A unique perspective on the world from a small town girl turned big city nurse. Now a grandmother to 6 gregarious, resplendent boys and 5 endearing, magical girls, she strives the make the world a more understanding, pleasant place to experience this intense thing called life.
We’ve all received them, folded & tucked inside the ever- dwindling colorful Christmas cards.” It was the one time that parents could brag about their children’s extracurricular activities.
“Jordan is excelling in football, drama club and was voted class president.
Katy has turned her love of animals into a dog walking service while participating in cheer, dance, choral club, chemistry club, and babysitting at night for extra money".
For me, I haven’t even had the thought to send one- even with social media. The last few years have sent me inward to a place where I have been forced to explore my identity outside of my kid’s accomplishments and failures. Being thrown into the world of addiction has a way of humbling the bragging rights right out of a person.
The fear of getting “The Call” one day overrides any hope of things changing for the better.
“What did I do wrong?”
Is the question many mom’s ask. Was I too strict? Too lenient? To dismissive? Too busy?
Did I overcompensate for my kid’s failures in the name of “just get it done?”
While researching for my book about my journey through my son’s addiction, I found many things I should have done differently.Especially after reading Gabor Mate`s research. But how is that helpful now?
Who needs more guilt?
There is not one cause for a so called “failure”. And besides, what is failure and what is success?
As I came across this headline for the perfect mom who did everything right and wants to share her secret; I admit I may have cringed a little.
Was I was offended that she idealized the perfect parent and that a child’s success is directly correlated to said perfect parenting?
But then I realized that my children’s success is NOT dependent on what contributions to the business world they make. Even though my addicted son did build several successful businesses; is his worth now non-existent because of his low fico score?
Although all of my children have had their ups and downs in financial success, they all have hearts of gold and strong work ethics.
They have all worked a job since they were 15 and always aspired to improve their situations.
My kids were taught to respect their elders, to respect others’ space and rights. And mostly to help people when needed. They are all very pleasant to be around and have fantastic senses of humor. They can make a friend of anyone, because of these qualities.
All my kids have influenced those around them in whatever situation they were in, whether in a work environment or a still-learning, challenging environment with other unhealed people.
But I had to wonder:
Am I essentially doing the same thing as her- bragging up my kids in order to reflect positively on me?
Sure. We are all human. I also am likely reacting to being the mother of a person with substance use disorder who has ended up in the correctional system as a result. Before this experience, my family may have joked about posting bail or being a prisoner in certain scenarios but not any more.
When that world hits home and you are getting a call from your child at so & so correctional facility; life suddenly turns real.
How do you put that in a Christmas Letter?
Luckily my bond runs deeper than what the world says my son is.
My bond says that even when homeless, he has worth and value. Such worth and value that he deserves the dignity of being offered housing, food and at least — kindness. He doesn’t need to be shunned away like Napoleon who I write about here
So what would my Christmas Letter read if I did send one?
As this year draws to a close, I hope you and yours are doing well and thriving. Our family continues to have a hand in the game of life with many challenges and blessings. I am grateful for the opportunities to practice unconditional, fierce love for all my children. They continue to fight and explore the complexities of life through a kaleidoscope of adventure. One son has explored this from the steel & brick walls of a jail cell, but also from a kayak on a beautiful lake. Another son has built up his business to afford a brand new house, vehicles, and a growing family and the challenges and blessings that come with that. Another son has finely found his happiness being a stepdad to two amazing kids. A daughter seeks joy every day with her large family of kidlets - who all love sports. Another daughter continues her search for her niche in life and the challenges of supporting herself. We are all extremely blessed to have one more day to figure it out and survive and thrive. Our love runs beyond prison walls, beyond the frailties of the human spirit, and lies deeper than the challenges of the human ego and outward personalities. We are connected through hearts and souls, even in times of separation and strife. We extend our love and blessings to you and yours and wish you a happy holiday season.
As my son’s life spins more out of control, I feel myself spinning too. Falling away from him. Away from having to defend him. Away from justifying anything. It hurts. But it’s a numbing kind of hurt. A tired hurt.
I wonder, Is this how he felt when he was choosing between the choices he had?
A numbing peace?
A tiredness. What stressors that he must have faced, day after day: Running a business, keeping everyone happy. Never being enough. Never quite getting it right. Never feeling quite comfortable in his own skin. Always using humor & distraction to move away from those feelings.
The world tells us we are never enough. It’s hustle, hustle – to win the game. But those with addictive qualities, take that further. They can’t stop at certain points which balance it out. Those with mental illness become hyperfocused on unhealthy behaviors.
Netflix’s new show Words on Bathroom walls shows the demons that mental illness brings and what people have to do to relieve those.
I’ve spent over 3 years now, doing a deep dive into why my son started using. The entire time, it appeared he was getting worse and worse. As Lorelie Rozzano stated in her post recently:
“Weeks, months, and years passed. I grew progressively sicker, and somewhere along the way, I STOPPED CARING…
Justifications, rationalizations, and blame were ingrained in my thinking. My cognitive reasoning skills were poor—every thought I had allowed me to justify my behavior and rationalize my use.
Because my brain was a toxic chemical soup, my behaviors grew increasingly more unhealthy. I justified using, stealing, cheating, procrastinating, yelling, swearing, over/under-eating, shopping, and the many other poor choices I made.
I built a sticky web of deceit and drug dependency and then became trapped by my thinking. It was the worst kind of hell as I was both the victim and the perpetrator of my demise.
