“Back in my day, children were to be seen and not heard,” the father grumbled in the middle of a tense family gathering. “His mother just coddled him. That’s why we have this issue. He doesn’t need treatment, what this kid needs is to get a job and grow up and act like a man.”
The room falls silent, and although the bodies remain seated in their respective position, some family members appear to disappear before my eyes. However, there’s sometimes one in the group who gets tired of not living in reality and refuses to be put in their place, and in this family, it was the oldest son.
“Dad, it’s ok if you don’t want to be part of this intervention, please feel free to leave. But the rest of us see this situation differently.” The situation? The youngest child in the family has become addicted to opiates after a devastating sports-related injury. After months of doctor prescribed opioid medication, the retirement of said doctor has created a change in medical care and the new guy eventually refused to refill the pain pill prescription. The son turned to cheaper and easier ways to score meds, overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl and now the simmering secret and the family’s attempt to pretend that there wasn’t an issue has blown up.
One problem this family had to tackle before they could get to the actual work of an intervention was to deal with dear old dad. His style was old-school; he was a bully; he did not have discussions, he issued decrees and spoke in monologues. His family learned how to circumvent his demanding ways by going underground – becoming sneaky, lying, hiding their preferences, getting some distance between them and him. One way to describe this problem is to notice the power differential. Dad felt like he had all the power and his wife and children acted in many ways as if they believed him. Whether we are talking families or communities, learning how to deal with diversity, conflict, crises and grievances is valuable work.
There are ways to work around this difficult, labor intensive way of building community but if we do so, we create a toxic environment that surely guarantees little transformational work will occur. This is, after all, what the dad in this particular family has done. He has eliminated conflict by bullying everyone into submission, but he has also squashed transparency and intimacy. How did he accomplish that? He created an environment that celebrates the “us” versus “them”; he allowed and even encouraged the elephants to march around their home unteethered by avoiding issues; he blamed others and found scapegoats to pick on, which worked for short bursts of time, but these bad habits will NOT allow for an environment where grace and mercy and forgiveness thrive. Whether in a family or an organization, if we want meaningful connection, we are going to have to deal with those elephants!
PS Why bother with this kind of intimacy? Because this is the place where healing happens.
…to be continued.