Like many folks
In my childhood, I came in contact with a family member who had a problem with alcohol. As a child, I didn’t really understand the impact alcohol had on them, or the alcoholic had on me. The problem drinker was my grandfather. I loved and felt loved by him. He died when I was ten years old. I was devastated. Having little wherewithal to understand what had happened and how I felt about it, I hid it from myself. On the surface this seemed to work – the best description is the duck appearing very calm on the surface of the water while underneath the little legs are pumping away. It took me a while to learn that ignoring what’s under the surface doesn’t work long and contributes to long term pain.
How communication happened
My grandfather had held significant power in the family. When he died changes happened – use of power and secrets, to name a few. “Don’t mention the elephant in the middle of the room” was a message delivered indirectly. A repercussion of indirect communication was what I heard, saw, experienced was often different than what was expected. Mixed messages were rampant. This is crazy making of a kid.
Family arguments and conflict
Although I could feel tension in the family, I got the message that it didn’t exist. Communication patterns ranged from the outward expression of blame – to nearly the opposite – avoidant, holding onto anger, directing it towards oneself, or passive aggressive accusations. The avoidant family-conflict style resulted in a fair amount of inner conflict to cope with while growing up.
Through numerous twists and turns of life – specifically after a painful divorce – I started the journey to change my own role in the pattern of third-generation family silence. In the process, I became very curious about arguments, conflict, escalated emotions, altered states of consciousness, and forgiveness.
Path of study
My process of learning was not a straight line. In my forties, I committed to navigate, manage, and resolve difficult family conflict. Like a sponge, I absorbed everything I could about conflict through books, trainings, and mentors. Here are a some:
- Judith Landau’s ARISE Intervention training
- Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication
- Judy Mares-Dixon’s mediation trainings
- Elaine Yarbrough’s Carrying Fire
- Arny and Amy Mindell’s Process Work
- Howard Schiff’s domestic violence & alcohol education groups
Whether working in the court (protection orders and small claims suits) or out of the court (family and divorce mediation, co-facilitating domestic violence and alcohol education groups), I noticed that family conflicts often included alcohol. The focus is on the problem drinker with little acknowledgment of the impact on the family.
To better understand family dynamics and how to improve them, I applied myself to gaining expertise and credentials. I earned a master’s degree in couple and family counseling (MA), became a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Certified Addictions Counselor (CACIII), and a diplomate with the American Board of Sexology (DAACS). I balance the theory and concepts of my training with day-to-day experiences with clients who struggle with a mental illness and/or substance abuse history.
All work and no play?
To balance my passion for this work, I engage in activities that fuel me: meditation practice, physical exercise, laughing with friends, and paying attention to the changes in the weather, the moon, and the seasons. Communing with the outdoors grounds me daily, it’s why I moved to Boulder County 29 years ago. One of my biggest teachers is the river. Whether a soft, gentle float or the raging rapids of the Grand Canyon, I love and learn from the river in its many forms.
As a child, I didn’t have the power to voice my feelings about the craziness that alcohol brought into my family and how this craziness affected the family overall. Thanks to what I’ve learned since then, I bring skills and perspectives from a multitude of disciplines to view, understand, address, and shift turbulent family issues.