On Tiger King, Brokenness, and Seeking Help

by | May 4, 2020 | Abuse, Faith, Uncategorized | 73 comments

What Netflix's Tiger King teaches us about brokenness
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So during COVID, my husband and I, like many around North America, watched the complete and utter train wreck that is the Netflix series Tiger King.

It depicts something so unbelievably awful that you almost can’t turn away (although turn away I finally did. I only made it through episode 5 1/2; all the swearing, etc., finally just got to me, and I felt like I at least understood enough of what everyone else was talking about that I could walk away).

And this is NOT an endorsement of Tiger King, or saying that everyone should watch it. The language is atrocious (and while I don’t mind people swearing in front of me, the sheer volume of it can be too much eventually for me). There are a LOT of women running around in tiger bikinis. There are extremely questionable life choices, to put it mildly. I understand people steering clear.

But apparently this series is even more popular in Canada than in the U.S. (perhaps because Canadians relish the chance to stare at strange Americans?), and so we watched.

I don’t want to comment here on Carole Baskin too much; I do think that Netflix slanted its coverage, and in doing some more reading, things are not as black and white with regards to her as they make it seem. I just want to talk about everyone else.

As a teen and young adult, I had a real fear of alcohol. I had a real fear of people getting drunk and a little out of control. While others may have found drunk people or high people funny, I just found them scary. Being around anyone like that made me feel profoundly unsafe and panicky, for reasons I still can’t fully explain.

Because of that, perhaps, I’ve always judged alcoholics or those who use drugs a little too harshly, I think.

In watching Tiger King, my real feelings were profound pity and profound sadness.

I kept asking, as each character came on screen–whether it was Joe Exotic himself, or any of his many “husbands”, or any of Doc Antle’s women, “who hurt you?”

I saw Joe Exotic trying so hard to be the best; to be admired; to be famous; to be loved; to not be laughed at. And the harder he tried, the bigger the hole he dug for himself.

And he surrounded himself with people who would look up to him and hang on his every word. He collected wounded people who would need him, whether it was ex-cons with no prospects or drug addicts who were so wounded he could even manipulate their sexuality.

And I saw all of these women in Doc Antle’s “harem” living in what is basically a sex cult, without even realizing it. What makes a young woman give up everything and give her life over to someone else to control? Profound brokenness and woundedness.

(The only one in the series I didn’t feel particular pity for was Doc Antle, whom I believe is actually evil. But that’s not the subject of this post).

Most of them, it seemed to me, were absolutely desperate. They were doing everything they could, keeping as busy as possible, surrounding themselves with as many other broken people as possible, numbing themselves with drugs and alcohol and sex and danger, so that they wouldn’t have time to confront their inner world of fear and loneliness.

This is going to sound so terrible of me to say, but it was one of the first times I honestly looked at drug addicts and had pity rather than a degree of condemnation. I think in some way Jesus used this series to wake me up to how I can be judgmental. It made me understand more why Jesus would hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes and “sinners”. They were just very wounded people, that’s all.

Sin tends to be caused by one of two things, I think: woundedness and selfishness.

I am not saying that the wounded are not morally to blame for things. But I do feel like there is a difference between one who has been profoundly wounded and one who is acting primarily out of selfishness and evil. The effects of acting out of woundedness can be just as evil and just as devastating–what Joe Exotic did especially to Travis and John was pure evil. But I can understand better his motivations.

Wounded child from abuse

And woundedness seems to attract the wounded.

I was talking to my daughter Rebecca last week about how both she and Katie zeroed in quite young and quite quickly on men who were NOT very wounded, and who had good character. Why was that? Because they were raised healthy, and when you’re healthy, you gravitate towards other healthy people.

But when you are not healthy, too often we repeat similar dynamics in our relationships. Those with bad relationships with their fathers tend to marry husbands who will make them feel the same way. It’s quite tragic, really.

And you see this in all the characters of Tiger King. Even Carole Baskin’s first husband (if I can go there) apparently married his first wife when she was 14 and he was 17. What kind of a parent gives permission for their 14-year-old daughter to marry? That’s profoundly messed up. (And don’t tell me that was normal back then; I’ve been doing a ton of genealogy lately, and it was never normal to marry when you were 14 in the west).

What is my main take-away from Tiger King?

Deal with your stuff. Seriously. Please, please deal with it.

Maybe you’re in a bad marriage because, in your woundedness, you chose another very wounded person. Seek licensed counseling (many will do counseling by Skype, so this is a actually a good time to start!). Get healthy yourself. Surround yourself with a healthy support system. Cut yourself off from toxic people or toxic family members or anyone who encourages you to deal with your woundedness in counterproductive ways.

Please, get healthy as much as you can, so that your kids can change the pattern.

I know it’s hard. I know that when we’re scarred and wounded, it can seem like too much work to get to the bottom of it. Counseling can often be expensive. But if you can swing it, it is so much cheaper to spend a few thousand dollars on counseling now than it is to deal with this for the rest of your life and see relationships blow up.

