I am so pleased to be able to share some of my story with the broader public via the generosity of the people at ET and the warmth and kindness of Cameron Matthison. If you missed the interview on air, here it is in it’s longer version.
I grew up in an alcoholic family system. The illness in my family effected all who were in it, or around it. It took me years to recover. To this day, my recovery is a practice, a never ending series of decisions and growing awarenesses.
I have learned that alcoholism is only one face of addiction. There are many things to have addictive relationships with: anger, sex, shopping, food, exercise, TV, sugar, drugs, pills, work, gambling, even the internet! Here is a good definition of addiction from Psychology Today. In effect, addiction is a compulsive reaction to stressors, a need to take action rather than deal with or “feel through” the feeling that is bothering you.
Typically, an addict will deny their behavior because they feel it is essential to their surviving whatever stress they feel. Addiction is compulsive and yet cunning. It is important to note that being an addict doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a person who has something to overcome. So many of today’s heroes are people who have overcome great obstacles!
In order to help myself overcome what I experienced growing up, I find it is very helpful to continue to look at the behavior and emotions around alcoholism/addiction, as well as its effect on those around it.
The following is attributed to a book that is, unfortunately, no longer available by M. Davis, called “Surviving An Alcoholic Family.” I find it a very clear description of the roles we are often assigned in a family struggling with alcoholism/addiction. If you recognize yourself in one of these roles, please do not feel ashamed or hurt by it. You are also not a bad person, but someone who is seeking wisdom and happiness! Those who seek are those who want to find!
Awareness is always the first step toward healing.
- other family members revolve around this person
- likely to be experiencing quite a bit of pain and shame even though they may not see it as the result of excessive alcohol or drug use
- as things get worse, the alcoholic is faced with increasing feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, fear, and loneliness
- develop a number of defenses to hide their shame and guilt – may include irrational anger, charm, rigidity, grandiosity, perfectionism, social withdrawal, hostility, and depression
- project blame or responsibility for their problems onto others including family members who take on unhealthy roles in order to survive
- children of alcoholics feel guilty for their failure to save their parents from the effects of alcohol
- “The alcoholic parent is not satisfied with his own childhood, he wants yours too… When the father vanishes into alcohol, the son/daughter lingers and lingers, searching for a lost part of him/herself.”
- steps up and takes control if the alcoholic loses power
- enabling is anything that protects the chemically dependent person from the consequences of their actions
- spouse often takes on the role, but children and siblings can also be enablers (multigenerational alcoholic families will sometimes designate a child in this role, a sign of more serious pathology)
- tends to everyone’s needs in the family
- loses sense of self in tasks of a domestic nature
- never takes the time to assess his/her own needs and feelings
- person never gains what they need most in order to get better: insight
- never are confronted with the facts that would drive home the point: drugs or alcohol are destroying their lives and their family
- as long as the enabler and the chemically dependent family members play their game of mutual self-deception, things never get better – they get worse
- others cannot bond with the caretaker due to the bustle of activity
Caretaker’s purpose: to maintain appropriate appearances to the outside world.
- high achiever; takes focus off the alcoholic because of his/her success; perfectionist; feels inadequate; compulsive; can become a workaholic
- alcoholic bestows this role onto the individual whose accomplishments compensate for the alcoholic’s behavior
- often the oldest child who may see more of the family’s situation and feels responsible for fixing the family pain
- child excels in academics, athletics, music or theatre
- gets self worth from being “special”
- rest of family also gets self worth (“we can’t be that bad if one of us is successful”) – his/her deeds assure the family that their definition is more than alcohol
- hero does not receive attention for anything besides an achievement; therefore, inner needs are not met
- he/she loses the ability to feel satisfied by whatever feat he/she has manifested
- as things get worse, the hero is driven to higher and higher levels of achievement. No level of super responsible, perfectionist, over achievement can remove the hero’s internalized feelings of inadequacy, pain, and confusion
- many others grow up to become workaholics and live under constant stress as they work in the service of others seeking approval for their extraordinary effort
- they often end up distancing themselves from their family of origin
- interestingly, many family heroes grow to marry alcoholics and become enablers
Hero’s purpose: to raise the esteem of the family.
- goes against rules; acts out to take the focus off the alcoholic; feels hurt & guilt; because of behavior, can bring help to family
- lightening rod for family pain and stress
- direct message is that they are responsible for the family’s chaos
- family assigns all ills to the person who harbors this role, e.g. “Mom would not drink so much if (Scapegoat’s name) were not always in trouble.”
