Close Encounters of a Disordered Kind: Surviving and Thriving Amidst the Challenges of Alcoholism and Personality DisordersNovember 29, 2016
Author Name: Lucy Hammontree
Co-Author: Fleta Carol
This book presents the author’s upbringing with a narcissistic mother, and her lifetime of subsequent struggles and triumphs in chaotic interpersonal relationships, which were significantly influenced by alcoholism and challenging personality issues. The narrative takes a well-referenced dive into specific Cluster B personality disorders and their varying manifestations from a layperson’s point of view. The damaging effects of alcohol abuse on the author’s family are detailed, including possible fetal alcohol syndrome/effect, her oldest son’s sociopathy, her youngest son’s death, her daughter’s struggles with bipolar disorder—and her journey to understanding her disproportionate attraction to men who lacked conscience and empathy.
Length of Sample (in words): 6,280
Close Encounters of a Disordered Kind:
Surviving and Thriving Amidst the Challenges of Alcoholism and Personality Disorders
Close Encounters of a Disordered Kind: Surviving and Thriving Amidst the Challenges of Alcoholism and Personality Disorders, is a 70,000-word inspirational nonfiction/memoir title that outlines my upbringing with a narcissistic mother, and my subsequent struggles and triumphs in a series of chaotic interpersonal relationships throughout adolescence, motherhood, and maturity, which were significantly influenced by the effects of alcoholism and involvement with people who had very challenging personality issues.
This book presents an unflinching look at the damaging effects of alcohol abuse on my family, including possible fetal alcohol syndrome/effect, the emergence of mental health issues and personality disorders in my familial and romantic relationships—including my oldest son’s sociopathy, my youngest son’s death, my daughter’s struggles with bipolar disorder—and my journey to understanding my disproportionate attraction to men who lacked conscience and empathy.
Close Encounters is both the account of my life and a study of specific examples and behaviors related to alcoholism and complicated personality conditions—the latter of which intersect with and support the biographical aspects of the story. The narrative takes a deep, well-referenced dive into specific Cluster B personality disorders (including borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder) and their varying manifestations from a layperson’s point of view, while also reflecting on my own path towards hope, healing, and success amidst these challenges. My frantic and convoluted attempts to meet the needs of others, to the point of threatening my own physical and mental wellbeing, are shared as the impetus toward change and healing.
The rocky road to recovery outlined in Close Encounters involves a combination of tried and true “recovery” elements, along with a new understanding of how personality disorders can complicate one’s life, and how both professional help and spiritual practices can be a viable path to eventual healing and peace. I hope to reach people still struggling through similar sets of challenges, and to inspire them to believe that change and healing can happen. I also believe that Close Encounters can serve as a bittersweet and cautionary tale for parents-to-be, eliminating the extreme agony and uncertainty I experienced, as one who chose to drink during the critical prenatal development of precious children.
What makes this book IMPORTANT: Close Encounters integrates an honest portrayal of successful recovery from alcoholism—which often involves intense self-study and personal inventory—with the open acknowledgement that recovering people may continue to be attracted to the chaos of dysfunctional behavior and relationships long after physical recovery. Close Encounters endeavors to distinguish between addictions and disorders that are “treatable” and those that are highly resistant to treatment, a vitally important distinction. For healthy people in recovery from addictions who, in their own gratitude for their recovery, may believe that change is possible for anyone who makes a serious attempt, this book shines a light on certain demographics for whom change is highly unlikely—and on what steps those in close contact with such individuals can take to educate and protect themselves from further hurt and trauma. This is a point that is often missed or misunderstood within the hopeful frame of traditional recovery ideology.
This book may be especially useful to parents who have survived their own addiction issues with some success, only to be faced with the prospect of children who bring frustrating, seemingly illogical, or destructive behaviors into the family dynamic. Likewise, this book will be useful to people in romantic relationships who are unaware of the devastating effects that both alcoholism and conditions such as antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissism can have on both themselves and their partners.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide.
