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Sunday, July 2, 2017

An Intimate Peek Inside Family Scapegoating

July 2, 2017

The following post was written with the simple idea of preparing some notes in anticipation of the EMDR therapy I plan to begin this month.

It's a highly intimate look at my past, something I hadn't intended to share. But knowing that my story isn't unique, that others have walked a similar path before me and that others will follow, it might have some relevance.

I am the scapegoat of my family.
There is no consulting them or talking with them about anything that's happened long ago, not even to find out if our memories of certain times are remotely similar. The denial, guilt and shame run too deep and too strong, and doing so would imply that something did, indeed happen.

For me, it's not a case of if something happened, but what it was.

I am the oldest of four children and seven years older than my next sibling, a sister. There's a total of twelve years between myself and my youngest sibling. There were, of course, no witnesses to what happened before they were born.

Given my position as firstborn, and that my parents were around age 21 when I was born, there was a great deal they had yet to do and to learn before really being capable of starting a family.

Career, marital commitment, and numerous other basics needed to be established before a child should have been interjected into the mix.

The Catholic religion also figured heavily into my upbringing.

I knew my father's parents, and his siblings. His father was the patriarch, a native Mexican who spoke English poorly. His mother was an emotionally distant person who never seemed to let her feelings show.

If her husband-my father's father-was anything like my own father, it'd be understandable. Sucking the very energy out of me was his specialty, and he had to learn how to do so somewhere.

I remember my grandmother as having a cigarette always in her mouth, flipping tortillas on an open flame on the stove. I always wondered how she did that without burning her fingers.
The sight of it seemed so scary that it's still the most prominent memory, besides the cigarette I have of her.

My mother's mother, on the rare times I saw her, always seemed a mental mess, her hair usually in tangles with sort of wild-eyed yet absent gaze. I knew from an early age that she "wasn't all there,"
whatever that meant.

My insecure father, who had a cruel and demeaning nickname for just about everyone, simply referred to her as "cuckoo."

My mother spoke only a little of her mother, at least that I recall hearing, given that she was from the city and we lived in the suburbs. She had her reasons for this.

My mother, if she truly was raised by a cuckoo, understandably wanted to leave her own childhood behind. But I know from my own experience that it takes more than geographic distance.

Whatever traumas my mother endured as a kid went unresolved, and she is in a state of denial about them to this day.

I've come to see, based on years of watching her as I grew up, that my mother is what any reasonable person would also consider "cuckoo.”

Both of my parents are in their early 70s.

It's understandable then, that since my parents were at an age when they had yet to come to terms with their own youthful traumas, that I would serve as a reminder to them of how they once were.

Back then, in the blue collar house in which I grew up in a white collar neighborhood, the idea of childhood trauma was not something people addressed, even though most of us dealt with it.

Plus, both my parents believed that, because they bought a home in a lily white suburban, they would identify with people who "had money."

They believed affluence was contagious, and that becoming wealthy would happen just by “rubbing shoulders” with the right people.

This became evident as my oldest younger sister was encouraged to meet and marry an engineer because they associated someone with an engineering degree as someone who would "have money."

Though I didn't realize it then, my being good at English with an interest also in the arts was a shameful curse, as were my abysmal grades in math and lack of interest in the sciences.

Their myopic template in mind, my parents sent the ongoing, largely unspoken message to me that I was someone, at least in their eyes, who would never "have money."

In their way of thinking, "having money" is the measure of success.

Therefore, given their knowledge all along I was not good at math, I never took a place in their mind as someone who would be successful. It was inconceivable to them.

In that sense, I suppose they were, like me, counting down the days until I turned eighteen and old enough to leave the house for good. Then they'd be free to focus their energies on my siblings, in the hope that one of them would be a "success."

As it turned out, my oldest younger sister married an engineer who, by all appearances, is a salesman with an engineering background. In the eyes of my parents and, I suppose, my sister too, their long-held beliefs are vindicated by this.

“Why,” they wonder still, couldn't I fill that mold, too, and just listen to them and “get with the program?” But “the program” is a nebulous term for which there is no actual definition other than, perhaps, laying the groundwork for future scapegoating.

Nobody in my childhood family, myself included, were smart enough to realize the upshot of not getting “with the program” would end this way. The wheels on that machine had been turning all along, however.

