She describes herself as “Naturally Lit.” Then she went on to list her personality traits:
- I am doing well and then somehow I manage to screw things up
- I move from not giving a shit to fanaticism
- I’m either really good or really bad
- I can be impulsive
- I can be self destructive
Megan (not her real name) has a way of lighting up the room. Her personality is big, sometimes she can have racing thoughts and she can feel really dark. Right now, she is in recovery and so far she is doing well. But she feels like she is waiting for the next crash.
I work with Megan as an addiction therapist. We have spent quite a bit of time working on building skills to support her to increase her inner sense of stability… something that right now, does not feel natural to Megan. Interestingly, she says that she is just like her father and that he has the same personality.
Growing up with an alcoholic can make you Naturally Lit, even if you never abuse a substance
Her description has burned it’s way into my mind, in part because she is a fascinating person but also because she is describing my personality. My father was an alcoholic and his drinking created an unstable family environment, which has impacted my mental health and overall sense of well being. What we know about children who have a parent who lives with a substance abuse problem is that:
- They are more likely to experience depression and anxiety
- They will experience a greater sense of inner instability and will feel as though they have a lack of control over their environment.
- They tend to have attention and concentration issues more often, and will experience behavioral problems (ie: skipping school, trouble with the law) more frequently.
- They are more at risk for physical health problems, employment dissatisfaction and disharmony in their intimate relationships
Growing up in a home that is marked with the chaos and unpredictability of heavy and frequent substance use has an effect on you. The instability in your environment seeps into your DNA and you find it difficult to maintain a sense of normality. You are always seeking something, but never quite satisfied.
When you try to settle into a routine, you may feel disrupted either by external situations or by your own mind and emotions. You feel drawn to big emotions, excitement and new things. You react and make decisions out of impulse and emotion rather than thinking the options through. It can feel like somehow you always manage to screw your life up. It can become a difficult cycle to break.
I don’t think it is helpful to blame anyone. You may be like me and your family background has you “Naturally Lit.” Or you may have had a supportive family but you ended up with a number of traits that make you prone to over do things and make you more susceptible to substance use disorders and extremes. No two paths are the same.
Sometimes people refer to these set of traits as an addictive personality. I recently wrote an article that explored how the addictive personality is a myth. There is no such thing as an addictive personality, but there are traits that make a person more prone to addiction. You can read the article by clicking here, Do You Really Have an Addictive Personality.
Researchers have found that there are four key characteristics that make a person “Naturally Lit,” or more prone to experiencing addiction and/or mental health: These can be summarized by the acronym T.H.I.S.:
- Thrill seeking
- Sensitive to anxiety
You can find a thorough discussion of the traits in this article, Do You Have an Addictive Personality?
Your inner surging idle: It’s a real thing
Your inner emotional speedometer is revs high and then it revs low. When a vehicle spontaneously revs and then low, mechanics call it a surging idle problem and it can be from a variety of causes. I know very little about vehicle engines, but I found that the surging idle problem can be caused by many things:
- Poor fuel quality or water in your gasoline
- A cracked gasket in one of your engine valves
- A clogged engine valve
- A faulty ignition coil
- Crankshaft position sensor is faulty
- Problems with the distributor
If you are like me, you are glad that your mechanic has a handle on these problems because pinpointing the cause is so difficult. That is why we pay our automotive technicians so much money.
When your inner emotional life surges, you naturally go on the lookout for solutions. Substance use can be one solution. So is overeating food, compulsive shopping, a fixation on (unhealthy) romantic relationships, or an extreme preoccupation with pretty much anything in your life. These solutions will feel like they fit for a while, but then they create a cycle of turmoil in your life, your relationships, your emotions and your work life.
Is there a fix for the Naturally Lit personality?
Your car’s idle problem will eventually get fixed, but your emotional surging is more complicated because it is entwined with your personality, your memory and your identity. If you find yourself naturally lit, you can do some things to create a better life for yourself:
a. Be aware and accept yourself. You have many strengths, you are a compelling person and you can be very passionate. These traits can get you in trouble, but you have to begin with acceptance. One of the tendencies of people from substance using homes is that you can be awfully critical of yourself or the people that you love. Cut yourself and the people that you love a little slack.
b. Admit when you tend to overdo things like drinking, eating, internet use or shopping. You life isn’t out of control, but you need to be honest with yourself and adjust how you approach the things that tend to trip you up.
c. Work for the long haul. I get that this is not what you want to hear, but slow down buddy. Expecting quick results will just result in more of the same. One of the most important things that you can do for yourself is to build healthy self-care habits. Depriving yourself and then bingeing is an unhealthy pattern. Giving into unhealthy habits is not the solution. Over time, rewarding yourself with healthy coping opportunities will help to reset your inner speedometer.
d. Create an action plan. Then use it. Learn about your triggers, your emotional red zones and the people who set you off. Develop strategies that help you cope with emotional surges.
e. Get help.You may need a therapist, a support group or other another form of a supportive community. It takes a community to raise a child and it takes a community to heal one. You need other people and you can’t do it on your own.
f. Invest yourself in positive things. These may become positive addictions and healthy outlets. Music, volunteering, exercise or writing are just few examples.
g. Go on adventures. If your heart craves adventure, feed it with travel, a change of routine, and other new and exciting experiences. You don’t have to travel to another country, you can just experience your cities downtown life or go to a local concert or try your hand at a new artistic endeavor.
h. Expect that you will have low moods and difficult seasons. Don’t panic. Yes, everyone feels low once in a while, and you may genuinely feel lower than everyone else around you. Remind yourself that this will pass. Moods pass. If they don’t, or if your moods become so dark that you feel suicidal, you will benefit from talking to your doctor. He or she can recommend a medication assisted treatment or other behavioral approaches that can help you with your moods.
Being Naturally Lit is challenging, but you also have many gifts from the characteristics that make you who you are. You have a unique approach to life. You may face more challenging emotions and turmoil but your experience will create a sense of depth that you would never have had without it.
If you enjoyed this article, you will want to have a look at some of my other writing:
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Keep it Real
Photo by Joseloya