For the many people affected by individuals with diagnosed, or undiagnosed personality disorders, Close Encounters can open the door to understanding about these very difficult to treat conditions, particularly anti-social personality disorders such as sociopathy. Psychologist Martha Stout estimates, in her highly acclaimed book The Sociopath Next Door, that as many as 4% of the world’s population are sociopaths, who have little to no empathy or affectionate feelings for humans or animals. The often parasitic and inconsiderate lifestyle of sociopaths can cause great physical and emotional harm to many who love or live with them. As to narcissism, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the estimated incidence is 6.2%, with rates greater for men (7.7%) than for women (4.8%). This equates to another large group of people affected by those with this very troubling condition who could benefit from a source like Close Encounters, which talks about this condition and its effects in layman’s terms. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the incidence of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is estimated to be between 1.6%-5.9% of the adult U.S. population. BPD can be very difficult to understand and identify, and it is my experience that stories about behaviors of a person diagnosed with the disorder help a lot in developing an understanding of what might be going on in one’s own life, and also in how to seek support.
With regard for bipolar disorder, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that roughly 2.6% of the U.S. population suffers from this condition. One difference between the population of people with bipolar disorder and that of Cluster B disorders is that treatment for bipolar disorder with therapy and prescription medication often meets with some success, in contrast with Cluster B disorders, which many professionals agree have little chance of being mitigated by therapy or drugs.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2014, 16.3 million adults ages 18 and older (6.8 percent of this age group) had an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), which is a currently used term that includes alcoholism. This includes 10.6 million men (9.2 percent of men in this age group) and 5.7 million women (4.6 percent of women in this age group). SAMSHA also reports that about 1.5 million adults received treatment for an AUD at a specialized facility in 2014 (8.9 percent of adults who needed treatment). This included 1.1 million men (9.8 percent of men in need) and 431,000 women (7.4 percent of women who needed treatment). These statistics indicate that a very small percentage of people suffering with alcoholism are participating in treatment. Historically, the situation has been very similar. Alcoholism is a slippery condition to treat, as recovery requires the full emotional, spiritual, and physical participation of the patient. In contrast to someone with a large gaping wound, which could be sewn up and expected to heal completely, people with alcoholism experience varying degrees of commitment to recovery, and varying degrees of healing and satisfaction with life following recovery efforts. Mental health counselors and therapists could use Close Encounters with appropriate clients to provide examples of using-related trauma and consequences which can be successfully dealt with in recovery.
Though conclusive research is thin on the causes of personality disorders, my own experiential thinking is that fetal alcohol exposure certainly increases the risk of these things occurring in children, and I explore this possible correlation (non-scientifically) in Close Encounters. Thousands of parents struggle with the possibility of fetal alcohol exposure and its consequences. The prevalence of FASE in the United States was estimated by the Institute of Medicine in 1996 to be between 0.5 and 3.0 cases per 1,000. More recent reports from specific U.S. sites report the prevalence of FAS to be 2 to 7 cases per 1,000, and the prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) to be as high as 20 to 50 cases per 1,000. The potentially devastating effects of FASE/FASD are, of course, 100% preventable if one abstains from alcohol during pregnancy. Close Encounters can speak out to mothers-to-be (and fathers-to-be) who can still make the choice to eliminate alcohol and drugs from their children’s incredibly important gestational environment.
What makes this book TIMELY: Close Encounters is highly relevant to the rapidly expanding public interest in alcoholism and personality disorders. These conditions are now frequently discussed in news media, and featured in mainstream television productions such as The Dr. Phil Show, the CSI series, Snapped, Forensic Files, and NCIS. I believe the public “need to know” about these issues is quickly gaining traction, and that Close Encounters could indeed serve as a bridge needed between awareness, understanding, and a decision to seek professional help (or protection) for readers in situations similar to mine.
