The Airing of Dirty Laundry & Breaking the “Status Quo”

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As I was sharing my recent heartache and experiences with my therapist the other day, he stopped me to explain his role as a mandatory reporter. Therapists, as well as other medical providers, teachers, etc. are trained to recognize the abuse and or neglect of children or vulnerable individuals and report the occurrence to the authorities so that it can be investigated. Individuals trained in this manner are called “mandatory” reporters because, by law, they are required to report any alleged incidents of abuse or neglect of a vulnerable individual. Both my mother and I are “mandatory reporters” because we both have worked in the healthcare system and have received the training that now requires us to report. This isn’t the first time a therapist has stopped a session to explain that he or she may need to report the abuse or neglect that has occurred in my sister’s home. In fact, it has happened with nearly every therapist I have seen. I haven’t had any therapist tell me that they have followed through with a call, but it is likely they have.

This has got me to thinking about a few things. For one, I have made a few calls to both Child Protective Services (CPS) and to Adult Protective Services (APS) over the past few years. To my knowledge, my mother has never called CPS or APS to file a concern regarding the well being of her great-grandchild or her disabled, adult grandchildren. Although, we both have been trained to report incidents of abuse and neglect, I find it odd that my mother has never done so. Often, my mother and I disagree over the extent of the abuse and I feel she not only downplays it, but doesn’t want to acknowledge it or even discuss it. This has left the responsibility up to me to report and has often left me feeling like “I’m the bad guy” for “telling on the family”. The lack of adults who have knowledge of the abuse, but who have not reported it, have left the grand baby and disabled adults vulnerable to potential danger. Because of my willingness to confront the abuse head on and even report it a time or two, I’ve endured shame, scapegoating, gaslighting, and abandonment.

Meanwhile, continued episodes of abuse and neglect occur with no real consequences that could possibly change things for the better while providing protection to those who are vulnerable there. Instead, over time, I have had to grieve and let go, walking away with pangs of guilt for “abandoning” those I know to be struggling there. The system (CPS) simply doesn’t have “enough” information or resources to investigate and move forward on the claims I’ve made. And, my Mom and sister downplay the chaos and drama that continually enfolds there, calling me “overly dramatic” and/or “controlling”. I have left because after years of confronting and fighting for respect and visibility in my family, I have been dismissed as difficult, abusive, and disrespectful. Granted, I have become very ugly with my Mom for not “taking my side” when I’ve confronted the addiction that I feel has substantially ruined 5 lives already. I have brought up the SAME concerns to my mother that I have to therapists only to be ignored, discarded, or dismissed by her. This struggle has lead to feelings of despair and alienation, and ultimately has lead to me feeling I have to “walk away” for my own health and sanity. I do not feel my mom dismisses me knowingly and intentionally. Instead, I believe her responses to be a result of her own ineffective ways of dealing with trauma that were formed early in her life.

It was in this LAST therapy session that it truly dawned on me how ALONE I have been in this fight against the addiction that has caused so much hurt and annihilation in my family. I “took note” this time when my therapist noted the severity of the situation as I casually discussed the violence and drug abuse that continually erupts in and around my sister’s house. It wasn’t until a day or two later that the therapist’s response began to weigh heavily on my mind. The information that I had relayed to the therapist was the same information that my mother has received on multiple occasions, but had neglected to question it and report it so that it could be investigated. Often, my mother would decline following up or reporting, using the mantra that “no one really knows what’s going on” anyway. As long as she could claim some level of ignorance on things, she would do so.

And yet, as time moved forward there has been more episodes of violence, incidents of drug use, and crime. Not to mention no adults (there are 6 of them) who reside in my sister’s home work. Two are disabled as a result of their drug use and I question their ability to work. The other two, I assume actively use, as they both were supposed to be in rehab recently, but one left treatment, the other might still be on a waiting list. Both of them only decided to consider rehab after getting in trouble to avoid certain consequences. Again, evidence that consequences actually can cause an individual to receive help. I acknowledge that is just the first step. But, often our family has “failed” at getting people to the first step because they have enabled them and thus they do not experience the consequences that might provide them with an opportunity to seek treatment.

Over time, I’ve learned that it is not only addiction, but Narcissistic Personality Disorder, that has caused so much pain and devastation to me and my family. My sister, simply put, continues to cause damage while my mother enables her behavior. And thus, everyone outside of that codependent relationship is actually quite sick. Either they are using substances and are in the throes of “active addiction”, or they are permanently disabled due to severe and persistent mental illness. They have not been well enough to manage their lives and heal from the significant trauma of being raised by two people who struggled with chronic addiction issues. And the parents never really invested in their future by providing them with a basic education and the tools needed to be independent. Instead, my nieces and nephews essentially “raised themselves” in their adolescent years with little to no oversight. The neglect was extreme and they were not protected from chaos that was continually brought in by the constant traffic of individuals struggling with significant addiction issues. In fact, the family endured the death of a three year old that my sister often baby-sat that resulted from a caretaker beating her to death because she knocked that individual’s “fix” off the table. After the traumatic death of this child, I tried again to get my sister help for her addiction and urged my sister to surround herself AND her kids with healthier adults. My pleas fell on deaf ears, the drug use continued, and not more than two years later my sister’s kids experienced the traumatic near death of their mother due to needle use.

