Taconic Tragedy & Scapegoating

A few weeks ago a woman driving a minivan with 5 children (her own 2, plus 3 nieces) in it collided with a SUV with 3 men on the Taconic Parkway.  The minivan was going the wrong way in the left lane.  Both drivers and all but a 5 year old boy in the minivan (the driver’s son) were killed.  He is recovering in the hospital & expected to survive.  A third car was involved in the accident, but the driver and the passenger survived. 

Initially, it was thought the mother must have fallen ill.  She had called her brother, saying she wasn’t feeling well, couldn’t see properly and was feeling disoriented.  Then reports came out that she’d been driving erratically/recklessly on Route 17 & 87 before she entered the Taconic.  Shortly after the funeral of her and the children, it came out that her BAC was .19  They found the equivalent of 10 drinks in her system and high enough traces of THC to indicate she’d smoked anywhere up to 15 minutes before the crash.  The marijuana and alcohol had a synergistic effect on each other.    And there was a broken 1.75 liter bottle of Absolut in the car.

Now, when I was younger & dumber, I took a few chances I shouldn’t have.  I was very lucky I didn’t hurt myself or others.  But this woman was in her 30s with 5 kids in the car.    Having been driven home drunk a number of times as a child (including one trip where my dad threatened to drive the family car off a bridge), I’ve been following this story closely. 

More than anything, I’m fascinated by how many people are shocked that this could happen.  Addiction and the family dynamics it causes are such a part of the fabric of my early life, that I have to say this story doesn’t shock me.  It saddens me.  But it doesn’t shock me.  Another aspect I find fascinating is how many people are commenting that it had to have been impossible for family members to  not know.  Not realizing how secretive and manipulative alcoholics are and how the people in their inner circle are shamed and coerced into silence about the family disease.    And if the family knew, why didn’t someone intervene?  Again, the questions of someone unacquainted with scapegoating in an alcoholic family.  I finally came across one article  about the tregedy which addresses the scapegoating and its impact on family.   From the article (I’m adding bold to emphasize certain points):

Scapegoating and passing the buck are some of the heartbreaking realities of drug and alcohol abuse. Pain loves a culprit and finger pointing and passing the buck are a constant feature of addicted family systems. All groups want to achieve “homeostasis” or a sort of functional, social balance. When an addict threatens the homeostasis of a family, the family group does what it has to do to “get rid” of the problem. Unfortunately because they are steeped in denial about the extent to which addiction is affecting the family, they often times identify something or someone other than addiction as the problem and set about “dealing” with or getting rid of them, it’s called scapegoating. It provides the family with temporary relief but the deeper problem of addiction is denied, grows and gets worse.

The author also addresses how significantly this changes both the family and the individuals who comprise the family.  I’m going to bold the parts which especially resonate with me:

Everyone in an addicted family system loses their “emotional sobriety”, their ability to think and feel clearly, to some extent of another, getting it back is slow and painstaking work and requires that each person in the system take a hard and honest look at themselves. Many people simply are not willing to do this

We couldn’t even discuss the problem without huge blow ups, finger pointing, pain and blame. Over time we have made progress and that progress has been directly tied to the amount of help each of us has been willing to get. Many years ago I found alanon and it changed my life. For months, maybe even years, it was enough for me just to go to meetings, raise my hand and share for three minutes about the pain and confusion I carried from growing up in an addicted family system without clearing the room or bringing the roof down on my head. No one shouted at me, no one called me a big mouth, overly dramatic or said I had a poison tongue. No one left the room, slammed the door or stopped talking to me. They quietly nodded their heads, identified with me and shared their version of their story which sounded flabbergastingly like mine. I began to heal.

Much like my experience, even the cessation of drinking doesn’t change the underlying dynamics if individual family members refuse to do the emotional work.  Unfortunately, neither my mother or my brother or my SIL are willing to do the work.  Being exiled from that community has been a lonely and bewildering experience.  But fortunately, I didn’t limit my community to them.  I was working on a community all along of friends and extended family members.    That has made it possible for me to have the strength I need to go on and function.  I hope I’ve been able to help others along the way too.   

I’m glad to see this article acknowledging a little known and little discussed aspect of dealing with a family addiction.  Thanks to Dr. Dayton for writing it.

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