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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Abnormal lives here...

When I was growing up I thought my family was normal. If some other family was different – they were NOT normal. Normal was what I was trained from childhood to believe everyone else should be. My parents didn’t set out to make me believe that – I think it just happens in every family. If I had grown up with alcoholic parents I would have thought it was normal until I got closer to my teens and could figure out that it wasn’t.

The first time I realized that other family dynamics could be extremely different from mine was at about 12 years old. I had a friend, Crissy Q, whose mother was different. There was a formal living room in her house, but Crissy and her sister were never allowed to go in there except for dusting and vacuuming. I had been in and out of that house many times in the space of nine years and we never went into that room. I saw into it from the doorway, but that was all. I thought that was odd because at my house we used every inch of every room. The only rule we had was that we knocked before entering a bedroom with a closed door.

Mrs. Q always wore lots of makeup. It seems she always had thick layers of lipstick that wasn’t reserved just for her lips. Her cheeks were smudges of red giving her the look of a china doll. My mom only wore makeup when she was going out and even then it was applied sparingly. “Less is more,” Mom would say.

The other thing about Mrs. Q was that she took naps – a lot of naps. And we were not allowed to go in any room in the house except the den which could be entered from the back yard when she was taking one of her many naps. Once inside the house, we always whispered.

I had started visiting Crissy when I was nine and I just thought those were the rules of the house. OK. Every family had rules. So this was just their rules. It wasn’t until three years later that I realized why the rules were in place.

We were going to the drive-in movies. Mr. and Mrs. Q, Crissy’s sister (Cathy), Crissy and I all piled into the beautiful T-Bird that, like their living room, was seldom used. It was a beautiful car. The three of us girls were in the back seat, with Crissy directly behind her mother. When Mrs. Q pulled out a flask and took a few sips, I notice a look between Crissy and Cathy. Crissy hit the back of the seat with her foot. Her mother protested. Crissy did it again and told her mother to give her the flask. Her mother refused. Crissy hit the seat again. Her mother was now visibly angry and started spewing profanity. I had never heard such vile things from a woman before. Crissy kept hitting the seat and insisting that the flask be given to her. Mrs. Q turned around in her seat and started trying to hit Crissy.  I could not believe what happened next. Crissy pushed on the seat with both of her feet and it folded over encasing her mother. That’s the way it stayed until we arrived at the theater.

During the trip, Mr. Q just kept driving. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t do anything. He just kept driving. Cathy looked out the side window and seemed intent on the passing scenery. She also said nothing. It was as though, I was the only one witnessing the interchange between Crissy and her mother. It felt surreal. I didn’t know what to do – so I, like the Cathy and Mr. Q, did nothing. But, I was horrified, frightened and just wanted the night to end.

I was very happy to return home that evening. I had not felt safe the entire time I was out with Crissy’s family. When I walked into my own house, I could feel the love and security all around me. Every pre-teen has issues with their parents, but that night I felt that mine were as close to perfect as you could get. My parents were normal, Crissy’s parents were not.

I visited Crissy’s house many times after that. But, I never went anywhere with her family again. I never stayed for dinner. We spent most of our time in the pool or on the patio. I tried very hard to never interact with her parents.

As I grew older, I realized that Crissy’s mother was an alcoholic. I didn’t know much about it because I grew up in a non-alcoholic household. I never really thought much about alcohol or alcoholics until I realized that I was married to one. After I reached the realization, I found myself using Crissy as a measuring stick on my own children. I would think – they aren’t as angry as Crissy was so everything must be OK. Things weren’t really as bad as they were for Crissy and Cathy.

In reality – it’s all bad. Children do not belong in an alcoholic household. It is not safe and they can’t possibly understand all the insanity around them. Children’s idea of normalcy is created by the environment and sanity of those around them at an early age. If as a child you perceive folding your mother in a car’s seat to be normal – unless there’s lots of therapy involved – the adult version of the child will believe that to be normal. I don’t really believe any sane adult would think it OK to do such a thing. Folding a car seat while occupied with a human is a bit extreme. I don’t think most of us make a conscious decision to do things that are clearly abnormal. But the subliminal idea may be there. It may creep into the mind of someone under stress at unlikely times.

It’s a lot like children who grow up in physically abusive households. The child grows up and repeats the cycle. The abuser knows it’s wrong. But, it is almost as though the abuser is driven to repeat what they may have known as “normal” during the very early developmental years. It’s hard to determine what a child will carry over into their adult thinking. I know that I remember the Mrs Q incident very clearly. If I had seen that over and over again, I might have come to believe it as being a normal thing to do.

I’ve never strapped Riley into a folding seat of any kind. But don’t believe for a single moment that I haven’t thought about it. And that may be a huge neon sign pointing directly at me that says “Abnormal Lives Here.”


Cadan Henry said...

really enjoyed, "abnormal lives here". thanks for taking the time to put it down.


Anonymous said...

great read!!!! Love You ...Carrot

HyperCRYPTICal said...

A sad but beautifully written post Linda. Love you loads.

Anna :o]

SADbutTRUE said...

Thank you for making me smile! I have so been there beating my mom's seat many times while my dad kept on driving and still is.