Bobbie finally got sober. Everything should be great right? So how come there is still so much drama in the family? Why is dad bitter and angry? Why is mom sick all the time? Why won’t Jennifer come out of her room?
Most dysfunctional families have a ‘scapegoat.’ The scapegoat is the person who gets blamed for everything and keeps the familiar cycle of dysfunction going. In this family, the scapegoat is Bobbie. Bobbie’s drinking takes the focus off mom’s co-dependency and dad’s anger. Then there is Jennifer. Jennifer’s ‘role’ is the ‘lost child.’ She doesn’t rock the boat or share her feelings. In fact, she keeps to herself most of the time. When Bobbie gets sober his parents don’t understand why he needs to go to all those meetings. After all, the family goes to church. Jesus should be enough, right? But it is in those meetings that Bobbie learns he is part of a dysfunctional family system. He learns how his drinking is just an outward manifestation of the anger and guilt he feels over his parents arguing, feeling responsible for his mom’s emotions, and never being able to measure up to his dad’s unrealistic demands.
This family will either find a new scapegoat, Bobbie will go back to drinking to keep the family ‘balance,’ or the family will work hard to heal by finding healthier ways of relating. You see, Bobbie’s sobriety opened a Pandora’s Box of sorts that caused the familiar, albeit dysfunctional family system to rupture. Bobbie’s drinking had allowed enough turmoil and chaos to keep the other members of the family from looking at their role in the dynamic. Furthermore, Bobbie’s drinking kept the focus off the real issues within the family. Bobbie’s grandfather was an abusive alcoholic and chaos and drama feels familiar to Bobbie’s Mom. Bobbie’s drinking allows her to play the role of both the victim and the rescuer at the same time. Unconsciously she needs to re-create her childhood family drama (which is so familiar to her) so she can fix the past. But you see that is the problem. The past is the past and it can’t be fixed no matter how hard we try. What we can do is learn from it and understand the family dynamic of addiction/co-dependency so we can learn different ways of relating.
If you are the one who is sober from an addiction and your family is not ‘acting’ supportive, you may need to step away from the family dynamic for a time until you are strong enough to enter back into the dynamic knowing it may never change. If you are someone with a newly sober family member, you may need to explore ways in which your behavior may have reinforced theirs. In families where there is deep co-dependencies, addictions, and dysfunction, there is no one scapegoat. It is never one person’s fault. If this family and other families want to stay together, they must heal together too.
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about family system roles, addiction, and co-dependencies I will be talking about them in upcoming blogs and videos on my YouTube channel which you can connect with here. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfic8O-abtgouGrK0awamag?view_as=subscriber In addition, here are a couple of great books that will help you greatly:
Carder, D., Henslin, E., Townsend, J., Cloud, H., & Brawand, A. (1995). Secrets of Your Family Tree. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
Hemfelt, R., Minirth, F., & Meier, P. (1989). Love is a Choice: The Groundbreaking book on Recovery for Codependent Relationships. Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson.
Subby, R. (1987). Lost in the Shuffle: The Co-Dependent Reality. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL