We talked in the meeting about how difficult it is to reach out when you're in a relationship with an alcoholic. I hid by pain from others. I pretended to be okay but was also losing myself. In fact, I didn't really much care about anything anymore. I didn't think that there was anyone to reach out to. Everyone else seemed "normal". And I didn't want them to know my dirty secret. Finally, a good friend who is in AA told me that I needed to go to Al-Anon. Thankfully, I took his advice.
I've read quite a bit about how adults from alcoholic families experience a great deal of anxiety and have a lower ability for differentiation of self than adults raised in non-alcoholic families. Additionally adult children of alcoholics have lower self-esteem, excessive feelings of responsibility, difficulties reaching out, higher incidence of depression, and increased likelihood of becoming alcoholics.
I never studied psychology so I had to read about differentiation of self. It refers to one's ability to separate one's own intellectual and emotional functioning from that of the family. If an individual has "low differentiation" they depend on others' approval and acceptance. They either conform themselves to others in order to please them, or they attempt to force others to conform to them. They are thus more vulnerable to stress and they struggle more to adjust to life changes. This is what happens in an alcoholic family.
On the other side of the spectrum, is the well-differentiated "self" who recognizes a need for others, but these individuals depend less on other's acceptance and approval. They do not merely adopt the attitude of those around them but acquire their principles thoughtfully. Thus, despite conflict, criticism, and rejection they can stay calm and clear headed enough to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotion. What they decide and say matches what they do. When they act in the best interests of the group, they choose thoughtfully, not because they are caving in to relationship pressures. Confident in their own thinking, they can either support another's view without becoming wishy-washy or reject another's view without becoming hostile.
These are people who know who they are. I now see that I likely felt the most well-differentiated when I was away at college. And the young woman last night said that she felt best when she was away from the house and away from her husband.
What a terrible disease alcoholism is. The toll that it takes on the alcoholic and the family of the alcoholic is immense.