Her Mom was (is) a serial divorcer. She has been married, or lived with someone for an extended period of time six, seven, eight times. A few of the "husbands" were genuine A*holes to her as a child, and her mother never protected her. Her biological father was never in her life, although she knew of a couple of his incarcerations. She came in rightfully concerned about the likelihood of "turning out like my mother". "I want a better life for me and my two kids, but I seem to be a shit magnet like my mother. I am attracted to the worst guys in the world- just like my mother. How do you change the way you seem to be destined to be?"
He was fifteen when I first met him. He was my very first "cutter", although he kept it a secret from me for six or seven months. When I saw the cuts I told him, “You know, as your mom's ripoff insurance isn't paying for me, so my charge is you teaching me about cutting”. He very reluctantly walked me through the last incident and I realized it wasn't “making a statement” about his shitty life, IT WAS A TRANQUILIZER! As he cut, he became calmer and calmer. We worked diligently together, and he finally discovered new methods of calming down. When I talked to him a few years ago (he's in his thirties now), he called to rage about a terrible incident(s) that happened to someone dear to him. I called him back the next day to ask if he had been drinking last night, and he said yes. I reminded him that his massively dysfunctional father, of who he broke off contact with years ago, was a very heavy drinker. When I asked him if drinking was the new cutting, he began to cry. Now, years later, he has two issues to work on: learning new strategies of calming yourself down properly AND consciously working at defeating the call of your genetics. The call of genetics seems to be somewhat inconsistent. Sometimes it's fantastically powerful, and sometimes it's hardly visible. The counselor-type question is this: are we destined to follow our genetic code, or do we have a choice? Everyone will say we have a choice, but is that true? How do we defeat genes that point us toward a sad life like those that came before us?
First and foremost, we need to evaluate our lives and decide upon a philosophy of life. Are we OK just living from day to day, with nothing ever really changing or improving in our lives, or do we set out to challenge ourselves in order to get better at almost everything? My great friend Jack was pretty uncoordinated in sixth grade. While many of us would put on our baseball gloves and easily toss the ball around, Jack was a lousy catch. Everyone at that age who was poor at something would find something else to do. Jack was the single exception. Day after day, even being the last one chosen on a team, would join us in our daily 2-on-2 games. Despite his lack of sports popularity, he persevered and got as good as everyone else. I had completely forgotten those days until, a few years ago when, during a visit from my now distant friend, I watched him in our backyard tossing the ball around with my 30 year old son. I was shocked by the old lost memory of his “stubbornness”, and subsequent success. You would think that if a sixth grader can change his "destiny", most people could.
A 16 year old angrily proclaimed, “my Dad’s a shitty father. He screams at all of us kids, and punches my mother”. When I asked him what he was on juvenile probation for, he said it was for beating down a kid at school who had pissed him off. I looked at him, raised an eyebrow with an expression of, “aww, isn’t that cute? Like father like son”. He hadn’t even considered the connection before. We worked with diligence at slowing down and keeping his brain functioning when he got mad. I saw him working downtown about four years later, and he pulled me aside to tell me he and his wife were expecting their first child. He continued, “I’ve still got a temper, but I’m working on it all the time. No way my kid is gonna see the same crap I did”. As I was shaking paws goodbye, I congratulated him while reminding him that the work is never completely over.
Nowadays when I work with my multitude of teens with drug-infested parents, I inform them of our potential genetic danger. Although it’s not guaranteed, we’d be stupid to not be aware of it. My little stoner teens proclaim they’ll never use “dope” (the new term for meth). They are more than surprised when I inform them that not all teens want to get drunk or stoned all the time. That could mean they have an increased sensitivity to liking altered states. They might get more pleasure from the drug high than other kids due to their weird genetics. If so, and drug tastes “mature” over time, meth may be in the future mix. Certainly too much alcohol is predictable.
So step two seems obvious: never let your guard down. Just because you’re OK at 22 doesn’t mean the genetic monster doesn’t awaken in times of crisis at 31. If you need guidance, seek out a therapist that carries credibility with you. Know what you are going to do instead of letting your genetics decide for you. Cop an attitude about being forced to do something against your will. Genetics is not your master. Dream of greatness and always work towards it.