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What If I've Been Okay, All Along?

May 02, 2024

”Not why the addiction, but why the pain?” asks a popular Canadian Physician.

And, it makes me nervous.

So much of what we talk about regarding any behaviour or relationship with food, drugs (prescribed and recreational), and of course interpersonal relationships come from what I perceive as a very binary feed-in for our current approaches to ‘behaviour’.

Let me unpack this a little:

Neurodivergent people. We use ‘resources’ both within ourselves and outside of ourselves to regulate, to soothe, to recalibrate.

Screens, food, drugs, alcohol, relationships, sex, passions, breathwork, yoga, exercise, writing and other forms of creativity and so much more; just as non-neurodivergent people do.

Yet, we often do it bigger, harder, faster, more often.

When it comes to our current understanding of addiction, our focus is narrow. We automatically assume that if a person is engaging with the same thing (person, place or thing) repeatedly, it must be an addiction.

This is particularly true of how professionals zoom in on neurodivergent culture. Or, it’s ‘dopamine seeking/chasing’.

Now yes, these things are real. They are sometimes, of course, true.

And they’re reductive, dismissive, pathologising, and ableist.

They’re limiting in terms of how we come to understand human experience, divergence and diversity; and they continue to box us all in as normal or abnormal; functional or dysfunctional.

While it’s true that so many of us as neurodivergent people come into adulthood with significant trauma, so much of this is related to displacement.

Displacement being the disconnection from ourselves and who we are born to be as whole and complete, and instead, seen as broken or second-rate versions of typical people.

Therefore, we are always seen as ‘more prone to addiction’, rather than having a completely divergent neurobiology (not just a different way of thinking/processing), therefore ‘sensing’ divergently on emotional, physical, sensory, energetic and spiritual levels.

This in itself can be painful, yes. But the response to it..the response I received as an extremely sensitive human being growing up was not good. It was not nurturing, or even kind. My sensitivities were interpreted as weakness, as embarrassing, as failures and the adults around me were conditioned to always be projecting into the future to avoid any outcomes around who I might become rather than who I was.

They were bullied by societal ABA. Applied behaviour analysis.

EVERYBODY is inadvertently, and advertently bullied by societal ABA.

When you know from an early age that you are not acceptable, and you find a means to change that, you cling to it.

I grew up around a lot of alcohol. A lot. And I vowed to never drink.

At 14, I found alcohol. And I found freedom. I was able to magically appear typical. I could be uninhibited and loud, talk to anyone without social anxiety, and talk about my inner world. I could have fun, sing and dance, and be ‘normal’.

I ended up in AA at 22 and got sober, and over the years I continued to watch (what I used to term) “alcohol obliterate my family”. Now I say “I continued to watch my family seek belonging”.

Displacement is very real. It can result in a person not only feeling complete disconnection from the outside world, but a complete disconnection from the inside as well; to the point of depersonalisation/derealisation (very, very common for neurodivergent people).

I digress.

Yes, there is pain. Absolutely. But it’s not always that straightforward. There is pain from our sensory worlds that cannot be dulled without tools. One of my children has worn headphones every single day from the time they were five years old. And yes, we’ve been told many a time to wean her off as it’s unhealthy. The pain she is in without them is unimaginable for most.

When we engage in our passions, we’re told it’s unhealthy, we’re pathologised in the DSM:

“Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):

  • Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypies, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).
  • Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behaviour (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take the same route or eating the same food every day).
  • Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g. strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).
  • Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).

Bad, bad, bad. And no, you may not use tools or resources to ease the burden of pain.

Many of us become addicts. Alcoholics. Our intergenerational trauma; stories of displacement are peppered with other various forms of trauma along the way. People who take advantage of our trust, parents and educators are encouraged to see us as weak, never resilient enough, intentionally pretending to be disabled in various ways, not being able to get over the anxiety or attend school without fear or resistance.

So yes, there’s pain.

But what happens next? We realise we are traumatised and THAT becomes our special interest. It becomes our lifelong focus. Especially..ESPECIALLY when we do not know we are neurodivergent.

“If I just get better, be better, do better, life will finally be okay. I’ll be a better partner, parent, child, friend, employee..”