I also have become trapped in my thinking. Thinking I can fix this.
And maybe that’s how he feels. Too much to fix…Without the know-how to do it.
Although WE can see the way out pretty clearly, their hijacked zero-coping skill brain can’t.
And we can’t tell them the way out. As my husband eloquently stated regarding this blog and it’s title:
Falling From Grace
I like how this lady in long term recovery describes the addicted brain:
“The lack of coping skills to handle day to day challenges physical emotional psychological spiritual etc, are the core reasoning behind the need to use n abuse. All of which leads to self-destructive behaviors & uncontrollable actions that without the desire for change, leads to a self destructive lifestyle. The individual [must somehow] makee the choice to stop & force themselves to feel & learn to manage feelings & problem solve.
If not, they continue to self destruct & live day by day in the life of an addict. Only when the [recovering] addict begins to make rational decisions will he or she allow themselves to rebuild & recondition the mind- learning to think things through by positive reinforcement- Marta Deleon
Keywords”The addict can begin…..” Not the addict’s mom… Everyone has to do their own work. Even then- there’s a certain point (such as where I’m at now) to turn it over to Grace.
I have to remember Joyce Meyer’s word in “Closer to God Each Day:
"We often get frustrated because we are trying to live by our own works when our lives were brought into being and designed by God to be lived by Grace. The more we try to figure out what to do to solve our dilemmas, the more confused, upset, and frustrated we will become. .....just stop and say "Oh Lord, give me Grace (your power and ability)." -Joyce Meyer
I can only pray that there’s enough Grace (divine love or pardon) to catch us both as we are falling.
These were the words I heard from my coworker as I turned to start my computer. I flipped my head around thinking I was in fourth grade again and the teacher slammed the yardstick on his desk, breaking it into pieces.
“Yes, I heard you! What response did you need me to say?”
“I asked you if had embarrassed you earlier.”
“So you’re attempting to talk even louder at me, possibly embarrassing me further, in order to get the response you need? This tells me that you don’t really care if I was actually embarrassed, you’re more concerned with resolving your own guilt at possibly alienating yourself from who you think you are from you you are acting like; by telling yourself that you would never do anything to hurt anyone so as to quickly resolve that conflict within yourself.”
I admit I am a horrible communicator sometimes. I also admit I have been that person and still sometimes am. I still need certain things from people at various times in order to make me feel better. I still need to know if everything is ok. Sometimes going over the line to make sure.
The truth was, I just didn’t feel like engaging in her useless banter that day. Yes, I should have stated that, but sometimes you just don’t have the energy, ya know?
Brooke Dean’s article on “Behaviors that push people away” states that:
People who constantly strive for validation by others are exhausting to be around. Those men and women who get caught up in the need to prove their worth over and over and over, and constantly want to win over everyone around them, are unintentionally toxic and draining.
I’ve been there. Even before my son was caught in the web of addiction and I feared for his safety; he was always very busy running his businesses and would sometimes go days before responding to my text. He said once, “Why do you need an immediate response?” He was genuinely curious, not accusatory. I told him the reason why, which stems from having a Mom who would lock herself in the bathroom and go silent despite my pleadings.
I had spent many years working on resolving this insecurity in various ways with friends, lovers, and even bosses. This was an emotional need that I required.
The phrase: Are you mad at me? Was my question to many of acquaintances in my life.
You could argue that my coworkers insistence was just one of common social expectations of ‘courtesy’ but where is the fine line to that? People argue all the time about expectations/demands versus acceptance and disappointment. With all these relationship requirements, we all need validation at times, even as emotionally healthy adults.
When you are at your most vulnerable and in need of emotional support, who do you turn to? Is it the best friend of many years? The non- judgemental sister who always has your back? The co-worker who’s always ready to offer encouragement without adding in her drama?
Having these people and their support is invaluable. And we should take the grace of their friendship as the true gift it is. But what if you don’t have anyone? Where do you find support?
So often we turn to social media for validation of our most intimate emotional needs. Or we reach out to family or friends who are incapable of giving us what we want and need.
Sometimes, in our desperate attempts to relieve our anxiety, we don’t realize they are incapable. So we push through and keep trying. Trying to give them more and more information, to elicit the same feelings of concern or caring that we are having. We soon realize that they will never have the unique experiences that we have had which lead up to how we feel about a particular situation. They will never feel our particular twist of nauseating agony. It takes a unique person, such as the people named above, to really get a feel for the pain and discomfort that we feel. Most others are still suffering in their own way. They are trying to merge their own healing roadblocks and can only see and feel as far as their pain allows them. They may have their own deep triggers which they haven’t had time to peel back the layers on.
When you are in emotional distress, and can’t self regulate; it might be beneficial to ask yourself:
Are you seeking warmth from an ice chest?
Are you wanting complete immediate validation by only telling one paragraph of your life?
Are you seeking strength from the weakness of others?
Would you go to a music shop to have your shoes re-soled?
Just as our best dance shoes need an expert sole- er, our souls need an expert healer. That expert is different for everyone. For some it’s Jesus or the God of their choice. For others it’s a skilled therapist.
The ability to self-regulate takes practice. It’s a daily de-stressor to calm our nerves. Maybe a glass of wine, if we are not prone to excess. Maybe an antidepressant or mild anti-anxiety.
And the ability to choose our helpers takes discernment. It took me years and years to learn this. I actually thought that if I wasn’t getting the results I wanted from others; they must just need more information. I wasn’t that far off base. This is the basis for almost every argument.
