The cracks of a family’s hidden dysfunction

By Joyce Alexander, RNP (Retired)

I often go to auctions and flea markets looking for “hidden treasures” to add to my collection of pottery and handmade baskets of split oak. One of the things I have learned to do is to look for subtle or hidden flaws in the things that I like to collect.

It isn’t uncommon to find pottery items that have been chipped or broken and then carefully mended. Sometimes the cracks are very subtle and difficult to detect. It isn’t unusual for me to see an item and get all “excited” about it, then upon closer inspection, find that there are some hidden cracks.

I got to thinking about the “hidden cracks” that are found in dysfunctional families as well. In my own, for example, we as a group tried to keep our “cracks” hidden from the community. As a teenager I frequently had something I wanted to do nixed by the adults with the phrase, “what would the neighbors think if they knew you did X, Y or Z?” It didn’t seem so much to be the actual act of doing something, but more about what the neighbors might think. Usually the thing I wanted to do that was denied was going to a school dance.

As I was growing up, I never thought of my own family as “abusive” or “dysfunctional,” though I did see other families with problems, such as alcoholism, infidelity or wife beating. My family would gossip about these people derisively, and I thought that our family was “better than” these other families because we didn’t engage in such antisocial behavior. (Little did I know!)

My uncle, the alcoholic wife beater

However, my mother’s brother (who I believe was a psychopath) was an alcoholic and a wife beater, but these facts were kept hidden from me and from the community at large until I was an adult. At that time, my uncle and his wife had (gasp!) gotten a divorce and he moved from out of state, where he and his wife had lived for many years, to our small farming community and built a house on part of my grandparents’ lands. (The part intended for him to inherit after my grandparents died.)

Of course, with him living in the community and being a “public drunk,” it was now no longer possible for my grandparents to hide either his alcoholism or his beating of his frequently changing girlfriends, who would run to the neighbors with black eyes, seeking immediate shelter. The cat was out of the bag and the community knew about my uncle’s antics. Even with this exposure in the community, my grandparents and my mother tried to keep up the façade, and seldom talked about what was going on with my uncle.

On the infrequent occasions when he would show up at our little local church and sit through a sermon, the hope was that he was finally getting sober. When he would go to rehab at the VA and spend a few days or weeks, the hope was again rekindled that this time he would change. Of course he never did.

My son, the murderer

When my son Patrick was arrested in Texas for murdering Jessica Witt in 1992, I, too, tried to keep up the facade of “being a nice normal family,” and kept the facts secret from all but my closest friends. If one of my extended family of cousins, or someone from the community, asked about my kids and where they were and what they were doing, I said that Patrick “lived in Texas and worked for the State of Texas.” This actually was “true,” as he was required by the Texas prison system to have a “job” inside prison. It wasn’t a “lie” I told myself, just not “the whole truth.”

Of course it was deception; it was hiding the crack in my “pottery” and trying to pass it off as “whole.” I felt shame that my son was a criminal. Somehow him being a criminal, a psychopath, reflected on me, and on my family. We weren’t really a “nice normal family,” but as long as I could keep the truth, the whole truth, from the community, then I didn’t have to feel the public shame of my son, my beloved son, being a common criminal, a monster. We could pretend to be a “nice normal family.”

Afraid to admit

When I first started writing articles here on LoveFraud, I posted them under my screen name of “Ox Drover,” because I still wasn’t ready to come out of the “closet” and admit publicly that my family was not “whole” and “normal.” Not ready to admit that I, as a mental health care professional, had failed so miserably in my own life.

As I healed, though, I came to realize that the shame is not mine, and should not be mine. I have done nothing “wrong.” I am not the one who killed Jessica, and I am not the one who should feel shame for Patrick having done so. Patrick is the one who should feel shame, though I know that he is actually proud of how violent his crime was.

I still don’t walk down the street with a sign of my back proclaiming “my son is a criminal,” but I no longer pretend that he isn’t, and if it is appropriate, I tell someone the whole truth, rather than cover it up.

Speaking in open court

Like many communities, especially small ones, the gossip flows hot and heavy. I have no doubt that people “talk about” the things that happened to our family back when the Trojan Horse psychopath, that my son sent to kill me, was arrested and caught having an affair with my other son’s wife. Both he and she went to jail/prison for trying to kill her husband and stealing money from my mother.

The day that I stood in front of the judge at the bail hearing for my daughter-in-law and the Trojan horse psychopath, and told in open court, in front of people I knew, what had happened, that they had been caught trying to kill my son, stolen money from my mother, and had taken “dirty pictures” in my mother’s home, I was so nervous I literally couldn’t see further than the ends of my eye lashes. My heart must have been beating 500 beats per minute as I stood there, baring for the entire community, the shame of our family falling apart.

