The Sixth Reality; The Family Scrimmage by Susan Jackson, LMFT

Sue Jackson 6th Reality

If you have been following the realities of the addictive family, you are ready for the sixth reality; The Family Scrimmage. When we hear the word scrimmage, we usually understand it to mean: a team practicing against itself in order to improve the way it plays together against an opposing team. During the addictive family scrimmage the family plays out, the rough and vigorous struggle which can lead to a bloody battle, (the true definition of the word scrimmage). In a scrimmage, one part of the team plays offense and the other plays defense. The addiction is the opposing team.

For instance, in the family scrimmage, the addict usually plays the coach, a position of power, and determines what position each member of the family will play that day.

The co-dependent (usually the other parent) plays the assistant coach and ensures the team is acting accordingly to all the coaches’ demands. The team captain, usually the oldest child reminds the rest of the team what the consequences will be if the team does not play as expected by the coach. Eventually, as the addiction progresses, the coach (i.e., addict or alcoholic) may employ terrorizing tactics in an effort to force the family team to play against the opposing team, addiction.

Sometimes the coach, (the addict) is not feeling well and the assistant coach, the codependent, steps in to present the day’s scrimmage “plays” to be performed, as dictated by the coach. The codependent (assistant coach) may use tears, loud sobs, or even penetrating silence to get the team to play their best so the coach will not punish them. Whether in agreement or not, the assistant coach learned early on to not challenge the coach’s judgment. “If you want to scrimmage with me, then honor my tactics,” the coach constantly reminds the assistant coach and all of the players.

Supporting the coach by implementing mapped out “plays” and positions of the day, the assistant coach demands “silence” so as not to disturb the addict or alcoholic, who, according to the codependent assistant coach, deserves to “rest.” The siblings play all the other positions, such as star of the team, water boy or girl, defensive or offensive lineman.

Pain is a position.

The addictive family scrimmage plays on a field which resembles a battlefield, as the rules are sometimes rigid, and relentless yet have the ability to change several times throughout the scrimmage. The family playing field has end zones that are impossible to find while the goal posts are always out of reach.

Each day begins with unconscious preparations for the daily “rough, often vigorous struggle” to begin. The experiences of the previous daily scrimmage runs through the minds of each family member, taking them to a high degree of anxiety, anger, and resentment. The coach’s mood has a powerful effect on all members of the family team because the coach dictates how everyone should feel. The coach reminds them who “puts the food on the table” and who “pays the bills”, shaming them in order for them to “play” better.

The daily scrimmage poisons the day for all who participated in the scrimmage that morning or the night before. At work or school the family members feel degraded, humiliated, misunderstood, scared, alone, sad, or betrayed as a result of the family’s reality.

Sorrow is a position.

Eventually, tired of participating in the daily scrimmage, all family players desire to quit the family team. Separation, divorce, and running away are some of the ways to quit the team. As the addiction progresses, the family pathos and abstruse realities increase. Tormented by the reality of addiction with all its abuses, abandonments, and responsibilities the thought of suicide or homicide may be considered as another way to quit the team. This is a sad reality, however there is a more positive reality and that is that families can heal! That is the reality of the family that chooses recovery over addiction.

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