“If I just explain more, surely they’ll see my perspective.”
That may work for a customer service desk or for a bill collector or adjuster and some intimate relationships but for some relationships with certain personality types, it doesn’t give the results we want. These types just don’t have the capacity to meet us where we are.
“There are some who may not develop compassionate empathy in their lifetime and there are others who experience emotional or cognitive empathy on varying levels. The bottom line here is that there are different levels to the types of empathy you may experience.”
Still others are just in to much if their own upheaval, like I stated above. Marina describes it this way:
“People who appear unempathetic could also have developed a lower capacity for empathy that caused them to become emotionally distant. Unempathetic people may show a lack of empathy as a defense mechanism as a result of a traumatic experience.”
So the next time others respond differently than you would have in a similar social situation, knowing that some people are better at translating feeling to its outcome in the physical world can be one step closer to gauging greater emotional intelligence. Hopefully, this means that we can better understand how people around us process their own and other’s emotions.
Sometimes we may just have to ride it out ourselves with positive coping skills such as these from Shoalhaven psychology
Examples of safe, appropriate, and effective self-soothing behaviours
Squeezing a stress ball.
Listening to music.
Taking a warm bubble bath.
Taking a shower.
Going for a walk.
Hitting a punching bag.
Talking about your feelings.
Writing about your feelings.
I hope this helps next time you feel yourself needing some support. If self- soothing methods fail, just be careful who you reach out to. In my world, even some of the support groups can be very negative and although it may temporarily relieve the desire to vent; in the long run it creates an unhealthy toxicity that may be unhelpful to your specific situation.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned the last few years, is it’s ok to not know.
It’s ok to not know what the future holds. It’s ok to not have everything planned out. It’s ok to not know what the world will look like next year. I’m learning to trust by faith.
Faith over hope.
As I stated in this post, there’s a difference. In the process of just trusting, we may have some depression or sadness. As I listened to my audible tape “Care of the soul” on my way up to a camping trip yesterday, I listened with curiosity as he describes depression as a needed thing sometimes. It gives that space to reflect, to heal, to process. We don’t always have to live in this happy positive unauthentic state.
Anyone who’s experienced a “Dark night of the Soul” knows that you ultimately come out a better person. After all:
You can't know light without experiencing the dark.
There are so many things in my life to be grateful for right now. When the little shadow of fear that lingers ever so strong in the shadows of my soul, starts to sneak up on me; I just have to grab onto my faith.
Faith that everything will work out for the best. I will have enough money to meet my needs. I will have a job. My kids will be ok. My grandkids will make it in their own way.
I am enough and I have enough- always.
By acknowledging what drives my depression or my worry ( fear) I can hopefully send it on it’s way and leave me in peace.
“Depression is caused by overconsumption. Overconsumption is caused by obsession. Obsession is caused by fear. Fear is caused by an absence of love. An absence of love is caused by a belief in others. A belief in others is caused by a label called others. A label called others is caused by a need to organize life into some form of understanding. A need to organize life into some form of understanding is caused by an inability to trust life as it is.
By loving the one who doesn’t know how to trust life as it is, the need to organize life into some form of understanding dissolves. As this occurs, a belief in others can be recognized as a belief in a label called others. Beyond the play of labels, a love that knows no other emerges from within you. As love emerges, you are absolved of fear, the tendency to obsess, or the need to over consume, at the rate in which the one who is depressed is embraced with equal respect, support, and heart-centered attention.
As depression is loved as never before, it becomes a vital stage of emptying out. As you empty out, the seed of ego dissolves to create space for the blossoming of consciousness. This allows depression to be a pivotal stage of growth and expansion, instead of something to fight, ignore, or avoid.” – Matt Kahn
It really does. Because that’s usually how we get hurt or offended or disappointed.
We finally get enough courage to open up and expose ourselves, and BAM we get slammed. Again. Then it takes us twice as long to creak open the treasure box- which is us- and peek out again.
I believe the key is in our expectations. What is our goal? Do we want love, acceptance? Sure, everyone does. By remembering that everyone is not in that safe space to receive us in our entire ‘raw-ety’; we can be ok with the people who aren’t able to hold space for us.
It can be a good opportunity for us to hold space for someone else though. Instead of striking back at them for not being emotionally mature and secure enough to accept us, we can model how to be emotionally mature and secure for them.
"Vulnerability is giving others a peek into the raw, true self, and providing a doorway for others to enter, if they choose, to do the same. It is a sacred experience, a gift, that shouldn’t be given to just anyone. It needs to be earned and shared in a safe space. Being authentic and vulnerable can knock down others protective walls and allow them to freely open up to their emotions, to feel, and to feel safe doing so.
Vulnerability is the great connector. When we share these vulnerable moments, we are putting a piece of us on the table for another to see, in all it’s magnificent imperfections. We open up knowing there is a possibility for judgment, rejection and pain. It’s risky. But when done in the right setting with the right people, it allows us to connect with others on the deepest of levels.
Greater intimacy (into-me-see), in all our relationships, is on the other side of vulnerable and difficult conversations. These sacred conversations allow for others to truly see us".-Taylor Cooper
I heard the squeak and the roar of the Monday morning trash pickup as it crept through the neighborhood. It was always a loud wake up call- on the dot-at 6:30 am. The brakes, the lifting of the cans, the dumping. Then the steady, beeping horn, signaling the truck’s reverse gear.