Even so, no one would stand with me and confront my sister’s drug use and she went back to using after healing enough to do so. I’m not sure if she used needles after the incident, but she definitely was using again on and off. Although I urged my mother many times to join me in confronting the addiction, my mom dug in deep and continued to dismiss my concerns. There were times she “agreed that there was a problem”, but it never seemed to her, severe enough to join my efforts in confronting it. I stood alone in the storm and over time this has completely eroded the relationship between my mother and me. To me, it has felt like a refusal to acknowledge the depth of the addiction and the neglect it caused. I predicted long ago when my sister began using very heavily that my bonds between my family and me would nearly be destroyed. More than a decade later, after years of screaming into dead space, I am walking away from the trauma that caged me. It has been traumatic for me to watch my nieces and nephews all struggle with addiction issues, many times leading to arrests, incarceration, abusive relationships, and near overdoses. The struggle with my sister was hard enough, but it has been multiplied times 5 over the past decade as I watched one by one my nieces and nephews surrender to the throes of addiction. I watched as no one walked across their high school stage to receive a diploma and each of them became more engaged in drugs and criminal activity. At one point, I even watched as my niece went back to her abusive husband who was reported to have assaulted my niece’s father and had even held her hostage at gunpoint. I continued to confront and fight for my niece for a whole year while hearing that her husband was “drugging” her and controlling communication. As an individual with a diagnosis of C-PTSD and a history of childhood trauma it took a lot of time for me to “let go”. It was made even harder because no one else in my family wanted to join me in the endeavor of confronting my sister’s kids and getting them help. I often felt I was the only one seeing and acknowledging the devastation. Things continued to be normalized and I became the “problem” of my family.

Over this past year, I acknowledged I was powerless in this fight. I was not only being stonewalled and character smeared by my sister, but my mother also continually dismissed my concerns and often either rationalized away things or defended my sister. Stuck in this spiral of never feeling heard, I surrendered to the reality that I was completely ineffective in “reaching” those in my family struggling with addiction. As a result, I have slowly and painfully given up “the fight”. It was destroying my health and I decided to “cut ties”, heal, and wait to reconnect in distant ways after I grieve the loss. So, in the midst of a global pandemic when many are reconnecting and becoming closer, I have “let go” and have become more isolated. It’s difficult, but it is what it is.

So, when my current therapist stopped me during our session to share his role in mandatory reporting, it struck me AGAIN that it wasn’t only me who found the behavior of my sister and her adult kids concerning for the child who is being raised in the home. In ways, my therapist’s response was validating to a certain extent.

I believe one of the most difficult things in dealing with a dysfunctional family, besides feeling alienated and often invisible, is the shame that society places on “airing dirty laundry”. We are told to hold the secrets inside because there is great shame and stigma associated with revealing the dysfunction in our families. This further compounds the issues of isolation and can lead an individual to go “over the edge”. And often, this leads to an individual feeling as if they cannot “relate” to others. I want to “break the silence” and the “mold” that is telling those who suffer, to do so silently. The silent epidemic of sheltering and hiding dysfunction is deadly, for some.

Ultimately, I would love to one day work with and write about the trauma and pain associated with the forced shroud of silence surrounding family abuse and neglect. We heal when bring things into the light, which can lead us from confusion to clarity. We heal when we can separate our story from the historical cycles of shame and guilt. Although it can be a brutally messy process, light and truth is required to separate ourselves from the ancient chatter that binds us to the darkness of our past. The darkness that people want to ignore, to burry, and to even deny, is what must be bravely examined in the light so that separation can occur. We must go on a journey of self discovery, and “shed” the skin we were sealed in as a result of cyclic shame and loss. It is in this space, where we are increasingly becoming aware of our loss of attachment to our past, that we begin to sense freedom from it. This is the space where separation results in accountability and ownership, and ultimately the empowerment to “take flight”. It is in this same space, where we are able to cultivate compassion for our past mistakes and willingly forgive ourselves and others. We begin to open our conscious to the collective suffering of humanity and, despite it all, we become curious about our infinite potential to create and sustain our own peace and stillness. Standing in the light, recognizing the shadows that have been laid to rest on the ground beside us, allows us to fix our vision and gaze on the vast horizon ahead. I’d like to think this space is where the “magic” happens and the “mystery” of life is renewed. We once again view the world with childlike excitement, but with the strength and resolve of an adult. It’s a rebirth where separation occurs, boundaries are drawn, and mastery is refined.

The curtain where the “wizard” was pulling the strings has been drawn. Light is flooding in and, in the beginning, this causes disappointment, disbelief, anger, and even pain. But, what comes to pass is that we realize, much like Dorothy did in The Wizard of Oz, that “home” was within our grasp all along. We can take ourselves where we like. The light that floods in reveals we’ve always had a “heart, a brain, and courage”.

With the curtain pulled back on my life, I can easily see what is mine and what is theirs. There is now full transparency and although, initially painful, I realize that it is up to me to go forward, separating myself from the shame and suffering that caged me.

I feel a sense of stability in this newly formed space that I have begun to cultivate all on my own. And I’m proud that I am no longer part of the “status quo”. I’m moving forward, even if a bit isolated and alone. I trust that I will bring people, love, and light into my life while protecting myself from needless noise and chaos. Land, undefined, is finally gaining definition and taking form. Finding myself in this space is freeing, while, at the same time I feel more anchored and resolved. This is my life. It is messy and imperfect, but it is also full of forgiveness and love. And this is just the beginning. I’m shedding the cocoon to flutter, fully in the light, with less cares and worry. Life is lighter. And the space around me is finally mine. ❤️ 🦋❤️

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