book reviews, narcissists

Repost of my review of The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell

Another repost of a book review. I originally reviewed this book on Epinions.com in 2009. I reposted it on my old blog and am reposting it again as/is, because narcissism is a hot topic.

Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way… I can’t wait to look in the mirror, cuz I get better lookin’ each day…” (Mac Davis, “It’s Hard To Be Humble”)

According to authors Jean M. Twenge Ph.D and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D, Americans have a serious self-esteem problem that needs prompt attention. Look around and you might see what they’re talking about. Today’s babies wear bibs that say “Supermodel” or “Chick Magnet” on them. Today’s children win sports trophies just for showing up to play the game. Today’s adults live in huge, well furnished homes and drive luxury cars, yet they’re drowning in consumer debt. Yes, many Americans have a self-esteem problem, but despite the conventional thinking that our collective self-esteem is too low, Twenge and Campbell, authors of the 2009 book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, propose that it’s too high. They write on page 14, “American culture has embraced the value of self-admiration with a big, warm hug.” And now that I’ve read their book and considered their observations, I’m inclined to agree with them.

I purchased The Narcissism Epidemic while shopping for Stepmonsters, the subject of my last book review. Amazon.com quite brilliantly offered The Narcissism Epidemic as a suggestive sell and I took the bait. I am fairly pleased with the purchase, since psychologists Twenge and Campbell have written a very timely book about a problem that plagues a lot of Americans and may well be causing our downfall.  A growing number of people in our country think that rules don’t apply to them because they are somehow exceptional.  Too many people lack empathy and are too willing to put their needs above everything else.

Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, former fellow postdocs at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, first started thinking about the narcissism problem back in 1999, when they were both working in well-known social psychologist Roy Baumeister’s lab. The authors claim that there’s not much to do in Cleveland, especially in the winter. One day, as they were chatting with a fellow postdoc, the two came up with the idea of looking at trends related to narcissism. However, in 1999, the standard measure of narcissism had only been around for about ten years, which wasn’t long enough for them to do a solid study of change over time (6). They both eventually became college professors and decided to revisit the idea in 2006. The end result is this book, which focuses much of its discussion on narcissism in the United States, but also explores global trends of the narcissim epidemic in Europe, Asia, and Australia.

What this book is about

This book is about the collective “me first” attitude demonstrated by so many people today. Twenge and Campbell point out how the “me first” can attitude start out in the womb, as parents go to great lengths to come up with “special” names for their unborn children. When their babies are born, they’re photographed and fawned over and dressed in little t-shirts that point out how cute and “special” they are. As pre-schoolers, they sing cute little songs like “I Am Special, Look At Me”, a song that no doubt was written as a way of celebrating individuality and self-esteem, but may actually result in cultivating narcissism.

As kids come of age, some of them may be overvalued by their parents, who may refer to them as “little princesses” or “little princes”. Young girls may find themselves wearing makeup and attending spa appointments before they’ve left elementary school. Kids of both genders may aspire to be rich and famous over anything else when they grow up.

The authors explore how reality TV shows can entice ordinary people to dream of fame and fortune. Public figures like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears promote the shallow message that it’s more important to be rich, beautiful, and famous than it is to be a decent person. MTV’s highly obnoxious show, My Super Sweet 16 gets a lot of discussion, as the authors show how teenaged girls are encouraged to be shallow and haughty, as their parents scramble to throw them the best sweet 16 party ever, complete with $100,000 cars, exclusive invitations, and top of the line entertainment.

The authors even step into the church sanctuary, pointing out how megachurches take a tradition that once reined in narcissistic impulses and turn it into something that promotes it. For many people, going to church used to be a humbling exercise, where people came to be reminded of the consequences of acting like jerks. People drank bad coffee or Kool-Aid, ate stale donuts, and depending on the faith, might be given a stern warning about how sinners will end up in Hell. With the advent of megachurches, that warning message may well have gone away for a large segment of the population. Parishoners can listen to messages inspired by the prosperity gospel, where they will be told how special they are and how much God loves them. They can listen to high quality music, drink high quality coffee, and later purchase feel good books from the church bookstore. The prospect of going to Hell barely gets a mention.