The air was thick with a cold January breeze- always threatening a new winter storm. This day, like so many others lately, was not a typical Monday morning grind day. This day was going to be a “mental health day” for me. Sounds wimpy, I know. But the reality is, over the last 2 years, I’ve had at least 2 a month sometimes up to 5. Yes, it hits hard on the budget, but I can’t seem to help it.
Emotional overload is a thing.
Some days, the emotional energy required to function outside of my ‘safe’ house is astronomical. The mental anguish that is like a not-so-silent black and white film- always running in the back of my head- is exhausting.
People who delight in telling me how horrible my son is,
Seem to think that they are giving me some new information that I’ve never thought of. Not that I think he’s horrible, nor will I ever entertain the “lets bash the black sheep drug addict” crowd by talking shizz about my 35 year old very lost, very in trouble, son.
What they don’t know is that the rolling script of everything that he’s done and continues to do, plays over and over in my mind constantly. The brief glimpses of sobriety and in- person interactions that I get with him always seem to be criticized that I do too much, or that I hang onto his every word, or that I have too much hope that he has really turned the corner.
They’re not wrong
I DO do those things. I DO have too much faith sometimes. I do hang on his every word. Trying to figure out the chaotic mind of the person I birthed who still eludes all rational thought and reason.
I do those things because I know the time is limited. This moment shall pass. He is like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Sometimes, in those brief moments I have physical eyes on him; I catch him staring off into the distance even as he is rushing to get somewhere. I see his torment. His struggle. So many people want so many things from him that his unhealed brain can’t promise.
Yet he still does what he has always done:
Spin a great tale about this or that; starting another business, building tiny homes, or taking on the world of concrete again.
He wants to. I know he does. He wants to be known for his success again. He wants to be respected. He wants to be worthy of people’s ( family) time and attention. He was looking so forward to being able to see his kids again🥅
What I see that no one else sees, is his pain. His actions depict an uncaring addicted person who can’t get off the spinning wheel and who can’t seem to follow the legal requirements to break out of it’s grasp. But I see that all those things are an attempt to fix an internal problem. He hates when I say that. He won’t admit anything.
I’m not the textbook addict who has had trauma”. He would say.
I can hear his voice saying it now.
Maybe not trauma, per say- but I hear deep pain- in those moments of frustration, when he makes the call to me to vent. It’s not very often. It’s like a pattern of when he takes 2 steps forward, that are not enough, because it was supposed to be 3, so he falls back 5.
His anguish and fear and disappoint come through in those moments of realization that he will never be good enough or reach high enough for some- especially the legal system who now have brought up charges from 9 months ago.
To him, the goal is completely out of reach.
Why bother? Says the defeated unhealed brain.
Despite his pre-drug life of reaching every goal he worked day and night for; now his damaged brain and reward system can’t think that far ahead. He’s still in survival mode. When he was searching for jobs to re-enter the workforce, I caught a glimpse of the man afraid to fail. He casually mentioned that some of the jobs would be too much responsibility, too stressful for what he could manage in early recovery. I couldn’t believe it- after all his experience. But it was honesty. A brief glimpse into his vulnerability of failure.
He knew one thing he was good at. Hustling. And within a week of seeing the reality of his sobriety challenges including the “correctional system”; he was back doing what he does. Hustling and bustling. At first he was trying to get enough money to help himself and his kids. Then he realized it would never be enough and he was back into the life of isolating and hiding from warrants. Like a snap of the finger, he was gone.
So now, he’s a liar, I hear. Projection- that he never intended to do anything. Fulfilling the stigma of the drug addict who’s incapable of keeping his word.
The circle continues- shame- blame- hope- disappointment – failure.
We were all guilty………again. Of placing so much responsibility and expectations so soon onto a brain that was slowly trying to figure out life without the safe covering of substances to dull it. But we won’t be called out, because the addict is always the scapegoat now. For anything that goes wrong.
Steven Covey used to say:
“People are very tender, very sensitive inside. I don’t believe age or experience makes much difference. Inside, even within the most toughened and calloused exteriors, are the tender feelings and emotions of the heart.”
So yes. I’m aware of my sons failings and flailings. I was told that I should stop listening to what a drug addict tells me and that I should put my time and energy elsewhere.
Let me turn off my mind and my heart.
But first I need a “sick day”.
A Monday morning mental health day.
Tomorrow hasn’t even begun and your chest is already tight and your heart is racing just thinking about this week.
I get it. It can be so easy feel trapped in a downward spiral when we begin to think about everything we have on our plates. All the things that could happen or go wrong. All the emotions that come with the unknowns.
But may I remind you, dear one, God has already been through this week. He knows what’s going to happen, it doesn’t surprise him. He knows when you will be anxious this week, and he’s already preparing you to fight that anxiety. He understands you are having a hard time trusting his goodness over life right now, and he is strengthening you by his Spirit.
Take a deep breath in.
Remind yourself of his perfect sovereignty.
Lift your eyes up to the heavens.
Speak his name as you let your breath out.
Allow yourself to be still.
It’s more of him and less of everything else you need to hear right now.
Feel your heart beating in your chest.
It’s already slowing down and your chest doesn’t feel quite so tight.
Do you feel that?
That’s the peace of the Holy Spirit that passes any kind of human understanding or reasoning. And it’s that same peace that will be ready for you every moment of this hard week ahead.
Grasp it tight, knowing it’s your saving grace.
Trust its strength, believing in its perfect power made strong in your weakness.
