The Blame Game With Erin and Elizabeth Brockovich!
In a recent interview, Erin and Elizabeth Brockovich disclosed that 17-year-old Elizabeth has been treated for a chemical dependency. She blames an absent mother for her addictive disease. Swing and a miss, Elizabeth! While this is a common theory, especially among addicts themselves, addiction is a complicated illness without any clear recipe for what makes an addict. For parents, being blamed is part of the job description, especially for parents of adolescents. Many parents eager to assuage their own guilt about the situation readily accept the causal relationship. That’s a narcissistic, overly simplified view, and one that does not serve the individual achieving remission. If you caused it, you can cure it is the thinking and neither is true. The happy news for the Brockovich family is that this silly, indulgent, and inappropriate view of her situation is coming from an actual adolescent. Many times parents sit in my office, disclosing their story and by the way they are talking about the identified patient, one would swear that the individual is 15 years old… but they are actually 40! Take care of this now Erin, with the tenacity of what made you famous, learn, follow instructions of the solid people at Visions, learn to support Elizabeth in a meaningful way and she will be blossom in ways you can’t even imagine.
So, if Erin herself is not to blame, what is? What makes an addict? Good questions with only speculation as the answer but here goes:
Genetics: Addictive disease is genetic. When families have an addict, the risk factors for the next generation are high, just as with any other disease process. This is a complicated thing for many people to understand because denial in families is often dense and well crafted.
Trauma: Trauma occurs every day. The world is full of landmines and pitfalls. We all have fundamental failings that inflict pain on the people around us. Based on the film, there was plenty of trauma at the Brockovich house. Leaving the kids with a biker stranger? Interesting choice, but that may have been the best of a difficult situation. Erin to blame? No. Traumatic? Yes. Trauma could even be a perfect stranger pontificating in a blog about a family he has never met. Trauma means different things to different people. Addicts being highly sensitive people are vulnerable to traumatic experience, which will dislodge addictive tendency.
Exposure: There is a cultural expectation that teenagers will “experiment”. When one is 12 and you split three beers among a sleepover while Mom and Dad are out to dinner, that’s an experiment. The experiment doesn’t take much time, beyond that scenario, the experiment is over, and then it’s use. For some it becomes abuse.
To an addict, life feels like an itchy wool sweater that won’t come off. There is resistance to acceptance, a lack of ability to self soothe. When a young person finds the right intoxicant, the world comes into focus, it makes sense, and the pains of ordinary experience melt away. Compound this with family dynamics, trauma, and genetics, entitlement of the addict, cultural tolerance, the family believing this is a lesson to learn and a million other contributing factors. An absent mother? Maybe it didn’t help. We have also heard “my mother was controlling”, “My mother was smothering” and a million other reasons as to why individuals develop into addicts. I think the truth is, nobody really knows. Addicts will always find a reason to use, even when you tell them not to.
My sincere hope for this young woman is that she finds her recovery on her terms, accepts herself as a mix of good and bad traits. I hope she learns to accept that her mother did the best she could with what she had at the time. Blame never gets anyone very far, easy to say, a lifetime of internal work to feel.