At the time of this writing, in November 2016, Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy released a report calling for a major cultural shift in the way Americans view drug and alcohol addiction. The report, “Facing Addiction in America,” details the toll addiction takes on the nation — 78 people die each day from an opioid overdose; 20 million have a substance use disorder. Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, co-sponsor of bipartisan legislation passed in 2016 that creates grants to expand treatment programs, said he hopes the Surgeon General’s report raises awareness. “We have to change the way we talk about addiction and break the stigma to help more Americans suffering from this disease get the treatment and recovery they need,” Portman said. People in recovery face a multitude of adjustment issues that can cause significant problems in relationships. Close Encounters is all about breaking the stigma of seeking support for these issues. Its publication at this critical time could be very relevant for both addicts/alcoholics, and their loved ones, in their attempts to overcome the longer term challenges of recovery.
Quite recently, neuroscience research conducted by Dr. Kent A. Kiehl, Ph.D., author of the Psychopath Whisperer, and Dr. Robert Hare, author of the Psychopathy Checklist made a hopeful case for the early diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder among children, which was not within my reach when my oldest child began manifesting alarming behaviors at a very early age. For parents today, there may be hope for professional intervention before their children’s behavior escalates to the point described in Close Encounters.
What makes this book UNIQUE: This book covers new ground in its presentation from the perspective of a daughter, mother, grandmother, and partner encountering a broad spectrum of very challenging events and personalities over the course of a lifetime. Its content is largely chronological, with actual events exemplifying and underscoring the larger points made about the influences and outcomes that living with alcoholism and personality-disorders can bring.
Many of the several hundred books I read in preparation for writing Close Encounters covered some of the situations described in the book, but none covered all of them in the detail and variety that I have tried to provide. It was particularly hard for me to find helpful books from the perspective of a parent in recovery from alcoholism, who exposed her children to alcohol prenatally, and whose children then began to show signs of mental illness, anti-social and/or criminal behavior as they grew up. There are many books written by people who have adopted such children and then had to deal with the surprise of fetal alcohol effects, but few that deal with the guilt of being a recovering birth parent who is raising children who may have been damaged in utero. In Close Encounters, I have tried to reach out to help these parents acknowledge and get past the guilt, shame, distractions and enabling that one’s own drinking behavior often engenders, to forgive oneself, heal and, if necessary, take a strong stand with a child who becomes abusive or out-of-control, for whatever reason.
Analysis of Competition: In researching the potential market for Close Encounters, I looked first at the general market for self-help literature. According to Marketdata Enterprises of Tampa, FL, the self-help book market in the United States in 2013 was valued at $776 million, with the audiobooks segment of this market totaling $455 million. Marketdata Enterprises also reports sustained and increasing interest in self-help books, which it anticipates will fuel an average annual growth rate of 5.5%. In addition to high revenues, self-help also has a high recidivism rate, with the most likely purchaser of a self-help book being the same person who purchased one already in the last 18 months.
To study specific competitive titles and their performance, I selected twenty-nine books that I had read relative to the subject matter of my own. These books appear in Table 1. (which is not included in this excerpt) Many of these titles are cited as sources of information in Close Encounters. I used the RankTracer facility to show Average Amazon Ranking for these titles as the data appeared on October 16, 2016. The Average Amazon Ranking refers to popularity ranking with reference to the estimated 4,000,000 books for sale by Amazon. A ranking lower than 10,000 is considered “good,” but daily sales fluctuate considerably, so the ranking number will always be changing. This data is most reliable for books that have been in print longer, as evidence of sustained sales can be more easily proven.
The ranking for nine of the twenty-nine books included in Table 1. is below 10,000; considered “good” or desirable. Seven additional titles fall under the 50,000 ranking mark. I believe that my book would fall somewhere across this 50,000-10,000 spectrum. My assumption would be that along with good content, the venues of publication and marketing efforts greatly influence ranking performance.
