One Every Generation
Probably a year or so ago, I read Gabor Mate’s book When The Body Says No. I felt like every word was about my mom’s sister, my aunt Mary. Mary was that person talked about who was simply too nice and ended up with all these auto-immune problems. She died in the mid-nineties at about my age now. She had maybe four or five fatal auto-immune problems. Her life was one of such suffering that she gave her body to science, to Michigan State University, so medical students could maybe prevent some small amount of suffering in others. She was a walking medical experiment.
The theme of the book is that anger is normal. Anger performs the same function emotionally as the immune system does physically: keeping the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. The suppression of anger leads directly to the suppression of the immune system. The mechanism is not mysterious. The body sends out signals that something is not right and we ignore these messages at our own peril.
I have been feeling my anger at my family lately. I think my shrink is scared for me, that I will give myself some bad consequences with my unbridled anger. I believe the exact opposite. For the very first time in my life, my anger is properly aimed. I am not tearing off my fingernails or toenails and I am not having massive shame attacks. This is huge progress. Also, I have never had sufficient energy to feel this much anger. Anger is a privilege for those who have been chronically emotionally exhausted.
But I also see her point. It hit me that feeling that much anger towards people I have nothing to do with is a backwards, up-side down way of maintaining loyalty to a system I want no part in. It was my subconscious way of maintaining some small connection with them without inserting myself into their drama. My willingness to bear the subconscious burden of my family’s karma or dysfunction or whatever has always been a big, fat zero.
I remember being in my late twenties and realizing quite suddenly that my brothers and I were taking turns with our drama. There never seemed to be two of us at the same time under duress. I thought that was odd. I decided I wanted out of the rotation. Permanently. They could have all the turns. I wanted something better for myself. I redoubled my efforts to live a healthy life.
For my oldest brother’s family, the “Mary” of that generation is his youngest daughter. She has way too many problems for a girl as smart and young as she is, but, unfortunately, she is the “nice” one. I know her needs never got met. She was about three when her oldest sister was run over by a drunk driver. They got the big house, which feels like a shrine to the dead one. It is hard for parents to be present for a child while in the throes of grief, which, of course, never got dealt with. It is all quite creepy. I always get that “eeeeuuuuwww” feeling there.
A couple years after Mary died, her dad (my Grandpa Siwek) died. A couple years after that, her and my mom’s brother went into a nursing home with some kind of premature dementia. Their mother (Grandma Siwek) died with Alzheimer’s in the early nineties. The system started dissolving immediately after Mary’s death. I am hoping that withdrawing my energy will have a similar effect on my family.
What can I do? Continue with my efforts at compassionate inquiry into myself. Live as healthy of a life as possible. Make the subconscious as conscious as possible, which includes listening hard to my body and what it is trying to communicate.
I have watched enough Gabor Mate interviews to know that anger is the normal response to boundary violations. My family, especially my mother, is a monumental boundary violator. Anger is the normal response to my family that does not recognize the concept, let alone legitimacy, of boundaries. However, I don’t need it so much now because I never plan on putting myself in harm’s way again. I can keep myself safe now.
Perhaps every generation has to have someone to bear the family’s dysfunction. I’m out. Any volunteers?