I hope that you enjoy this series, I hope you find some new writers to follow, I hope this helps them out and I hope we can all learn something from them!
Up now is a post that was submitted anonymously.
This is a.m.a.z.i.n.g.
You Can't Make This Shit Up
I just came back from a session with my therapist. We're getting to know one another. Unless you're an orphan (and I mean that respectfully), it's impossible to begin therapy with anyone and not talk about your family of origin. So I gave her the high-level breakdown; I'm so tired of telling this story. I really wanted to get on with what I need to have done, but, as we all know: you can't go forward without a couple glances back.
So I told her about my family of origin and she stopped me in the middle of it all and told me that I needed to write a book about them and how I grew up and away (and relatively healthy with minimal scarring) from my truly insane parents. She sort of couldn't believe it herself. She is a very experienced therapist.
I told her that I'd love to, but that I'd have to wait until my parents were worm meal because while I can't really bear to be near them, they do have excellent taste and I'd like to get my greedy angry paws on their Steinway as well as some fantastic first-editions my mother collected over the years as she spent the money my father worked his ass off (and which we were reminded of on a daily basis) to acquire. As I think about all that now, I wonder: would I keep that stuff or destroy it? I'm not sure.
My father was so busy working his ass off, frankly, that he completely ignored (denied) his wife's alcoholism and dependence on prescription drugs, her penchant for shoplifting, her habit of driving while intoxicated, and her hobby of kiting checks. He must've been working (denying) very hard, because the last time I checked, anyone exhibiting just one of those behaviors would wind up on the award-winning yet now-cancelled "Intervention" on A&E.
Having a bachelor's degree from an Ivy League university does that to some people: it can usher in whispers of elitism; it makes them think they're above having a socially forward, beautiful, brilliant spouse who also happens to be a complete basket case. That bachelor's degree is only on paper, it can't account for action. Or inaction. Or denial. Or enabling, or abdicating obligations on to children. Because even doing nothing is a choice. For all his achievements, world-class athleticism, the attention and influence over statesmen and a relatively posh lifestyle, my father is a fraud. But my mother is no better.
My parents' codependence is epic. Her drinking gives him something else to be bitter about; his bitterness gives her something else to drink over. I liken it to a death match. Like putting Muhammad Ali and Cassius Clay (same person, I know) in the boxing ring. Who would win? The alter ego or the ego from which the new one derived? Either way, I want ringside seats, and a pair of eyeshades because there's no way I'm watching that match. In fact, it would be more authentic for me just to hear it all go down, because in my entire existence, I've never seen my mother take a drink or pop a pill and I only heard their myriad arguments and the slamming doors. I only saw the bottles and the vials and the cans and the broken dishes and the tear-stained cheeks. I saw the remains of what her lies and deceit did to her and how my father's denial, he had his own shades on, destroyed my family and made us just a frame of what we could have been. Now that they're in their twilight years, they don't remember any of it, or they say it's too much for them. It was always too much for them, never the right time to talk about it. "Tomorrow ..."
I have had the privilege of knowing Ms. DeBie here for a while and when she and I manage to talk about the lunacy that is our lives and our sympathetic survivor-hood, we always laugh at the phrase, "You can't make this shit up" and then we cry because the reality is: no, you can't.
I used to know someone who was a emergency room nurse in downtown Los Angeles. When the whole Charlie Sheen "tiger blood and adonis DNA" madness was going down a few years ago, he used to laugh at it all because in his estimation, all the good people die first because "you can't kill shit."
I used to look at him and say, "What? 'You can't kill shit?' That makes no sense." And he would say, "You can't kill shit because it's already a waste product. You just have to wait for it to break down and stop being an organic entity." I guess in his mind, and he'd seen it all -- from fantastically famous Hollywood celebrities coming in to the hospital through a special entrance to drug-addled street urchins being dumped from a car under the canopy or onto a curbside -- there are some people who just won't die.
My mother and father are two of them.
"Oooooh. That sounds harsh," you say. "You sound bitter." Yes, it does sound harsh and yes I'm bitter. It's taken me a long time to even allow that. For years I thought just my mother was a train wreck that I couldn't fix no matter how hard I tried, but only recently have I been able to admit to the fact that my father was worse. Not only did he know what was going on, but he ran away from it, dumped it on his kids and continued to ignore it.
Don't judge me until you hide in my closet, run from my father, or are endlessly woken up in the middle of the night by my mother looking for her $500 scarf or her sunglasses or even better, are rustled by my father in a request to make sure your mother is either still alive or if you can go find the pills she took that made her unconscious. But don't judge me on that alone; you have to be four years old when it starts and then about 17 when it ends with you slamming your mother up against a wall with your forearm bracing against her clavicle telling her as your eyes are on fire that if she wakes you up one more time out of a sound sleep to help her find her missing crap that she will be dead and you will be happy to go to prison because at least there, you know can sleep. Oh, and your father has to be asleep, or at least faking it every time.