I wasn’t surprised to see the authors take on college students. They write about students who have the audacity to demand better grades and expect passing grades simply for showing up to class. They quote students as having said to their professors, “You work for me.” On the other hand, they also explore how being a college professor can promote narcissism, too. After all, people tend to take notes on everything a professor says.

After college, it seems a lot of young people expect to get a fulfilling job that immediately pays six figures a year. Many of them lack the ability to fail with grace and handle disappointments. Some of them may sink into depression. I have to admit, having been through that myself after college and graduate school, I can relate. On the other hand, I have never expected to make a six figure salary in my lifetime.

Along with the expectation of a high paying job after graduation, some of these young people also expect to be able to wear the very best clothes, drive the best cars, and live in fine homes. They may succumb to easy credit, running up huge debts in their efforts to look successful and live the sweet life… only the sweet life is soured by the burden of huge bills they can’t hope to pay. No wonder America’s economy is in the toilet.

What I liked about this book

The Narcissism Epidemic is a good example of how research doesn’t have to be presented in a boring way. The authors present their case in a clear, logical, and very entertaining manner, often adding cleverly pithy comments that are fun to read. I liked the fact that the authors explored many different aspects of society to make their case about how narcissistic we’ve become. They cover everything from the adulation kids may get during early childhood to the school shooting sprees perpetrated by young people who felt the world owed them something. They also devote a lot of discussion to how the Internet promotes narcissism through Web sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook… hell, I guess even Epinions could be included in that list. How many of us reviewers live for ego-boo through this site?

What I didn’t like about this book

As much as I enjoyed reading The Narcissism Epidemic, I couldn’t help but realize that the authors may be a little guilty of narcissism themselves. After all, their lofty academic achievements are clearly presented on the book’s dust jacket. They presume to offer suggestions on how people might become less narcissistic. I thought their suggestions were good ones and was glad to see them attempting to “solve” the problem. The irony is, in their attempt to solve narcissism, they seem to perpetrate it themselves. But again, I guess it really is hard to be humble sometimes.

I also felt the authors got a little carried away with this book. They include a huge range of examples, which while interesting to read about, made this book a little longer than it might have been. Some topics got mentioned more than once. For instance, I remember reading about the babies with the “Supermodel” bibs, Paris Hilton, and My Super Sweet 16 more than a couple of times as I made my way through this book.

Nevertheless

I really did enjoy reading The Narcissism Epidemic, especially since I happen to agree with a lot of the authors’ points. Even if most Americans aren’t suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a lot of us could stand to take a good look at they way we’re living. We work so hard to protect ourselves and our children from hardship and disappointment. We surround ourselves with useless toys and status symbols. We may even start to look at fellow human beings as “trophies” of sorts, caring more about what another person can do for us rather than who they are as people. All of this can lead to depression over a dull, meaningless, existence, not to mention the potential shame of bankruptcy and foreclosure when the fantasy of artificial wealth comes crashing down into reality.

I think The Narcissism Epidemic is a fine book and hereby recommend it with four stars.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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Duggars, Reality TV

Appearances can be deceiving…

I hope you’ll indulge me one more Duggar related posting. It comes on the heels of yesterday’s post about young Spurgeon Seewald, whom many people in the Duggar Family News Facebook group think is “doomed” to live his whole life as a fundie Christian doormat for his grandfather, Jim Bob Duggar, not so affectionately known as “Boob” in some circles.

Today’s post is going in the opposite generational direction. I want to discuss Boob’s late father, Jimmy Lee (JL) Duggar. I’m going to refer to him as JL in this post, because that’s what Grandma Duggar called him.

As I was talking to Bill about four year old Spurgeon Seewald, and the people who think his future is “doomed” to fundie drudgery, I wondered out loud how this whole dynamic came to be in the first place. Jim Bob Duggar, after all, was raised in a God fearing Baptist church, but his mom only had two kids– Boob, and his sister, Deanna. Deanna had only one child, Amy, who is not at all like her fundie Christian cousins. And Boob and Deanna went to school; they weren’t homeschooled.