It shouldn’t have been my shame, though. The people who did the bad acts should have owned it, but they didn’t. In fact, when the judge spoke to my daughter-in-law about her ties to the community (before he set bail), he asked her who she had in the community and she actually said, “Well, my husband’s family.” I almost choked that she would say such a thing after trying to kill her husband. The judge set her bail at $150,000. The district attorney said that without my “speech” to the judge, the bail would probably have been $2,500 or less.

The dysfunctional cracks in our family became totally public in that courtroom, and then again, a year later, when I had to testify at my son’s divorce hearing. I never did figure out why my daughter-in-law even showed up for the divorce hearing, along with the “support person” from the domestic violence shelter, where the court had released her when they let her out of jail, because she was homeless and had no other place to go. I found out later she had told the people at the shelter how she had been “abused” by her husband and his terrible family, especially me, the “mother-in-law from hell.” I never did understand why the support person with her from the shelter couldn’t figure out that my daughter-in-law was the one on probation, not her family.

Focusing on myself

Time has passed now, and I have started to focus on myself, my own enabling, my own cracks, and how I have patched them. The whole thing started out by focusing on “them” and how to cope with “them,” but now I am focusing on myself, focusing on the things I need to do to heal myself.

While a pottery vessel that is cracked can never be made “whole” again, it can still be functional and beautiful. I even sometimes now buy a piece of pottery I like, or a basket that has been mended, or one that needs mending, because I realize that being marred by chip or two doesn’t distract from either the beauty or usefulness of an item. Just as the “mended cracks” in my spirit and in my life I think don’t detract from either my own beauty or usefulness.

I also realize that the patina of wear and use in an antique item doesn’t make it less valuable than an identical item that is “new,” instead, they add to the value. We may not be a “nice, normal family” like my grandparents and my mother pretended we were, but there are some fantastic individuals in it, and those that are not “fantastic individuals” aren’t going to slime the rest of us with their shame. I’ll hold my head up both in my home and in my community, and if others gossip about us, that’s okay. If they are talking about me, they are leaving some other poor soul alone!

If you look closely you may see my Mended Cracks, but I’m no longer ashamed of them.

God bless.

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106 Comments on "The cracks of a family’s hidden dysfunction"

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Sky, I know, but we can learn from our bad experiences….I know better, so I do better, and I feel better….
How ’bout that old Fleetwood Mac song:
Been down one time.
Been down two times.
AAint never goin” back again.

In Greef Mythology, Dianna, the Huntress is linked to the moon.
The sign of Cancer is the Moon child. My moon is in Cancer.
In Astology, the Sun-sign…..the one we all know…is our persona, or, (and I hate to say it, because it will trigger a lot of resistance. because, Spaths wear masks. we don’t….ok, whatever…..) Whatever sign the moon is in, is that essential part of our-selves that we hide….either, we can’t accept it, or we feel vulnerable about it, or we just don’t believe it….but, the truth is, it

Sorry guys, I was pontificating, caught myself, thought better of it, tried to delete my post, but only got rid of some of it……..

I heard the Blue Moon was supposed to be on Friday?
From a reliable source…..ya know…..Facebook! LOL!

I am so out of the loop on LF……I read a bit and it was an ‘Oh My’ moment.
So I thought i’d just check in quickly and say…..HI!

Life is good. I’m hoping to remodel my little abode coming up. It’s so good to have work, plenty of it and be busy every day!
Jr is doing well……he got a car and has grown up so much! he’s working full time, overtime and saving up to move out. (Gasp!) He even went to the Dr’s and insisted on paying his own bill. (Gasp!)

Jr and I have found a common interest. We’ve been going to the gun shows. I ‘crossed’ over to the ‘other side’ that I swore on my life I’d never own one! I do have to say…’s been empowering and gives me a sense of freedom. I also take various classes on tactical, cleaning, self defense etc……
We go shooting every week. We have a blast. Pack a picnic and ammo and go practice our shots. We go shopping afterwards and make a day of it. We both laugh each time…..because when he was little, I asked all grandparents/aunts/uncles to not get him toy guns. And look at me now.
I bought a home defense shot gun……and had to carry it around the gun show, a few weeks back.
Ya….ya wanna know how to meet men?????……carry a shotgun!
Men seem to like women with firearms. Haha!
It was a classic sight i’m sure!

It’s so nice to have peace in my life. It’s nice to be able to completely make my own decisions and not look over my shoulder every moment.
I remember when……..

It’s quiet now…….Spath remarried and is causing trouble in anothers life now. Hopefully, this will be a long term gig and he got the picture with the LAST/Current order of protection. game over!
He’s not moving here……he’s moving to the tropics. It’ll be a good place for him…..anywhere other than here is a good place for him.

