Sometimes, You Gotta Cut Ties

by Bill Brenner on August 18, 2010

A friend of mine asked Facebook friends if it’s right to cut ties with someone you care about when the relationship is too laden with dysfunction. I’ll keep the person’s name out to protect privacy, but it’s something I’ve had to confront in my long, messy road to recovery from mental illness and addiction. So here are a few thoughts.

Mood music:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNdagpIgItw&fs=1&hl=en_US]

I come from a family full of addictive behavior and mental illness. Since high drama is a constant guest in this type of family, it can be hard to be around family and just feel comfortable. On the one hand you want to smack a few people around — and they want to smack you around as well. On the other hand, you love them and badly want to please them.

In my recovery, I’ve found it a lot easier to peacefully co-exist with family dysfunction. Truth be told, I enjoy some of it. Most of all, I’ve gained a new appreciation for some of them in recent years, because I’ve been able to see their side if the situations we quarreled through [For more on this, see my compilation post on my Revere attitude.].

But some relationships bent and broke along the way as well. The most glaring example is the fractured relationship between me, my mother and some step-siblings, aunts and uncles when, inevitably, sides were taken.

I’ve wrestled mightily over this one.

We often look at abusive relationships in black and white. There’s the abuser and the victim. But it’s never that simple. I forgave my mother a long time ago for the darker events of my childhood. I doubt I would have done much better in her shoes. Her marriage to my father was probably doomed from the start, and the break-up was full of rancor. Me and my brother were sick a lot, and one of us didn’t make it.

I didn’t fully appreciate what a body blow that was until I became a parent. After Michael died, she became a suffocating force in my life. I did the same to my own kids until I started dealing with the OCD.

I think she did the best she could under the circumstances. So why has the relationship been cold for four years? There are many reasons. Some her fault, some mine, and a lot of other relationships have been bruised and broken in the process.

There’s a lot I can get into about this, but the simplest answer is that this relationship is a casualty of mental illness and addiction. This one can’t be repaired so easily, because much of my OCD and addictive behavior comes directly from her. She is my biggest trigger.

This is an old story. Mental illness and addiction are almost always a family affair. I was destined to have a binge-eating addiction because both my parents have one. They were never drinkers, though my step-father was. Food was their narcotic. And so it became for me.

My friend on Facebook is in a much different situation from mine, of course. I have no idea if addictions and mental illness are factors in that relationship. And those things don’t have to be a factor, either.

All I know is that you try hard to love your family and everyone else around you. But when the relationship makes life unmanageable, it can’t go on. That’s my own uncomfortable reality.  It’s always worth trying to make things work, but when abuse continues despite all your efforts, it’s time to make a break.

That doesn’t mean you toss that person in the trash heap forever.

I still have my hopes that one of these days I can repair the relationship with my mother. But for now, for the sake of my recovery and for my wife and kids, I have to stand my ground. I don’t have to like it, nor should I. But it’s an unfortunate, sucky necessity.

That’s going to be the case for some relationships whether addiction and depression are part of the problem or not.

My Faith tells me to honor my mother and father. Every time I go into the confession booth at church it’s the first thing I bring up.

One priest put it this way: “Honor thy mother and father doesn’t mean you roll over and allow abuse to continue.”

Yet still I wrestle with it.

But for the sake of my immediate family, recovery has to come first. Without it, I fail EVERYONE.

I hope that’s somewhat helpful to my friend.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Alan Shimel August 18, 2010 at 3:07 am

Bill, but don’t we all have dysfunction in our families? Some more than others I agree. I always used to get a kick out of my aunt who kept a sign up on her ‘fridge that said “Lets put the fun back in Dys-fun-ction”. When it crosses the line to abusive, it is a problem of course. I wonder if disengaging versus trying to work through therapy and so forth is the better course?

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