Three non-negotiable components of an intimate relationship: talking, trusting, and feeling. For many of us from addicted homes who deeply desire yet greatly struggle with intimate relationships, perhaps it is simply a matter of breaking the rules.
We must learn to talk about the things that caused and, more than likely, continue to cause so much pain in our lives. We must bring to the surface those things we didn’t or weren’t allowed to talk about. Our dark family secrets must be brought into the light if we are ever to strip them of their power. We can’t keep ignoring them. We must talk through them. If we don't give voice to them they will continue to clamor for attention in the form of anxiety, nervous tension, headaches, stomach issues, and/or depression.
The key to breaking the don’t talk rule is to first break the don’t trust rule. We must find safe people we can talk to. People who will facilitate our wholeness. Who will accept us as we are. Who will give us the encouragement we need. As we seek to find healing from our painful past we must assemble a support base of trust-worthy people and lean on them often. Yes, this involves risk. But it is a risk worth taking. Trust may not come easy, especially when it's been broken in the past by people close to us. But trust is the single most important element in a healthy relationship. So find a counselor. Talk to a pastor. Confide in a friend. Learning to trust is crucial to our experiencing healing from damaged relationships.
And, finally, we must learn how to feel. When we’ve found people we can talk to and trust them with things we've kept quiet for way too long, we must then be prepared for whatever feelings may pop to the surface, as uncomfortable as that may be. We must acknowledge them. Accept them. Embrace them. We must allow ourselves to feel every feeling and feel it all the way through so that we can finally be done with them. That is the only way the pain of our past will no longer pervade our present.
Does the pain and trauma of a difficult childhood still hang like a dark cloud over your adult life? Does your inability to talk, to trust, and to feel prevent you from being intimate--truly intimate--with God and others you care about? Then maybe it’s time to break the rules.