I am reading Mary Karr's book LIT, which is a memoir, as were her two previous books of nonfiction, Liars Club and Cherry. (I read and loved Liars Club but didn't read Cherry; I think it helpful to have read the first, yet not necessary to read the second, to appreciate this third one.) Mary Karr is one of those people who lived a childhood that is so foreign to most of our experience that we can only look on in horror at the train wreck of her "upbringing" and marvel that she got out alive. It is no wonder that much of her own life, as she became a young adult and married and had a child, continued on a destructive, careening "path" and that it has taken her perhaps most of her life to scrape off the residue, one tiny bit at a time.
The writing is really excellent (Karr is a poet) and, oddly enough to anyone who has been or seen family dysfunction up close, her story is quite believable, if sad and frustrating. It is simply too much to ask severely scarred children (and by this I mean people under the age of 25 or so) who grew up in families laced with mental illness and addictions to be able to recognize and hold on to those who would help them heal. And so one watches with signs too deep for words as they run away, again and again, from choices that would allow them to lay down their burdens and their guilt and most of all their self-loathing.
Reprogramming oneself from dysfunction to health is slow work, even if occasional epiphanies come suddenly, like Paul's experience on the Damascus Road, blasting through all the built-up junk and the skewed vision of self and world and sending one sprawling and repentant. The epiphanies are glorious (and scary) but the work afterwards is hard and slow.
Reading Karr's book reminds me how hard it is for those looking on to understand how difficult to make are the choices that would bring wholeness for so many people in our broken world, even those who haven't been nearly as scarred by their childhoods as Karr evidently was. It is slow and painful work for them, and our frustration with their slowness about it all makes it even harder for them to shed the self-loathing. It is hard for us to recognize that even their healing comes at a cost to them, the pain of ripping off a bandage writ large. And that their healing is not our work, but theirs.
Our work is to be kind. To them and to ourselves. Life is hard.