January 18, 2011


I had yesterday off from work. As you know it was Martin Luther King day (or Equality Day). I am ashamed to say that, rather than doing something befitting the occasion, I spent it flipping between episodes of The Tudors and Intervention. Oddly addicting, both.

Watching Intervention is like watching a train wreck. Very compelling, inherently dramatic, soul wrenching. Not just the addict but the whole family is hitting rock bottom, and you’re there to watch it.

Like anything ~ be it sitcom, reality show, or a profile from a particular magazine ~ there’s a set script that Intervention follows. They film under the pretense of doing a documentary about addiction. We meet the family and hear about the horrible incident or incidents that caused this particular person to become addicted. The family all enables. The interventionist gives them a talking-to to make them realize the seriousness of the situation and then they stage the intervention. Then we find out how they did in a sentence or two at the end. They almost always are clean and sober.

I do not say this in any way to minimize the heart-wrenching situation the family is in nor the depth of everyone’s pain. But, like, say, VH1’s Behind the Music or Law and Order, there is a plot structure that each episode follows. This both seems sad ~ these are lives, after all, fit into this little box ~ but also heartens me to think that humanity is humanity the world over and we have so much in common.

But what really struck me was the beauty of these people, everyone in the family. Maybe it was just my mindset and on another day it would make me feel how ugly people are ~ like, say, an episode of Cops. But as I was watching, even the tormented addict fighting for all she was worth to keep things the same was beautiful to the point it made me teary, like when I think about the sensitive young man my husband was when he was a teenager (and still is).

It just makes me think of the truth in that old saw, “I fall onto the thorns of life, I bleed.”

Everyone in the family has his or her role. Often one parent is an enabler and the other is absent, one way or another. Often, there’s one sibling who is grounded and really the voice of reason, but he or she gets shouted down. In the whirling spinning center of it all is the addict. I don’t blame them at all, though ~ in some ways, they are the emblem of the family’s sickness. They keep the family together as much as anyone else. They allow others in the family to blame them and not face their own demons.

Then, this morning, I drove an hour and a half to a dentist’s appointment in Fort Collins. Up on top of the pass between Laramie and Cheyenne, there were ground blizzards and long stretches of ice. On the way back, I stopped to help a young woman named Laura who had spun out and ended up backwards in the borrow ditch. We were sitting in my car talking when the very nice man in the snow plow stopped to suggest that, since people were on their way to help, that the woman should sit in her car and I should continue on, as he said he’d seen more than once another car come along, lose control, and sideswipe the parked car that was helping. So I gave the gal my number and continued on.

What I thought about after that was that how we put ourselves in danger when we help people and how sometimes we aren’t really helping, just enabling people. I don’t mean to say I regret stopping to help the young woman ~ in Wyoming, especially in winter, you just gotta ~ but it did get me thinking about how life throws you storms and you cling to one another for help and sometimes you save someone and sometimes you do more harm than good. And boundaries ~ I thought a lot about boundaries and the strength it takes to be the one who stands up and says no.

Questions of the Day: What do you think of “reality” television? Which prompts me to ask the leading question: isn’t it another form of us trying to impose narrative, to make order out of the chaos of the world?

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