- in reality the misbehavior of the Scapegoat serves to distract and provide some relief from the stress of chemical dependency
- child has issues with authority figures as well as negative consequences with the law, school and home
- on the inside the child is a mass of frozen feelings of anger and pain
- may show self-pity, strong identification with peer values, defiance, and hostility or even suicidal gestures
- this role may seem strange in purpose. However, if there were no scapegoat, all other roles would dismantle. He/she allows others a pretense of control
- alcohol is not identified as an issue – often, the scapegoat is identified as ‘The Problem.’
Scrapegoat’s purpose: puts the focus away from alcohol thereby allowing the alcoholic to continue drinking.
- uses humor to lighten difficult family situations; feels fear; others see him/her as being immature; limited by bringing humor to all situations even if inappropriate
- this individual most popular in the family; brings fun and humour into the family
- learn to work hard at getting attention and making people laugh especially when the anger and tension of substance use are dangerously high
- often named a class clown in school; frequently demonstrates poor timing for the comic relief; most people don’t take this child seriously
- often hyperactive, charmers, or cute
- inside, they feel lonely knowing no one really knows the real person behind the clown’s mask
- may grow up unable to express deep feelings of compassion
- may put themselves down often as well as cover up their pain with humour
- accepts laughter as approval, but the humor serves to hide inner painful feelings
- the laughter prevents healing rather than produces it
Mascot’s purpose: to provide levity to the family; to relieve stress and tension by distracting everyone.
- no connection to family; brings relief to family by not bringing attention to the family; feels lonely; does not learn communication and relationship skills
- has much in common with scapegoat – neither feels very important
- disappears from the activity of the family
- sees much more than is vocalized
- reinforced for causing no problems
- build quiet lives on the edges of family life and are seldom considered in family decisions
- they hide their hurt and pain by losing themselves in the solitary world of short-term pleasure including excessive TV, reading, listening to music, drugs, object love, eating and fantasy
- favorite places for the lost child are in front of the T.V. as well as in his/her room
- due to the sedentary lifestyle, a lost child tends to have issues with weight
- as adults they feel confused and inadequate in relationships
- may end up as quiet loners with a host of secondary issues such as: sexuality problems, weight problems, excessive materialism, or heavy involvement in fantasy
Lost child’s purpose: does not place added demands on the family system; he/she is low maintenance.
In my experience, it is easy to fall into more than one of these categories. Sometimes I was “the scapegoat” in my home of birth, other times “the mascot,” and other times “the hero.” As I moved into having adult relationships, I was often an “enabler,” while feeling like “the lost child” within myself.
Now I know that I do not need to be any one of these things. There is a greater role I must BE: that of my authentic self. If I sense that I am falling into a role, or having one put upon me, I can recognize that this is only an old, familiar system, and I do not have to play the part that is being thrust upon me. Nor do I have to react or respond to any accusations. I know who I am, and I know what the truth is, for me.
I hope this blog has been of some insight or help for those of you struggling with similar upbringings or issues.
Yesterday, I was on set talking to Peter Bergman and one of the Y&R directors, Owen Renfroe, about a kiss that was to occur at a particular part of a scene. It is my belief that there are all kinds of kisses. Some are passionate, some are full of love, and some come out of compassion and kindness.
Kindness gets a bad rap sometimes. It can be equated with weakness. One of my favorite sayings is, “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness” because sometimes it takes an enormous amount of strength to be kind, especially to someone that hurt you. Kindness can be a courageous act.
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?
Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
Now, the million-dollar question: What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?
Why aren’t we kinder? What is it in our culture that has suddenly equated cruelness with honesty? I don’t think we’ve always been this way. I don’t think we’ve always been a culture filled with violence, bullying, and self-interest. I don’t even really believe it is in our nature to be mean. I think we’ve simply made it into a habit.
There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf — seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.
Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
I think Kindness can become a habit, just like meanness. And it’s fruits are far more bountiful. In our scene, it made my character feel more loved, and as if she might be able to trust a man once more and is helping her make her own generosity grow. In my own life, my husband Jon’s kindness has made me feel just the same way.
Forgive and be kind. Forgive and be kind. Or at least… strive to be kind.
You never know what another person is battling with inside themselves.
This morning I discovered that quite a few people do a google search on my nose. This totally cracks me up. Why in the heck are some people obsessed with a nose that is not “average?”
My nose has been called everything from a “beak” to “stately,” pretty much right to my face. Trust me, I am aware that my shnoz projects past the usual sniffer. I used to joke when I was a teenager that I had a “Judd Nelson” nose, and could stick a big martini olive inside each nostril without an issue.
