Making story of our family history doesn’t mean we change the realities of our forebears’ lives … we don’t turn a thief into a pillar of virtue …but we learn to carry the story differently so the lineage can heal.
Christina Baldwin Storycatcher, Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story
As I sit pouring over photos of family and friends, I struggle with many questions. Who were these people, really? What have I missed? What role did or do they have in the weaving of my own story? What stories can I tell about them … only the one’s that make me laugh and bring smiles of joy? Can I tell the other ones that are sad, deeply hurtful? The ones that most every family has hidden in the deep, dark closet filled with spider-webs and ghosts that we call denial?
I recently finished reading Mary Karr’s most recent memoir, Lit. She is a no holds barred storyteller, brutally honest, but in her honesty becomes a friend that you can trust to always speak her truth. She lays out her life, a tightly woven carpet, that drew me in and once and for all convinced me that addiction is a disease. Having had relationships with a number of alcoholics in my life, including my mother and mother-in-law, I have seen for the very first time what it is like to be a prisoner of addiction. I can finally say I have reached a place of understanding and forgiveness, both for them and for my own behavior towards them. Did Mary Karr go over the top in telling her story? Does she give us more information than we need? I think not, since through her story, she has the ability to help us relate to the difficulties in our own lives.
I come from a family who kept their secrets tightly guarded. There was a great deal of shame involved. In the days when my parents were young adults, no one asked for help. To need help was a sign of weakness. You had to deal with whatever was difficult for you, alone. My father, a veteran of WW II, had PTSD, which at that time was not fully recognized as the debilitating disorder it is. He suffered from sudden mood swings and moments of severe darkness. My mother, a victim of a cruel childhood turned to alcohol to soften the blows of their lives together and the memories of her own family of origin. Their challenges were never spoken of.
Most of us can and do blame others for who we are. But in the blaming do we not lose perspective of our own story? I have frequented Alanon meetings in order to find answers. I have relived childhood trauma with caring therapists who have helped me see that my difficulties have resulted from the challenges of others. I am thankfully at a point where I no longer blame somebody else for my pain. I can only feel compassion for the cards that my predecessors were dealt during their lifetimes. Life is not a romp in the park, but a life long trek through darkness and light, fire and ice.
We all have our dark sides. I have hurt others, including my parents, my brothers, my husband and my children. I have warts. I am a member of the human race. It is through story that I search for answers that will help me to heal not only my own life, but my family’s lineage as well. It is through the stories of others, that I am finding my path through the forest. I am searching for the crumbs left by those before me to help guide the way through the great mysteries of life.