Believe fully, knowing just how loved you are and how freely this gift is given to you as a woman hidden in Christ.- From Blacktop to Dirt Road
I’m not a therapist and I am NOT making excuses for the adverse and defiant behavior that typically manifests in addiction.
What I have noticed is that no matter what kind of dysfunction was present in families before addiction presented itself in one or more members, suddenly the addiction takes center stage of everything that has ever happened or went wrong in the family. By this I mean suddenly all- things- bad are the fault of the person suffering with addiction. All the other family members personality traits or domineering styles of communication are forgotten and no matter what the scenario, they are innocent.
Now, trust me, I adamantly believe that people, especially Mom’s, don’t need or deserve ANY more guilt placed on them. They already question what they did wrong and mull over mistakes made in child rearing or things said wrong during the addiction. But we must realize that everyone has unique personalities that contribute to an argument and to the family dynamic. Of course we can’t drill a mom with questions of “are you a controlling person or do you tend to meddle in others’ business?” That would be rude and besides, usually, people are not self-aware enough to know how they come across or that they have certain faults or behaviors that may be obvious and well-known to others, but how would you ever tell someone those things? And besides, it IS all perception anyway.
It may not even be the Mom who has some trait that is triggering or hard to deal with. It might be a domineering dad, or a judgmental aunt who looks down her nose and can’t ever be pleased.
I could give very personal examples but I won’t here. Just know that many different types of people take the fall for a family dynamic- it’s not just the addict. For instance the youngest child might get blamed for a lot. You can watch any family drama movie and pick out who’s going to be the fall guy whether he deserves it or not.
It’s easy to get on an addiction support site and participate in the addict- bashing and complaining of everything wrong in our lives due to the addiction.
That’s what support is for- to vent & get validation. But for every one of those loved ones with addiction there’s 5, 10, 15 different people in the family that have all different personalities and expectations that contribute in some way to how the addict deals with stress. All these expectations and demands can be daunting in a normal healthy brain, let alone one in addiction or early recovery.
Just keep an open mind when you are presented with opinions and statements of “their addiction ruined the whole family”.
Can you imagine the shame and humiliation that would feel like? To know you are responsible for everyone’s happiness in the family…possibly even extended family!
What a horrible reality to come out of the darkened loneliness that addiction brings only to feel that you can’t be one bit human and screw up what every single person expects from you. Recovery is difficult enough in and of itself.
There is no doubt that addiction is ugly and messy and ends up affecting Everyone. I’m not giving the addict a free pass here at all. I’m just asking for us to remember certain things before addiction. I have kept copious journals over the years or I would not remember a tenth of what I wrote down! It’s very helpful to read how people interacted and treated each other 10, even 20 years previously.
I found this article by Sarah Swenson from Good Therapy interesting and I have received permission to share.
If only they would stop using.
This seems to become the family mantra but I can guarantee that stopping using doesn’t fix all the family dynamics that were there before the addiction even reared its ugly head.
The Blameless Burden: Scapegoating in Dysfunctional Families
In biblical lore, Aaron selected a goat on behalf of the entire tribe, cast upon it the sins of all members, and then banished it alone to the wild. The members of the tribe were then at great ease, having been freed from their cast-off sins—whatever those sins may have been.
Everyone felt better, though they had neither identified their specific sins nor atoned for them. They had simply agreed to hang them on the goat. If this spurious logic was obvious to anyone, it was not discussed. Why question an agreed-upon means of making everyone feel better?
Now about that goat. It was selected from the herd and sent forth into the wilderness for reasons having to do with the sins of others. The goat had done nothing to merit banishment. But once the ashes were cold on the rituals of dispatching it, the goat found itself alone in the wilderness, isolated from its herd, in unknown territory, suddenly forced to fend for itself. It faced dangers from predators; difficulty finding food, sustenance, and shelter; and it lived the constantly woeful insecurity of a herd animal without a herd.
In dysfunctional families, for reasons similar to those Aaron devised, there can also be a designated person selected for the role of scapegoat. In a family system, the selection process is less overt than Aaron’s. It is done more by consensual and habitual shunning that becomes an unspoken code of behavior: one person is chosen to bear the brunt of any psychological discomfort experienced by the family as a whole. It is justified by repeating the stories that create and then reinforce the image of the scapegoat as being a person who is worthy of disdain and disparagement.
Like the strong goat Aaron selected, the target of family scapegoating is also often the strongest and healthiest member of the family. At first blush, this may sound counterintuitive. But think about it a little more. In Aaron’s case, there would be no group pleasure derived from banishing a weak animal who might easily die anyway, because that would not gratify the needs of the tribe to send off their sins on a robust vehicle, a strong goat who was up to the task of bearing the burden. So it is in families: the targeted individual is often the most accomplished. She—and for the purposes of narrative cohesion, our scapegoat is a female here—must be strong enough to withstand the weight of the shunning voices which might easily and quickly topple a weaker person. The scapegoating would fail if the weight of the sins killed the goat before it could even get chased out of town. Catharsis is the goal. The goat needs to be strong enough to suffer in order that the tribe members do not.
Just as the goat was blameless despite being sent to its lonely death, so is the human scapegoat innocent of all charges. She may not be a perfect human being, but she is no different from anyone else in her range of faults. It is not her character or her actions that have directly caused her banishment. It is the way her character and her actions, and often her accomplishments, have been experienced by the dysfunctional family members, who for their own unexamined reasons need to dispel this person from the family realm in order to avoid looking into their own consciences. They need to punish the scapegoat for provoking by her very existence the discomfort family members are feeling that is actually a result of their own unresolved issues.
