He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. His face looked strangely naked and a little weary without the glasses to hide behind. "... so what you're saying is ... okay, I'm sorry, I don't know what you're saying."
I drank my coffee and tried to think of a different way to explain myself. "Okay, you had a terrible, violent, abusive childhood, right?"
"One of the things which often comes from that is a kind of low-grade but ever-present hypervigilance ..."
He cleaned his glasses with a napkin, sighed and said, "And this is where you start to lose me."
"Hypervigilance is technically a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. To define it without all the clinical lingo it means constantly scanning the environment for threats to your survival. Children in abusive situations learn to do this not just in the literal warfare manner, like soldiers do -- that is, constantly scanning for snipers and bombs and such -- but in reading moods, facial expressions, body language ... without any power to protect themselves, they learn to be hypervigilant about social and relationship dynamics -- they're constantly, if sometimes unconsciously, 'reading' everyone in the room. I believe that's true for lots of addicts, actually, even if their childhood was not as abusive as yours."
"Okay. So... what does that have to do with why I freak out at fellowship after the meeting?"
"Well, in my opinion -- and I'm only going from what I've learned from dealing with other alcoholics and my own stuff -- it's the fallout from your childhood that makes you hyper-aware of what's going on around you. It's your alcoholism which then leads you to conclude that what's going on around you has anything to do with you."
"It's like the hypervigilance gives your alcoholism more to work with. You are hyper aware of every eye roll, every sigh, every restless twitch -- and you conclude that each of those things mean you're boring or annoying or people don't want to spend time with you."
"Isn't that low self esteem?"
I shrugged and nodded. "Yeah, it's that too. The way I sort it out is that it's alcoholism which makes me certain that things are all about me, then it's either low self esteem or ego out of balance that gives a 'less than/better than' value to it."
"So trauma from my childhood makes me super aware of everyone, alcoholism makes me think that everyone I'm so super aware of is thinking about me, and low self esteem makes me think they're thinking I'm crap."
"Yeah -- I mean, that's how I fine tune my own process."
"Great, now I feel even more screwed up -- I don't have one thing wrong, it's like I have a bunch now."
"Don't -- I mean, okay, go ahead, you feel how you feel -- but fine tuning and untangling this stuff has helped me put names to it all, and then better understand what's happening to me when I am freaking out, and then eventually apply solutions which better match what's going on."
"And all that can make me drink."
"Oh no, not really. All that is just ... the stuff ... you drink because you're a hope-to-die falling down drunk. You drink because you're an alcoholic. That part isn't complicated at all.""Oh ... ummm, great, that, uh, that's simple enough. Good news. I guess."