“Not today, thanks anyway.” #mentalhealth #mentalillness #estrangement #alcoholism
September 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
Everyday there is another fascinating facet of mental ill health in my family for discussion. If I don’t write about it on a daily basis it just drifts off behind me into a cesspool of unresolved feelings, thoughts, and baffling behaviours.
It is extremely helpful to consider my experience within the context of a social ecology rather than an individualistic expression of autonomous agency. I argue that autonomous agency simply does not exist, because even our conceptions of our autonomy are conditioned by the relationships, experiences, and history of emotional encounters that have shaped our individual value-category memory systems.
I had a most frustrating talk with Brother1 on Sunday. I fear we are reaching an impasse in our effort to keep a connection because I insist on maintaining my estranged relationship with my dad. Brother1 cannot understand why I would do this, and why I don’t just accept Dad for who he is and engage with him on his level. Brother1 sees Dad as his beloved mentor and father. He absolutely cannot see that his view is so deeply conditioned by male privilege, trauma bonding, and denial that he is unable to offer me the slightest expression of empathy.
I understand why this is so. If my brother was to allow himself to feel empathy for me, he would have to allow a crack to show in his lifetime wall of denial that has allowed my father free reign in the family with no consequences for his behaviour or his attitudes. Well, Brother1 lives across the continent and has done so for decades, so I suppose it is easy to take pot shots from afar. Our conversation revealed another part of my brother’s life, though, that gave me a glimpse into the extreme state of vulnerability, entanglement and entrapment that is the reality of his life today. I realized that, if my brother was to actually empathize with my position in relation to my father, he would also have to empathize with his own condition, which I now realize would be wholly intolerable for me, and explains why my brother suffers from extreme anxiety on a daily basis.
A big part of my recovery has been getting to a point of emotional, financial, and psychological strength to say to my father, “I don’t need you.” The only reason I can be estranged from my father is that I am not dependent on him for anything. All ties of dependence, save the deepest emotional ties of a daughter to a father, have been cut. I do not rely on him for anything. I can be estranged from him because the only thing left that might form a relationship with him is emotional honesty and respect. He has demonstrated his continuing inability to bring those qualities to the table, and I have exited the room rather than suffer further indignities and heartache. It is an extremely difficult position to take, and if I could do anything else, I would. But the truth of the matter is that I don’t have the internal fortitude right now to coddle my father’s immaturity and narcissism. So I estrange myself and have some semblance of peace in my life.
For my brother, though, my position is causing him deep pain and he really wants me to relent and get back in touch with Dad. I have to ask myself, why is he putting this pressure on me when I have told him how damaging Dad’s attitude and behaviour are to me. And then, after our last conversation, I realized my brother, who postures as this charismatic, successful, accomplished family man, actually lives in a feudal state of subservience to his father-in-law. Everything my brother has, his fancy apartment, his vacation home, his job, his social standing, is tied to his subjugation to his father-in-law. Yes, they are wealthy, they have all the creature comforts anyone could ask for, but my brother and his wife are tied to family values and a family system of patriarchy that takes a huge cost on their emotional and psychological well-being. Not only that, because their entire economic system is based on family dependence, my brother and his wife have never established their financial independence from that family. If their father-in-law was to fire my brother tomorrow, and strip away all the family protections they currently enjoy, neither my brother nor his wife would be prepared to enter the workforce to earn a living outside the nepotism that has supported them for decades.
When I take a stand of estrangement from my father because I do not accept the treatment he metes out to me, I am doing something that my brother cannot do. He is a subject of the largess of his father-in-law, my brother’s life has been devoted to keeping his wife in the conditions to which she is accustomed. I imagine it is deeply painful for my brother to witness me taking my stand, knowing, on some level, that for him to actually stand up and protect himself, and his wife, from the unhealthy family system perpetrated by her father, would wreak havoc on their lives. What a subterranean fault line to have to live on top of.
Brother1 is not the only one putting this pressure on me. I am getting it from all four of my brothers. For different reasons, but the same underlying condition. I am calling Dad out for being selfish, self-centred and destructive to my well-being. I am saying it stops here, I am not passing this on to my children. My brothers, each for their own reasons, are saying, “You can’t do that. Suck it up. Get over it.” and I am saying, “No. I don’t have to and I am not going to.”
Well, I do suffer for taking this position, in that my brothers, each in their way, are putting pressure on me to change back. As I go longer and longer, refusing to do that, the pressure is building and I am feeling less comfortable trying to talk to them or socialize with them. But, if my belonging to this family depends on my subjugation to an alcoholic, destructive narcissist who no one will be honest with or stand up to, then, I don’t want to belong to this family.
I don’t want to cause pain or suffering to my siblings, but they cannot see how their demands amount to the same thing, that I suffer pain, indignity and further psychological harm to assuage their feelings of discomfort. They cannot see that their demands amount to a hypocritical demand that I suffer so they don’t have to, because none of them will stand up to their father and say, “Enough is enough.”
I wish this stuff wasn’t decades old and a lifetime of patterns to address. But perhaps that is what it took, all this life experience to this point in time, for me to finally stand up and say, “Not today, thanks anyway.”
Tagged: alcoholic families, alcoholism, asking for help, denial, difficult communication, difficult family relationships, distant family, family connections, family cruelty, family of origin, receiving help