Hello, I’m an early 40sish adult daughter of 2 alcoholics. And it’s very likely my mother, who no longer drinks, is a narcissist or at least has narcissistic tendencies. My brother is an alcoholic in recovery, as are my sister in law and my stepdad. I’ve been reading ACOA literature since the mid 80s. I would always skip over the scapegoat parts because scapegoats divert attention from the dysfunction by acting as a lightening rod for criticism and punishment by acting out. They get in trouble with the law, in school and the family focuses in on that instead of dealing with the alcoholism or other dysfunction.
As a child, I was actually afraid to take the tag off of the matress or pillow because I’d read the tag. When I borrowed a cookbook from the library, I was afraid to copy the recipe (to keep from spilling or getting anything on a library book) because I read the copyright page. So I wasn’t really the getting into trouble outside of the home type. But there’s a different way you can earn the title of scapegoat. By truth telling. Truth tellers are scapegoated because even if we don’t directly name the problem, we ask questions that lead to it.
One common metaphor for alcoholism in families is the elephant in the room. I didn’t directly ask, “hey what’s with the elephant in the living room?” But if I was kept awake at night by the elephant noises (my parents fighting/the police showing up) or if I stepped in elephant poop (a living room disordered by things thrown in anger), I would ask things like:
Did anyone else hear the elephant noises last night?
Why is there elephant poop on the living room floor?
My father was an equal opportunity alcoholic. He would lash out at anyone who crossed his path when he was drunk or hungover. My mother was a bit more selective. It was mostly my father when they lived together. But when he moved out shortly before I turned 13, it became me. And my mother would encourage my brother to join in. This would happen whether she was drunk or sober.
When I was 20, my dad tried to get sober for the first time. It took a few tries. But when he got involved in AA, his amends step included apologizing to me and my brother and acknowledging what the alcoholism had done to our family. The problem behavior stopped and he made genuinine efforts to improve our relationship.
Even when my mother stopped drinking, the closest I ever got to an apology was “As the child of an alcoholic, I know how difficult it can be”. I took the olive branch and tried to have a relationship with her. But the scapegoating continued.
After being excluded from various parts of my brother’s wedding (e.g. the only family member not seated with the bride & groom while a friend of bro’s & his wife were, being left out of photos until after dinner was done), I didn’t want to rock the boat. Oh & mom spent the day criticizing the fact that I bought yogurt for breakfast, apparently it rivals Tiffany’s jewelry for expense & for staying at a different hotel. I lied & said I got a better deal, but the truth is I didn’t want to deal with her and have to worry about a blowup or meltdown affecting the happy couple’s big day. I was polite and civil to her. And even the idiot of a couple she insisted on inviting even though they didn’t know my brother or SIL or their last names. And this was a wedding which was supposed to have a total of 22 people including the bride & groom before my mom insisted on inviting these 2.
The husband starts in with “so your mom wants to know when it’s going to be your turn.” As a single woman in my 40s, I sometimes get this line of questioning. Anyone with any manners or social skills whatsoever drops it when I say, “when I meet the right man”. Not this idiot, he just kept going. And guess who I got to sit next to at dinner? The hairdresser for the bride who no one knew either was supposed to be sitting on the other side, but she declined to stay so they took that chair/place setting away. The only other people besides this couple, were my bro’s friend who kept leaving the table, even during dinner, his AA sponsor & his wife and one of bro’s friends. Bro’s friend is also in AA and got into a very deep kindred spirits conversation on AA which I didn’t want to interrupt. The sponsor’s wife couldn’t hear me across the table. After dinner was over, I excused myself from the table.
Bro & SIL were the ones who broached the exclusion topic, calling me to apologize the next day. I accepted it and was willing to move on right there, but SIL wanted to have a “honest” conversation about it because she felt it was important to our SIL relationship. I didn’t really want to hear (I was literally leaving the hotel to go drop off my rental car at the airport & meet up with a good friend who I was visiting) it, but I listened as she went on about how it was an oversight, etc. Then bro got on the phone with the same routine. I accepted the apologies, told them no hard feelings, have a great honeymoon.
