“This Is Us” is Currently My Family Therapy

Trigger Warning: Addiction, death and This is Us spoilers….

I just finished watching the episode in This Is Us -where Jack experiences the death of his mother. It’s in the most recent season, which will be the last season of the show. The reason that I have loved the show is that it has often helped me to understand some things about my own family that I had not been able to put into words. This particular episode does this to a T.

The episode begins with Jack getting a phone call from his cousin Debbie to let him know that his mother has died. Through flashbacks, we see how Jack had helped his mom to escape a situation at home with an alcoholic husband and violent domestic abuse. Throughout the show, over the years, we have seen how growing up in this alcoholic home has impacted Jack, his brother Nicky, and the subsequent generations in their family. Because addiction is a generational disease and it affects the future generations in ways that are often not completely understood.

When the episode cuts to Jack showing up for his mother‘s funeral, we find out that it has been 13 years since he has been to see her in Ohio, where she had moved in with her cousin Debbie after escaping from her husband. Jack finds that he knew nothing about the life of his mother in Ohio, even though they talked every Sunday evening on the phone at 6 PM. His mother had made a new life, with new friends and pets and even a loving boyfriend. The people in Ohio knew her as happy, something Jack had never seen. We see excerpts of the Sunday night phone calls between Jack and his Mom, and how awkward and uncomfortable they were and how in spite of a fierce love that they had for one another, they were not able to find anything to talk about. Nevertheless they continue to speak every Sunday at 6 PM for years and years.

Jack is filled with grief and remorse when he realizes that he has allowed this distance between him and his mother to rob him of a relationship with her and to rob his kids of a relationship with their grandmother. It is incredibly incredibly sad.  There are excuses of course. Jack has triplets and a very busy job, and the drive to Ohio is six hours and certainly not something fun to do with three small children. We see a glimpse of the one time that Jack’s mother tried to visit her grandchildren at Jack’s home and how she could not relax -because she kept thinking that her ex-husband was going to know if she was there and would somehow show up to confront her. So her visiting there was not an option.

Needless to say, those of you who know me are aware of how much this stirred up my own feelings of sadness around the distance both physical and emotional between me and my brother and his family. It’s literally almost the identical situation. He couldn’t come home because it was too painful for him and I couldn’t visit there because my hands were full up here with problems that he was running away from. The situation is understandable but nevertheless the fallout affects the children -who end up not having a relationship with their family members for reasons that have nothing to do with them.

Everyone is a loser in this situation. The older family members never get to have relationships with the children of their children or siblings. The children miss out on an entire family history and the stories that go along with it, the stories of their own ancestry. Entire branches of the family get severed from the tree. All because of addiction and abuse.

The extremely sad part is that it even affects the family members who were allies when they were living all together in the addicted house. Once they leave the addicted house they no longer are allies. At that point, they just become grim reminders to one another…. grim reminders to one another of the hurt and abuse and loneliness that was felt in that addicted home. So even though they may love each other with all that they know- they will avoid one another because being in the presence of that other person is too powerful a reminder of the pain that they endured together.

This is what addiction does to families. This is what addiction did to my family. This is why I don’t go to parties where people are drinking and I don’t spend time in restaurants and bars where people are getting drunk. This is why I don’t want drinking people in my life and why I feel safer, so so much safer around people who don’t use alcohol or drugs. This is why I will not stay for ONE NIGHT in the same house with someone who is abusing alcohol or drugs. This is why I get so angry- that almost every activity and holiday and celebration in our culture revolves around alcohol. 

Do you know that it wasn’t until I became an evangelical Christian at the age of 27 that I actually met people in the church who did not drink? That there is a whole branch of Christianity that considers alcohol a problem? I grew up Catholic and alcohol is not considered a problem at all in the Catholic Church- in fact it is a large part of most of Catholic culture. So it wasn’t until I was no longer a Catholic, and began to worship with other types of churches, that I came to understand that there were some believers who chose not to drink because they felt it was dangerous. As it is. That there are actually many passages in the Bible that talk about drunkenness and that none of them have anything positive to say about it. That the passage in scripture that hit me over the head with a 2 x 4 and got me sober had to do with drunkards not being acceptable in the kingdom of God?

I don’t know what the answer is or if any of this will ever be fixable. But I just needed to say this out loud🙏

My family is still broken as a result of stuff that happened 45 years ago. And it will probably never be fixed.

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