Audience: The audience for Close Encounters is expected to be both professional and non-professional book-reading adults interested in learning more about addiction, mental health, family dynamics, fetal alcohol syndrome/effect, personal growth and spirituality. Close Encounters could be particularly relevant for undergraduate or graduate students seeking case study type stories or examples for their professional preparation in therapy or counseling fields. I specifically hope to reach those involved in treatment and recovery from alcoholism, and who may be faced with personality disorders such as narcissism, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder or “sociopathy”– personally, therapeutically or relationally.
My forty-year career in education as both a teacher and a grants consultant makes be believe that Close Encounters could also be a useful resource for educators, within current efforts to eliminate bullying and promote positive social-emotional learning climates for both teachers and students. The subject of mental health issues that could affect students and classrooms has become required study for continuing education credits for many teachers. In the days of school shootings and troubling bullying behavior, many schools have embraced the importance understanding individual children and promoting both emotional and physical safety in the classroom. A teacher’s understanding of a child’s unique circumstances can make an incredible difference in that child’s eventual failure or success. The introduction of a book like Close Encounters to the teaching population could help to shed light on certain conditions that might be common to children (or their parents) who are misunderstood in classroom settings. The chronology of my own recovery issues, and my children’s frustrating behavior during their early years, could help a teacher take steps to address behavior issues and provide support before children’s behavior escalates and become harmful to others.
Close Encounters has undergone a three-stage, professional, developmental edit and is 70,000 words in length, with 28 chapters. None of the narrative in Close Encounters has been published to date. It is complete, but I would certainly welcome copy editing and editorial suggestions for changes. I would be incredibly honored if Rowman and Littlefield considered Close Encounters for publication. Considering the thousands of people affected by the subjects covered, and the historical performance of similar books, I would anticipate the market for this book could initially be 5,000- 10,000 readers, with readership growing as promotional efforts are made.
Close Encounters of a Disordered Kind:
Surviving and Thriving Amidst the Challenges of Alcoholism and Personality Disorders
ANNOTATED TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: The introduction for Close Encounters presents the author’s motivation to write the book, citing the sharp contrast between a peaceful life today, with the chaos and trauma of her prior life. Her efforts to discover her part in successive, dysfunctional relationships is mentioned, along with gratitude for the prior work of others who have contributed to the body of research referenced in Close Encounters. The author expresses a desire to share her own journey so that others may be encouraged to invest in their own healing, to identify their own contributions to chaotic relationships, and to take steps toward healing that involve education, compassion, spirituality, and self-respect.
Chapter 1: Move Your Hands
Close Encounters’ first chapter begins in 2014, with the author’s reflection on her mother’s recent death, her own aversion to aging, and the surprise that her present life and circumstances are relatively happy, considering the challenges presented by her first decades. The chapter then relates experiences that showcase her mother’s scattered and self-focused personality, her hoarding behavior, the humorous futility of a “rummage sale,” and darker childhood memories of humiliation and punishment. The subject of “betrayal bonds” is introduced, and the story unfolds of a child born in the 1950’s, who strives to please but never feels like she measures up to expectations. The author presents a struggle to “stand out” publicly, as her mother demanded, which meant working hard for people who mistreated her, and tolerating emotional and physical abuse. Chapter 1 closes with a glimpse of the author trying to navigate college years and young adulthood during the 1970’s, amidst drinking, drugs, and toxic relationships, as she seeks the adoration and attention that was unavailable in her relationship with her mother.
Chapter 2: Learning about Narcissism
In Chapter 2, there is a broader examination of the author’s experience as a fearful child trying to please a mother who was often demanding and demeaning, and who instituted shaming, beatings and haircuts as punishment. There are links to instances in which the author’s own children became victims of her mother’s self-centered behavior as well. The topic of narcissism is introduced, with several citations and explanations, particularly related to the people pleasing behavior that often results from upbringing by a narcissistic parent. The author’s selection of a husband, in 1974, who turned out to have a personality similar to her mother’s, is mentioned. The tendency for a child like the author to develop extreme empathy, along with conditioning to never look for faults in others, are described as possible precursors to dysfunction in future relationships.