So……thanks for asking….life is good!

Hens…..I still think of you each time I look at the moon darlin. I’m going to a full moon Bbq on the beach tomorrow night…..and the moon over the water will be a fantastic sight! I will send good thoughts your way.
I hope you are well!

Oh yeah…….we are STILL enjoying the jet ski……**snark snark!!! We really are!
I’ll be on it tomorrow, taking the day off.

Holly woke me up a few weeks ago really agitated. 5am and a mamma bear was walking through the back with her two TINY TINY cubs. No bigger than a basketball. Such a pleasant sight to see! Love me some bears!

Each time I go to the beach, I get visited by several snakes……it’s like they follow me. Last week I was about to jump off my clients dock for a swim and two came up from under my towel…..UGH! Then I screamed and ran to the top of the boat house like a baby…….and had this kayaker come by and rescue me. There were tons of them wrapped around the swim step chains. YUK!!! He was fascinated, I told him there was NOTHING cool about them! Poor guy, just tried to help me!

Kimmie…….((((HUGS))))right back atcha girl. You are sounding well these days! So good to hear.

Ya’ll take care…….and know, there can be life after trauma, we must find ourselves first! 🙂


Star, I don’t think you are disfunctional or co-dependant. I don’t think J is a spath either and I think you are most likely attracted to him for the right reasons. I believe you when you mention he has potential.

But I do concur with you that you have some inner work to do, especially if similar insecurities come up in the job area.

I remember I caught myself couple of years ago with the belief that good things could not really happy to me. I felt I deserved it, but ultimately thought good things wouldn’t happen. I became aware of it in a rather unemotional event: though I was one of the earliest arrivals at the airport, I was one of the last that ended up having a seat, and when I saw the seat number I noticed it was an incredible low seatnumber. My mind knew this must be a 1st class seat, but I didn’t believe it until I actually sat in it. That’s when I realized this. I knew it happened almost with each flight where economical was full, and I flew about 4-5 planes a year, so the chances that it would happen once were very real. And yet, despite the odds being positive for me, I still believed that it wouldn’t happen to me. I realized that if I couldn’t believe I could be lucky even on something as unimportant as an airplane seat, then what about my beliefs with regards relationships and career? It wasn’t that I thought I didn’t deserve it, but that I could not expect to gain what I knew I deserved. That’s when I bought the ‘fearless loving’ book at the next airport, and started to work on that. By the time I met the spath I already had built a faith that life itself seems to protect me. I still got involved, and I still got D&D but it could have been far far worse. And I do feel that something was protecting me even within the lesson I needed to learn from that experience. Faith and belief that good things can happen to me has been established since around November. Not that I think that nothing bad can happen to me, but I don’t have this crippling belief that nothing good can fall in my lap either. I just do what I feel I must do, and a great many good things fall in my lap, just the way I like it to not disturb my pace… gradually.

It sounds like perhaps you may have some similar hidden belief about yourself and life, and this may well be the cause of the paralizing fear and swtiching between extremes of feelings. And I think it’s wise to take that issue on.

That doesn’t mean you are disfunctional though imo. It only means you have something to work on for yourself 🙂 Don’t we all?


Nice to see you again! Wow what a cute sight that must have been: mama bear with her two tiny cubs! Snakes, I like to watch them, but from a safe distance. And yup, there is something about guns and women that makes men’s heads spin. One of the most commented pictures on my ‘private’ fb profile is me holding an AK47 in Nicaragua. I have a female friend who is a cop (customs, smuggling, etc) and she has to wear a concealed weapon for the job. Whenever a man learns of this (and she rarely brings it up at all) you can see the stars in their eyes shining. LOL

Glad to hear he decided to not settle in town after all and will be going to the tropics. Probably thinks it might be better for his drug trafficking. Not sure that the local drug traffickers will like to give up a piece of their cake. His newly wedded wife will learn that it can get pretty dangerous and scary there if you get on their drug territory.

You Win, I Loose lyrics
You win, I lose
I beg, you choose
You’re so cool and I’m confused
I’m me and you’re you
You’re so loose and I’m uptight
You’re day, I’m night
Like two ships in the night in foggy weather,
Just a waitin’ for fresh winds to blow.
Maybe we’re losin’ one another
I could be wrong I don’t know
You get the best, I get the rest
You pass the test, I’m just a mess
You got it made, I’m in the shade
Like two ships in the night …
Like two dopes in the boat, without a paddle
Just a wonderin’ why it don’t go
We could be losin’ one another
I could be wrong I don’t know
I know you’re tryin’ to phase me
It’s gonna drive me crazy
I can’t wait for the day when I win, You lose
You beg and I choose
You’re in the shade, I’m on parade
Like two ships in the night …

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