Survival of the Privileged
“In a toxic family system, the black sheep is often the person who sees through everyone else’s bullshit.”
That statement fits me as perfectly as the pieces of a Stradivarius as it’s crafted and assembled.
Ian McKellan, playing James Whale (the retired director of the classic Frankenstein movie) in God’s and Monsters, said of his toxic family, “They were like a family of farmers who had been given a giraffe. They had no idea what to do with me.”
When I heard him say that, it hit me like a slew of bricks, sliding off of the hod I was carrying and pummeling my forehead. At the time it resonated with me because I thought I was unique in a special way. Years of recovery and maturation have taught me that it struck such a deep chord within me because I was different, in a positive way. But not in a super extraordinary way.
Yet I was definitely the black sheep of my family. Particularly as I got older and my Bipolar Disorder began to emerge.
But even before that, I remember intuitively knowing that I didn’t truly belong with a group of people who spoke of love but acted abusively, punitively, and in ways that shamed and withheld human affection and connection.
Material success and achievement were all that mattered. Appearing “together” and under control were mandates.
A passive aggressive, Middle Class, suburbanite survival of the privileged ethos was the Taproot that anchored our family tree that bore toxic fruit. Fruit that was nurturing seeds destined to yield yet another generation of poisonous saplings.
If one didn’t fit the mold and toe the line necessary to qualify as privileged, one was an “undesirable.” And “wars were good because they got rid of the undesirables”in my toxic family system.
By my early 20’s, I had become resourceful enough that I no longer had to continue doing painful mental and spiritual contortions to try to be something or someone I couldn’t be, and didn’t want to be.
My Alcoholism and Bipolar Disorder hit full stride, and with it came a “fall from grace” that, while filled with suffering and immiseration, landed me at rock bottom – ground zero after a nuclear explosion. After surveying the wreckage and realizing I had to rebuild my life from scratch, I reached out to AA and a number of amazing mentors and therapists for help.
One of the most beautiful things that emerged from my Dark Night of the Soul was that I truly saw how hollow, devoid of meaning, and sick my existence had been in my family of origin. And that, with lots of help, I got to fill the void, find meaning, and get healthy.
One day at a time. By the Higher Power of my Understanding’s grace.