Did you ever know anyone who just seemed to live their life in constant chaos? Most likely. Chaos can become a part of our cultural understanding of the world around us. People raised in chaos often live chaotic lives. Some attempt a life of moderation – but under duress often resort to extreme chaos or extreme control. The operative word is ‘extreme.’
My father was raised in a chaotic home. My grandfather, according to my father, was an advanced stage alcoholic. The family was never sure about money or food from day to day. My father was eighteen when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and he left home for three years to fight the fight. He came home, married, found work that became a career, and raised a family. He was somehow different as an adult than his adult siblings. Most of my aunts and uncles lived obviously chaotic lives, drifting from job to job and often from town to town. Most of my cousin’s experienced a variety of neighborhoods and schools. Many of those cousins, now grown, live chaotic lives.
I once asked my father why he was so different from his siblings. He gave a thoughtful response, “It was probably the Army.” The Army taught my father about personal hygiene, about pride in self, about an ordered day – with purposeful goals. But chaos never completely left his soul alone. Under stress he had an explosive temper. The world around him would descend into the underworld of chaos.
There were a couple of constants in my father’s life – constants that corralled his chaotic needs. The biggest constant in his life was my mother. The second moderator was his concern for his children. The third was a career as a firefighter – for my father this was much more than just a job. The evidence is in his rise through the ranks to become the Chief of the Fire Department in our hometown.
My mother taught my father to value a clean and orderly home. She taught him to value regular meals, paid bills, regular bedtimes during the school year, and an ordered financial budget.
All of this carried over into my life. As I reflect back I can see periods of stability – two, three, and even four years at a time. The times of stability were sandwiched around explosive chaos where I would virtually destroy all I had worked for. Many tell me that I am my father’s son – this apple did not fall far from that tree. Like my father, my children and a career moderated my wackiness.
My experience leads me to believe that life is not all or nothing. Chaos is all or nothing in nature. I have known many people who also struggled with chaos. Two extreme responses come to mind. One extreme is a complete meltdown, a complete life of chaos. Some of my cousins come to mind. Some of my cousins participate in the revolving door of the criminal justice system. They get out of prison, on parole, get a job, and seem to stabilize. But stability is uncomfortable for them – at a sub-conscious level they only understand chaos. Some of them have told me that prison is not so bad, they get hot meals and a bunk and they always know what the rules are. There are no surprises – while they cannot maintain consistency in their own life they seem grateful for consistency imposed.
Others have found consistency and predictability in the military. The highly structured and ordered life is predictable. People raised in chaos sometimes find relief in order. They like predictability. They do not like surprises. But people raised in chaos often find long term military careers to be daunting – they somehow long for chaos. They seem to intellectually understand and appreciate order, but their gut values are rooted in chaos.
People raised in chaos will often unconsciously sabotage a life of order. While order can give safety and security – it lacks the ironically familiar elements of unpredictability.
Some people who were raised in chaos respond to stress by attempting to grab power over those around them. The most extreme example might be Charles Manson – but he is a poor example because the everyday people I am talking about cannot relate to that level of fear. I use the term fear because fear is often the root of stress. The logical solution to fear of chaos is total and complete control. Domestic violence comes to mind as a means of attempting to completely control one’s environment.
I know some of this from personal experience, and only in hindsight. I gladly invite others to comment on their own experience with chaos. The one thing I would say for sure is this – the sooner a person recognizes how chaos has affected their life the sooner they will be able to consciously confront wacky intentions.