Chapter 3: A Long, Strange Trip—Connecting the Dots
In Chapter 3, the author shifts back to a focus on her mother’s childhood challenges and some possible sources of her mother’s fearful and controlling approach to life. She describes the early marriage of her mother’s parents, amidst the backdrop of extreme poverty in a remote southern mountain community in 1930’s, and the arrival of many children in quick succession. Incidents of sexual abuse involving both her mother and herself are mentioned, as is the profound impact these experiences had in diminishing the author’s ability to put a stop to subsequent inappropriate and abusive experiences. At age 18, during a brief engagement period, the author endures a sexual assault where her mother’s insensitivity is particularly troublesome. Consumed by guilt and remorse over this incident, the author breaks her engagement. Her growing attraction to unusual people and circumstances starts to emerge as a theme.
Chapter 4: Coloring Outside of the Lines
Chapter 4 begins with reflection of the author’s early fascination with the man she would marry. His reckless impulsiveness and his willingness to keep her out past her curfew are mentioned as desirable traits. An episode where he disables a carnival is particularly amusing to her. This chapter details a series of humorous, humiliating, and increasingly dangerous drinking escapades, culminating in a near fatal vehicle accident which resulted in serious physical injury. The accident serves as a temporary wake-up call to modify the couple’s drinking behavior.
Chapter 5: Love Does Not Conquer All
In chapter 5, the young couple decides to get married and dive in to the “back-to-the-earth” lifestyle popular in the late 1970’s. They buy forty acres and begin taming the land and building a house. The author alludes to a developing fear of her husband as his need to have things “his way” starts to involve physical violence. She tries to avoid behavior that causes blow-ups—but one drunken night early in their marriage she engages in a one-night stand that brings huge fear, guilt and remorse as she tries to return to the “normalcy” of the marriage. The author’s drinking escalates as she copes with the guilt of her secret and the fear of her husband’s volatile nature. But in contrast, this chapter also presents the satisfactions and excitement of working together, living off the land, and the home births of three precious children, a boy, then a girl, then another boy. The children’s stories are bittersweet however, tainted by the drinking that their parents continue to do. A heartbreaking episode is shared, where the author’s tiny daughter contracts spinal meningitis as a probable result of the child’s exposure to cold during one of her mother’s blackouts. The author also shares fears about her oldest child’s early fascination with guns, knives, and fire, his lack of concern for the feelings of others, and her fear that he might harm the other children.
Chapter 6: A Perfect Storm for Disorder Development
In Chapter 6, the author is brought to her knees by the painful acknowledgement that her drinking may have done irreparable damage to her children, and she gets help to get sober in 1983. She then gets a job she loves in the local school system as a support person for children who are experiencing trouble at home due to addictions and abuse. But as her new sobriety is unfolding, so are her oldest son’s destructive and conscienceless behaviors, along with the lasting effects of spinal meningitis for her daughter which included partial deafness. The author carries a fourth child to term completely sober, but then relapses and is again involved in a car accident and a one-night stand. Her third chemical dependency treatment results in more stable sobriety, but increasingly complicated family relationships. Hindsight has the author sharing her belief that her oldest son showed early signs of sociopathy, and her own “inverted narcissism” had resulted in her relentless people-pleasing behavior that often side-stepped addressing real issues.
Chapter 7: Divorce—Kids in Chaos
In Chapter 7, the saga of the author’s oldest son’s bizzare behavior continues, along with the tragic consequences of her daughter’s illness, and her third child’s involvement in legal trouble. Her fear and inability to communicate with the children’s dad gets worse. The stresses in her marriage, and her search for comfort in extramarital affairs even while sober, leads to a contentious divorce. Incidents where the children were unsupervised during the chaotic back-and-forth custody arrangements result in devastating consequences for the younger children, which included sexual assault and an introduction to drugs and alcohol. The author’s oldest son’s moral and psychological issues come to a head as he causes the death of two people in a car accident, pushes his mother off the stairs in an argument, and assaults a police officer.