If you just can’t, then read some great books about trauma, getting over shame, or dealing with toxic relationships, like these ones:

I asked on Facebook for some recommendations for books, and there are some great ones on this thread. I didn’t want to put them all here because I haven’t vetted them, but you can check them out (always read bad ratings on Amazon to see if they resonate with you before buying a book that deals with trauma or abuse!). 

Oh, and PS: playing with tiger cubs should be against the law. Period.

What do you think? How can people best deal with deep hurts? And do you have any resources to recommend? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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73 Comments

  1. Lindsey

    I had a lot of similar feelings, especially regarding John and Travis.
    But what I most appreciated about the series was how it basically was a case study in raging narcissism. Like, full on personality disorder level narcissism. Joe, Doc, and Carole all displayed such extreme narcissistic behavior that it stole the show for me, and left me with a lot to think about.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yep. I just get the feeling that Doc Antle’s narcissism is more pure evil, while Joe’s is more trauma-based. Doesn’t change the fact that Joe hurt an awful lot of people. It just reminds me–deal with your junk. So that you don’t pass it on to your kids. So that you equip your kids to make better choices.
      (and, of course, don’t make tiger cubs into pets.)

      Reply
      • Doug Hoyle

        I have made it a point to not watch that show, and I have to say I am glad I haven’t based on your review.
        That said, it is amazing the way God can use just about anything to get a message across I’m glad you came away with something good out of it.
        As for your admonishon to deal with your junk. Great advice in principle, a lot harder in practice. The more messed up you are, the more you are likely to see everyone else as the problem. Been there, done that.
        Don’t beat yourself up too much about what you described as being judgemental towards some classes of people. I was as bad as any of them, and still jidged them harshly. We were all wallowing around in the mud, but I thought mine was somehow cleaner mud.

        Reply
      • Lindsey

        Yes, but it was actually Carole’s narcissism that bothered me most – because it reminded me of my narcissistic family member, because she had the most people fooled into thinking she was good, and because I think she really believes that she is better than everyone else in the doc…but in actually she reeks of the exact same disorder.

        Reply
    • Doug Hoyle

      Lindsey
      At it’s root, narcissism is nothing more tham trying to control the world around you by controling others.

      Reply
    • Cynthia

      Narcissism stood out for me too.
      It might be something that explains why people with certain personalities are attracted to keeping “big cats”. It wasn’t necessarily there is those that just visited the zoo or wanted to pet the cubs (although that can unwittingly drive demand), but maybe part of the desire to own and show that you have control over the animals and control over access to them in order to attract people to you.
      With Joe, it might explain both the good and the bad parts. He wanted attention and approval. Sometimes he sought that in positive ways, like the free Thanksgiving meals that he would cook and give away. Sometimes, too often, those ways were negative, like luring in people who were somewhat desperate, and then showing almost no regard for their basic health and safety and employee rights. He had an image of himself, but no ability to take responsibility when he failed to live up to it, or really messed up. The obsession with guns and explosives also seemed a bit related to the obsession with the animals – a symbol of power.

      Reply
      • Doug Hoyle

        “The obsession with guns and explosives also seemed a bit related to the obsession with the animals – a symbol of power.”
        Could be. Then again, it migjt be a normal guy thing. I wouldn’t say I am obsessed, but I really have an appreciation for firearms. I do my own smithing, load my own ammo, amd try to get out and shoot a few times a month. The attention to detail and the process of reloading are actually theraputic to me, much the way cross stitch is to my wife.
        Running combat drills is it’s own sort of therapy, but that is another story.
        Then again, maybe it is an obsession.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I think enjoying shooting is one thing, but carrying around guns and blowing stuff up a lot is kinda weird. I know a lot of guys who love guns, but who are also very, very responsible with them. It’s quite unlike what it was in the show!

          Reply
          • Doug Hoyle

            My first rule of thumb about reality TV is to not watch.
            My second rule of thumb is that if I am accidentally exposed, to remember that about 90 percent of it is scripted, and probably doesn’t represent any sort of truth about the characters or the typical behaviors of the characters.
            I believe there is probably a grain of truth in most of them, but you won’t be able to recognize it because of all the other nonsense.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Great observations, Cynthia! Totally agree.

        Reply
  2. Nathan

    > > and while I don’t mind people swearing in front of me, the sheer volume of it can be too much eventually for me
    I’m a lot like this, too. I once interviewed at a job where I was told that we were all in one big room (no offices or cubicles) and that we would share space with the marketing guys who would scream profanities into their phones all day and I was asked if this would be a problem.
    I told them that “bad words” weren’t really a problem. I used to work with a guy who said the “F” word at least 1000 times per day, and ultimately the word lost all meaning to me.
    I told them, however, that the noise level might be a deal breaker. I need SOME personal space, and people 10 feet way screaming their heads off would be a bit of a distraction.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I just find the F word so unnecessary. Like what’s the point? It seems both lazy and aggressive at the same time. Lazy in that they don’t bother to find a more appropriate adjective; and aggressive because they choose the one that is most “in your face.” If it’s used sparingly I get it. When it’s just in every sentence–nope. Can’t stand it.

