Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Family Psych 3

It's hard to be half-pregnant. Or half-hungry or half-full. But we use the word to modify conditions that shouldn't need any modification: "half-crazy"; "half-cocked"; "half-drunk" to indicate being so far gone that there's no real way of stopping the person.

Or, we mean to suggest the opposite: still time to reconsider or retreat from said state by changing some behavior. Once, half-drunk, I . . . The statement assures that the person is in control, or mostly in control. "Half-drunk" indicates a shred of sanity, a shared sense of fun. A wink-wink. We all know what that's like, right? A phrase that invites identification with the brief interval where it's possible to choose differently. We win, no matter the choice.

But reality may differ. Once, half-drunk, I walked by myself at 1:00 am. around the mile and a half loop that snakes through my neighborhood. My life was in chaos: my husband and I were at odds over my middle son, who was living at home but drinking and getting high and (confirmed later) dealing drugs from our suburban home.

No one even noticed I was gone. If I had been "half-sober" instead of "half-drunk," I wouldn't have made that sojourn--I would have gone upstairs to my husband and spoken about my feelings, seeking resolution. Instead, returning home, I launched into a tirade of irrational anger--another common strategy to keep real feelings at bay--because no one had bothered to wonder about me or follow me. The fact that I had returned home alive paled in comparison to my indignation: why wasn't someone watching out for me?

That night, I desperately sought whatever would make my life manageable. Attention? Ignorance? Solitude. I didn't know. Failure to admit the chaos and the fact that I didn't know what to do about it should have been key. But, "half-drunk," I mistook the "key" for a weakness.

My behavior that night didn't arise out of nowhere. I was long schooled in the lesson of "make it be enough." After all, my family was only "half-fractured." Our single mother appeared on the surface to be competent, capable, in control--who else did she need to make her whole? Forget for a minute that our father was out carousing with alcohol and other women. Forget that he never paid child support. Forget that instead of contributing to my chronically ill sister's well-being, instead he cashed insurance checks and kept the money for himself. Forget that we were so young that we forgave him, heedless of any other response.

Her practiced aura of control deeply influenced us. We were rarely angry at our father. We rarely thought of him as the "bad guy."

It is only years later that I can look back on these events and release an audible gasp: how could we have been so blind? He was at best a half-father, nominal in all respects. My sister's health suffered directly as a result of his selfishness (or mental illness--it was so hard to tell). The money he spent on other women and their children (there were always children) should have been spent to reduce the accumulating bills that my sister's mysterious illnesses required. He should have handed the money directly over to my mother or my sister, a fistful of real bills that would have made a palpable difference in our lives.

We coped. Coping seemed "whole," not "half," like the efforts my father made to see my sister and I on the weekends. Coping seemed the only real choice we had. We took pride in our ability to "rise above" our misfortunes. We were our mother's daughters, after all.

But coping is really "half," not "whole." We wanted to be better than our father, whose efforts we accepted grimly. We wanted to make it clear (to whomever was paying attention) that we were better than that effort-- better than him. But we wanted to accomplish that without saying it--especially without saying it to our father at whom the message was aimed.  Pretending to be without needs, clinging to indirectness as a way of shoring up ravaged emotions and psyches is not healthy or whole.

So we pursued our "half-survival." I was half-successful at the various jobs I worked in high school so that I would have money to buy all my own clothes. I wanted the freedom that financial independence (even at age 14) appears to give. Now, years later, I suspect my classmates saw through my facade. I suspect they saw my half-life for what it was and agreed to be friends with me anyway. How could I have hidden the evidence: the single pair of "popular" pants that were to sustain me, along with the 3 or 4 different tops?

Even now, I obliterate the difference between half and whole, in my nightly dreams and my waking life. I must believe I can sustain and maintain. For, how can I ever admit that I need help, that I am only half-capable? I am fully. I must be. That which I need to be.
Those who know my history can follow the path that verifies that the "fully" may really be a "half." That "half" I use sparingly. If I am truly "half-drunk," it is only because it is so fearful to be so fully. . . anything. Fully-drunk implies a loss of control, a heedlessness of responsibility. Half- it will be for now. If that is my source of self-control and a sign of my participation in the world, I will have to accept that.

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