If you are being scapegoated in your family, please seek professional help. You are not likely to be able to intervene in a dysfunctional system that treats one of its own members in this way. You may continue to experience the futile attempts at explaining yourself. You may fail to understand the way you are being treated. You may begin to doubt your own version of your life story. The price is too high.
Can a human scapegoat die like the goat of yore? Maybe. If not physically, certainly emotionally. It is difficult for the scapegoat to believe that her family would treat her in this unconscionable manner if she were not guilty of some grave sin. She wracks her brain and her heart to understand, but she cannot. The reasons she is given for being mistreated seem shallow, petty, and incomplete. It is difficult for her to believe these small transgressions could warrant such heavy condemnation.
She begins to doubt her own version of reality, since consensus in her own family supports a narrative different from her own about who she is and what she does or has done. She learns that if she tries to sort this out, she will be accused of “playing the victim” or being selfish, or being a “drama queen.” She is able to hold to her knowledge that this assessment and treatment are not right, until one day, utterly discouraged, she gives up. The full weight of the banishment settles upon her. She is alone. She doesn’t try to understand or explain anything anymore. She has moved into accepting a fate that makes no sense to her.
Good mental health at this point suggests she make her peace with leaving behind the family that fails her so completely. And if she is strong and well-supported with friends, she may be able to do this. She will pay a lifelong price for sins she did not commit, however, because it is difficult and painful to extract oneself from one’s family. It is counter to the most basic of human needs for home, shelter, affiliation. It is a cruel and inexcusable undertaking for a family to scapegoat a member.
If you look at the research regarding the fate of individuals who have been relentlessly bullied, you can draw conclusions about what happens to scapegoated family members, for scapegoating is bullying with focused and long-term intensity. Some bullied children go on to become bullies themselves. Some develop social skills to divert and challenge bullying, though the scars of having been bullied may insert themselves into their lives in many ways for many years to come. Others, however, do not survive, driven to suicide.
I wish I could say I was the epitome of kindness. I wish I was the one who does things automatically because I’m a good person not because I’m a peacemaker or passive. Truth be told, my actions all have selfish motivations. I want tranquility. It’s as simple as that. I will do anything to get it. OM’s article below explains how much more smoothly life would go if we all operated at a certain level of kindness. But we also see what we want to see. If I’m angry & frustrated, I see anger and frustration around me. Regardless, it”s certainly goal worthy to re-evaluate our motives and practices to reflect the right and honorable thing, not just what makes us feel better.
Re- printed with permission from the Daily OM
Kindness expands the light within us and reaches out to touch the light in others as well
Kindness is an ideal that is easily accessible to all of us. We all know that a small kindness can make our journeys lighter and more enjoyable. Even bringing an instance of kindness to mind can put a smile on your face days or weeks later or perhaps even inspire you to share kindness with another. Though it may seem simple to the point of insignificance, many cultures throughout the world and history have recognized kindness as a powerful virtue. It may be the simplest way to experience and share all the grandest ideals of humanity. We can make the choice to act from the best place within ourselves at any time, while simultaneously recognizing the highest potential in another with the smallest of acts, nourishing the seed of hope in each soul we encounter.
In a way, kindness acts as the oil that makes the engine of our world move more smoothly and with less friction. We can still get where we are going but the ride is more pleasant, and those around us can share in the ideal world that we help to create. We are all fortunate that kindness is limitless in its supply and available to everyone. When we act in ways that confirm our ideals, we make the ideal our reality. Then, instead of affirming the experience of struggle and competition, we can shift our experience to the reality of ease and pleasurable camaraderie with the fellow citizens of the world.
Whether giving way to someone in traffic or letting someone go ahead of us in line, donating money or sharing our resources in a crisis, we actively create a universe of kindness and giving with every choice we make. The smallest gesture can bring a smile to light the shadow of an unpleasant situation or remove tension from a difficult task, but it’s effects can echo and extend far beyond the moment. We can be sure that we will receive a kindness in return, but giving is its own reward. Kindness expands the light within us and reaches out to touch the light in others as well, giving us all a glimpse of the glow that has the power to enlighten our world.
On August 20, 2019, this book was born. As I sat alone in my little condo wondering about and fearing for my son’s safety, I wrote from the depths of my heart and from my pain as I felt it. And so my story begins in what I thought would be a short lesson on inconvenience. I was about to find out, in real-time, how daunting a path lay ahead of us all.
“I don’t know if my son is alive tonight. It’s a Friday night. He lives 400 miles away from me. I haven’t heard from him all day after not seeing him online for sixteen hours. I know most people don’t keep track of their grown children for days or maybe even weeks, so why do I? Because with substance use, worry is raised to a whole new level because of the risk factors involved. Every moment, every action could be life-altering. Any minute, like hundreds of other moms, I could receive “THE CALL.” This self-torture is grueling day after day and even year after year, for some families. I know the question of why don’t I just call him? Well, I could. After all, I just ordered him a new phone from Walmart’s pickup service a few weeks ago because his previous one broke. That’s three phones in three months, but that’s a different story that only moms of addiction know.
I don’t call him because, frankly, he probably won’t answer. Worse, the call may go straight to voicemail, meaning the phone is not charged. Then do you know what I’ll do? My resolve that I’ve held onto all day will break and I will lose my mind. Again. I will immediately burst into tears. Then I will check the booking reports for his county to see if he was picked up on one or two current warrants. If I do see him on there, it will ignite the cycle of tears and the fear for his life that I have endured for months.