In my mind, and by my definition, my sister’s family is neither successful nor happy. In being as superficial as can be, they are not living a genuine life. But, as my sister's marriage to her own reflection in the mirror, doing her hair in the "big hair" style of the 80's, life is as sincere as can be.

But even after only a brief glimpse on social media, I can tell my sister is the dominant partner, her husband the meek, claymation father/husband type.

They have two girls who are obviously clones of each other, products of my sister's idea of what a little girl should be like.

My little brother never went to college, and lives somewhere in Texas, with a woman who has a child – or children - of her own.

By my parent's definition as I knew it, he would not be a "financial success." But because he takes after my father's side of the family, he had my father's approval all along.

And though my dad never seemed to like his own father, he nicknamed my little brother "Mexican Mike." Though I've never met him as an adult, my ex-wife saw him on Facebook and said that he looks like a bodybuilder.

Being a physical specimen is, in my dad's eyes, and in my dad's mind based on his youth, a "success" in itself.

My baby sister, an accomplished athlete who earned a scholarship playing volleyball in college, also had my dad's support all along.

Her college attendance coincided with my father's retirement from the steel mills of Pittsburgh, which were closing down for good in the 90's.

My father had been paying into his retirement through his steelworkers union, so in this since he considered himself "successful."

The same is true of my mother in her teacher's union. She worked in that capacity for many years after my father retired. I don't believe that my mother ever forgot my father's cheating on her, and their marriage was distant at best, but most likely cold.

In this regard, I believe the relationship I had with my own mother could be defined as the same way. I had witnessed firsthand the problems they had early on in their marriage.

In fact, I can recall my mother getting me out of the car and taking me by the hand to confront my father red-handed with "the other woman."

She evidently learned of their clandestine meeting and, like I witnessed her doing many times thereafter in different stressful situations, she rushed headlong into the breach as if knowing she'd come out unscathed.

.Regarding the other woman, my mother must've wanted to take proof that her husband, the man she was cheating with, was also a father.

As if my father had nothing to do with his infidelity. But placing blame on others for things that were their responsibility was an ongoing theme with them.

Like me; I wasn't a poor student or bad this or that because of their positive guidance, I simply refused to “get with the program.” After all, they moved us to a white collar neighborhood; what more could I require?

I see now that, despite the toll it took on their marriage, my parents were never that close anyway.

My mother actually blamed my father's infidelity, for instance, on his love interest, rather than her inability to be the intimate partner my father needed.

In so many words, in my father's eyes, his unspoken thought of my mother was that she was just a stubborn bitch. To my mother, my father was a selfish, childlike kid, stuck in his teenage mindset, who only wanted to get buzzed and get laid by any woman he found attractive.

The great level of insecurity they both held allowed for this, and is a strong reflection of the parental role models they'd had.

What's more, their stubborn belief in the church's mandate to stay married at all costs no matter how much hell it creates for all involved merely cemented their limited view of each other.

These governing dynamics, at first, did not include my mother. But my father's Catholic religion, which she adopted however, dictated that marriage is a lifetime institution and that, no matter what happened, a couple would remain together forever.

Don't always take what a bunch of celibate grown men in robes -with an eye for little boys, no less, for gospel.

Turning a blind eye to pedophilia and sodomy of young boys also became a running theme with my father, and led me to a greater understanding of him later.

If he could turn the other cheek, as it were to a priest in his own parish molesting altar boys, one of whom was a friend of mine, then no indignity would have been too great to perpetrate on me.

There were at least two other prominent examples of such behavior, four if you include the pope’s second in command recently found responsible for multiple counts of pedophilia/molesting young boys.

This knowledge is cold comfort to me, knowing that if it came down to it and I were molested by a priest, my parents would side with their church and likely ask me what I did to cause it.

As a married couple, my parents epitomized the phrase "for better or for worse," with the latter dictating most of their lives, even today.

As an adult, I'm aware of this because I carried these traits of them both-juvenile selfishness and a pious inability to be close to others.

Neither of these traits are conducive to healthy relationships of any kind. Other adults, most of whom are blissfully ignorant of such things between each other, aren't readily affected by such things.

But a kid looking up to his parents for guidance is a sponge, soaking in the behaviors and beliefs of his/her elders. They, in turn stand a strong chance of replicating these behaviors for their kids.

Despite the modeling I acquired from them, never was I given the benefit of the doubt for any trouble I encountered. All kids, as part of the process of life eventually encounter trouble: With the teacher, the neighbor, the bus driver, etc.