Jim Bob had a somewhat “normal” upbringing. What happened in Boob’s life to turn him into the narcissistic cretin he is today?

Suddenly, I remembered Boob’s father, JL, who died of brain cancer in February 2009. JL was featured on the original Duggar show just before he passed away. My memories are a little bit fuzzy, but a Reddit post explains that he was on the show for his birthday, which was February 3, 2009. He passed away on February 9, 2009. In other words– six days before this man’s death of brain cancer, he was trotted out for the cameras and a “birthday” celebration. He appears in the episode “Duggars on Ice” lying in bed, obviously very close to death, as well as another called “The Big Thaw”, in which the Duggars celebrate his birthday six days before he died. Two episodes later, his death was covered in an episode called “Duggars Say Goodbye”.

This is the clip in which the banana cake was served… It was filmed six days before Grandpa passed away.

I remember seeing that episode and thinking it was in incredibly poor taste. And I write this knowing that I’m not exactly known for being tasteful and classy myself. The Reddit author agrees that the way JL Duggar was treated before his death was pretty shitty. Here’s a screen shot of the post.

Here was JL Duggar, obviously very sick and frail. His son, Boob, apparently didn’t think very much of his father, who only had two kids instead of 19. JL was known as “fun loving”, and perhaps wasn’t a particularly strong church leader or patriarch. I wonder if someone in the church Boob went to made comments about JL that caused shame to Boob. Perhaps someone Boob admired disparaged his father to the point at which Boob was just fine in showing him off for the cameras, just days before his death. It kind of felt a bit like a “fuck you”, even though it was not really scripted that way. It was like, “Look, even though you weren’t a ‘godly’ father and I’m kind of ashamed of you, I’m going to show everyone– and I mean EVERYONE– how amazing a son I am by filming your exit from Earth for my reality show.”

Edited to add– I actually have the episode about JL’s death in my iTunes library. Gonna watch it now to refresh my memory.

I see Boob is picking out a casket for his father, saying that JL didn’t want anything “expensive” and would be fine in a pine box. Indeed… these were the years when the Duggars were constantly preaching about being thrifty. Buy used and save the difference… and there’s a scene involving food brought by neighbors, and a close up scene showing one of the youngest Duggar daughters picking her nose.

Charming screenshot of some kid! In another clip, a woman says, “I’d better not see this on TV.” So much for that!

I remember on one episode, which aired just before JL’s death, Jana made him some kind of banana dessert. JL was rolled out in an office chair, rather than a proper wheelchair. I highly doubt JL could enjoy the sweet confection made by his granddaughter, but it looked “good” on camera. I can’t find that clip anymore, and now I wonder if iTunes scrubs scenes, because I distinctly remember other clips that were controversial and somehow “disappeared” (ETA: I later found the clip, which is posted above, on Daily Motion). I also notice that at least one episode on iTunes is two minutes shorter than others from that season. Here are a few more comments from Reddit about JL’s last days…

As I was remembering this scene, I remembered my own father’s last days. I didn’t enjoy a harmonious relationship with my dad. I did, and still do, love him very much, but we had a lot of conflict in our relationship. I remember seeing him for the last time, and how heartbreaking it was. He was in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines. I remember hoping that his passing would be quick and dignified, and blessedly, it was.

A few days prior to my last visit with my dad, one of my sisters chose to send me a photograph of my father on his death bed. He was covered in an enormous CPAP mask and hooked up to machines and tubes. I remember being outraged that she sent the picture of him like that. I feel very sure that our mother would not have approved of it, and it was just a very manipulative, underhanded, disrespectful thing to do. Not only was it disrespectful to me, since I certainly didn’t need to see our dad on his death bed to know that it was time to come to Virginia and say goodbye, but it was also very disrespectful to HIM. I feel sure he would not have wanted anyone to take a picture of him in that shape and then send it in an email, where it could wind up in anyone’s possession. But my sister evidently felt that I “needed” a visual to drive home how serious the situation was. It really pissed me off (ETA: but mentioning this now doesn’t mean I’m STILL pissed off).

