My next several blog posts are all related to the same topic. They deal with something that happened to me in July of 1988. My Dad had died the previous Thanksgiving, and I was still in the grief process over that loss. As well, I was still involved with a 12 step program for people who had grown up around alcoholism. That group had grown to be like a family for me. Yet I had seen several situations where I needed to back away from people in that group, because the dynamic wasn’t healthy for me.
Then something happened that was one of the shocking turning points in my life. I have given a brief description of it in my blog post “Talk of Tigers/The Tiger Unveiled.” A group of people led a group interaction to confront me. It wasn’t like an intervention intervention where there is advanced planning, careful preparation, and a professional is retained to keep the process on track. Instead it was a testimony to the frightening power of codependency, and to the scariest aspect of a group working themselves up into a frenzy. In that state, things happen that normally would not. Those things happened to me.
This event will be the focus of an upcoming book I will publish entitled “Healing My Anger – Defusing A Time Bomb.” These posts that will follow are several of the key components of that book. They don’t tell the whole story, but give greater depth perception to it. For some reason, I am being led to share these pieces right now. I think because it’s time to speak out, confront the sickness, and how the offenders can be protected and sheltered by a family system.
But I must also share what I did in response, which was a key to my whole recovery process.
My next three posts will be:
1) The Betrayal
(Written April 10, 1990)
July 23, 1988
As they sat down in a booth at Denny’s, what went through his mind was, “Oh, my God, this feels like an intervention.” There were six of them, and one of him. They had gotten him out of bed that night – he’d gone to bed early – and said they wanted to buy him dinner. From the first his intuition was that something was wrong. The people who came to his back door didn’t fit together – some of them didn’t even like each other. And they wanted to buy him dinner? This late? But he had gone along with them – because he trusted them, gave power to their words – in a sense they were like family.
He had seen these people earlier in the evening at a party. He had been in a lot of pain – because of grief over his Dad’s death, but also the pain of knowing that he must move on from some of these people. He loved them dearly, but he had to detach from them, for his own well being, to save himself. So when it got too emotionally crowded at the party, he went home.
Now as he sat in the middle of the booth, against the wall, surrounded by these people – trapped in a sense – his thought was: listen to what they have to say. Give them the benefit of the doubt – don’t get angry and get up and leave. Trust them. They began talking. They told him they wanted to confront his pattern of backing away from people. That felt strange. Couldn’t that have waited until tomorrow? They said they were doing this out of love. As he looked at them, they looked frightened, agitated. They made statements that sounded reasonable, but in some way sounded angry. The things they said about him could have been true about them as well. It sounded like they were describing themselves, but they were saying it was about him.
He grew confused. For years these people had been praising his steps toward health – now they were saying he was sick. They told him many things he “should” be doing. That was more confusing – some of these people weren’t even doing what they were telling him to do. It felt like nothing was good enough, or right enough. He began to feel that he could have been a complete saint and not have measured up in their eyes. He felt crushed under the weight of their expectations. He began to feel a sense of unreality.
Then came the talk of fear of him committing suicide. He grew more confused – where had that come from? He tried to explain, to tell them he knew what was going on with him, he was OK. As he looked at each person, he could see that they doubted. They had already decided not to believe him. It hurt. It hurt a lot. He began retreating, hiding inside himself, in a corner of his mind.
Their words grew more hurtful, more demanding. They were accusing him of things, diagnosing him – telling him how sick he was. Some of them grew more angry, more insistent. Other statements sounded loving, but underneath was a passive anger, an attempt to rob his reality, to take away the essence of who he was. He picked up on several statements of his that had been warped out of context. They brought up things that he had said to one person in confidence. He told them he did not feel it appropriate to tell them everything – it should be discussed with some of them privately, when he was ready, but not in front of a group. But they went on. Hammering, pressing. And he was alone. Against six people. There was no neutral person there, and he had no allies. He was alone. The weight of the numbers bore down on him, crushing him. He grew numb, withdrew into a shell. They mentioned love again, and took him home.
Two days later it hit. He cried deeply, and for a long time, in the arms of two friends. His inner child cried out, “They tried to kill me. They tried to take away all I was. Someone protect me from them. My God, I was so alone.” And so he sobbed.
Several days after that, he found out the truth. They had spread a rumor about him at the party. That he was in deep emotional distress, and that he might even be at home contemplating suicide. It was not true. Had he been suicidal, he would have done it that night after they took him home.
But things began to make more sense. He began to talk to people who had been at the party. They gave their feedback. Two people mentioned the talk of impending suicide. Others used phrases like “mass hysteria,” and “little secret talking sessions.” One person had encouraged them to wait a few days. One person he had been talking to recently and who knew his emotional state had wanted to go along, but had been told “there are already enough people going.” His one ally had been denied him. It began to have the feel of a mob scene, people whipping themselves into a frenzy. He began to think back. He had seen each of the people when they first came to the party, and he now remembered that each looked agitated and strange even then.
He began to feel the violation, the irrational insanity of it all. He grew angry. He said so. You got the wrong guy. You got the wrong guy!
And then – they turned their backs on him. The rest of the family closed in to comfort and protect the offenders, clean up the mess, and hide the evidence – which was him. So he got the closeout. The big chill. Gradually they made it clear he was no longer welcome. A curtain of silence began to fall over the incident. He said it didn’t bother him, it didn’t matter. But behind his masks and walls he was a deeply sensitive young man, and it hurt – in some ways it hurt more than the original violation. He hadn’t experienced this before. He had been popular within the family; now to be an outcast was a terrible, cruel punishment. He checked it out with people, to validate his reality. It was confirmed – no one mentioned him much any more.
He went away for a time, to lick his wounds, to let the hurts begin to heal. He began to deal with the deep anger welling up inside him. Gradually he grew stronger once again. He cleared out some of the hurtful messages they had burned into his brain. He came back and began to reclaim those things they had tried to take away from him. His sense of safety. His ability to trust.
And he went on. But he remembered. He would probably always feel a twinge around that incident. It left a scar. He tried to make sense of it, to understand it. He used words – soul rape, emotional incest. They helped him see. The family had betrayed him.
And left him to clean up their wreckage. He wasn’t the first. Doubtless not the last. But he would bear witness. In some way he would give testimony. He would no longer remain silent before the concept of – The Betrayal.
Note: I later got in touch with the feelings of that night by watching the movie “The Accused,” where Jodie Foster played a young woman gang raped in a bar.