Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Men's Version of the ACoA Promises - Part One

I was reading the official Big Book of ACoA recently, and as I always do when I go near that subject, had mixed feelings: loss, emptiness, relief and irritation. Let's deal with the irritation, because that came from the fact that I started to be convinced I should not be feeling the loss and emptiness.

ACoA's have low-level but chronic psychological pain: they feel empty, unloved, rejected, ignored, fraudulent, isolated, cut-off, unheard and generally are pretty sure that everyone else is having a fun time except them. They feel this all the time, not just now and then, they feel it like the skies in England are grey. They get breaks every now and then, like the famous "sunny intervals" of an English day, but then everything goes back to grey and empty. And here's something you will not read: this is hormonal, it's body chemistry, it's a drug no-one would buy the second time if you could synthesise it. It's not just a belief, or a habit of thought, or an attitude, it's natural drugs, triggered by years of upbringing and experience. That's how it was for me, and I don't imagine I'm anything special.

ACoA and the therapists claim to be able to do two things. The first is to help the sufferer stop feeling that pain, to silence the inner harping voice, to loosen the grip of all the shitty things that people told them about themselves, and after a while, generally to stop feeling bad about themselves. That can be and is done, and I don't have a problem with that claim.

It's the second claim I have a problem with. That is the one where, not only can the sufferer stop feeling bad, they can start feeling good about themselves, without the aid of external props, validations, pills, potions and paychecks. I have two problems here.

First, "feeling good" is hormonal. It's not what you feel when your body has no downer-hormones circulating in it, it's what you feel when you have upper-hormones circulating. When you have none, you feel like I do most of the time: which is nothing, much, except it's a nothing against a long history of horrible, so I appreciate it. Think of my emotional state as one long progressive house track.

Civilians wander around in a much more active hormone state than that, going from blissed-out on oxytocin to jacked on adrenaline in the course of even an hour. Me and mine can do the adrenaline, but not the oxytocin / endorphin bliss. Our bodies never acquired the habit of letting the bliss hormones loose: we were too busy with hyper-vigilant monitoring of our environment and so we could set off the flight or dissociation reactions before whatever it was hurt too much. We never learned to "feel good".I've said before that I don't do oxytocin, and I'm betting I don't do endorphins either. I do some kind of thrill-hormone, these days brought on by very special music

and a few things around peace and contemplation and serenity, but I have nothing around feeling so good I can greet the one hundredth straight grey day with high spirits.

Theidea we can "love ourselves" and "feel good" independently of any and all events in the outside world is not a serious suggestion about any real world we live in. It'san over-reaction to the way ACoA's try to fix themselves. Feeling awful, we go to parties, take exotic holidays, pick up girls, get promotions, buy toys, try to win awards, tell jokes, ... and, of course, none of it works. None of it fills the Inner Emptiness.

This is because the Inner Emptiness can't be filled. We can't feel as if we belong, even when other people tell us we do, and may even mean it. This makes external validation all the more important. Not validation from other people, but from progress in our chosen endeavours. Depending on what those endeavours are, this progress might make us better people, but it probably won't make us friends, and it certainly won't fill any empty holes in our emotions. But it does give us a reason for feeling good about ourselves. It gives us a reason to deserve our own respect.

We learn to win our own respect, and so gain self-respect. We wake up and go to work, earn money and pay our taxes and due bills because that's what a responsible member of a post-modern urban economy does; we exercise and stay in shape because that's how we respect our own bodies, and we avoid junk food and eat well for the same reason; we avoid junk culture and read science, mathematics, philosophy, law, economics, history and other non-fiction, because that's how we respect our minds.The validation is external because it comes from measured progress in an activity we perform in the world-lived-in-by-us with the equipment ready-to-hand. It is our engagement with the world.The progress is not progress-towards anything: reaching goals is never satisfying - exhilarating maybe, but never satisfying. "It is progress we seek, not perfection" - the satisfaction is in the process.

You may be thinking that this sounds as if it doesn't really need people, and isn't the whole point of ACoA recovery to be able to have proper relationships with people? Especially girl-people, for, you know, intimacy? What's the point of being a well-read Adonis if you still can't get laid, I mean, have satisfying intimate adult relationships? This isn't the time to go into Step Two and outcome-independence, but the short answer is that practising both is essential for your dignity, sanity and mood.

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