When that happened, I was very tempted to tell off my sister. But then I realized that if I told her off, it would make an already stressful situation much worse than it needed to be. So instead of telling her how I really felt at the time, I sent her a response that said something along the lines of, “Thank you for the update.” Then I wrote a scathing blog post, which I later deleted, because again– I didn’t want to create trouble, even though I felt justifiably pissed at the obvious emotional blackmail and completely unnecessary manipulative tactics she was, once again, employing. It was, yet again, another instance of someone being inconsiderate and disrespectful to me, while expecting me to accept that treatment without complaint. There must be something in my personality that makes people think this is alright to do. Then, when I stand up for myself, they treat me as if I’m the asshole.

And yet… as tacky, disrespectful, and distasteful as my sister’s choice to send me that picture of our dad on his death bed was, it was not nearly as awful as the undignified way JL Duggar was treated as his own death approached. I only hope he was even less conscious than he appeared to be in those last scenes of his life. Despite all the comments about how “wonderful” Grandpa was, in the end, it was all about the ratings and the money. And now, it seems like it’s all about maintaining control… as the Duggar children have all inevitably gotten much older and are wanting to live their own lives. We’re seeing that much of what was said in the early years of the Duggars on television was a lot of scripted lines. But then, that’s how it is in most families in which there is a narcissist at the helm. Everyone is trained to say and do the right things, or there will be hell to pay.

I know there are people out there– people within my family, former friends, former landlords, former employers and roommates and others– who don’t think highly of me. Many of them don’t like that I speak my mind– or “write my mind”, as it were. They would prefer that I didn’t remember, speak, or write about these things, because they are unpleasant and cast them in a bad light. I don’t go looking for information about what people think of me. I mostly assume that what people think of me is not my business, and looking for that information will only cause me pain. Moreover, I know that there are a lot of really great people in my life who can accept and love me for who I am and don’t expect a well-scripted “show”.

I guess the whole Duggar funeral dog and pony show kind of affected me on that level because it really felt so much like a big fake “show”. And while there’s no way I can know what kind of relationship JL and Jim Bob Duggar really had, what was presented on television did not feel very authentic. It reminded me of some of my own relationships, and how I’ve always been pressured to be someone I’m not for the sake of keeping up appearances.

It’s interesting how a discussion about four year old Spurgeon Seewald could lead me to think about JimBob Duggar’s late father, and then my own father. I still have a lot of baggage to unpack, I guess. It’s a wonder I have any friends, let alone an understanding husband. 🙂

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Reality TV

Rediscovering Solitary…

In the wake of all this social distancing and self-imposed isolation, I have rediscovered a game show/reality series that I used to love. Fox Reality used to be a real thing, and although they have been dark for years now, they had a great show called Solitary. I discovered it when Bill was in Iraq, back in 2007, and I became a big fan.

I downloaded all four seasons of Solitary to my Apple TV, and I’ve been watching the bizarre tests and treatments “VAL” put contestants through. I’m amazed at what these folks endured, all to win $50,000. One thing I noticed is that the ones who won were universally young. All but one were males. Two of the winners were Asians. Historically, the Asians who competed did very well, regardless. I’m now watching season 4, and the guy who came in second place was a karate champion of Asian descent.

Here is a few video from season 3 of Solitary. I highly recommend watching the show if you’re able. I see some episodes are available on YouTube. It’s a pretty entertaining and exciting show. I have a crush on Tyler Tongate, too. He was on the show twice– seasons 2 and 4.

I can’t think of anything else I feel like ranting about right now. I’m a little depressed about the state of the world. I worry about what’s going to happen, and how long this is going to go on… But again, we’re luckier than a lot of people are. For now, anyway.

Maybe I’ll bake cookies or something.

