The Burden of the Black Sheep

Being the black sheep is a topic no one wants to talk about, and this often includes the black sheep themselves. This taught behavior is how families, social circles, and other groups typically deal with the scapegoats they’ve created and thereby control them. It goes without saying the emotional scarring is difficult to heal from, especially when it has been family that has cast you out.

As a recovering addict and alcoholic and being married to a recovering addict and alcoholic we’ve spent a lot of time in recovery addressing our struggles, our behavioral patterns, understanding triggers, and evaluating our relationships with family and friends and how they’ve impacted our development and social behaviors. Part of the healing process is breaking inherently unhealthy cycles and confronting/facing relationships that have been toxic in creating or facilitating those cycles.

As the designated screw up of the group or family, you often face an intrapsychic conflict. In the process of healing, you think, “Wow, I’ve changed my life. Perhaps I’ll be accepted and loved now that I’m finally on the path that everyone has always hoped for me.” If the relationships are truly toxic the response may not be what you hoped for. The confusing and contradictory messages given to us about what will make us leave the title of “loser” behind is about as easy as navigating a minefield. You’ve done the work and yet you are still the bad guy, no matter what happens, so what gives?

In many situations, it may be more comfortable for them to think of themselves as emotionally healthier, more stable than you. In this scenario of overt self-righteousness, they have never had to take responsibility for their actions or treatment of you and they aren’t willing to shift that narrative now. These patterns may not have been developed intentionally or on any conscious level to destroy you, but nonetheless, they exist and have impacted your own mental health.

I’ve seen and experienced friends or family that have reached out and said, “Yes, I’ve watched this for years and it’s terrible. I fully support your feelings and applaud your growth and strength for addressing it.” BUT when you disrupt the status quo the rest of the group reverts back to the comfort zone of YOU being at fault because this in their minds is “their truth”. You’re left completely confused by the emotional whiplash. Time and again I’ve witnessed or experienced this personally. It’s devastating.

For this reason, I love talking to recovered/recovering addicts and alcoholics. We’ve all had to face ourselves and fight our demons. We’ve had to come to terms with all of our ugly truths and explore them. We have to look at our shame and understand it and release ourselves from it. Recovered addicts live in truth and honesty. To recover and to move forward you have to understand these patterns and how they’ve affected your life. It’s raw and it can be ugly, but this is how you break toxic cycles and heal.

When you live in that honesty, that is what you crave in others. When you find support in strangers that have no reason to help or support you it brings to light those that cast you in darkness. You find yourself screaming inside, “WHY!?!?!?” It may not be possible to rectify those relationships, to find healthy closure, or ever develop a cordial reckoning in those social groups or with your family. This group has created their own reality, one that knows little about introspection or their true selves. True happiness cannot be found in that capacity because it’s been built on a foundation of lies.

But here’s the thing. You don’t have to participate. You don’t have to allow that treatment to continue. It doesn’t matter if it’s friends. If it’s a group of work bullies you can leave your job. And even if it’s your blood you are not required to sustain the cycle of hurt and pain thrown in your direction. This entire process can be hard, but the freedom of that oppression is worth it. YOU ARE WORTH IT. You can start your life fresh and build your own foundation. It is never too late. Learn from those mistakes and errors that you’ve made and don’t repeat the cycle in your future relationships.

I’m still here fighting and learning every day. I’m in a constant state of observation of my own behaviors and those around me. I talk (a lot I know), but I also listen. I try my best to understand things from the other sides perspective, but also not make excuses for their behavior (which is one of my more challenging struggles). Mostly, I try to be accountable for myself and my own mistakes, while still maintaining my personal boundaries. That IS NOT easy. I constantly doubt myself and can be triggered quickly to anger or panic, but you don’t fix or heal yourself overnight.

What I do recommend is finding people that support you, the real you. Good, bad, and ugly. People that sincerely care. Please do not be afraid of therapy. Groups like “Celebrate Recovery” are there for any kind of hurt or struggle, not just addiction. There are a ton of different groups you can join on social media. I started one a few years ago with maybe 20 people. This is a dynamic group with completely different backgrounds, personality types, religions, philosophies, and age demographics. They are all there supporting and encouraging each other. You ARE NOT ALONE and you don’t have to be. We all make mistakes, but we do not have to spend our lives being defined by them.

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