Then I Spoke Up and That Dysfunctional Family Dynamic Changed

Then for the hundredth time she laughed at our dysfunction. She made a joke she had made a hundred times about how dad had gotten drunk, again, and drove her to a local retail store. He asked her to get out of the car. They stood and looked at a barrel. Dad used that barrel to discuss life being empty and full. All of this because his sister called and said his daughter might be doing drugs. Dad’s way of handling that was to get drunk, drive his daughter somewhere his inebriated mind could come up with, and then use whatever he could to come up with an illustration that would help him basically tell his daughter don’t do drugs. My sister tells this story over and over again and she laughs.

The rest of the room laughs. It took me years to notice. When I did I stopped laughing. I delved deep into myself. Keeping quiet and thinking bad thoughts. I bitched to my adult kids about the dysfunction. About how family get togethers are dysfunctional at best. At how we have no relationship and just show up and make jokes about serious family problems. I get angry. I clam up. I decide to keep showing up, but just not say anything. They keep laughing, we keep not having good relationships, and I keep getting angry.

Despondency sets in. It’s a good point to be at. I finally do something that frees me from their dysfunction. I get fed up with life. I let myself get to the end of myself. Suicide looks better. I decide I want to quit everything. I get really depressed and lose all hope because of my current status quo. I linger in sadness and grief for just enough years to finally get sick of living like that. I decide I need to start speaking up. It feels good. I start gently saying what I want. Reminding people that I exist. That I have an opinion. That I like this or that thing. I start inducing myself into the process. Saying yes and no. I suddenly feel free. I suddenly see that I don’t have to wait for our upcoming move to change my life. The power was with me the whole time. Not the power to change others. The power to change myself. To take control of the situations that keep me in dysfunction.

We sit together at a long country table. Enjoying a home cooked meal. There is meat loaf, potatoes, lots of veges, salad, and homemade pie. The conversation starts nice, but as usual turns to making jokes about serious family problems. No one can say anything without sister making a joke. Isn’t it funny about that time when she was drunk and her small kids kept telling her they didn’t like drinking in the house and that it upset them? Isn’t it funny that time when they woke up and there was a mouse in the dryer, and no one remembers how it got there, or something like that? Don’t kids say the funniest things, like mom quit having people over and drinking so much. She laughs. A few others do to. I feel the need to get quiet. To close up and begin mind bitching. Why is she like this, why do we have to keep doing this, why are they laughing.

I wait until she is done. Until things get quiet and then softly mention that the reason dad got drunk and took her to a barrel to try to tell her he didn’t want her to do drugs was because his family never took the time to teach the man how to communicate like a normal human being. He was NEVER given the time. He had a cold self-centered mother. Someone we all loved, but someone who never gave him affection or taught him anything. He was a grown man who didn’t know what to do with his years of neglect, his deep emotions and love, and who didn’t know how to say simple things. Getting drunk and taking his daughter to a barrel to talk about half empty half full was all he had to give. There is nothing funny about that. Nothing. My sister walks off. I was quiet and gentle but made the point. It’s not funny.

I went home that day and realized that the power to attain the freedom I wanted was right in front of me. I could stand up against dysfunction in non combative ways. I could simply be a person who communicates properly, speaks gently, and stands up for her own values. I didn’t need to be physically removed to experience the freedom I longed for. I simply needed to be the person I wanted to be and speak up. I needed to say that is not funny, but hey can you pass the salt? I didn’t need to remove myself from the family or the table, but simply be me. Be the person I am and not get pulled into the laughter of dysfunction. I had truly found my freedom and hope for the future.

We can’t make others change. We can’t make them accept the damage they did to their children. We can’t make them quit making jokes about it. We can’t make them quit laughing about serious problems. We can’t make them be less obnoxious and more loving, but we can be who we are. We have the power to be us. To stand up for what we believe in. Our values. To maintain our integrity. To not laugh when things aren’t funny. To not get pulled into conversations that are not healthy. To not let unhealthy people dominate us or a conversation. We are free to be and free to not be. The power truly lies with us.

In two Sundays we will gather together again. We will sit at the same long table. Eat similar food. There will be fresh pie. We will talk about things that are not important. Sister will make jokes about serious problems and I will sit quietly and wait my turn to talk and when I do I will be me. I will not laugh at dysfunction. I will stay and smile and participate in the meal and I will maintain who I am. I will speak up when needed to bring a healthy approach to the conversation and I will help others by saving them from diving into her dysfunction. I will make the moment healthy, for my part, let go of what I can’t change, and enjoy that moment in all its dysfunctional family glory.

Marcy Pedersen

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