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Reality TV

Binge watched Below Deck’s 6th and 7th seasons…

Bill is now back from his business in Stuttgart, and I am now caught up on reality shows. After downloading the truly revolting show, My Feet Are Killing Me, I decided to catch up on Bravo’s Below Deck. I was really into the first five seasons of that show and I think I even watched one season of the Mediterranean edition. For some reason, I decided not to watch season 6. I think I got tired of it because it’s the same formula every season.

Basically, young, hot, TV ready people work on a luxury yacht with Captain Lee Rosbach and his head stew, Kate Chastain. There is always a temperamental chef, a hotheaded deckhand, an emotional stewardess, and lots of sexual tension mixing with annoying guests who can afford to drop six figures to charter a yacht for three days in an exotic location. Until yesterday, I wondered what would compel someone to charter a yacht so Bravo can put them on TV and the staff can badmouth them. Basically, it amounts to a fat reduction in the fare, although guests are still expected to tip on what the original cost would have been. You know these folks are loaded if they can afford to tip $15k to $20K on a three day cruise. I’m kind of surprised there aren’t people in the luxury yacht charter industry who aren’t screaming about this show and the way it depicts people who work on the vessels being unprofessional and rude about the guests.

At least one guest was pissed off because of the way they were portrayed on the show. However, because they also signed a lot of waivers, they were powerless to sue for defamation. Another woman was shaded because she refused to share a room with another guest, causing the captain to have to give up his room and sleep in the Sky Lounge.

Anyway, though I had obviously gotten bored after the fifth season, it was kind of fun catching up on the series again. There’s something about it that appeals to me. It’s like a combination of nostalgia for my two summers working at a church camp mixed with my three SeaDream cruises. The exotic locations and beautiful ships remind me of our luxury cruises, while the extreme, non-stop work for six weeks reminds me of camp. Of course, at camp, we got paid a pittance. But there was a lot of sexual tension and bonding, too, and we worked constantly in a very beautiful location. Camp Paddy Run is in beautiful Shenandoah County, Virginia, just a few miles from the West Virginia border. It’s absolutely magical there.

I’m glad to be done watching, though, because once again, I ended up getting kind of bored with the concept. The show has annoying background music along with constant bleeps because people swear so much. But they really only bleep out the words “fuck” and “shit”. Everything else is fair game. As I’ve said before, I don’t mind curse words, but sometimes it does get tiresome to hear them over and over again, particularly when they’re bleeped. I wish American TV would get with the program and let people swear.

I had a surprising reaction to one of the deckhands, too… Rhylee, the redhead from Alaska who had worked as a fisherman. When she did one of her confessionals, she explained that her mother and stepfather moved her and her sister to Florida and opened a bed and breakfast. The sisters were forced to be silent, since her mom and stepdad didn’t want them bothering the guests. So now, she has a bit of a psychological sunburn when it comes to certain treatment. I relate to that myself. I don’t tolerate abuse very well anymore, either. But she was really profane and, at times, kind of unreasonable. It was sort of painful to watch (and hear).

Ashton, who was a deckhand in Season 6 and the bosun in Season 7, was an interesting character to me, and not just because he had a gorgeous body. I enjoyed listening to his South African accent, especially since it sounded like he said “dickhead” when he was really saying “deckhand”. He seemed like a guy with a big heart, except when he got drunk. I didn’t like the drunk version of Ashton… but the rest of the time, he seemed like someone I would enjoy knowing.

I actually have a lot of empathy for people who work on boats. It’s very hard work and the crew must live in tight quarters, sometimes with people they can’t stand. Yes, the people who work on charters make insane tip money, but they work their asses off to get it, and the work can be dangerous. Ashton, who came back in season 7 to be a bosun, got his leg tangled in a rope and was pulled off the ship. He could have easily died. And if you get sick or hurt while you’re working, good luck getting time to recuperate. But if you can hack the long hours and dealing with different personalities, and you’re young and healthy, you can make serious bank.

