Surviving Secondhand Drama

Smoke filled room

I want the time spent with my extended family to be filled with love, good food, and memories. Instead, drama hangs in the air like secondhand smoke. An afternoon my Mom’s is often filled with repressed anger, tension, and jealousy. Does this happen to anyone else? Please tell me I’m not alone. Here’s how I plan to abstain and recover from the unhealthy environment.

What is Secondhand Drama?

Technically, my family’s problems have nothing to do with me, yet I get involved. Addiction is a family disease, and it shapes the roles of each family member. My role is peacemaker. Here’s how it played out in the past:

  • My Dad gets angry at my brother Ricky.
  • Then my Mom gets mad at my Dad for being too hard on Ricky.
  • I comfort my Dad because I think my Mom and Ricky are both wrong.
  • Then Ricky gets mad at my Mom for something else. The cycle continues.

Sound familiar? For years, I was addicted to this cycle of family drama. Not because it’s fun, but because I needed the drama to feel normal and safe. While I hated the controversy, I loved being the peacemaker. I circled from one wounded party to the next, consoling and agreeing with each grievance. Yet, I left each gathering feeling slimy and unappreciated, two sure signs of exposure to secondhand drama.

After my son was born, I didn’t have time to care for a small child and my dysfunctional family. I wanted to quit being the peacemaker, but I wasn’t strong enough to quit attending dysfunctional family gatherings. For the next 10 years, I kept going to family functions, but the anxiety from potential drama made me physically sick. I stuffed my feelings and stayed longer than I wanted. These are also signs of exposure to secondhand drama.

Breaking Free From Secondhand Drama

Three years ago, I finally reached my breaking point. I moved out of state and haven’t been back until now. During this time, I went to weekly Al-Anon meetings and completed a 12-step study.

Next week, I’m going back home for a visit. It will be a family gathering filled with drama. Ricky’s ex-wives, addiction, co-dependency, and ghosts from arguments past will all be there. Am I strong enough to face the drama without indulging?

I Must Examine My Motives

Why did I play along? I needed love. Everything I did was to try to get them to love me or to prove I was worthy of love. Yet, nothing I did was ever enough to get the love I needed. At first, I blamed them. How dare they not love me? The truth is:

  • They are too sick to love anyone else.
  • I was looking for self-love from others, which is never possible. Self-love can only come from me.

My Plan For Disaster

Since not feeling loved is weakness, I must be filled with love before I go. A love-starved Grace puts me at risk for gorging on the secondhand drama. Here’s what I am doing to prepare:

  1. This week before I go, I’m reading up on self-love.
  2. Once I get there, I will be taking lots of breaks alone in my room.
  3. I know when and where I can find an Al-Anon meeting.
  4. I’ll spend extra time taking care of me.
  5. I’ll take many outdoor walks. Walking outside is a great way to air out family tension.
  6. I will keep my motives in mind and ask myself, “What’s best for me?”
  7. I will also remind myself that my brother and my mom are smart people. The dramas they face are theirs, not mine. They can and should figure out their own problems.
  8. Meanwhile, I will keep my mouth shut.
  9. Instead of stuffing my feelings, I will acknowledge them, but I won’t let them control me.
  10. If necessary, I will cut the trip short.
  11. And, of course, I’ll have my sponsor’s number on speed dial.

What’s your plan for secondhand family drama? Are you going to be the one fanning the flames or trying to put them out?