Well, upon their return from their honeymoon, they call me again. Turns out I was excluded from certain things because they were worried about tension with my mom. So much for “honest” SIL communication huh? Bro knows what went on with my mom & continues to go on. SIL didn’t and I hadn’t said anything up to that point. But she decides she knows enough about the situation (despite having met me all of 2x) to start in on the “Your mother loves you very much” routine. My mom has told me explicitly that she will not change when I try to confront her on hurtful things. Yet, she likes to play the victim/martyr and tells other family members that she loves me and wants a better relationship. This has caused some serious tension in some of my other relationships. My wonderful grand aunt and I had some tense talks over this. Until I finally started telling her verbatim what my mom has said to me. I didn’t want to drag her in the middle, but I had no choice. It’s also caused tension with me and my brother. Our previous blow up a few years back had been over her, so I’d been careful not to say negative things about her to him. I decided to acknowledge we both had very different relationships with her and respect his. All I wanted was for mine to be respected to and SIL had clearly crossed a boundary as she knew at least something of the issues.
So I told her some of the highlights such as:
- when my dad was in the hospital for the last time before he died, I had to sign the DNR. I told her this when I got home. They were embroiled in a legal dispute and she said to me, “I hope the bastard dies” before the legal dispute was settled. She got her wish btw. Then she went to console my bro, because he was “losing his father”. WTF?!! If it weren’t for the fact that I look so much like my dad and his side of the family, I’d be wondering if she wanted to have a chat about my paternity!
- when my father passed away, my mother was living out of state. She wanted to “comfort” her children, but could only afford to fly one to her & it would have to be bro because he needed it more. Shortly thereafter, she found money to visit her boyfriend
- when she had a mastectomy (she’s doing well as far as marker tests, etc. go now), I took off 2 weeks from work, paid for a plane ticket to where she lives. She screamed at me whenever I asked the nurse questions about the care. She was like that before she got sick, so it’s not like it was because she was scared of in pain. The last time I’d seen her, I’d been at an all my all time high weight. I had lost 25 pounds. She lectured me on how I’d better lose more or I’d get breast cancer too. Bro, who was in prison at the time, managed to get a friend to send her flowers for Mother’s Day. I got to hear her gushing about what a wonderful son he was.
This was all dismissed by her as typical dysfunctional family stuff. I got off the phone because I was getting angry. I tried calling the next day to find out from bro who exactly had made the decision to seat me away from them and next to the idiot. And I wanted to talk about boundaries re: the mom issue. Even though we had just talked the day before & it was likely he knew something was up, he fit me in the few minutes he had between an AA meeting and dinner. I felt dismissed. I wrote an angry email about toxic families, which I apologized for a few hours later. I followed it up with a longer one which explained where I was coming from.
The next day, I get a voice mail that he’s going to need days to process this, but I’m “not being punished”? WTF? But that night, he sends a link to photos to my mom and not to me. Even though we’d discussed sending on photos (as they wouldn’t be still long enough for me to get photos other than what I could get candidly) as a way of “making it right”. I gave it a day. When I still hadn’t heard anything, I called and he wasn’t taking my calls. I sent/left some angry voice mail/email messages. That Saturday, same drill. He sends me an email telling me he won’t engage and he needs a break.
I’m willing to admit my anger wasn’t expressed appopriately and I need to own it, take responsibility for it and work on it. But what about their treatement of me? It seems they’re only willing to take the most facile, superficial responsibility for it. And when they crossed boundaries and brought up uncomfortable issues, they ran like the piece of bleep, bleepin’ cowards they are. At this point, I don’t care if they ever resume contact. I’m not sure I want contact with them.
I started short term therapy as a way of coming to terms with all of this. The work there led to the information about truth telling and scapegoating. Now that I’m aware that I am the scapegoat, I’m resigning and there will be no 2 weeks notice. It feels good not to be the scapegoat any more.