I will also say that watching that show has made me want to book another trip somewhere nice. We have a long weekend next week, but it’s also the weekend of the wine expo in Strasbourg, France. We haven’t yet been to the wine expo and, who knows? This could be our last chance to go. But I am also kind of tired of France and would like to go somewhere else…

Well… we’ll see what happens. We have a lot of stuff to do that doesn’t involve having fun. But I must admit that I started looking for trip ideas as I watched that show.

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Reality TV

Hot messes…

I’ve been bingeing on old episodes of Intervention all week. I’ve been on the wagon since Sunday night, although I have a feeling Bill and I will be toasting tonight when he comes home from his latest trip. The weather is positively miserable this morning. It’s raining, and they’re calling for snow showers, too. I hope Bill makes it back in one piece, but I have faith in my retired soldier. He’s the opposite of a hot mess… and man, have I been overdosing on them this week!

I used to watch Intervention casually back in the day. When I was in the States, I’d catch it on A&E while flipping channels. When we were in Germany the first time, I got hooked on iTunes and downloaded a couple of seasons to pass time. I added more seasons over the years, but I don’t think I ever really stopped and watched a lot of what I had. That changed this week. Some of the stories are downright heartbreaking and some are infuriating. A few have funny elements. If I had gone on to practice social work, I could have been working with people like the ones featured on Intervention. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t, since I pretty much lived that experience in real life growing up with my dad.

This morning, I happened to watch a couple of episodes that were real doozies. The one that inspired today’s post featured a young woman named Cristy. Cristy has been written about a lot on the Internet. I did a quick Google search and found her the subject of a lot of threads about Intervention as well as people who are, in general, incredibly fucked up for whatever reason. Just type “Cristy from Intervention” into your favorite search engine and you’ll find a flood of reactions from people. She definitely made an impression. A lot of people say that episode is the “craziest” of all of them, which seems amazing, given that she appeared in the second season. I think they’re up to twenty seasons now, so that means Cristy’s episode was a “high point” in low points… and she hadn’t even hit “rock bottom” after her intervention.

Anyway… before my morning coffee, I watched Cristy cavorting around in the nude, extremely drunk and high on crystal meth. I watched her standing on the street, hitting up men for alcohol. I heard about how she made her living stripping. In 2005, she had a cute figure, although her face was pretty messed up. She’d bleached her hair and did something strange to her eyebrows. Her personality, which had been described as “bubbly” and positive, had become arrogant, obnoxious, and dishonest.

I felt sorry for her parents, especially her dad, a musician who obviously loved her dearly and even wrote a song for her when she was a child. Sounds a little Disney-esque, although it’s interesting that he sings it in a minor key, especially given how she turned out. She was supposedly a real firecracker as a kid… but then she turned into a crack addict. Er… well, I don’t know if crack was her drug of choice. I’m sure she’s tried it.

Someone decided to turn it into a club mix. You can see some of the more salacious highlights from the episode in this video.

I frequently empathize with the people featured on Intervention. They usually have something about them that is compelling or sweet. A lot of times, the subjects are further humanized as family members talk about how loving, kind, and talented they were as children. Family pictures and heartwarming videos are shown and viewers see why their families are so distraught that their loved ones have fallen down the black hole of addiction. There were home videos and pictures of Cristy, too, and she did appear to be a charming child. For some reason, I have hard time feeling a whole lot of sympathy for her as an adult. I have more compassion for her family, especially her dad. I can tell he adores her. She’s so lucky he cares about her. Not everyone has parents who care so much.

Many people who have been on Intervention are able to put their lives together. Yesterday, I watched an episode about a young mom named Kristen who was also featured in season 2. Kristen had an adorable five year old daughter named Sadie who lived with her dad because Kristen was a heroin addict and a prostitute. I looked up Kristen yesterday and was astonished to see that Sadie had grown into a very tall high school graduate (like, she dwarfs her mother, who is now clean and also has a son). Kristen got off drugs and now lives the straight life. She looks wonderful. In comparison, here’s a more recent video of Cristy— from October 2018. She went to Taco Bell, pissed herself, and broke a lot of windows. She also had a baby boy a few years ago, who reportedly lives with his father (thank God). There were Facebook pictures of her, obviously drinking a lot of booze while she was pregnant. They’re easy to find, too.

