1986 was very difficult for my family. My brother was living in a drug rehab facility, and we were attending weekly, all day family support sessions. It was intensive counseling to support every member of the family, which pissed off my Dad entirely. He did not buy into any of this psycho mumbo jumbo garbage, and didn’t think we should all have counseling and suffer because of his one messed up son. I do think he attended each week though, because my family was all about appearances, and would only show grace and charm to outsiders. I also think it was a condition of my brother’s release with no jail sentence.
The support sessions used a divide and conquer strategy. Each of us went into a different breakout group in the morning, based on age, and then back together to share in the afternoon.
I recall one breakout group, the counselor gave us little kids a paper and asked us to draw our family, but, and this is a big but, we were supposed to rank our family members in closeness and trust. I was in fifth grade. I drew my dog at the top of the page, bigger than anything else. Dad had let me pick out a puppy over the summer, after our old dog died (because my Dad poisoned it, but that’s a different story) and was threatening me daily to return that dog to the pound. I was not having much luck training my puppy (on my own as a 10 yr old), and she was wild, and growing bigger by the minute. I was so determined to save that dog’s life, not to have it hurt or abandoned by my Dad, so it was top of my list. My cats were next – I told them everything, and they hugged me anyway. And then my brothers, and then my parents. I still remember the counselor looking at my paper in shock, open mouthed. I asked if I did it wrong? He said No. But then he patted my shoulder and gave me a look I did not understand until many years later. He knew how messed up my family was, but could not say what he was thinking.
Mornings usually started with a video. Every morning I would struggle to keep my eyes open, as a video showed corny stories about families in trouble, but always coming together for each other in the end. I knew these weren’t real. Real families did not love each other or hug or talk openly. My head would nod as I struggled to focus, in the darkened room. I think that is when my sleep troubles started full force. I was staying up at night to keep my Dad out of my room, finally realizing at this age that he should not be touching me, and feeling like I was completely to blame for it. This was when I learned that sugar and caffeine helped me stay awake. We didn’t have time for breakfast at home, so I always brought some change for the vending machines and had M+M’s and Pepsi throughout that video to stay awake and pass the quiz on it later. I also learned to tap my finger nails into my thumb – a nervous act I still do today to remain present.
We always had one hour with my newly drug free brother. We would talk about how he wasn’t supported in the past, and how he needed our help to stay off drugs when he returned home. We learned how he was an invisible middle child, My oldest brother was the Super-Star, My other brother was the Angel, and I was the scapegoat. I thought it was all stupid. I felt insulted that they thought they knew anything about me. But I answered every question the way I knew they wanted me to. I noticed everyone else did that too. I don’t think any of us spoke an ounce of truth during any of these sessions. We all had secrets, and we all had years of practice keeping them hidden.
Each day ended with a group hug – for at least 30 seconds, ugh, stop touching me! – and the Serenity Prayer. I learned to hate that prayer. I still cringe when I hear it.
At the time, I felt this prayer meant I had to accept every terrible thing in my life. I felt powerless as a child. I did not gain the wisdom to know the difference until just a few years ago. This is a terrible prayer for an abused child from a dysfunctional family. My mom bought a plaque with that awful prayer on it and hung it up in our dining room. I would look at my brother’s empty seat, look at my abusive father who insisted I sat next to him, look at my mom, too afraid to eat in front of us because her husband called her fat, and then I’d look at that plaque and ask to leave the table. But I had to clean my plate or hear about kids in Ethiopia, so I ignored my urge to vomit and mechanically shoved in all the food. Each bite made me more numb, and numb became my status quo for years. Fine I thought – I may have to accept my life – but I don’t have to feel it. That’s when I started disassociating mind and body and mentally living somewhere else fairly regularly.
I assume my brother did the same, lived mentally elsewhere, or maybe the schizophrenia was doing it for him, now that drugs could not.
- Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother – Part 3 – Drug Abuse (roots2blossom.wordpress.com)
- Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother, Part 1-Pre-Adolescence (roots2blossom.wordpress.com)
- Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother, Part 2 – Adolescence (roots2blossom.wordpress.com)