display | more...

It's arguable, isn't it? That alcoholics are not afraid of the dark.

We're not supposed to be afraid of the dark because we have grown up, right? Let's not admit any fear. In fact, let us totally deny fear and have a positive outlook at all times.

La, la, la.

The title sentence came to me when I was wondering WHY children of alcoholics would tend to date and marry alcoholics. Becoming an alcoholic rather makes sense, right, if that's the habit you grew up with and one can always argue genetics. But why date one or marry one?

A family member and I were having an email discussion and she said to me, "I think of myself as a nice person."

That phrase has echoed in my head ever since. I don't think of myself as a nice person. I frequently try to be nice, but I am always in touch with my dark side. I try to bring my dark thoughts and impulses into my consciousness. Why? Because otherwise I tend to project them and act them out. And after much counseling, I learned to accept and even welcome feelings, positive and negative, all of them. If I try to push them away, they get upset and get bigger. If I try to squash them in to the dark basement of my unconscious, they grow and grow and come out like a World of Warcraft monster/boss.

If I embrace them and welcome them home, they sit for a moment or an hour and then they return, as Rumi says, to the Source. I hope they report that I try try to welcome them.

Alcoholics are familiar with the dark. Most of them are aware that they have a basement in their psyche that is full of dark places and they have visited. Even with blackouts and even being drunk, they have seen the dungeons that we all have. In severe alcoholism, sobriety opens that dungeon and only alcohol holds it at a distance.

Children growing up in an alcoholic household may have some very dark memories. And the rules in a household gripped by alcohol are, "Don't talk, don't trust, don't feel." So the child becomes very lonely. The choice is between entering in to the denial, agreeing that everything is ok, getting in to the car with the drunk alcoholic driving because the other parent is already in there and says it is ok, or being alone. Holding on to one's own truth in spite of household denial and lies. And even confronting the family with the experience: breaking the rules.

Dark memories persist as an adult. I can't date someone who thinks they are a nice person. If they aren't aware that sometimes they don't want to be nice and that sometimes, in fact, they aren't nice, I don't trust them. It is that recognition that is part of the attraction: you may be afraid of the dark too, but you know that you own a piece of it.

Our veterans, too, have seen the dark. I have had patients say that there is nearly no one they can talk to about it. There is a group teaming older Vietnam and Korean war veterans with new veterans of the Iraq war. They are able to talk to each other.

I think that everyone sees the dark eventually. I don't like the denial in the power of positive thinking. I think that it is harmful. I take responsibility for my dark places, as much as I can. I don't think of myself as a nice person. I am a whole person, dark, light and all the shades between.