Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!


I still remember when I first saw "The Great Santini." I was in college, and saw it at the Kennedy Theater in Kirksville, MO. I had been a little over a year from having left the tumult of a family life bullet-riddled with alcoholism and violence. I somehow sat through the whole movie, but promptly went home and threw up. It still is, to this day, "my PTSD movie."

I would not have thought of it today, had not a different discussion of PTSD crossed my path.

I am not afraid to admit that thirty years later, two scenes in this movie make me queasy.

Bull Meechum (Robert Duvall) is a warrior without a war. To assuage his need for war, he drinks too much and terrorizes his family, particularly his oldest son, Ben (Michael O'Keefe). Every family activity becomes a competition, every interaction between Meechum and his son becomes a bullfight. Meechum's wife, Lillian (Blythe Danner), somehow, in the midst of this, continues to feed a gentleness into her son, despite her husband's repeated attempts to beat it out of him, and keeps her own sanity via the depth of her own religious faith.

But to anyone who ever had one or more alcoholic parents, parts of this movie become very, VERY close to home--the "friendly games" that turned into physical violence, the hyper-vigilance to see "which version" of your parent came home from work today, and the times the alcoholic parent wasn't drinking and you realize how much you love him/her, only to have that person turn around and dash your love for them to the rocks yet another time, so you ask yourself, "Why did I ever bother? Why was I stupid enough to let my guard down AGAIN with this person?"

This movie is a reminder of the toxic residue that can be created when our desire to love fully clashes with those who are incapable of it because of their own demons. It's about this clash coming to a head at the place the abused must stand up for the strength of his or her convictions and walk away from the toxic dance.

It is a movie about giving up expectations and living in the moment from "that defining moment of the end of a pattern," onward.

In my own case, this movie was prophetic. In less than five years from the time I saw this movie for the first time, I had the moment where I stood up to the abuser in the room once and for all--and both our lives were forever changed, and I know for sure in my case, it was for the better; I think in some ways, both of us for the better.

The problem, though, arises in those times we come to that conclusion without that "final confrontation", without that one defining "High Noon" moment (to steal from another movie) where the demons are all named, and faced. How do we get there without "out-Santini-ing" The Great Santini? How do we get there in the spirit of love and reconciliation without a direct, no-holds-barred cage match between you and the abuser? How do we get there without the convenient ending we get in the movie, with the death of The Great Santini and Ben's admission that he had often prayed for his father to die?

It's much trickier, isn't it? It's much trickier when the abuser is still alive, or still in your family, or still in the shadows as the "ex", "because of the children." It's trickier because perhaps one of the most basic human survival instincts, buried way down in the limbic lobe of the brain...is revenge.

Oooo. Revenge.

Revenge is not in our Baptismal Covenant, is it? Yet plenty of the the Psalms reek of the Psalmist asking (and maybe even gloating a little over it) for God's revenge upon whom the Psalmist declares as "wicked." People do all kinds of revenge in both the Old and New Testaments. Perhaps it is one of the rawest, most human parts of our humanity.

I think back to an old saying..."The best revenge is to be happy."

That's a great saying, because when one truly becomes happy, the motivation no longer becomes "revenge" per se. Even if one starts pursuing happiness to "get back at the abuser," as one becomes healthier, that becomes less of the reason for pursuing happiness, and the real healing starts, and the need for revenge lessens.

The 12-step crowd has known this one for a long time. People who recognize they hold grudges, in their recovery process, are often told to "Pray for that person every day for two weeks. Repeat as necessary."

My personal experience doing this activity has taught me something. It has taught me that, if I earnestly pray for an abuser in my life, that my anger gives way to sadness. Not pity, but a true sadness. Pity dehumanizes a person, and that only does to the abuser what the abuser did to you. For me, it becomes a sadness about a world that can harm someone so that for them to feel good about themselves, they must abuse other people, or abuse substances, or both. In feeling the sadness of the world, we can honor our Baptismal Covenant to "seek and serve Christ in all people."

However, it will NOT make the PTSD go away. As I said earlier, there are still two scenes in this movie, thirty years later, that I have to force myself to sit through, and after I have, I still feel this slight "shutting down" afterwards. But I remind myself that, with God's help, I did not punch the "stop" button...and going through our lives without punching the "stop" button is a living reminder of the gift of grace.

3 comments:

Oh, Gawd. Just reading this gives me a PTSD recurrence. Good essay, Maria.

"my PTSD movie."

You are hilarious (even in the face of horridness-- ¨having left the tumult of a family life bullet-riddled with alcoholism and violence.¨

Only non-active alcoholics would think this is funny...given that I know no more details than those stated...I think it is funny...I may need serious shrink work.

Happy New Year dear K, you´re a favorite of mine...so happy you survived it all.

@Lisa: Yep, this situation is probably more universally known than I want to admit.

@Leonardo: Well, you know, in a way, there are funny parts to these sorts of stories, and naw, I doubt you need shrink work, I think you are displaying the healthy side of recovery--that ability to now see the absurdities--why? Because now you know THIS WAS NOT "NORMAL!" How many of us learn what "normal" is wayyyyyyy into adulthood?

Happy new year to both of you, you both remain in my prayers and good wishes always!

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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