What in goodness name are we supposed to do with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions regarding our families? If you are anything like me, you experienced a family that was, at least in part dysfunctional, and at times boarding on psychotic. How do we make peace with the insanity we grew up with? How do we build relationships when we did not learn to trust? For a lot of us, the subject of family is painful. We may have entered treatment feeling as if we were cheated out of the “good life” because of our family of origin. Some of us come from mean, awful, people, and we often wonder how different life would had been had we been blessed with one of those “good” families. We have an image of families that are clean, polite, and well-mannered. We have seared resentment toward those “fortunate” families who lovingly celebrate life together. We are convinced that, had we come from a loving family, we would have turned out okay.
Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I was sitting in the backseat of my older brother’s old beat-up Chevy. I can recall details of that backseat, how big it was, how frayed the upholstery was, the dingy faded color, all because I spent a lot of time sitting in the back seat staring up at my big brother. I wanted to be near my brother, my protector, my hero. Had I had the chance I would have glued myself to him. I did not realize what a nuisance it was for him to have me hanging around until he got a girlfriend.
On this occasion, my brother and his buddy were in the front seat smoking a joint—the same as on every other occasion. His friend said to him “Man, your mom is so cool.” “I wish I had your mom for a mom!” I can clearly recall my brother taking a long hit off the joint and responding in a hushed, exasperated, exhale “Man, no you don’t!” “You have no idea how much I wish my mom could be a mother.” I learned a life lesson from that experience that people do not always know what they are wishing for. It wasn’t too much longer after that that I was taken from my mother, sister, and brother. The cool mom went to prison.
A family is what you get, not what you want. When I realized just how blessed I was to “get” the family I was born into, it made my whole attitude about my preconceived victimization change. Today, I understand the blessing of coming from a dysfunctional family. I learned so many lessons about life and the fragility of relationships not because I wanted to, but because I had to. I once heard in AA, “There are no victims in AA.” Fortunately, I can embrace that concept, and I think my children can too. You see, my children were dealt the leftovers of their mother’s hand! They, too, were exposed to madness no child should have to endure. Like their mother before them, foster care was no stranger. We can choose to live in gratitude and make our lives work, or we can feel victimized and suffer. We can now appreciate the gifts of resilience and gratitude that came from our misfortune.
I wish I had been a better mother. However, I would not change my children’s outcome. I could not be prouder of the men my boys have become. They are good and decent, and they give to their community. My oldest son is the Director of a Mission, my youngest works in recovery. My oldest son is a proud father and a loving husband to the same beautiful wife for the last 25 years. They are leaving this planet better because they were here. Because we have suffered, we have learned compassion. Because we were abused, we know how to heal. Because we were hungry, we learned responsibility, and we know to feed others. Because we were victimized, we were made resilient. We are family for better or worse!
Dr. Judy Redman has dedicated much of her personal and professional life to the betterment of the recovering community. She began her career as a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor in 2000 and is currently the Director of Education at Social Model Recovery Systems: www.socialmodel.com