Wednesday, January 18, 2006
As I got close to the front door of our building yesterday, I saw a bunch of papers stuck into the door frame. I unlocked the building, put down my briefcace, and checked out the papers which turned out to be a bunch of single-page flyers ranting against psychaitry in really purple language, accusing psychoanalysis of being the source rather than the cure for mental illness, etc. etc. I couldn't find anywhere the name of the person or organization that was sponsoring and distributing these things. Finally, in miniscule type at the very bottom of the flyer, close squinting revealed the truth--the Church of Scientology.
So Tom Cruise is associated with this organization, yes? I began to read through the flyer, going faster with every sentence. I'd heard it all before; not the exact same arguments, at least the same sentiment that psychiatry is a kind of witch doctor religion that exists to lead man away from god. This point was drummed into us in Catholic school all the time and I was surprised to see it surfacing decades later from Scientology, about which I admit I know absolutely nothing. But a lot of bad memories were stirred up by those flyers stuck in the door.
My earliest brush with the Catholic condemnation of Dr. Freud and his process was over my mother. I haven't written too much about my not-very-happy childhood other to indicate that my family was almost pathologically insular, and that I became extremely withdrawn and frequently felt very alone.
My mother was an alcoholic from at least my earliest memories of her that I can document as being from sometime just after my second birthday. Her parents had been through the Depression, gotten wiped out, and were from England where there's a tradition of a great deal of heavy drinking in the family setting. There seems also to have been a genetic predisposition to alcohol addiction, as her sisters, mother and several uncles were alcoholic in varying degrees. A couple (or more) of drinks before a very late dinner (sometimes as late as 10:30 at night) was a nightly ritual. Heavy smoking went along with it, which is surely why I have never smoked and rarely drink anything stronger than wine.
It wasn't a great atmosphere in which to raise a child, and I knew it. There was a secretive air to so much of how we lived. I would have given my eye teeth for a brother or sister--someone, anyone for some support and companionship during the fights and weeks of hostile silence, and the burden of knowing there was a bottle of rye whiskey hidden under the double bed sheets at the back of the linen closet and another one under the bras in the second drawer of her dresser. There aren't a lot of secrets in a small four room apartment with exceedingly thin walls.
Of course, someone could have gotten her help. But complete privacy and secrecy were of paramount importance to my family. When I got old enough, I asked why mommy drank, why she wasn't getting any better. Every year in October or November like a ritual I was told that mommy was going to make a big effort and that her problem would be over by Christmas. And very frequently, the Christmas tree would be knocked over and the lights and ornaments broken, or full casseroles that were to have been dinner were dropped on the floor and smashed. Why couldn't she get help, I asked; there were places, there was AA, there were psychiatrists.
No psychiatrists, I was told. The Church disapproved of psychiatry as unholy and liable to lead the faithful astray. The Church's way was to pray and to give a healthy contribution to . . . surprise, the Church. So we all prayed and prayed and nobody got any better. And I mean nobody, because I figured out very early that her problem wasn't hers alone. And no AA, I was further told, because if she went to AA, then "everybody will know." Young as I was--no more than ten, probably--I realized that everyone in the family had signed on to her alcoholism in some way and was, in effect, preserving it, nurturing it in the guise of "helping" her.
I didn't know terms like "enabler" or "co-dependent" but I had a keen sense of what was going on. My father didn't have an addictive personality at all, but he was quite comfortable with other people's addictions. In my little kid's mind I invented the term "interlocking neuroses" which is nonsense on one level, but when I look at it now I see that I understood exactly what was going on. "We take care of our own at home" meant there would never be any professional help, that it was preferable to see her health broken and her body ravaged (to the point where the medical examiner thought she was my father's mother, not his wife) than to learn what the problems were and try to solve them. That was when they came for her the night she got out of bed to go to the bathroom and dropped with a crash, dead from a massive heart attack at age fifty two. But at least nobody knew.
I can taste that. I love synesthesia, and anything synesthetic.
No respect for that.
(Sorry, I was just at Sean's and got my rant on ;)
But I tell you, we have come a long way. At least with many people, suggesting that they see a councilor to help talk out their problems, or maybe even might take a pill if things were really off kilter, is no longer seen as "calling me CRAZY?!?"
Now that there's less of a general resistance in the religious communities, the Scientologists are trying to fill the gap. And, you know, if all they were saying was "there's too much dependance on psychological drugs, not enough on repairing yourself through self-work," I would kind of agree, actually.
But that's not what they're saying. All they are saying is psychology bad, aliens, good.
Even though the therapist was nice I knew it probably wasn’t appropriate to tell him I was depressed because the boy I was in love with decide to stop having sex with me.
The flyer component of your post could set me off on a rant.
"Mental Healers" (Franz Mesmer, Mary Baker Eddy, Sigmund Freud) (1932; German: "Heilung durch den Geist", 1931)
Stefan Zweig describes in this book the dangerous backrounds of Mary Baker Eddy's doctrine which is the base of the Scientologists ...
Sorry that your family life was so tragic in your youth!
Alcoholism is a severe disease and it is due to a genetical disposition.
My father was a drinker and I have got the same problem as an adult ... 17 years ago I have been in an alcohol-rehab clinic for 12 weeks. I think I have told you about this when we have met one another here in Vienna in the "American Bar" :-)
Only by dint of a sympatic psychiatrist I kicked the habit, but I was fortunate to have always hated the smell, the odor of alcohol when I was a boy and with the aid of my psychiatrist I came back to this moment when I've forced myself to take the first sip of wine...
When I got out in the world it was to Boston--same scene, even stronger. Only years later did I see that some areas of the country have a Catholic culture that's a bit more compassionate. By then it was too late--I was quits with the organization and have no desire on any level to be involved ever again. Given that I'm a gay man, I know the Catholic Church exactly feels the same way about me.
anyway, i admire you for what you have made up for your past with the new family you created - your daughters and partner. an inspiration to us all.