When we fall prey to our demons, we almost always cite family dysfunction as the cause and not our own bad decisions. I’m certainly guilty of that one.
I don’t take anything back. Our personal history is an important guide when we have to figure out how we developed certain quirks. And as part of my early therapy, a deep scouring of the past was necessary — painful as it was.
But it would be wrong for me to blame every bad turn I’ve ever made on my family. My bad decisions along the way were all mine. I have to own the things I’ve done.
And, in the big picture, EVERY family is full of drama. The bigger the family, the bigger the drama. When you have a large family, the odds are more favorable for dramatic things happening.
Look at the Kennedys. Right after Sen. Edward Kennedy was seriously injured in a plane crash in 1964 — a year after his brother’s assassination — someone asked Bobby Kennedy if the bad luck would ever end for his family. His response was that he had been thinking about how — had his parents stopped at the first four children — they would have “nothing now.” Fortunately, RFK added, “There’s more of us than there is trouble.
The Kennedy family is a drama that has played out on a much bigger canvas than what the average family is used to.
But every large family has drama, especially as we get older. When we’re older, we see more of the older generation dying off. That can be dramatic. I often joke that my father-in-law has become the messenger of doom because he frequently calls to tell us that someone died. My mother used to play that role, and still would if we were on speaking terms.
In the bigger picture, I think family drama has always been a typical part of the human experience. We’re all shaped by the scars we receive at the loss of loved ones and the conflicts we have between ourselves, our siblings, parents and cousins.
It’s natural for us to be knocked off balance during times of family drama. Binging for comfort, as one example, is a very typical response.
But for those of us with the deeply embedded demons — including mental and social disorders and addictive behavior — It would be wrong to blame everything on family drama.
At the end of the day, we have a choice: We can settle for a lesser life crushed under the weight of the struggles that are a natural part of every existence, or we can respond to the struggles by finding more patience and compassion for people worse off than we are.
We could respond to our troubled families by dropping off the face of the earth (one of Erin’s cousins did just that), or we can simply be there for each other.
Given the thing with me and my mother, that probably sounds hypocritical.
But I always hold out some hope of a future reconciliation.
And I’m more determined now than I’ve been in recent years to keep tabs on my family and be a calming voice when a cousin, aunt or sibling needs it.
It may sound like a pipe dream. But IT IS something I’m working on.