I had a text convo recently with one of my nieces, which included some discussion of the fucked-up dynamics of my generation of our family.
She happens to be an only child in her mid-20’s, whose father is currently not speaking to her, for reasons that are not mine to explain here but are fairly complicated. Suffice it to say, she made about the best choice that she could have, given the circumstances: she faced the truth of her situation and dealt with it, and didn’t pretend it didn’t exist, and didn’t thereby set herself and others up for problems later on.
She is taking the parental shunning reasonably well, with the clear knowledge that this is not something that a healthy parent does. (I forgot to tell her about how my mom once stopped speaking to me at about the same age, because she “didn’t like my tone” of something I said to her on the phone, and she insisted I had to apologize. We didn’t speak for about a year and a half.)
Anyway, in the course of this text convo, I told her that while I know that being an only child has its downside, she could also consider herself lucky not to have siblings. And then I went on to say,
“Actually I figured out that I am not so much the baby of the family as I am kind of an only. I’m my dad’s only child.”
Which was something I had sort of realized before, but not in so many words. Not quite in the way that it struck me this time.
Then I thought about how the Triumvirate is basically Mom’s “real” family. I am reasonably certain that Mom had those first three kids and considered herself to be done. Her family was complete. The three of them do have that bond of sibling and family loyalty that (a) doesn’t extend to the rest of us and (b) seems to be instilled by a mother who creates and defines what a family is.
And then I thought, OK, so if the Triumvirate are Mom’s “real” kids, and I’m Dad’s “only child” — that leaves my two youngest brothers out completely. At best they are grudging additions to Mom’s “real” family. Given that neither of them made the choice to go with Mom when our parents divorced, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that bond wasn’t terribly strong.
And then I thought about this article that I read recently:
“The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself…
“The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs… The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did…
“The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.”
“This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.
“So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”
And those two brothers are the ones with dependency problems.
So much damage.