Avoidance, Part Two

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As with the post two days ago, this is personal. Don’t gatekeep me or question my motives. It’s my story to tell. Although it happens with less frequency now, I remind anyone with gatekeeping tendencies that such criticism reflects on those doing it rather than those accused by them. (Gatekeeping arises either from silencing behavior or apparent superiority, neither of which reflects well on those doing it.)

I wrote a post about my personal take on struggling with someone prone to alcoholism. Anticipating tsk-tsking, I expected a bit of passive-aggressive blowback, along with a few people surprising me by sharing something personal. It surprised me to see that several people shared their own personal stories in the ways they did. Some wrote in the comments, while some shared with me in other ways. Those who commented on the post itself would be astonished to read the range and emotion of those who wrote me privately. Alcoholism and addiction have ruined a lot of lives, most families, and destroyed the possibility of relationships among those around them. Alcoholics and addicts are ghosts who haunt us, whether they are dead or alive.

We’re wasting a lot of our time with this issue. Time wasted on those who won’t help themselves or each other is time we can’t recoup. In an ideal world, this is easy: if you need help, you get it until you’re better. Anything else tells us you’re not in control of your mind or life. Any of us can succumb to addiction. No matter who we are, we all need to get help, whether we are the addict or the person standing next to them. In my ideal world, society gives such help freely and for as long as needed.

No one escapes this. You can fool yourself if you want to. It’s your right. But the lingering effects of addiction stay inside those around the addict.

Conversely, it’s why we are so joyous when someone gets help and leaves addiction in the past. It reminds us of our frailty and also of our ability to live better lives. I could have easily drowned in addiction. No good person turns their nose up at someone who had the ability to rise above.

For every such post I write, I’m amazed at the depth of things all of us seem to share. One person surprised me with the depth of what she told me. Though I wasn’t seeking affirmation, she gave it to me and reciprocated by telling me that what I wrote needed to be written. The pathology of secrecy seems to have angered her as much as anything else. She identified with the crazy-making of being expected to pretend that her life wasn’t affected by a deep undercurrent of pathology. She’s like me; she needs to understand it and talk about it. Not everyone in her orbit sees it that way. That disparity angers her. We can talk about the weather if we need to fill the minutes of our lives. Doing so to exclude the more important and difficult conversations leaves only damaged people in its wake.

Another person who reached out failed to engage meaningfully with the gist of the post. It’s easy for me to judge why that happened. I’d probably be wrong. It’s not wrong for me to admit it disappointed me and rang a broken gong in me to have it sidestepped. She has the power to reach out and heal herself and many people. It’s her story to tell – or not, though. I don’t know how she manages. I would have lost my mind already. I’m hypocritical about my opinions on this. It’s not cut-and-dry.

Most people interacting with me, especially those who did so privately, insist that the only way to live a good life in the shadow of angry alcoholism is to save oneself when they angrily fight the world to continue their addiction. All universally insist that the pathology of such alcoholism ruins everyone who tries to mitigate the effects instead of fleeing it. One woman compared it to domestic abuse and with the same consequences. Most males who are angry alcoholics are guilty of abuse. It’s no secret.

Interestingly, I think most saw the difference between an angry alcoholic and a garden-variety alcoholic or addict. While it might not be easy to put in words, it’s easy to recognize when you’re dealing with one.

A couple of people told me that they had to abandon everyone around the alcoholic too, even when they were close to them. They said that the enablers felt cornered and inevitably lashed out, too, in defense of their choices and their allegiance to the alcoholic, whether based on love, secrecy, shame, or necessity. One person told me she had to learn a new set of skills to deal with the manipulations, accusations, and fallout. Only talking to a therapist made her realize that she couldn’t rescue the alcoholic or those around him – and that she’d lose everything positive in her life and herself if she tried. She still misses someone she once shared much of her life with. Her old friend is still alive. She’s ruined and bitter, but still alive. She blames the world for her choices.

I’m hard-wired to cut out the danger of staying in the sphere of people who have demons they refuse to address. It’s a dance I’ve done several times, in large, looping cycles with different family members during my life. It took me most of my life to hit the wall with my mom. I’ve dealt with the backlash of other family members telling me the same tired “it’s your family” nonsense for my entire life. There’s no obligation to allow biology to demand allegiance that strangles me. It’s possible for everyone to live their own lives if they can release the pathological need to require obedience to family. (The same family that damaged you.)

When I was younger, I was fooled often by the demands toward family allegiance. I fought it. It is that very kind of groupthink, though, that enables families poisoned by shame or secrecy to perpetuate it. If we demanded authenticity and open discussion of everyone in our lives, family included, none of this nonsense would survive very long. Our excuses would be outed immediately. Those who needed both intervention and accusation to get help would be forced into the sunlight quickly. We don’t do that. We whisper in the shadows and tolerate otherwise unacceptable abuse.

I’ve read hundreds of stories of people who’ve successfully burned their bridges. All of them say that the only way to succeed is to burn the bridge and stop looking at its remnants once it is gone. People will judge you in the best of circumstances.

I’m guilty of ignoring the necessity of consistency. As we get older, our lives become narrower and the number of people we’ve shared our lives with shrinks. I don’t know how others deal with knowing they’ve chosen to reduce their lives when people show they can’t behave like we need them to. It’s hard to excise a family member, no matter how other people might characterize your decision.

Until someone can be honest and bridge the gap between reality and fiction for me and I can stop being forced to roleplay, I will stay away again. I’ll work on my guilt. I’m not abandoning the alcoholic. Rather, it stops me from lashing out in anger because of the crazy-making. People had the ability to bridge the gap but chose not to. They’re just dealing with their lives in their own way. Those are their choices. I wish they chose otherwise. To me, it seems as if the alcoholic is still controlling all of us who don’t put our foot down, abandon secrecy, and live for those who aren’t reducing us.

I don’t want to be reduced anymore, or dreading a phone call or random, strange texts at all hours. That’s not joy. That’s disability. I’m messed up enough without feeling obligated to do this dance.

If I can’t tell reality from fiction, I’m out.

Continuing to let the shadow steal the minutes from my life is pure absurdity.

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