Struggle For Intimacy, by Janet G. Woitiz
This is one of the used books I purchased while attending the feast in Steamboat Springs, and it was read by one of the people I stayed with, and was bought with the intention of giving it as a present, all of which has an influence in how this book is to be taken. As someone who has, beyond all doubt, struggled with matters of intimacy on a variety of levels, I felt that this book would be a practical and useful book with regards to my own life, as it is written to and about adult children of alcoholics. Given the massive damage that alcoholism has done to both sides of my family, and that of many people whom I happen to know, I figured this book would be a useful one, if a dangerously personal one. As the author herself states in the preface of the book: “For me, writing has been a compulsive act; when, for some reason, I find the words don’t come, I need to look further…to write about the struggle for intimacy is quite another matter. It is a much more complex issue, key to the happiness of every man and woman. It is quite clear to me that I am not as detached as I was when I wrote the other books. My own feelings are affected by the magnitude of this problem (i).” As a fellow compulsive writer, those were sentiments that I was able both to understand and to recognize in this book.
This book was written when I was about four years old, and despite its adoption of the language of victims rather than survivors that is currently in fashion , the book has held up well over the thirty years since it was written. People from dysfunctional families with a history of incest and alcoholism, the target audience of this book, are still struggling with intimacy and still longing for whole relationships, and as long as this is the case, this book and others like it will be of use. To be sure, it does not come from a biblical perspective, and so it makes some errors in terms of its acceptance of various immorality, but despite that, the book is both intensely personal and practical. Perhaps the biggest flaw is that the book seems to assume that for those readers who struggle with particularly difficult family situations, like surviving child abuse, that the therapists found will be both compassionate and competent in helping a person find solutions to the vexing problems of developing lasting and loving relationships. Sadly, I have not found this to be the case in my own personal experience. As is often the case, if you are reading a book like this, odds are that you are either a person who has a family background of substance abuse or you love someone who does; this is not the sort of book that one reads without a great deal of feeling.
The book, in terms of its organization and structure, contains six unequal chapters. The first chapter looks at how children of alcoholics often are spectacularly bad at picking lovers. The second chapter examines the qualities of a healthy relationship, where there is freedom for people to be themselves, to be together, and to grow individually and together. The third chapter, the longest in the book, taking up about half its material, looks at the relationship issues shared by adult children of alcoholics, and it is a daunting list, including: fear of abandonment, bonding, vulnerability, depression, trust, boundaries, expectations, loyalty, and validation, among others. Although not everyone in this situation will identify with all of these problems, I know I recognized most of the ones listed in my own life. The fourth chapter looks at issues of sexuality, including a discussion of the additional complications that surviving incest adds to the general issues dealt with by children of alcoholics, given that incest is particularly common in families with existing substance abuse issues. The fifth chapter is written to those who love adult children of alcoholics, mostly because in the author’s estimation such people are often particularly loyal and loving, despite their many and daunting struggles. The sixth and final chapter looks at putting it all together, specifically dealing with concerns of communication and the need to take a lot of time to work through the problems of the past in loving relationships with people who are willing to tough it out and endure the difficult process of rewiring the mind in terms of its expectations and behavior.
As a person with both an intense longing for success in love and relationships, I found this book to be profoundly sad, but also deeply honest, written by a person who had herself apparently struggled with alcoholism in the family, perhaps even incest, given how deeply she speaks of the way that female survivors of incest from alcoholic parents have to cope. As is often the case, this book speaks a bit more profoundly about the experience of girls rather than boys in such situations, but this is probably due to the fact that far fewer men speak of such experiences, given the much more damaging repercussions in terms of reputation and shame, and the widespread and often misguided fear of such survivors being particularly prone to repeat the behavior themselves. The book speaks to the universality of longings, to the feeling of being different, to the fact that lessons in intimacy, in the absence of effective parental modeling, have to be learned through observation and trial and error, and in the need for people to find loving partners who are willing to communicate their boundaries and concerns and to never lose sight of either the horrors that their partners have faced, nor the fact that a deep wellspring of love and loyalty, of compassion and appreciation, as well as fear and anxiety and gloomy depression, spring from such painful formative personal experiences. The struggle for intimacy is not a struggle with friends or partners, but it is a struggle with the forces of darkness that rejoice in broken families and wounded survivors with harrowing damages, and that is not a struggle anyone should have to fight alone.
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