Dysfunctional Family life is part and parcel of Living on the Autism Spectrum. Now, thankfully, upon reaching my later years, I have the benefit of looking back — looking back to understand why my family seemed so difficult. And, after thirty-plus years of marriage, why it, too, has proven problematic, beyond what seemed normal. But what is “normal?”
My Dysfunctional Family
As the oldest of three girls, I was born to a mother of English descent (think, Mayflower) who was also the eldest in her family of five children. My father (strong German ancestry) was also the oldest of five children. Lots of research has revealed family dynamics began long before I was born. I never knew any of this, but it explains a lot. When my sister was born six-years later I was very resentful.
My sister was very different: physically, personality, her love of science. I was the artist, the dreamer who always tried to conform but never fit in. We knocked heads often and really hated being forced to share a room until our youngest sister was born six years later. I resented her as well, tagging along when I was a senior in high school. She did, however, become just as much of a dreamer as I, probably more so: she leaning to fashion and me to design.
What I remember most about our family was there were no hugs, laughter, any terms of endearment. Ours was a life of routine, chores, days planned out to the hour. Reading was not encouraged; social activities began only after the daily list of chores were completed. I know this sounds like every other post World War II family, but we had other complications as well.We now know that ADD-ADHD-Dyslexia with Autism Spectrum runs in our family, along with alcoholism.
Many men in our extended family were bi-polar, including my father. His regular, six-month outbursts of rage and disappearance for eighteen hours kept us all uneasy. He was, however, every bit the protector of his girls, even though he had no idea what to do with us. My mother, while trying to cope with my dad’s difficult personality, was her own drama queen. Always bemoaning her birth on December 24th as depriving her of a “real birthday,” she had a long list of reasons she was miserable: giving birth made her lose “her figure;” wearing Jackie Kennedy inspired polyester shifts “made her gain weight.” There were many, many more, but the bottom line was a miserable person that got worse as she aged. She missed out on so much, especially the joy and appreciation of her five grandchildren. With two girls and three boys, she had no idea what to do with or how to communicate with the grandsons and she made that painfully obvious to us all.
My Subsequent Dysfunctional Marriage
My last, and third marriage, has lasted over thirty years. It, too, has been dramatic because I married someone so complicated, broken, and headstrong that I often say I grabbed the proverbial “tiger by the tail” and never let go. Heaven knows why, but I hung on for dear life. To me, for the first time in my life I knew, beyond all reason, that I had to marry this person. And, like a bucking bronco, he butted and kicked each time I made any effort to show him consistent love and support. Having lost his father at aged five, his sister to gang violence and a step-brother in a car accident, his family lived a life of constant turmoil and mobility. Three more children to the original family of four added to the complications. He definitely had a difficult life. He knew no normal at all. As broken as I believe my family was, I still had more ability to offer stability. Sadly, it’s true that, we are only comfortable with our own life experiences, good or bad, and often search for a way repeat them as a way to find peace.
With infidelity, alcoholism, Autism in both of our families, ours has been a marriage know one thought would survive. But, survive we have, with my husband finally settling down (at aged 70!) and me understanding the tools for living with our learning differences. We are both exhausted from all the drama. We suffered two periods of bankruptcy, as well as the . We have, however, always been employed in industries that were low paying but plentiful even though we crisscrossed the country for those opportunities.
Amazingly, once we settled into an area on the California Central Coast, we finally became pregnant. Raising a child when everyone else our age had grandchildren was challenging. After suffering through many miscarriages the birth of our son was pure joy for all the right reasons. Thank goodness he has maintained a sense of humor because everyone assumes we are his grandparents! My husband and I definitely had issues because of our different upbringing. In addition to his sad family history, he is second generation Hispanic/Yaqui Indian/Mayan descent. There are too many dominant genes in our family. Who in their right mind could survive that?
But, survive we have, and I laugh that our story will make a great novel one day: think Lucy and Desi and you pretty much have our story as well!
And so . . .
I hope that by sharing my Dysfunctional Family, warts and all, has been helpful in understanding how Living on the Autism Spectrum can complicate our lives. I have described how to make learning differences more manageable. Once an unknown, these learning differences now have names, solutions, tools and support.
There are numerous stories by celebrities and others who have acknowledged their learning differences, shared how they overcame them and thrived because of those differences. We no longer have to live in a vacuum wondering what is wrong with us and why we were born with these differences.
Do not let the complications of a Dysfunctional Family bring you down. Own your own truth and run with it!
“What you risk reveals what you value.”
Recommended Reading: Camino Island, by John Grisham
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