By Joyce Alexander, RNP (Retired)
I often go to auctions and flea markets looking for “hidden treasures” to add to my collection of pottery and handmade baskets of split oak. One of the things I have learned to do is to look for subtle or hidden flaws in the things that I like to collect.
It isn’t uncommon to find pottery items that have been chipped or broken and then carefully mended. Sometimes the cracks are very subtle and difficult to detect. It isn’t unusual for me to see an item and get all “excited” about it, then upon closer inspection, find that there are some hidden cracks.
I got to thinking about the “hidden cracks” that are found in dysfunctional families as well. In my own, for example, we as a group tried to keep our “cracks” hidden from the community. As a teenager I frequently had something I wanted to do nixed by the adults with the phrase, “what would the neighbors think if they knew you did X, Y or Z?” It didn’t seem so much to be the actual act of doing something, but more about what the neighbors might think. Usually the thing I wanted to do that was denied was going to a school dance.
As I was growing up, I never thought of my own family as “abusive” or “dysfunctional,” though I did see other families with problems, such as alcoholism, infidelity or wife beating. My family would gossip about these people derisively, and I thought that our family was “better than” these other families because we didn’t engage in such antisocial behavior. (Little did I know!)
My uncle, the alcoholic wife beater
However, my mother’s brother (who I believe was a psychopath) was an alcoholic and a wife beater, but these facts were kept hidden from me and from the community at large until I was an adult. At that time, my uncle and his wife had (gasp!) gotten a divorce and he moved from out of state, where he and his wife had lived for many years, to our small farming community and built a house on part of my grandparents’ lands. (The part intended for him to inherit after my grandparents died.)
Of course, with him living in the community and being a “public drunk,” it was now no longer possible for my grandparents to hide either his alcoholism or his beating of his frequently changing girlfriends, who would run to the neighbors with black eyes, seeking immediate shelter. The cat was out of the bag and the community knew about my uncle’s antics. Even with this exposure in the community, my grandparents and my mother tried to keep up the façade, and seldom talked about what was going on with my uncle.
On the infrequent occasions when he would show up at our little local church and sit through a sermon, the hope was that he was finally getting sober. When he would go to rehab at the VA and spend a few days or weeks, the hope was again rekindled that this time he would change. Of course he never did.
My son, the murderer
When my son Patrick was arrested in Texas for murdering Jessica Witt in 1992, I, too, tried to keep up the facade of “being a nice normal family,” and kept the facts secret from all but my closest friends. If one of my extended family of cousins, or someone from the community, asked about my kids and where they were and what they were doing, I said that Patrick “lived in Texas and worked for the State of Texas.” This actually was “true,” as he was required by the Texas prison system to have a “job” inside prison. It wasn’t a “lie” I told myself, just not “the whole truth.”
Of course it was deception; it was hiding the crack in my “pottery” and trying to pass it off as “whole.” I felt shame that my son was a criminal. Somehow him being a criminal, a psychopath, reflected on me, and on my family. We weren’t really a “nice normal family,” but as long as I could keep the truth, the whole truth, from the community, then I didn’t have to feel the public shame of my son, my beloved son, being a common criminal, a monster. We could pretend to be a “nice normal family.”
Afraid to admit
When I first started writing articles here on LoveFraud, I posted them under my screen name of “Ox Drover,” because I still wasn’t ready to come out of the “closet” and admit publicly that my family was not “whole” and “normal.” Not ready to admit that I, as a mental health care professional, had failed so miserably in my own life.
As I healed, though, I came to realize that the shame is not mine, and should not be mine. I have done nothing “wrong.” I am not the one who killed Jessica, and I am not the one who should feel shame for Patrick having done so. Patrick is the one who should feel shame, though I know that he is actually proud of how violent his crime was.
I still don’t walk down the street with a sign of my back proclaiming “my son is a criminal,” but I no longer pretend that he isn’t, and if it is appropriate, I tell someone the whole truth, rather than cover it up.
Speaking in open court
Like many communities, especially small ones, the gossip flows hot and heavy. I have no doubt that people “talk about” the things that happened to our family back when the Trojan Horse psychopath, that my son sent to kill me, was arrested and caught having an affair with my other son’s wife. Both he and she went to jail/prison for trying to kill her husband and stealing money from my mother.
The day that I stood in front of the judge at the bail hearing for my daughter-in-law and the Trojan horse psychopath, and told in open court, in front of people I knew, what had happened, that they had been caught trying to kill my son, stolen money from my mother, and had taken “dirty pictures” in my mother’s home, I was so nervous I literally couldn’t see further than the ends of my eye lashes. My heart must have been beating 500 beats per minute as I stood there, baring for the entire community, the shame of our family falling apart.
It shouldn’t have been my shame, though. The people who did the bad acts should have owned it, but they didn’t. In fact, when the judge spoke to my daughter-in-law about her ties to the community (before he set bail), he asked her who she had in the community and she actually said, “Well, my husband’s family.” I almost choked that she would say such a thing after trying to kill her husband. The judge set her bail at $150,000. The district attorney said that without my “speech” to the judge, the bail would probably have been $2,500 or less.
The dysfunctional cracks in our family became totally public in that courtroom, and then again, a year later, when I had to testify at my son’s divorce hearing. I never did figure out why my daughter-in-law even showed up for the divorce hearing, along with the “support person” from the domestic violence shelter, where the court had released her when they let her out of jail, because she was homeless and had no other place to go. I found out later she had told the people at the shelter how she had been “abused” by her husband and his terrible family, especially me, the “mother-in-law from hell.” I never did understand why the support person with her from the shelter couldn’t figure out that my daughter-in-law was the one on probation, not her family.
Focusing on myself
Time has passed now, and I have started to focus on myself, my own enabling, my own cracks, and how I have patched them. The whole thing started out by focusing on “them” and how to cope with “them,” but now I am focusing on myself, focusing on the things I need to do to heal myself.
While a pottery vessel that is cracked can never be made “whole” again, it can still be functional and beautiful. I even sometimes now buy a piece of pottery I like, or a basket that has been mended, or one that needs mending, because I realize that being marred by chip or two doesn’t distract from either the beauty or usefulness of an item. Just as the “mended cracks” in my spirit and in my life I think don’t detract from either my own beauty or usefulness.
I also realize that the patina of wear and use in an antique item doesn’t make it less valuable than an identical item that is “new,” instead, they add to the value. We may not be a “nice, normal family” like my grandparents and my mother pretended we were, but there are some fantastic individuals in it, and those that are not “fantastic individuals” aren’t going to slime the rest of us with their shame. I’ll hold my head up both in my home and in my community, and if others gossip about us, that’s okay. If they are talking about me, they are leaving some other poor soul alone!
If you look closely you may see my Mended Cracks, but I’m no longer ashamed of them.