Chapter 8: Increasingly Disordered
Chapter 8 expands on the risky behaviors that the author’s younger children were starting to engage in during the years right after the divorce, and the consequences of a near-fatal head injury suffered by her youngest child in a sledding accident. Her daughter continues her chaotic relationship with a convicted felon three times her age, and moves out-of-state with him. Her third child is involved in several car accidents, including a hit and run, and is using a lot of marijuana. In contrast, a period of success in employment and a romantic relationship for her oldest son arrives when he gets out of jail, but this interlude is short lived. This son begins what is to be a relentless pattern of bizarre tirades, disparaging his mother and blaming her for everything that is wrong in his life.
Chapter 9: A High Tolerance for Inappropriate Behavior
Chapter 9 chronicles the author’s oldest son’s return to criminal behavior and her growing realization that, even though sober, her own mental health was far from picture perfect. This leads to an examination of her tendency to keep trying to buy her children’s love, even though they are becoming more and more disrespectful, by taking responsibility for their problems. During this time, in the early 2000’s, she seeks counseling, in addition to the alcoholism recovery program she had been practicing for over a decade. Her therapist suggests the author has “a high tolerance for inappropriate behavior,” and encourages her to examine the reasons she is so afraid to set boundaries and say “no.” Therapy helped improve the author’s own mental health and behavior, but her children continued to struggle. Her daughter survived a severe beating and left her marriage, but her time with the older man had left an overwhelming trail of emotional and legal repercussions that she struggled to resolve.
Chapter 10: Elusive Solutions
Chapters 10 provides insight into the authors agony about her relationship with her middle son, as she see him sinking deeper into drug fueled dysfunction and disrespect. He was aligning with his oldest brother against her. Though the author believes her middle son has been negatively influenced by his oldest brother, she finds the courage to stand up to both son’s behavior through writing what she calls “wordy and self-righteous letters,” and her budding refusal to tolerate disrespect is starting to take root.
Chapter 11: Finding the Courage to Change
Chapter 11 details manifestation of the author’s worst fear—her youngest son’s descent into drinking, drugs, and crime, influenced and encouraged by his oldest brother. Trouble and consequences happen fast for this youngest son, and he ends up incarcerated during his junior year of high school in 2004. The short alliance between the first and third son ends with a violent confrontation, and the youngest son cut ties with his oldest brother. A welcome break in this bleak era of the narrative occurs as her youngest son makes a decision to change, enrolls in police officer training, and tries hard to separate himself from the legacy of family dysfunction.
Chapter 12: My Picker is Broken
Chapter 12 travels into the author’s often dysfunctional relationships with men, detailing four of these. She acknowledges that, perhaps due to the maternal narcissism she experienced, she continued to a pick a type of larger than life, self-absorbed type of individual, and that these relationships often provided a distraction to the chaos of life with her children. Examples of imbalance in these relationships and the underlying disorders that plagued them are suggested, and citations referencing features of certain personality disorders are included. One relationship ends in the accidental death of a partner with borderline personality disorder; another has her seriously risking her finances with a man whom she believes had narcissistic tendencies. She questions her fascination with this type of partner. The lights start to go on for her in understanding how she compromises herself in these relationships, as she continues to seek and obtain help from her therapist and engage in research about personality disorders and mental health.
Chapter 13: Drawing a Straight Line with a Crooked Pencil
In Chapter 13, the author engages in a relationship with a spiritual “guru” who gets her to buy into some strange beliefs and behaviors. Mortified that she succumbed to his influence, she again tries to understand this relationship in discussion with her spiritual advisor who says, “Sometimes God draws a straight line with a crooked pencil….” This was enlightening for the author, and provided some reprieve from the guilt she felt over being talked into believing the nonsense espoused by another larger-than-life man. This chapter explores the concepts of gaslighting, love-bombing, trauma bonds, triangulation, cognitive dissonance, and “no contact,” as they relate to narcissism and sociopathy, and connects her new awarenesses about these situations to both her most recent relationship and the destructive and conscienceless behavior of her oldest son.