As I’ve been watching Intervention all week, I’ve been thinking about how hard it must be for the family members of addicted people who end up featured on the show. I do have an inkling of it, since my dad was an alcoholic. We’ve had our share of family dramas over the years, but it wasn’t until I was almost a high school graduate before I knew that my dad had a drinking problem. I remember hearing the odd whisper about it growing up. When I was about fourteen or fifteen, our family went to counseling for a while, and my dad’s drinking was mentioned then. I only attended a couple of sessions because I wasn’t interested and didn’t see the issue as my problem. I refused to cooperate, so my parents let me stay home and watch Three’s Company reruns on TV. Meanwhile, my parents and two of my sisters attended the sessions with a master’s level therapist named Nancy who had an office in a strip mall near our house. I now kind of wish I’d kept going to the sessions. Maybe they would have been insightful.

At that time, back in the mid 1980s, my parents were fighting a lot with two of my sisters, both of whom were then in their 20s. One of them, in particular, seemed to be causing the most drama and concern. I think my mom was actually afraid she might harm herself, which was unusual for my mom– you’d have to know her to understand. She’s a good person, but she’s not very maternal at all. I remember one night, she begged my dad to go after my sister, who had just left the house in a rage. My mom was afraid my sister might end up killing herself or getting in an accident. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

But when I compare the drama in the house I grew up in to the drama on Intervention, it seems pretty tame. Then I remind myself that Intervention is a carefully edited hour of television, designed to be dramatic and compelling. What we see is the end result of hours of filming. A lot of what goes on daily might be relatively mundane. I guess it would have to be, or else the addictions would not have the chance to get as bad as they do. People turn a blind eye to the craziness and simply try to live with it until it becomes intolerable. It’s like letting a minor infection go untreated until it turns into septic shock.

I definitely don’t think my sister was the whole problem in our house. She was just a symptom of the problem. When I look at our family as a whole, I can see that the roots run very deep. The problem started many years before my dad was even born. He had a violent, alcoholic father, too, and I think chances are excellent that Pappy’s father was also an alcoholic, as were his forebears. In fact, from the stories I’ve heard, my grandfather was much worse than my father ever was, and my dad, who was the oldest son in the family, bore the brunt of Pappy’s abuse until he moved away from home. Having talked to and observed my aunts, uncles, and cousins, I can see that it’s a family wide problem, even if no one really talks about it much. I guess, in a way, that’s one reason why going home makes me uncomfortable, even though my family is generally wonderful and a lot of fun. There are many elephants in the room that no one ever addresses. Also, many of them are recalcitrant Trump devotees, which when mixed with alcohol, is not a pleasant combination. Although I used to love being around them when I was younger, getting away from that environment opened my eyes. I feel like I can’t unring the bell. The cognitive dissonance is too much for me to bear.

My dad– underneath the alcoholism– was a very kind, decent, intelligent, and sensitive man. There was a noble aspect to his personality. He was fascinated by meeting people from other cultures and enjoyed helping others. Even though my dad was a Republican, he was fully supportive when my eldest sister and I decided to be Peace Corps Volunteers, and he even helped me collect books in English for the school where I taught. He was musically talented and artistic, had a good sense of humor, loved crossword puzzles, and was generally a high achiever. Despite drinking too much and suffering from depression and PTSD, he was a very good provider. We never went without anything, but I think a lot of that was because my mom worked hard to make sure we didn’t. She was concerned about optics and her own comfort, but I also think she was concerned about my dad. She loved him, even if he often drove her crazy.

