I have a conflict between two separate worlds in my family. My father’s relatives are loving, stable, and rock solid. They weep with me when I’m sad and rejoice in my successes. I am certain that they have read every one of my articles to date and kept them on display in their glory.
On the other hand, my mother’s relatives are Dysfunctional with a capital D. They tear each other apart emotionally and physically on a regular basis. The idea of them reading my articles, let alone displaying them, is laughable.
I grew up in the middle of these two worlds, never feeling quite like I fit in either one. I was too “soft” for my mom’s side of the family and too “tough” for my dad’s side. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that both sides of my family had their own unique strengths and weaknesses. And while I may not fit perfectly into either world, I am grateful to have been exposed to both.
My Dysfunctional family has taught me to be strong and independent. I have learned to never take anything for granted, and to always be prepared for the worst. My dad’s side of the family has taught me the importance of being compassionate and understanding. They have shown me that it is okay to be emotional, and that family should always come first.
Both sides of my family have made me who I am today. And while they may not always get along, I know that they love me unconditionally. That is something that no one can ever take away from me.
I’m confident in their abilities. I know they can be trusted. Another branch of my family is the polar opposite. They are a dysfunctional family by accident, not design. They would be the last individuals on earth to perceive this issue within themselves.
Denial runs deep among families with many issues, as it does among our own family members when we maintain an “opinion.” The scapegoat, hero, saint, and caregaver roles are all enacted. These personas may alter depending on who is “in the loop” and when others decide that someone in the family needs to be pulled “back into line.”
Dysfunctional families are usually held together by threats, either real or implied. In my family’s case, it is the latter. No one ever says anything directly to anyone else. Everything is hinted at, nothing is ever said outright. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation and misunderstanding.
I am the oldest child in my family, and as such, I have always felt responsible for my younger siblings. I take care of them as best I can, but it is hard when no one communicates openly. Secrets are kept and grudges are held onto for years. It seems like no one ever really forgives or forgets anything in my family. That is why I am so grateful for my friends and their families. They have shown me what a functional family looks like. They have provided me with a support system that my own family lacks.
The cycle is completed by gossiping about “nonconformists,” lying to them, and threatening them. The cycle continues when the much maligned nonconformist picks up the “family rope” in order to keep the peace by tow ing the line. They do so while ignoring their past and recognizing that every time they try to conform with the status quo, it always comes back to haunt them. These particular family members had been bickering and fighting among themselves for longer than I have been alive.
The nonconformist in this instance was my father and the family rope he chose to tow was my mother. When my parents first got married, it was my mother who did not want children. She wanted to focus on her career and travel the world. However, my father wanted a big family. So, they compromised and had two children.
My sister and I are very close in age, so we were more like friends than siblings growing up. We would team up against our parents when they were being unfair and conspire together when we wanted to break the rules. My parents’ marriage was always a bit rocky, but they managed to stay together for 18 years.
I took a lot of psychology classes in college, but I couldn’t apply what I learned to my own family situation for many years. I was too involved with the problem to properly comprehend what was going on under my nose. It wasn’t until I received a significant danger from associating with an innocent person that it ever occurred to me to dig out my Psychology texts again.
It all started when my cousin, “Sam” took his own life. Sam and I were only a year apart in age, and we were always close. I have many fond memories of us growing up together. We would ride our bikes around the neighborhood, build forts in the woods, and just generally terrorize our parents.
But when we hit our teenage years, things changed. Sam became withdrawn and moody. He stopped hanging out with me and his other cousins, and he started running with a bad crowd. My parents and grandparents tried to reach out to him, but he pushed them away. They begged me to talk to him, but I was just as lost as they were.
It was only when my life and the life of someone I consider a close friend were in danger that I realized how far gone things had become. But it’s all good now, everything is wonderful! As you may guess, there are many more words in this book than we’ll say today. However, I urge you not to worry if that seems like too long:
In my family, like many others, there are skeletons in the closet. Some of these are big enough that they threaten to break through the door at any moment. For years, these skeleton remained hidden; however, they would occasionally peek out and send the family into a panic. These moments were never spoken of again and everyone pretended that they had never happened.
The biggest skeleton in my family’s closet is alcoholism. It has been present for as long as anyone can remember. My grandfather was an alcoholic, as was my father. My uncle is an alcoholic. I have cousins who are struggling with alcoholism. And, unfortunately, I have also started down that path.
Growing up, I was always told that alcoholism was a disease. I was told that it was not my fault and that I should not judge those who suffer from it. And, for the most part, I believed what I was told. After all, how could something that is considered a disease be helped?
However, there came a time in my life when I started to question what I had been told. I started to see the pain that alcoholism causes. I saw how it destroys families and relationships. I saw how it can lead to job loss, financial ruin, and even death.