Chapter 14: Standing Up to the Madness
In Chapter 14, the year is 2010, and the author is granted a restraining order against her oldest son, who has been involved in increasing disrespect and theft from her home. The full text of the restraining order is included in the appendix of the book for those who are interested in how to construct such a document. Hateful communications from this son are presented in this chapter, and the author expresses relief from contact with him, but expresses fear about his potential to keep taking advantage of others.
Chapter 15: A Devastating Roller Coaster of Events
Chapter 15 relates a series of both hopeful and traumatic events which descend on the author’s family members. The two younger sons gain traction in the working world. A grandson is born in 2010. But then, the children’s father (author’s former husband) returns from three successive overseas deployments, and has a stroke two weeks short of retirement. The youngest son puts his law enforcement career on hold help out. Then the nearly completed dream home they have worked on for several years burns down. Drinking becomes problematic for the father and all the younger children. The author’s daughter is caught in a particularly devastating spiral following gastric bypass surgery, which precipitates a total loss of control over drinking and near death experiences. The youngest son becomes depressed over legal consequences for drinking and driving, and is stretched thin trying to cope with the consequences, while keeping a job working with people who have disabilities, and helping to meet his dad’s needs.
Chapter 16: The Death of a Dream
In Chapter 16 the author’s youngest son, who has tried hard to make good, dies in a tragic drinking-related automobile accident. This chapter presents the overwhelming emotional devastation encountered in the death of a child, and the special pain of disconnection between family members experienced during this youngest son’s memorial service. A particularly heartbreaking scene from the memorial has a child with disabilities screaming out, “NO! NO!” in grief over the loss of his caregiver, in the middle of the service. A reading from the memorial service is included, which outlines this child’s life, his hopeful efforts over the past several years, and the grief of parents who have to survive a precious child’s death.
Chapter 17: Coping Strategies
Chapter 17 describes the aftermath of the author’s youngest son’s death on various family members—siblings, father, nephew and herself. There is a question of fatherhood for a young child which prompts a DNA test. There is the escalation of health issues for his father, which eventually resulted in a somewhat ironic yet profound healing for the former couple. It also details the dark alliance that happens between the two surviving brothers, which is fraught with drug use and disrespect. The author’s daughter is court ordered to treatment for a DUI, the effects of which do not produce any long term sobriety.
Chapter 18: A Mother’s Plea for Help
Chapter 18 details the author’s daughter’s dramatic plunge into dangerous drinking and more risky relationships with multiple men. She engages in a series of increasingly chaotic and short-lived relationships, and racks up another DUI. Messages from one of her boyfriends to the author are included in this chapter as a means to portray just how hurtful and out of control her daughter’s behavior had become. In desperation to get help for her daughter, the author writes to Dr. Phil and immediately gets a response inviting her to submit more details, including family contact information. But no other family members are willing to participate and her daughter shuts off her phone and becomes missing in action.
Chapter 19: All I Want To Do is Dance
Chapter 19 has the author shifting out of the focus on her children and into her own health and healing amidst the pain and loss of recent years. She acknowledges that in the past, men and relationships had become a sort of “god” in to her after she got sober. They were an easy distraction from the chaos that always seemed to engulf her life. In retrospect and synthesis, she takes a look back at these patterns through a series of anecdotes; examples of more current dating experiences are featured, including amusing scenarios about online dating. She describes her growing awareness of what seems to fit best relationship-wise, and how her whole understanding and appreciation of relationships changed as she became more self-aware and educated on attitudes and behaviors that consumed day-to-day life for so long. There is increasing awareness of the role maternal narcissism, and her own alcoholism, to the high concentration of personality-disordered individuals in her life.
