Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Friday, September 28, 2007

Complicated Families


Complicated or troubled families are a heavy subject, but unfortunately all too universal. Here are some resources that offer hope for fractured families:
· -Family gatherings can be a dreaded occasion, sometimes for even not-so-complicated family members. Here’s an article on strategies to ease the strain.
· -Here is some very direct stuff: Options for Families with Drug Abusers.
· -I like this piece on how one woman kept sane through her creative efforts.
· -Codependency is not easy to define. Here’s a quick snapshot of some of its important aspects.
· Here’s a comfort: No One’s Family Is Normal!


Last week I wrote from my hotel room about simple vacations. I came home to remember I have quite a complicated extended family, one that is currently rife with serious problems. One family member in particular is very troubled, with drugs and mental illness at the forefront. There is a huge, dark ripple effect going out from this man. Maybe “ripple” is too mild: his effect feels more like an undertow.

Striving for simplicity often springs up when things get most complicated. I don’t just want to live my life, I want to love it. While I can’t feel this way every moment, striving to have a clear perspective and live by my true priorities has been a helpful rebalancing tool. What is important to me? Family, home, creativity, contact with nature. Lately, more and more, my place in the world and how I can make a difference (at the risk of sounding like a pageant contestant) have been added to my list. All of these wholesome-sounding ideals feel threatened, in fact seem about to evaporate, when a severely off-balance person dominates the landscape.

I know I am not alone in this struggle. The more I talk about the issues that haunt my family, the more I meet people who have dealt with similar situations, some far worse than ours.

I found an inspiring quote for one of my recent blogs, and credited Melody Beattie. I couldn’t figure out why her name rang such a bell. Now I know. Her bestseller from 1987, Codependent No More, made its way back into my life with precision timing. She writes, Many of us have been trying to cope with outrageous circumstances, and these efforts have been both admirable and heroic….However, these self-protective devices may have outgrown their usefulness. You know codependence (aka feeling responsible for things you can’t control) is a bad thing when Melody Beattie writes a whole section called The Basics of Self Care.

It is a relief to be reminded that you can’t save everyone. In fact, you can’t save anyone from their emotional demons, other than yourself. I am relearning this self-care thing, and feel so proud. I called the troubled arm of the family and did not get overly involved. I took a walk. I saw a friend. I did not get sucked into the undertow of drug dependency and mental illness.

Undertows are strong. I Googled ocean undertows, and common wisdom says that it does no good to fight them. You free yourself by staying calm, calm even while in the vortex, swimming to shore as soon as you are free. The undertow may take you for a ride, but if you wait, watching the shore, it will release you. And how good it feels to be back on the shore at this moment.

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At 1/01/2008 4:19 AM, Anonymous simplesam said...

There are so many of us that have family members with drug dependencies and mental illness and your wise counsel on this matter comes with precision timing here in my own undertow. Thank you for reminding me to stay focused on what's important and to not get so caught up in it. This year, a week before Christmas, I told my daughter that all I wanted for Christmas was for her to show up sober and straight. She did, we had an excellent time! She even took good natured ribbing about her sorry state the previous Christmas eve. It may never happen again, but I'll have precious memories forever of THIS year. Best of luck with your own loved one.


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