What is real and what isn’t real, what is true and what isn’t? is there only one truth or can we each have our own? These questions are at the root of many conflicts in relationships personal and familial.
I’ve had many conversations with my adult children over the years about events that happened as they were growing up. Some events either they or I never knew happened on a conscious level and some happened on different levels for each of us like ships passing in the night, having the same trajectory but totally different experiences of the journey. Usually we can laugh and sometimes it’s been a case of the truth finally coming out and I’m delighted that I didn’t know this truth at the time.
There have been other times when their childhood memories have borne no resemblance to the reality I experienced. Usually these are memories that have had a negative impact on their life and sometimes seem to be inventions to explain away things that happened when they were young and didn’t understand what had occurred. Many of these memories surround the loss of their father when they were 6, 4 and 2 years old. My oldest son had a great fear of abandonment and I could barely get him to go to school for fear that I wouldn’t come back at the end of the day. After many years of individual and group therapy he got past those fears but developed a problem with drug that he thinks stemmed from the prescribing of Ritalin when he was in second grade. My daughter had experiences of someone spending time talking to her on the playground during recess, a man she said was a friend but whom no one else saw, perhaps an angel or the spirit of her father. She had a very close connection to him at an early age and continues to feel that connection to this day
My son who was 2 when his father’s plane was shot down over Laos has been the one with the most serious memory differences from my reality. It has only been recently that these have become apparent. I remember him as having a happy childhood and the least problems of all my children. He sailed through school getting good grades and being well liked by his teachers. In high school he was president of the astronomy club and was involved in French club. He had a couple of friend that he hung out with regularly and spent time at each other’s homes. He had his first date for homecoming in his junior year and I was delighted to have a seeming well-adjusted child at last.
Now that he’s 48 years old and suffering from significant and debilitating depression and anxiety many “memories” have come up that bear no resemblance to my experience of the reality of his life growing up. I realize now that some of these erroneous ideas have added to his illness. He shared with me that he thought his father had chosen his final assignment to Thailand for the US Navy because he wanted to make more money and hadn’t wanted another child when his last son was born. Nothing could be further from the truth. His father had gotten orders, there was no choice in the matter and certainly no more money. Our son was his father’s darling and he often wrote about missing his early years and that he probably would have given up the “blankie” he dragged with him everywhere (the truth is the he continued to drag it along until he went to school and had to put it in his drawer when he left in the morning).
I wonder how many other things plagued him over the years that he never shared with anyone. Now he believes that he was never wanted or loved by anyone in the family and had no friends. He has been married for 20 years and has three children and is now divorced. He self medicates his mental pain with alcohol and struggles to overcome this addiction. There seems to be no treatment for someone in so much pain as long as there is an overlying use of alcohol. Mental health professionals seem to focus on “recovery” from alcohol or drugs in some cases but do little to heal the mental illness other than masking the symptoms with mind numbing drugs that leave the individual in a zombie like state, unable to function in the everyday world.
There seem to be many people in our communities today who are suffering for one reason or another and either are on a path of self-destruction or sometimes even destruction of others as a result of the endless overwhelming pain…