He has been in the legal system since early this year, 2019. He was pulled over by the drug and task force for reasons he told me developed after he was trying to help a girl whose boyfriend was not treating her well. He said he saved her life. (The ‘boyfriend’ is now serving years for federal drug trafficking.) That’s all I know. I’ve learned that it’s better for me if I don’t get the details. The lifestyle, with all its risk-taking, is foreign to me. I still can’t fully admit that my ambitious and successful son, the hero in the family, the guy everyone could count on, is labeled by society as an addict and now a criminal.
But back to tonight. If Mason actually is in the booking report (which I sadly have bookmarked on my home screen), at least he’s safe, right? As a professional nurse, I know the risks to his health if he’s living on the street, so jail may be the safer option. However, I also know how overcrowded jails are. Many are understaffed. It must be annoying as heck, for guards to hear countless inmates say they are sick and dying from withdrawals. Until one does. Then they must cover their behinds to make sure they weren’t negligent. That is just one of my worst fears these days and I have a lot of them.
The absolute worst fear, and the main reason I cannot call, is what happens when I can’t reach him. I wait and pray and cry and call again—sometimes twenty times—just begging God to make him answer. I send text after text to please be okay because I just cannot bear to have him gone. The thought of it is too painful to bear. Losing a child is tragic enough, but losing a child over and over in your mind is torture also. This ambiguous grief is emotionally exhausting. It’s like a roller coaster whose operator went home and you can’t get off. Should you jump? Just when you see a green grassy spot to land on; up, up, up you go; the anticipation builds to a pleasant crescendo of peace; a feeling that maybe just maybe, this is all a dream and you can go back to your regular life stressors. Alas, the rattly steel and sparks fly off the track and you are tossed and turned as your stomach drops again. This ride is a sure recipe for emotional upheaval. If only you would have been given the deets to all of it when you walked into the park of parenthood.
Sooner or later, the green light of life on messenger will magically appear again. It might be a few days before he reads my many messages and even longer before he replies, but at least I know he’s alive because I can see that he has seen my words. The relief floods through me, and suddenly I can actually get on with my day and maybe smile or laugh at a joke someone tells. Seeing him alive online means that maybe I was overreacting. Seeing him alive online there’s more time to save him.
This scenario has played out over and over since December 2018. Maybe I should have learned to not cry wolf, but any parent, child, sibling, or spouse of a person struggling with addiction understands. We are conditioned to think the worst, especially after reading or hearing about one more (famous or not) overdose death.
I soon found the previously unknown world of support groups for moms of those addicted! There are thousands of members. The similarities across the stories are shocking and heartbreaking. Some may wonder what these mothers did wrong. What kind of childhood did they provide? Many will say, “My child had a solid childhood with both parents, safety, nutrition, education, sports, music, play dates, a trampoline, a wooden play set, a dog, etc.” On the other end of the spectrum, parents will admit to broken homes with generations of addicts and some parents went through addiction themselves. It doesn’t matter the background. What matters is the current, daily pain and damage, the churning chaos and disappointment that addiction creates for everyone involved with the person who fights a substance use disorder.
The stigma of addiction is still rampant, as those who have zero experience think it’s just a matter of poor upbringing, weak character, or lack of discipline to “just quit.” The irony amazes me. If people could “just quit” anything, then no one would be obese. Or anorexic. Or dishonest. Or promiscuous. Or obsessed with his/her smartphone. If people could “just quit” there may be no casinos because people would realize their odds. If people could just quit, no one would be murdered because people would understand the consequences. There is no “one reason fits all” explanation.
I believe that those addicted are a unique brand. If you can think of the weakest, most pathetic person you know who is not addicted to drugs, imagine him having a horrible flu, a rumbling stomach-churning garbage out both ends, a spinning head ready to explode, blurred vision, hallucinations, hot flashes followed by freezing, sweating then shivering, and so on. Now imagine him driving, or even walking, miles to find a “doctor.” Your loved one is then told there’s a one-hundred-dollar cash fee and a five-hour wait to be seen. Would he have the strength or fortitude to do it? You may say that would be stupid to do that.
What if the problem is not stupidity? What if it’s actual strength? What if it’s fortitude, persistence, or loyalty (even if it is to an evil substance)? What if it’s actual, raw, will-to-survive strength? How many weak people do you know who couldn’t survive one day of that misery? There are worse things than being a drug addict, but a lot of those things aren’t as blatant. In other words, people with substance use disorder aren’t inherently bad people just because they couldn’t stop at a few beers or they chose a different stress reliever than current laws allow. In fact, Jeff Cloud stated about people society shuns:
They don’t realize that the people they are restricting access to society are those who are:
Creatives – willing to find ways to live outside of the box, those who get inspired by challenges to find their own solutions.
Rebels – who have been misfits many times in the past so they are immune to being excluded.
The Wild Ones – with deep connection and reverence to the land, who know nature has everything they need.
Old Souls – who have seen this all before and have been persecuted over lifetimes for doing things differently.
Optimists – with an inner knowing of what really matters who can adapt their perspective to see the blessings that difficulties can bring.
The Stubborn Ones – who will not bend to coercion no matter how tight you squeeze, who will find ways to adapt to obstacles before going against their truth.
