DEAR AMY: I am in a terrible relationship of two tumultuous years duration. I met him after recovering from an operation. I had been alone for years, as my life was consumed by raising my children, pulling a boy out of a war zone, and teaching music. Unfortunately, my boyfriend is a liar. He's had another girlfriend, he is an alcoholic, has a prison record, has a kid in jail, grandchildren out of wedlock, no car, no license, fines, debt, is abusive, is not intellectual, and has no education. All he has is a funny sense of humor, a great body, and some carpentry skills. I want to get out of this nightmare. I'm angry that I fell for all his lies. He is very abusive and not at my level of intellect. I don't know how with two master's degrees, material success, and happy and successful children, I could have picked such a narcissistic jerk. What is wrong with me? I'm in therapy and my therapist says it's because I had an abusive family of alcoholics and ragers, and have all the classic characteristics of adult children of alcoholics. I'm afraid to kick him out because I never meet anyone. I've been alone most of my life. Any advice?
Helpless Smart Dummy
DEAR HELPLESS: As long as you consider being alone a worse fate than being in an abusive relationship with a lying, narcissistic jerk, then keep doing what you're doing. But in the immortal words of "Dr. Phil": "How's that working for you?" It is obviously not working for you at all.
I'm not a therapist, but, for what it's worth, I agree with their assessment.
People who grew up in chaotic, neglectful, abusive, and alcoholic households often internalize the idea that they are somehow "not enough." I assume this is because, despite their heroic efforts as children, they cannot fix, heal, or even alter the dynamic of their family of origin.
Intelligence, education, and success in other realms will not offset this deep void, but you can change your current mindset and your behavior.
Ask your therapist to talk to you about codependency. And connect with an Adult Children of Alcoholics group (adultchildren.org).
DEAR AMY: I am always struck when you and folks in your column talk about keeping a journal. I think that sounds wonderful! I never kept a journal for long growing up. This is in part because there were times that a family member read my private writings, and I felt very betrayed. But now I'm an adult with no excuses for failing to start something I've always wanted to do. I usually start, and then drift off after a few days. Any advice for aspiring journal keepers? I can't help but wonder if part of my lack of motivation is the fear that someone would read them and judge them to be what is perfectly OK for them to be: Nothing too exciting.
DEAR M: I have journals going back to when I received my first one for Christmas, when I was eight years old.
However, I am not and have never been a daily writer. I only write when I feel compelled to. Weeks can go by! But I keep a blank book handy (no dates on the pages — too much pressure!).
If you want to start a new habit, one way is by "habit stacking."
Basically, you "stack" a new habit on top of an old habit. For instance, after your morning coffee, you try to write a few sentences. Don't pressure yourself to create beautiful sentences made of spun gold, just freestyle it.
Writing is basically a muscle — the more you use it, the stronger and more skilled you become.
Technology can be helpful here. You can set a prompt on your phone to remind you to sit down and write. The downside of setting an alarm is that writing for pleasure can start to seem like a chore, which is one reason you've abandoned your efforts in the past.
DEAR AMY: I know you are a wealth of knowledge for resources. Are there any good books on dealing with all of the pain, death and suffering in the world? I am not a spiritual person.
DEAR MARK: What a thoughtful question.
My answer is: ALL the books.
I turn to poetry during tough times: Whitman, Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop ("Time to plant tears, says the almanac"), Billy Collins, Jericho Brown, and Emily Dickinson. Poets write the lyrics to the music of life.