Watching Intervention, I kind of wonder if my sisters and I turned out reasonably well because my parents didn’t divorce. But then, they did love each other, and they wanted to be together. They had good times, even with the heavy drinking. I remember my parents went on trips together. I’d stay home while they went to Europe or the Caribbean, or they’d go to a timeshare somewhere in the Bahamas or out west. It didn’t happen every year, but I remember at least a couple of big trips they took together. They used to be very involved in biking, and my dad loved doing things like hang gliding and white water rafting. He was an adrenaline junkie. We also had exposure to our extended family, particularly on my dad’s side (mom’s side was very small and had pretty much died out by the time I was eight years old).

Some of the people on Intervention, you can tell, didn’t love each other. They got together, had children, and the relationship fell apart. A lot of times, one of the parents is also an addict or has some other problem that exacerbates the situation. Also, it seems like a lot of times, in the wake of a divorce, the mother ends up with a man who molests the child who ends up sick. It’s interesting that this happens, too, since stepmothers so often get a bad rap for “destroying” the lives of their stepchildren and stepfathers are often revered for “stepping up” and raising another man’s children. And yet, in so many of these stories, I see that the addict hits trouble when there is a remarriage and the stepfather turns out to be an abusive, child molesting creep. Or… the child goes out and finds attention from someone who is a molester because he or she isn’t getting the necessary attention from family members. That’s kind of what happened to me– although thankfully, the molester in my case only showed me porn and made a lot of inappropriate comments.

Thank God my mom allowed me to get much more involved with horses when she did. Otherwise, who knows? You might be watching an episode of Intervention starring me. Seriously… as much as I used to fight with my riding instructor, I think in many ways, she and a lot of other good people in Gloucester, might have saved my ass. I was too busy taking care of my horse and going to horse shows to get into trouble. I was very fortunate to grow up in a close-knit community where there were a lot of people who, for whatever reason, took an interest in me and helped me grow up, even though my parents weren’t as involved as they could have been.

My sister likes to say that my mom bought me the horse because she suggested it– to “save” me from dating losers, getting knocked up, using drugs, or whatever. It offends me that she thinks that I ever would have turned to that. I wasn’t all that interested in dating when I was a teenager, and I didn’t drink much at all until I was a sophomore in college, although I got drunk for the first time at a family party, when I was about fifteen. But even in college, I wasn’t hanging out with men looking to hook up, and I never once used illegal drugs, EVER. I just drank a lot of beer and played a lot of Asshole. Granted, I played Asshole with men, but they were drinking buddies, not hookup buddies. The first time I ever tried marijuana, I was 43 years old and visiting the Netherlands, where it’s legal. I enjoyed it, but I haven’t used any since then.

Moreover, I don’t remember my sisters acting as saviors to me. They might have protected me a couple of times when my dad would get enraged, but they were mostly not home enough to act in that role when I was under 18. And there were times when I was a child that my sisters raged at me themselves. It was mostly verbal in nature, but there were times when it also got physical. I think growing up with verbal abuse is one reason why I can’t deal with people who rage at me now. Seriously… if you yell and scream at me, there’s a good chance I’ll eventually end up hating your guts. I have very little tolerance for that anymore. Bill isn’t a yeller, which is probably the main reason why we get along so well. Unfortunately, there are times when I yell, but I don’t yell at Bill and I rarely yell at other people. I just yell in general and vent in my blog, which I know pisses some people off. But I’m not sure that writing is worse than losing my temper and screaming at someone, even if some folks think I should keep these things private. Frankly, I think those who don’t like what I write should simply exercise some self-discipline and go somewhere else. The Internet is a big place. Find your happy place and leave me alone. 😉

Whew… well, I kind of got off the track in this post. Back to Intervention and hot messes. Although Intervention is kind of a depressing show, it’s fascinating to me. Everyone has a story, and I love a good story. I’m also glad to see people recover and go on to live productive, happy lives. I guess it’s plain why I find the show so compelling… maybe there’s a part of me that feels somewhat better about myself when I watch it. On the other hand, it doesn’t feel good watching Cristy, who seems completely clueless and remorseless. I feel sorry for her family. It’s must be devastating to have to deal with someone like her on a regular basis. I hope her son grows up okay. And I hope the people at Taco Bell got a raise and Cristy put some clothes on…

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