Then you can judge me.
Because when you're raised by two codependent alcoholic narcissists who are in a death match to out-last or out-hate the other, you're fucked.
I didn't move out of my house until I was almost married. I went to a college near home because my mother was in such a precarious position that I was tasked with making sure she didn't die. The level of silent and veiled misogyny I endured on behalf of both my parents -- she modeled tremendous self-loathing along with the clear narcissism, and he did nothing about it; and he hated his mother and clearly felt either an odd need to control his bride by ignoring (enabling) her condition which allowed it to continue, or maybe it was that she was subservient to him or ... I give up. **Waving the white flag here.** It's complicated.
From the outside, we were totally normal looking: married educated parents; healthy, smiling kids; a dog; a hint of purpose, goals and ambition; and a white-collar church-going family. Behind the doors, we were craven, angry, paranoid, raging and despondent. This is the code you live by when you're from a family like mine: "death before dishonor." We were the Mad Men family; if Betty Draper were alive and real today, my mother would be her age. Same for Don Draper.
I have gotten to know lots of people over my journeys in AA, al-anon, group therapy and the like and I've come to learn, that's just how things were then. Parents got shizzed and the kids were ignored.
So, yeah, lots of people come from fucked-up families. I am no different. But what does make me different is the fact that I can talk about it. And I can write about it. I can share in a way, that other people can relate to, if not completely identify with. Everyone has something that hurt them; anyone who says differently is lying... to themselves first.
The thing is, narcissists are bad enough; they already think only of themselves. Combine that with alcoholism, which makes no sense because by definition, narcissists are hell-bent on self-preservation. Next, have them marry people just like them that they can compete with; and then, give them children which they will favor, hide behind, ignore or attack or compete with. It's great. If you've read Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, then you know part of the story. My mother was like his mother, destined for stardom, only just waiting to be "Discovered"; she didn't want to actually have to do any work for it… We were in the way. I drove her to drink, blah blah blah. If you've seen "Mommie Dearest" then you know another part of the story. So yeah: "Mad Men," "Mommie Dearest," and Running with Scissors pretty much sums it up.
Despite all my anger and frustration and total confusion of being born of a family like mine, at the end of the day, what keeps me from completely tearing the lid off is personal pride and the fact that I don't want to be a narcissist like my parents. I don't want to make this all about me; and I want to do something neither of them were truly capable of: I want to protect my kids and put them first. Even though none of it is my fault, I want to protect my lineage. I want to maintain my dignity.
My point in writing is this: it's a cautionary tale to anyone who is pig-headed enough to think that their kids aren't paying attention. It has taken me a really long time to allow myself to admit these things, because good kids don't disrespect their parents, but I have come to the realization that I am a good kid and my childhood was robbed and my parents SUCKED. Somehow I made it out. I still don't know how or why. Maybe it was to learn about it and share my story and to maybe give a fellow survivor proof that you will make it or to stop an idiot parent dead in its tracks from continuing its charade. But chances are parents who are doing this are already lost; they don't want to hear the reality, but that's too bad.
Here's the deal: if you are a parent who is fucking things up for your family and you lie and you're addicted and you deflect and you project and you hide and you cheat and you steal and / or you enable all that in your mate, or you are weak and you can't deal with it and so you employ your child to do the things you took a VOW to do: honor in sickness and in health and all of that, I warn you now: once your kid figures out how fucked-up you are, your kid will never forget it and he will never forgive you. Your child will either become successful and hate you and do the bare minimum to save his face socially, or she will hate herself and destroy herself with crappy relationships and lifestyle choices because it's hard for her to believe she's worth anything when her parents treated her like shit. Either way, he will hate you for your cowardice for the rest of his life and he will wait for you to die to free him from the pretense and the lie of your ever thinking he was fooled by you and that he actually tolerates and honors you. She will forever hate you because you are gutless and full of shit. Kids are so much smarter than me and you and their needs are simple: safety, food, consistency, sleep, honesty and kindness.
I have to go meet my own kids at their bus stop now. That's something neither of my parents ever did. Even when I was in kindergarten. It's a tangled web of emotions and neglect, because while there's so much they didn't do, there's the fact that I'm alive and that I am thriving; they take all the credit for that, I assure you, even though they have about a 15% rightful claim to my success. I'll save that for my book, the "fiction" I'll have to write because if I keep this anger in much longer, it will poison me.
Props to DeBie Hive for giving me a voice, even though I'm hiding. "Forgiveness is the release of all hope for a better past." -- Buddy Wakefield ... I'm working on it.