However, I was given little latitude in making such mistakes, and I made some good ones. Anything, any problems, up to and including the dissolution of both of my marriages to a recent wrongful accusation of assault in the desert in order to save my service dog's life were automatically my own doing. No questions were asked because, in their minds, I would never be a "success" and it was only a matter of time until problems beset me again, thus validating their myopia.

I have never expected nor received an apology from either of them for their behavior regarding the harsh lessons I learned from them in the form of very physical punishments.

For my part, as an older adult I sometimes feel profound guilt and regret for how I have treated the countless people who inexplicably received my close friendship one day, and total indifference forever the next.

I have literally, like the flip of a switch, turned my back and walked away from relationships without looking back. No amount of closeness with others mattered in this regard.

In fact, the closer I was to people, the more likely I was to turn my back and walk away for good.

This, I believe, is a function of having been punished by way of being grounded so often as a kid, sometimes for months at a time, like school summer vacation.

At such times I was literally deprived of any contact with friends or peers or anyone outside of my home under the fear of physical retribution – beating – by my father.

My mother stood by and watched while all this happened, never saying a word on my defense. She only admonished me further.

The basis for it all was, unsurprisingly, my failure to “get with the program.”

The closest thing I ever saw to my father's ability to care for another living thing was when he showed up at my house five years ago, right after I nearly died in my bicycle accident.

He had with him a toy-sized Jack Russell terrier and carried it everywhere in an oh-so-gentle way, as if it were a fragile basket of eggs.

Like a little girl with a Barbie doll, he gently set it down on the couch and proceeded to lovingly and meticulously clothe it in a little sweater. He buttoned it up slowly, as if he had so much love inside of him that he had to direct it toward something, somehow.

But it didn't fool anyone and it reflected so poorly on him. Despite my wife's knowledge of my violent past with him, it was my father's last attempt at covering up what he'd done to me as a kid.

His transparency was something my wife picked up on immediately, and it told her everything she needed to know about my past, including the audacity he’d shown with his little performance with the tiny dog.

"I don't know why you ever even talk to those people," she told me a few years afterward.

I know why, though; it's because I know I'm a good person and somehow have a distorted belief that I can - and still need to  earn their approval so as to vindicate myself.

All of my thinking along these lines, however, merely furthers their deep-seated guilt and strengthens my role in the family as scapegoat.

Like the catholic bishop accused of molesting altar boys ex post facto, my parents claim they're too old to be confronted with such thoughts that shouldn't bother them any longer.

But, like the altar boys who've been violated, I haven't been subordinated so completely by them that I'll-like them-deny it ever happened let alone forget about it.

To that effect, now that neither of my parents are sexual beings, driven by their hormones, they both have taken an asexual, outright condescending view of me.

The stress of their having to maintain a pretense of being physically aroused by each other, like a great weight, has been lifted.

They've survived their marriage, albeit a stormy one, and now feel free to sit back and judge others. It's the perfect time to direct those ever-available scapegoating energies.

I bought into their way of thinking of myself that way and sometimes still do.
Because of the toxicity of my own thinking at my age, I do not have a dialogue with them.

And though I could never articulate what exactly was wrong with my parental relationship all along, I have not had a dialogue with them for decades now.
Whatever happened then was enough to push me away from them for my own safety forever.

My absence from their lives, of course, made it easy for them to vilify me and place me in the role of scapegoat.
Essentially, whatever they did wrong became my fault.

Just like the sociopathic kid in the desert who accused me of assault when I stood up for my right to not have my service dog on a leash because I only have one arm, what he did wrong also became my fault.

Further, the young kid's transparency via the lies he concocted to further vilify me in the eyes of the law make my own parent's motives much easier to see.

Both situations are injustices, but on a relative scale, these injustices aren't as bad as those others face.
I'm not the only person who fails to “get with the program.”

But that's no comfort to me, given that the greatest injustice I face now is in my own lack of self-worth, self-confidence, and inability to believe that I'll ever be successful.

My goal of EMDR treatment, then, is to finally put a face and a name on my past traumas so that I may finally be able to create an identity for myself and to move forward down the path I was meant to follow all along.

Out of respect for myself and for those who may be or have already experienced emotional and physical abuse and/or scapegoating in their family, I am making my own story available for review by anyone who's compelled to read it.

Given my belief that EMDR holds the key to my healing, I will keep this blog updated on my progress as it occurs.

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