It is probably obvious to all of us now—if we didn’t believe it before—but the Coronavirus pandemic has brought to light the reality that we are complex creatures. If Jesus cites (Deuteronomy 8:3) by saying that “man does not live on bread alone” (Matthew 4:4), the book of Genesis predates Jesus by revealing that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
This is to say that human beings can’t survive simply by having our basic needs met, such as food, water, and shelter. Nor can we simply exist in our own preoccupied bubbles. To be human is to be together. We need each other. We need activities and tasks to do. I have been deeply reflecting on these insights throughout the pandemic.
For much of my life, I had a poor relationship with my dad. My dad is a good man in many ways but like all of us, he has wounds. I have spent a large amount of time trying to understand why my dad is the way that he is. I have realized that I will never fully understand him or his past.
However, when I was at inpatient rehab, the facility offered a “family weekend,” which was formative and healing for me and my family. I wish to share some insights from that experience in order to help explain how I have come to better understand myself through the struggles of the men in my family.
Understanding My Grandfather
The rehab staff led us into an activity where each family mapped out their family tree and listed any members with addictions. It was an extremely fascinating experience. I learned that both sides of my family have a history of mental health issues and addiction.
In relation to my father, I learned that my grandfather was an alcoholic and likely had a drug problem as well. This was illuminating because I made a connection to my grandfather’s struggles and my poor relationship with my dad, which in turn impacted my life. Mostly, I was just thankful that the truth was out in the open.
Growing up, I never saw that side of my grandfather. He wasn’t a saint but I found him to be pretty patient as a grandfather. I never saw him drink alcohol—and that was true also for my dad growing up. However, my grandfather was incredibly negative. As a kid, I don’t think that I would’ve been able to pick up on that on my own but my parents tried to shield me from it.
One of the things that I could never understand about my grandfather was that he could never say anything kind about people. He was highly negative about my grandmother, who everyone else described as a saint and held the family together. I never knew my grandmother because she died of cancer before I was born. I used to look to my grandfather to try to gain insight into who she was but I quickly learned that he painted her into someone that she wasn’t.
I spent a decent amount of time speaking with him one on one, but I could never understand why he was negative all the time—and why so much of what he said about family members was actually wrong (I fact-checked his stories with other members). However, I have gained some insight based on my experience with the pandemic.
My Shared Weaknesses
As a result of the pandemic, I was laid off from work. During the two weeks, I didn’t have a job I experienced a range of mental and spiritual states. Sometimes I was depressed. Other times I felt hopeless. I often found myself angry.
I noticed that my unresolved resentments began spiraling and that I would be angry about things that happened in my past that weren’t affecting me today. This led me to obsess about those things.
It’s not to say that I wouldn’t have this tendency if society was in a somewhat normal state. However, my isolation limited my ability to be a healthy human being and engage in certain activities, such as Eucharistic adoration, 12-step meetings, counseling, friendships, visits to local stores, Mass, etc.
In other words, my propensity to get resentful would’ve been weakened in light of these healthy, social, and spiritual outlets. And these were all activities lacking in my grandfather’s life.
In light of this experience, I’ve found it easier to understand my grandfather a little more and put his character into perspective. My grandfather died a widow and a loner. He lived alone and never made any effort to reach out to our family—we always had to go to him. He was cheerful and talkative whenever we were around but it always mystified me that he never reached out.
Without a ton of human contact, I can see why my grandfather was able to think of the things he did about others—there was no one there to call him out on his nonsense. If isolation goes on long enough, our dark sides can spiral out of control. I think this is what happened to my grandfather.
Humbly, I hold my grandfather up as an example of someone I could become if I’m not intentional about the way I live my life. I’m a sensitive person and introverted by nature, which are two proclivities that have driven me into isolation before.
During the worst parts of my acting out, it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to lock myself in my room on a Friday night and watch pornography most of the night (sometimes all night). When most people were usually being most social, I was being most anti-social. I am all too well aware that I share the same shortcomings of the other men in my family.
I share this not to scare people but as a story of illumination. It is freeing to be able to understand our weaknesses because this enables us to form strong habits to not only guard against them but to grow in virtue and love. We can’t move forward if we don’t understand our history—both our individual past and our shared family lineage.
Have you taken the time to understand your family members’ shortcomings and weaknesses that you also might share? Do you struggle with a tendency to isolate yourself?
Quarter Joe is a lifelong Catholic and has been in recovery for pornography addiction for nearly three years. He is passionate about the spiritual path of the 12-step model and the power of Jesus in the Eucharist in bringing healing and transformation.