This phrase...spending our 30's and 40's undoing our 10's and 20's is one I repeat often in my private practice with clients. At one level, its a funny phrase that makes clients laugh. But on another level, its a truth. Many people had childhood experiences that didn't provide an environment that gave them the opportunity to learn what it is to be a whole human being. Whether traumas, neglect, abuse--these "Adverse Childhood Experiences" disrupted the learning pathway to building a whole and dynamic SELF.
The result is that this growth interruption led them to find other ways to cope and negotiate the world--often leading to addictive patterns which helped them survive childhood. Now, in their 30's and 40's those behaviors are so usual and customary for them that they don't know any other way to live. But sitting in my office, they are admitting that they can see those behaviors are now seriously limiting their lives. They've hit on one major reality--they want to stop but they have no idea what they would replace these behaviors with instead.
Just the other day a client said to me, "I've been in therapy for my addiction many times. We all agree that I should stop drinking. But then the therapists say to me "What will you do instead?" and that's when I go totally blank. I want to scream at him or her--"If I knew how to live without alcohol, don't you think I'd be doing it? I don't know how to answer your question--if I did, I wouldn't be here!!!"
The whole time he is saying this during our session, I'm shaking my head in agreement. I know he is being honest and truly doesn't know how to make choices from a strong inner-SELF because that is something that emerges slowly throughout our childhood learning experiences. But he didn't get that information--instead he got abused, told repeatedly he was a terrible child and useless. For him, childhood was spent learning to find ways to get away from the constant onslaught of pain, fear and anger that represented his home life. His 10's and 20's were spent trying to survive this and alcohol gave him relief.
What he should've been getting is guidance, support, good dialogue and communication and someone who knew how to help him journey to adulthood and wholeness. That's why he's arrived in counseling--he doesn't quite know what he's looking for, but he knows he doesn't have it. So, when we start out together, I know our work has to begin with a short check in on his early years but then most of our time is focused on what should've happened. Here's the tasks you would have completed on the pathway to adulthood if you'd had a different upbringing. Let's spend the next few sessions learning this now. Time and again I hear clients say--finally something to work towards!
And that's the great thing about Life Puzzle--you can be 30 or 40 (or older!) and yet, its not too late to go back, pull out the jammed in pieces and learn how to replace them with new, healthier lifestyle behaviors. Then instead of drinking to avoid pain and fear and LIFE, you'll wake up able to take on the day and deal with what comes because you have new skills to manage pain and fear and choose to fully live LIFE.