Jesus. Where does it ever end? What is the endpoint? Not enough people think about that.

At what point do we feel we’re good enough? Or, is there always room for better? Most of society will tell us there is always room for improvement, why wouldn’t you want to be better?

What if, just what if, I’ve been okay all along?

What if I’ve been enough? What if I am enough?

What if this way of being..feeling deeply, thinking that runs for miles, needing processing time (without saying ‘additional’ because it instantly others me and compares me to people who don’t need a whole lot of time to THINK) is more than enough?

How much longer will I torture myself with the need to ‘overcome’ and what am I ‘overcoming’?

Do I even know?

Is my pain mine to process and overcome, or is it years and years of being told I am unacceptable?

The lines around trauma and pain are very quickly blurred.

And here’s the final point around behaviour and neurodivergence:

We are still being pathologised, in therapy.

We’re still being examined via the lens of behaviourism. “You’re drinking a lot, there must be pain that should be overcome.”

I didn’t eat, drink or drug myself into oblivion because I was solely in emotional pain only. I was opting out. I was checking out of a world that hated me, rejected me, and wouldn’t teach me or support me to know and understand my difference as a perfectly whole and complete, naturally occurring variation of human being and doing.

A divergence.

I was escaping from a world that I had to process, think about, feel and sense because I had no choice. Sometimes, there is no overcoming. Sometimes, there can only be supporting, flipping narratives, overturning who we’ve been told we are.

I will always live with pain. Always.

And I can still be happy and whole. But I need support, and community, to be immersed in a world that normalises my experience.

What if my screen use, my vaping, my exercising or my relationship with food and eating is not related to emotional pain, but a set of tools I have discovered in the abandonment I experienced as a result of societal rejection?

What if, in therapy, all you have to offer me will never be what I need as a neurodivergent person?

I’ve talked about it for over thirty years, used CBT and all the most recommended approaches. I’ve been immersed in ‘trauma therapies’ with human beings who sat across from me truly believing themselves to be equipped to provide answers and solutions for me.

I switched from trying to overcome to working toward embodying my autistic self around five years ago. This is radical acceptance.

Radical acceptance is not ‘accepting children’s behaviour unconditionally’ as I see people discussing’s not about behaviour. God, it’s not about behaviour.

Radical acceptance is when we are shifting away from trying to ‘overcome’ what may not ever be overcome, and finding ways to support ourselves inside of the chaos. It’s radical honesty. If I have 45 years of experience with myself, knowing this is how I think and feel, this is how I process, there is true wisdom in preparing for those moments where CBT isn’t going to cut it.

Imagine just living.

I know.

Imagine it.

Imagine just gardening, or creating, or showering or resting without hating ourselves for it because we ‘should’ be doing something else, somewhere else.

Imagine remembering that this is the only life we get to be who we are, now.

Imagine not being solely focused on how we support ourselves as either good or bad, instead of being curious.

Imagine instead of centring on someone’s behaviour, we step back and radically ask ourselves with honest curiosity “What is it that they’re getting from drinking that they need?” because sure, we can figure out the pain or think we have. But what happens when the pain hits harder one morning? What then? Knowing what it is won’t be enough.

I know how to breathe deeply. I know how to cry. I know how to write. I know how to talk. I know how to move my body. I take responsibility for all of the things I can do to support myself.

But I cannot be responsible for a world that will not, and actively chooses not to understand me. A society that is encouraged to actively misunderstand, overlook and outright abuse neurodivergent people.

Our focus is on changing people in childhood in order to avoid being targetted, right? Autistic children=prime example.

In doing so, we displace them. Pain.

Am I saying not to seek support or treatment for trauma? No. Having to address all the “whatabouts” and the “are you saying..” are a byproduct of us not being able to just live and let live. It’s active participation in societal ABA.

Not being able to read, acknowledge differences and move on without making someone wrong is active participation in societal ABA.

I won’t give up another moment of my life trying to overcome.

I’m actively spending the next 45 years of my life immersed in loving all my parts. Wholly and completely, and whilst I know there is pain, I also know I’m okay.

I am enough. And enough is enough.

- Kristy Forbes

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