I would never justify chaotic substance abuse, and I will never wish the pain of addiction on anyone. I’m just saying that it takes a combination of strength, personality, bad luck, timing, and a set of circumstances to create a full-blown problem. It also is a problem that can be ‘fixed’ (in my opinion). At least someone on drugs has an excuse for being a jerk. I know guys whose personalities will never be fixed and they are as sober as the morning rooster. As Sam Snodgrass writes in his article “Opioid Addiction and the Myth of Powerlessness,” “We’re not narcissistic hedonists. When we hurt the ones we love, we hurt too. And what is sad is that we don’t understand why we do the things we do … We don’t understand because no one has explained to us that the changes within the brain at a cellular, molecular level, what we call opioid addiction, is an acquired disease of brain structure and, thus, function, which is manifest not as compulsive drug seeking and use but, rather as behavior directed towards the survival of the individual.”
Back to the topic of raising perfect children who would never do anything to ruin their lives. Frankly, I thought my family was in the clear. All five kids came from the same dad. We raised them in the open country, surrounded by mountains, rivers, and trees, with lots of room to explore and play and develop self-confidence, pride, and curiosity. There, they could imagine for themselves lives beyond their wildest dreams. We provided sports out the wazoo in hopes of keeping them busy as far into their teenage years as possible. I repeatedly told them of my brother’s death by suicide after he was involved with drugs in 1981 and said so many times, “Addiction runs in the family, so make sure you watch that.” Other than the devastating effect my brother’s death had on me for decades to come, the only other “substance issue” experience I had was my paternal grandpa being an alcoholic. I warned my kids. That was enough, right? They could just ‘choose’ moderation in all things, or better yet, abstain. Case closed. Right?…
We all know that addiction brings out the huge parking lot of pain, disappointment, agony, despair, sadness, violence, and misery. Some of this chaos is self-inflicted for many reasons. This chaos is projected onto everyone who gets in its path. Some people pull into the parking lot unknowing of what is coming. But everyone brings their own personality traits into the parking lot.
Of course, we are going to hear about all the tragedies of drug use. From criminal behavior to divorces to bankruptcy, it would appear that addiction is its own snake-filled evil entity all in itself. But as Gabor Mate, Johann Hari, and many others leading the way in addiction research and dissection; there are reasons and causes for this behavior.
Doesn’t matter, some would say. A crime is a crime. A lie is a lie. But in the context of BEING HELPFUL and MAKING A DENT in this epidemic, What is going to be helpful to stop all this pain and suffering? I can tell you 1000% percent “if only they would stop” is NOT A COMPLETE SENTENCE. There are many other problems that have to be solved other than the drugs, by the addicted one AND by others around them.
Unfortunately, many personality types are unwilling to budge their “warring heart” or learn new skills or “ways of being”. (Both from Anatomy of Peace)
My heart hurts for all who are affected by addiction. But today I am saddened for the absolute cruelty thrown at addicts, by using their darkest moments against them continuously and denying them access to their children- in the name of virtuous parenting. When in fact, seeing their kids and starting the bonding process again could be the very thing that keeps them from relapse. True that it could “lead the kids on” & cause damage if a relapse occurs, but it also could be the very last time a child sees their parent.
Demanding expensive hair follicle tests and repeated urine tests just for an hour supervised visit only increases tension and conflict on already stressed relationships. Life is so short and these windows of opportunities are so few and far between.
This kind of unnecessary cruelty hits deep into a person’s soul contributing to the shame and discouragement of having something to look forward to and live for; thereby pushing people deeper into the depths of addiction.
In these convoluted situations, I think it’s helpful to keep in mind that there are always 2 perspectives and one version of the mixed truth. Everyone thinks they have such clarity as to what needs to happen.
Regardless of whichever version of a certain dynamic is the truth, many studies show that inflicting more pain on an addictive brain causes more addictive behaviors.
In all of time, there are people who inflict pain on others separate from having any addiction. It’s true that those under the influence can become unruly, violent, abusive and very enrollment dysregulated. They lie to keep their addiction going. They get defensive and manipulative to cover up their use. Their behaviors make sense to them, but seem completely off the wall to others.
So there are both sides of the equation at work. There are people who are addicted and not addicted who:
Love to call others liars while spewing hate.
Preach moral virtue while insisting others beg and grovel for forgiveness
Proudly claim to be the best friend, sibling, child, yet never sending cards, well wishes or words of encouragement to others.
Brag about their stellar communication skills while ignoring others’ pleas for help or their deepest thoughts and feelings.
Make unreasonable demands that are not easily met
Then they wonder why after the 💯th time, you aren’t jumping to comply
Now they have “proof” of how horrible you are
No matter how many times you say sorry, they will swear on a stack of Bibles that you never say sorry
Complain about never being included, but plays victim martyr with every invitation
Wonders why everyone else’s behavior is “inconsistent” or non- supportive, yet their behavior is inconsistent and their support is non-existent.
Accuses you of ridiculous things that are actually of no concern to them, but it’s a way to get info in order to use as back up ammo to prove either that you lied, or that you shouldn’t have done that or you don’t deserve to have that.
Confusing the boundaries, rules, expectations, so that your self confidence and outlook on life is skewed or depressed in order to get you to act in confused or depressed ways so they can then justify what an idiot human being you are.
So, the next time you hear that “there’s no excuse for addiction” or for their kids not being enough to get them to stop, or that the worst thing in the world is addiction; please remember that there are always 2 sides to the story and a third side which is a version of the truth. Addiction is curable. Other traits-are with us for a lifetime unless WE take initiative to improve.