Chapter 20: Playing Hide and Seek with God
The author’s opening statement for Chapter 20 begins, “The first thing I remember about God is thinking he must be somebody who worked for my mother….” Details of how it came about that the author could embark on a path toward embracing a “God of her understanding,” and the growth, healing, and awarenesses that resulted from spiritual practices are included. Citations supporting the importance and elusiveness of unconditional love for children who have survived demanding childhoods is discussed.
Chapter 21: Finding Conscience, Finding God
Chapter 21 connects the dots between the author’s understanding of God, the concept of having a conscience, and a better understanding of the troublesome, conscienceless behaviors of people she brought into her life. The author accepts that many of these people will never change because of the “low conscience” condition inherent in their personalities.
Chapter 22: Spirituality on a Material Plane
Chapter 22 is a lighthearted picture of the author’s more recent life and how spirituality can play out in everyday interactions. This chapter explores the satisfaction she finds in labor-intensive projects and the joy of tackling the dusty, dirty, undesirable things that many people avoid. She also suggests that gratitude for simple things is a fantastic solution to a troubled spirit.
Chapter 23: The Tracks of My Tears—Regrets—Amends
Chapter 23 discusses lingering regrets surrounding aspects of the author’s life that she was unable to control or stop over the course of her earlier years. These regrets reflect on the consequences of drinking during three of four pregnancies; her choice to have extramarital affairs and her inability to be honest about that behavior; her inability to speak up when she knew hurtful and dangerous things were happening to others around her; and her tendency to try to “fix” so many problems with her children by buying them out of their trouble over and over again..
Chapter 24: Paying it Forward
Chapter 24 explores how the author attempted to make amends for past mistakes by reaching out to other women in similar circumstances. She makes the point that pain can be a unifying factor for many people, and that sharing of one’s own story is incredibly therapeutic. What she has learned about certain personality disorders is particularly useful in her work with other women in recovery, and examples of this kind of sharing are included.
Chapter 25: Faith vs. Fear
Chapter 25 explores fear through the lens of both past and present circumstances for the author. The chapter starts out informing the reader that while things are certainly less chaotic in her life now, her oldest son’s sociopathic behavior continues to be a concern. More recent episodes of his predatory and hurtful actions are disclosed by acquaintances, and she shares the fear she has for other people’s safety due to her oldest son’s ongoing conscienceless behaviors. A nightmare is shared which demonstrates how this fear may never truly be gone from the author’s life.
Chapter 26: Reconnections and Awakenings
Chapter 26 goes into some strange and sometimes serendipitous events that happened decades after the end of several of the author’s prior romantic relationships which were shared earlier. She reconnects with several lost loves and finds some answers to longstanding questions. One of those connections is particularly tender, having to do with a former sweetheart with a spinal injury whom she had huge love and respect for both during and after their relationship’s very sad ending.
Chapter 27: Accepting the Things I Cannot Change
Chapter 27 is about acceptance of the people and situations in the author’s life as they are, without futilely trying to change them. The point is made that, while many behaviors and situations may continue or even get worse, she can still find ways to be happy if she relies on spiritual solutions and continues to act with compassion, while simultaneously maintaining necessary and realistic boundaries.
Chapter 28: What my Kids Might Find
The final chapter of the book, Chapter 28 connects one of the opening scenes from early on in the narrative in which the author is going through her mother’s overwhelming assortment of belongings with what she found at her father’s home in the aftermath of his death. She also explores the question of what her own children might find upon her own passing. Additionally, this chapter provides a window into the repaired relationship with her children’s father, and the solution as to what to do with her youngest son’s ashes, which have sat on her kitchen counter for several years waiting for a suitable permanent dispersal back to the earth.
The training, research, and writing required for grants and evaluation work provided me with a plethora of best-practice information on many topics in the prevention arena that were already of great interest to me. The skills and information acquired during my thirty-year grant-writing career combined with my personal experiences with the subjects discussed and explored in Close Encounters have been extremely helpful in weaving together the story I now hope to publish.
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This post was written by Fleta Carol