The fact is, I have inherited my dad’s nose, which had quite a bulb on the end, and got bigger as he aged. Not exactly something to look forward to, but considering I don’t drink as much as he did, there is a chance I might escape the dreaded honker. Then again, I might not. What to do, what to do…
Many a time I have looked in the mirror and adjusted my nose with my fingers to see what I would look like with a smaller nose, or at least smaller nostrils. I can see it would make a nice difference, but once you go under the knife… there’s no going back.
Then this happened: a fellow (with a rather large proboscis) who worked in the building I was living in (in NYC) told me said he remembered watching me in my early days on AMC. He told me he liked my character because I had a big nose, like him. He said seeing me on TV made him feel better about HIS nose.
I mean… how could I get a nose job after that??
My nose seems to make a statement, and whether or not you like that statement… well, that’s up to you. But I think I get some credit for having never cut off my nose to spite my face. Yes, I would look more like your average pretty lady with smaller nostrils, that’s for certain, but then I wouldn’t look like “me.”
Might as well roll with it and love the big nose!
Every day, all day, I feel the choices I have to make dogging me: Am I going to be in fear or faith today? Am I going to be strong, or give in and finish the last of that bottle of white wine with a bag of peanut M&M’s?
Sometimes I make choices out of discomfort: because I am afraid of what other’s think of me, because I want to be liked, or because I am not feeling good about myself. I don’t like how I feel when I make choices from this place of self-doubt. It always feels like I am not accepting my vulnerability, which is a real part of who I am. Fragility is not the same as weakness.
When I’m feeling particularly challenged, I try to call up what my self-created “inner wise woman” would say. I imagine her wearing lots of beads and interesting prints, with long grey hair wrapped up in a bun, or over her shoulder in a braid.
She says to me, “Everyone is afraid, most of the time. Try and remember this. The greatest gift you can give yourself is the companionship of people wiser than yourself. Seek them out. Lean on their wisdom. And be kind–they came by it hard, just like you.”
Since I released my book into the world, people have asked me, “How did you do it? How did you liberate yourself from all that inner turmoil?” I have been thinking about it for some time now, and I think I can say, it was a choice. I chose to fight. I chose to believe that I deserved better. I chose to believe that I was strong enough to get through whatever pain I was feeling to get to the other side.
It’s a small thing, a choice, in the moment, but very powerful.
You might not believe it, but it’s a totally BIZARRE coincidence that I am both releasing my book, “Murdering My Youth,” publicly, and having my first air day on Y&R TOMORROW, April 16th. I assure you, I planned to release the book in March, and then one hundred and one things got in the way. When I was able to get down to the nitty gritty of dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” it took far longer than I anticipated. Then Michael Logan asked when it would be ready and I forced myself to set a date. Which I missed. Then it just happened that his article and my release date coincided. Magical, weird, wonderful… and SCARY!
Yes, being on Y&R has been a whirlwind: great writing, incredible actors, an amazing directing and producing team… it’s really a dream come true. And let’s not forget the fantastic Peter Bergman, who has been my sherpa, so to speak, helping me get into the groove of the studio et al. I count my blessings every single day.
As for the book: I am offering a better price on my website (order form below or just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) for those who want an autographed copy, or just want it cheaper. It may take me an extra day or two getting to you, but it will cost $9.99 plus shipping from me. I have to ask a bit more on Amazon and Create Space since they take such a big bite out of the price (I see 5 bucks from the $15.25) however, you will be able to buy the ebook version there, which I can’t provide, and the book itself will probably get to you much faster.
I must warn you: the book is intense. It is also FUNNY, (as they say, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Fart, and you fart alone”) but I don’t want to sugar coat it. It’s my story of my upbringing and it’s a real one. I won’t blame you if the book is not for you, (I’ve thrown one or two books across the room, myself) but I DO hope you check out Y&R if you haven’t already! I’m having a BALL and I think the story is wonderful. Good, old-fashioned, daytime DRAMA!
In the article you will find out that my book, Murdering My Youth, is being released April 15th.
You will be able to buy it through my website or on Amazon. I am doing my best to make sure it is at a reasonable price as things are still tough out there.
If you would like to pre-order or have a signed copy write to me at email@example.com or use the contact form below. I will contact you to arrange payment and shipping.
Thank you in advance for your support of this book. A warning: it is a fast read but not a light one. Issues of child abuse, death, trauma, and grief are dealt with in detail. Yes, there is humor, and sometimes there is strong language but I do not mean to offend, minimize, or sensationalize. My hope is that in sharing my story those who can relate will feel less shame, those who once judged will feel more compassion, and those who suffer in silence will consider reaching out for help.