No “Before”

As I have recovered, I have strenuously searched my memory for any kind of abuse. I have found a little, but nothing major. The strength of my search has come from my crippling shame. Where on earth did it come from?

Gabor Mate would refer to my childhood as trauma with a small “t”. Not much in terms of overt abuse, but not much in terms of getting basic emotional needs met, either.

I have always been fascinated by the concept of transformation. People make massive changes when something specific occurs which often cannot be reversed. A death or terminal illness. An accident. The loss of a job. That’s it. People make the changes they need to make and do not care how things appear anymore.

I wish I could point to a moment in my family’s history where something devastating happened and everything fell apart after that. An event that explained a lot. But no.

I believe that I never bonded with my mother. Never. My normal childhood needs for affection and attention were treated as overwhelming and superfluous. My needs were seen as the problem, instead of my mother’s inability to have empathy for her own children seen as problematic. I got older. I learned how to meet many of my own needs. My parents were gratified at how easy I was to deal with in many ways. Of course I was. I had learned early on that they were worthless. My needs were not going to get met. At least by them. I learned how to entertain myself. I cried myself to sleep. I used my intellect to distract myself from my misery. I got good at it.

But I never had a sense of meaning or purpose. I never felt a desire to live. I have always struggled with that. It only occurred to me maybe a month ago that my brothers never had any meaning or purpose in their lives, either. People with a reason to live do not drink to the point of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis does not shave off a few years from one’s life; it shaves off a few decades.

The pretense of normality is collapsing. The tragedy of the family is becoming obvious. In Al-Anon, I saw people screw up their lives and then, step-by-step, proceed to fix them. People learned. Then I went to family functions and stepped back into the 1980s. No learning or growth had transpired. When you are in your twenties and do stupid crap, there is understanding. We have all been young and stupid. But when you are pushing sixty and doing the exact same stupid behavior, the tragedy is laid bare. The mask is ripped off. People start looking for reasons you might be brain damaged. I have seen many, many people drink like fish in college and slow way down by the time they hit thirty. They are married, have children, and hang-overs get real old, real fast. Learning happens. Unless you belong to my family.

Because there is no before-and-after event, the family is desperate to act as if all families are like this, that this is par for the course. Anyone not living in a cave, however, will be unconvinced. I realized recently that I could probably have a relationship with my family if I had never left Potterville, gone to college, gotten married, or been in the recovery community. My mistake was learning and growth. If I had continued to be the person I had been when I was eighteen, things would be much better with the family. They continued to be the people they had been. What was my problem? I was exposed to maturing, developing, empathetic people. I saw not only that there was a better way, but that virtually any other way than the family’s was superior to what they were doing. When you are scraping the bottom, pretty much any direction is up.

When my brothers were younger and the booze hadn’t destroyed their livers yet, they could all say that I was wrong and didn’t know what I was talking about. Now their self-destructive ways have produced the inevitable consequences.

I have spent my entire life looking for better alternatives than what I was raised with. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helped me to function, but did not solve the basic problem of why I was doing what I was doing. Psychoanalysis is what saved me. And Gabor Mate. And Pete Walker. And the Crappy Childhood Fairy. I now understand why. And I have the ability to re-regulate my nervous system. I don’t have to settle for what I was raised with. No one does.

About cdhoagpurple

I live in Michigan. I was Greek Orthodox (and previously Protestant), but now am more Buddhist than anything. I am single now (through the till-death-do-you-part clause of the marriage contract). My husband Barry was a good man and celebrated 30 years in AA. I am overly educated, with an MBA. My life felt terminally in-limbo while caring for a sick husband, but I am free now. I see all things as being in transition. Impermanence is the ultimate fact of life. Nothing remains the same, good or bad.

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