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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Alcoholic parents

I have no first-hand experience or knowledge about alcoholic parents, and reading accounts of family members of alcoholics cannot help me imagine or understand their rage and resentment. Oddly enough, a light bulb went on in a recent analogy through a weak and incompetent employer. It is someone in a position of considerable authority over employees, but struggling with a series of failings. She has let her staff down again and again, each time with tearful apologies and promises for improvement. Granted, the failings are not entirely within her control, but then neither is addiction entirely in the control of the addicts. She would always announce bad news via teleconference and never in person, even though she lives no more than 15 minutes away from the office. For the last few months she has ceased to come to the office altogether, as if too ashamed to face her staff. Over time, the tone of these teleconferences descended into weirdness. She was at times suspiciously cheerful and other times frantically gloomy. Promises were made and broken, made and broken, and made and broken. As hope disappeared gradually like the Cheshire Cat, people began to whisper in their offices, roll their eyes, shake their heads, and sigh and shrug.

Then today I read a feature story on vulture.com about Whitney Cummings who grew up in a dysfunctional household. Suddenly it all clicked. So that is what it's like (sort of) to have one or two alcoholic parents. It's a cycle of promise, hope, disappointment over and over, until finally one has no choice but to detach oneself from the afflicted with resignation. Everyone has failings, but somehow some people seem to have a cyclic and pathetic pattern of failings that require the finality of emotional separation, which is closer to death than anger, contempt, or rejection. (I wonder if, 5 years from now, I would find the above written a bit too sentimental or ... whiny.)

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