Making sense of a lifetime of deprival, abandonment and betrayal #alcoholism #mentalhealth #familysystems #socialecologiesoflearning
October 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
I gather from your silence that you do not intend to acknowledge the hurtful words your wife hurled at me when I called to re-connect and wish you happy birthday. I also gather from your silence that you do not intend to put any effort into building a relationship with me. I get that. I am familiar with it. It doesn’t change how much it hurts, even at this stage of my life.
How to make sense of this lifetime of emotional deprival, abandonment and betrayal? I have to write my way through it. I have been in and out of therapy since 1981 when I had my first full blown emotional breakdown. Over the intervening years I have undergone gestalt therapy, marriage counselling, group therapy, talk therapy, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, art therapy, emdr, trauma counselling, incest survivor therapy, 12 step recovery programs: narcotics anonymous, overeaters anonymous, sex addicts anonymous, sex and love addicts anonymous, and debtors anonymous.
What I have learned from all this work is that my internal condition of mental, emotional, and physical well-being was seriously compromised during childhood and early adulthood and this weakened condition made me vulnerable to forming connections with other people who would deprive me of emotional security, abandon me, and betray my trust. In order to stop re-creating these relational conditions I have had to work hard on two fronts. First, I have had to work on my mental, emotional and physical condition to make them strong and healthy enough to tackle the nasty backlog of conditioning that operates as a sub-routine everyday of my life. Second, I have had to work to investigate, examine, put into words, and problem solve relational conditions in my family system that continue to this day.
When I tackle the enormity of this situation on my own, I feel overwhelmed and unable to make sense of it. When I tackle it with the support of others who are engaged in similar challenges, I feel connected to something larger than myself, something that gives me the energy and confidence to fight on.
I am talking about seeing myself as a component in larger social systems, as a part of many different networks of social relationships: marriage, family, friends, support groups, academia, pets (dogs), and construction. Each of these social systems draw out different qualities and characteristics from within me. I respond to the different environmental conditions of these social systems with different qualities and characteristics depending on the situation I find myself in. For example, on a construction site, I am perfectly comfortable and confident measuring up a two by six and cutting it to length. In academia, I am perfectly comfortable organizing an entire course and teaching a semester worth of courses. In my family, I am perfectly uncomfortable attending family events and even more uncomfortable at the prospect of having to communicate with my alcoholic father.
As part of these diverse social ecological systems, I am able to do something that is new to me. Instead of replaying old patterns of thought and behaviour in the context of habituated relationships with family, I am able to be conscious of how these old patterns of deprival, abandonment and betrayal play out and call on other relationships in my network to inform my response. Thus, the difficulty presented by an inebriated step-mother insulting me on the phone and my father’s tacit approval of this behaviour does not have to send me into a spiral of self-abuse and rumination. Instead, I can draw on the humour, strength and resourcefulness I exhibit in the field of renovations and apply that approach to these difficult, non-functioning relationships. I laugh at the memory. I process the dimensions of dysfunction. I provide space for myself to come to grips with the reality of a father who is incapable of behaving as a responsible, caring parent. I employ my academic skills to analyze the situation and view it from more than one point to see the absurdity of the pattern of relational dynamics. I change my response to the situation by talking to my trusted allies and identify a healthy course of action to move forward. I turn the lemons of sour family discourse into lemonade of creative work, strengthening other bonds with family and friends, and turn my frustrated drive for connectivity into possible sources for writing, painting, and drawing.
I feel good today, in part because I am able to put these experiences into words and make sense of them instead of leaving them as a vague, gnawing feeling of emptiness and desperation.