So many people in my age bracket and younger have suffered in some way. Richard Bach of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and other powerful books collected and published a group of mini-essays which he titled "Thank You, Wicked Parents." I found it very powerful and moving as it set forth how many who had suffered terrible abuse and mistreatment used that to build strength and become a better person than the environment they had known.
I did not have to cope with alcoholism, drug abuse, martial infidelity or severe physical or sexual abuse; I was actually lucky. Still, I hate and shun what I call "drama" and the emotional blackmail that goes with it. Thus this essay. I hope some may find a sense that they are not alone when they read it. Please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to share or comment privately. I may attempt something different but parallel to Bach's effort in time. GMW
An Allergy to Drama
I suppose most families have their drama ruler, king or queen. It’s the person who manages to keep everyone stirred up, hog center stage, and manipulate events and situations constantly and continually. In my family it was my dad, absolutely and unequivocally. Once I was long away from that environment of my youth and had gained mature understanding I realized he had serious mental and emotional problems. An excuse? That I cannot say.
But he exhibited everything from bipolar disorder to paranoia, delusions—both of grandeur or importance and persecution, and other ills. He had a total inability to accept any blame for his numerous failures and mistakes. They always had to be someone else’s fault and the result of either malfeasance on their part or some wicked conspiracy “out to get” him. All of these traits worsened as he got older and more of his dreams, plans and schemes failed to pan out.
My mother was very quiet, almost mousy. To my knowledge she only told him no, I mean really no, like hell no and stomp a foot for emphasis, a very few times. When she did so, I believe he really listened but this was a most rare occurrence. Until I finally left home, I never dared to do so although I perfected silent and subtle disobedience and a kind of quiet contempt to a fine art over the years. Yet I always wanted approval and even conned myself into believing some of those schemes; he was very convincing at times.
At any rate, our family dynamic revolved totally and solely around him and whatever his latest passion, scheme or pet peeve might be. He thrived on crises and if none conveniently emerged, he was not above creating them. In fact, he did so regularly. One of his favorite rants was, “We cannot go on with business as usual!” (This is an emergency/catastrophe/life-or-death event etc. ad nauseum.) In fact, ‘business as usual” (read that as calm, orderly, quiet attending to the normal chores and tasks of daily life) was anathema to him.
He was probably addicted to the adrenaline rush of panic, crisis and code-red situations as well as at least subconsciously realizing that put him in the driver’s seat, center stage, large and in charge. It was the license to issue orders, make demands and crack at least a verbal whip over the rest of the family. He was a master at all of that.
In time I came to hate the whole lifestyle. How many holidays were ruined by one of his tantrums about some imagined emergency and inevitable need to ignore the Christmas, Easter, birthday or other very small celebration? (Small because we were always on the edge of poverty if not deep into it). To this day I really do not enjoy holidays or family get-togethers because of the long shadow this cast over them.
The trend toward drama seemed to extend to all his siblings and I suspect came from their mother who I never really knew. There were five of them. The eldest sister never married and basically retreated from life at about forty five or so and never worked again and seldom even went anywhere. The second sister was a ditsy fashionista and ‘artsy’ and had one short-lived unhappy marriage. Dad managed a forty six year marriage but only because Mom would not ever leave. The younger sister had one short though apparently happy marriage but lost her husband to a leukemia type disease very early and remained single until her two sons were grown and the elder was ill with the results of long term Type 1 diabetes. The “baby” brother had one stormy marriage that ended in serious acrimony and a string of lady friends, before, during and after that relationship. In retrospect none of them ever seemed very happy.
Once I finally got out on my own, I began a gradual but very deliberate and determined effort to avoid all forms of drama. Even when I was quite angry, fearful, upset or frustrated, I worked hard to maintain an outward appearance of calm and control. I deplored tantrums and still do although I do have a naturally violent and explosive temper. I bottle it up fiercely until I can let go in some private and undangerous way. I also absolutely despise what I call “emotional blackmail” which I consider the most cruel, vicious and destructive kind of verbal abuse.
I admit that the last few years I find myself growing more irritable and much less patient but I still strive to keep a calm and controlled demeanor and not to take my moods out on others, especially any innocent soul who has no idea what has upset me and is probably totally blameless. Mostly I manage to do so. And when I do not, I am upset with myself and strive even harder to do better. I will not be my dad or anything remotely similar!
Still, as I look around me, I am appalled at how many people either thrive on or may be addicted to “drama.” Some seem to draw it like a magnet, even while they frequently and sometimes loudly bewail their tormented and tempestuous lives and act very put upon by all the “others” who visit these calamities on them.
Observing this, I often ask, at least to myself, do they really hate it or do they stir the pot—maybe even without realizing it—because they, too, cannot abide “business as usual?” Maybe a state of tumult is business as usual for them but it gives me mental and spiritual hives! It makes my brain and soul itch like mad—and there is no way to scratch it. Like with any allergen, I try to simply avoid it and get away from that environment. If I must endure, it is a suffering I hate to experience and I escape it as soon as I can.