My alcoholic family is a social ecology of learning – a system of self-referential relationships that reinforce the very qualities and characteristics that are destructive to #mentalhealth and contribute to #mentalillness #alcoholism and #addiction
October 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
I continue to work through the morass of memory, emotion, and bafflement of growing up your daughter. Every day is a struggle for me to learn to practice healthy self-care. In my late fifties I am working on completing achievements that would normally be part of an adult in their thirties or forties. I see the wreckage of your influence in the mental health of my siblings, my own children, and my nephews and grandchildren. The influence of your selfishness and cowardice show traces across generations. I know that you will never face up to your own deficiencies. You will continue to act as if your actions and words are above reproach. But I know differently, and I think you know that I know. The emperor has no clothes.
Wasn’t that a strange sequence of emails between you and your sisters last month?
You know that I don’t care that the family vacation cabin has to be sold because you have been financially irresponsible with your third wife and unable to live within your (once) considerable means. I had argued that cabin needed to be dealt with by you and your sisters before one of you passed or it was going to cause a legal headache for the next generation to untangle secession or sale of the property. I appreciate that you took the bold step of initiating that process. I’m sorry that what forced you into that situation was not an altruistic concern for your legacy to your offspring but rather a financial panic that you would not have enough to live on or take care of your wife if you had to be institutionalized due to a medical crisis. However, I am not surprised that you put your own selfish needs before your children. After all, have you ever done differently?
I must sound terribly sour! And I know that my siblings, at least some of them, would argue vehemently that I am wrong. But I have my interpretation of your behaviour, and at least it is consistent with all the evidence. Yes, you have done things for the family, but it was always in your own interest. I’m not sorry. That is just how I see it now and it makes sense to me. Any other interpretation, such as, you were thinking of the well-being of the family when you made your choices, cannot be reconciled with the facts, and leads to a very confounding string of logic that ultimately is belied by your very actions around this family vacation cabin.
There is no doubt that you took care of the cabin for many years to make sure it was in working order for family members to enjoy. And those family members who were favoured with that enjoyment are suitably grateful to you. You will have to forgive me if I don’t share that gratitude, because I was never among the favoured members of the family who spent summer vacations at the cabin every year as their children grew up. My children never formed the bonds of family belonging and family history that my other siblings and their children share. We were not invited.
Anyway, that is not the point of this letter. Today I wanted to discuss the sequence of emails that came out of your announcement that the cabin would be sold and there would be no option for any family members to mount an effort to purchase it, or to purchase your shares. You wanted to make sure that, if you had to sell your shares, that no other family member could own the cabin. At first, your two sisters had signed off on this agreement with you, that was what authorized you to make the announcement. But the next day, my cousin1.2 wrote pleading for an opportunity to make an attempt to buy the shares or the property with the blessing of her mother and aunt. So that rose a question in my mind, what did Aunt1 and Aunt2 want to do with the property? Were they in agreement with you that it should not stay in the family or did they wish to keep it in the family if they could?
These two emails set off a flurry of emails and phone calls as different family members voiced their opinions and interests. The upshot was that there didn’t seem any good reason that you should dictate the sale of your shares of the property, although no one begrudged you for needing to take your money out of the property. No one appeared to hold a negative opinion of the circumstances that have led you to this action. There is general agreement in the family that secession of the property is a priority, no matter what circumstances finally rouse the family into action.
About a week after these deliberations were set in motion you wrote another email acknowledging that you could not prevent family members from attempting to purchase your shares or purchasing the property. At the same time, you made a statement that continues to bring up questions in my own mind, “It was never my intention to enrich myself at our families’ expense, an idea I find repugnant.” I had to ask, who had said this was your intention? Did I miss something? Where did this statement come from? What was it addressing? I have my own theories, but I am not part of these circles of conversation. What were the circumstances that prompted you to put this idea in writing?
In very short order, another flurry of emails were circulating. This time, Aunt1 and Aunt2 wrote long emails extolling your virtues and arguing that you have been a pillar of goodness in the family and appreciative of all your efforts, not only to keep the cabin going over all these years, but as a brother, over the course of a lifetime. I observed this sequence of communications and just wondered, what is going on?
And, I also asked myself, does anyone else in the family see how incongruent these communications are with the circumstances of their emergence? Do you, Dad? Just wondering.
So ends my meditations on making sense of the cunning, baffling experience of being a member in an alcoholic family that is in denial of its own spiritual, mental, and emotional suffering. I realize it is probably too late for you, Dad, to do anything to rectify the deep patterns of self-centredness, narcissism, care taking, toxic co-dependence, enabling, alcohol abuse, undiagnosed depression, undiagnosed anxiety, ungrieved loss, loneliness, boundary violations, emotional immaturity that have marked my relationship with you. I hope you find peace in your endeavours today, and that there might be some place for real love to fill your heart. I will do the same for myself, even as I am,