      Reply
      • Phil

        Can I make a public Admission? I have done this in front my Sunday school class. I struggle with the F word. I am not an every sentence person thankfully but I am sure I use it daily out of frustration. Often towards my children. This is an area I have desperately tried to improve in and have failed repeatedly over the years. More recently my counselor said – well that word is part of the culture in your family. In a more profound conversation I had with a customer of mine probably 10 years ago. I was with him working on a piece of equipment and I was having trouble with it and used the F word out of frustration. Apparently I used it around him quite a bit before. He said the most profound thing to me. He said and I quote. “ You must have problems with sex. Because you use the F word a lot” Anyway at the time I was practicing recovery from sex addiction but it is something that was said that I will never forget. I like the substance of what he said. Interesting how we use sexual language to express our frustrations about something that is totally non sexual. Telling isnt it?

        Reply
        • Doug Hoyle

          After 20 years in the Army and then going into construction, the F word was just another word to me. It wasn’t even swearing(I could get really colorful then) but was just a multiple purpose adjective. I imagine it is similar for you. Takes time to retrain our minds to not do something that was an ingrained part of our vocabulary.
          Keep working on doing better, but don’t sweat it when you slip up. If appropriate, make your apologies and move on.

          Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          It really is, Phil! And thank you for being so vulnerable. I know many people struggle with it. I get it. I find that when I watch a lot of TV with it the word pops into my head sometimes (which is another reason I just can’t handle shows with it a lot). When I decrease the amount of TV, it doesn’t so much.
          But I also didn’t grow up with the word. I think when you do, it really does become part of your culture and vocabulary.

          Reply
          • Doug Hoyle

            What is amusing, is that I have a brother who has always avoided swearing, has been a Deacon for years, etc.
            When he gets a little hot under the collar, all sorts of nonsense comes out of his mouth. He just makes up swear words, and then gets really uptight if you point out he is swearing. He denies it vehemently. While it might be technically true, I think he may have some ‘splaining to do when he gets to the pearly gates.

      • Pamela Molls

        I know personally swearing has become a way for me to release some of the pent up emotions and frustrations from a lifetime of abuse. I was taught not to swear and didn’t start until my late 20’s when I needed an outlet for the abuse. Sure there are more “creative” words than “I’m just so tired of this s**t” but sometimes I need that intensity of language.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I get that! And I’m very sorry for what you endured. Very sorry.

          Reply
  3. Nathan

    > > perhaps because Canadians relish the chance to stare at strange Americans?
    Well, if you do, we have a big selection to choose from. 🙂
    Never watched Tiger King. I’m an “essential employee” but I can work from home. In my case, I have Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and online gaming, so I’m good for the next 50 years 🙂

    Reply
    • Cynthia

      As another Canadian, I had to laugh at that line.
      It’s quite true. “Laughing at strange Americans” is a bit of a Canadian past time. We aren’t always as enthusiastic about introspection.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        We definitely are not! And I do think that a nation taking pride in “not being them” is really a problem. Sounds a little bit like the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector–“thank you, God, that you didn’t make me like him.”
        I think each country has a lot to learn from each other, and a lot to thank each other for, and we’d do better if we didn’t make fun of each other so much. (though I think Canadians do this way more than Americans do).

        Reply
        • Melissa W

          Americans make fun of other Americans. Not sure what it is like in Canada but in America each region is so completely unique and very different from each other. It’s like lots of different countries all in one country. We don’t have time to make fun of Canadians because we are busy making fun of ourselves or other Americans. Just watch the Manitowoc Minute if you want to get a good laugh at the expense of my home state of Wisconsin. It is an exaggeration but is based on some truth. But I do agree that there is definitely a spirit of pride and arrogance in an attitude of at least we are not like them. Unfortunately, “the them” that are being made fun of are usually the extremes and don’t represent the norm or most everyday people in a region.

          Reply
          • Christine

            Good point, Melissa. I would say it can even be narrowed down within a state. For example, those from upstate New York do not identify with those who live in New York City…especially around election time, lol!

        • Chris

          I used to have a boss who would say: “The problem with Canadians is that they haven’t figured out that they are American”. Of course, this was the same guy who would describe the longest way to travel between two points as a “Canadian short cut”. He was from Michigan.
          On the guns note. Guns are just just some metal with wood/and/or plastic put together a certain way. Don’t give them mystical properties of which they are undeserving. It appears to me like some folks treat them like talismans. Strange otherworldly objects imbued with magical powers. (Sheila, your prime minister is a wonderful example of this type of thought process). Uh, no. I think Joe exotics use of them is an extension of his fear (which we can debate how rational that fear is) that his cats will be taken away.
          Ultimately, nearly all the people on this show are a hot mess. Which is sad and tragic. But it makes for absolutely fantastic TV. But Sheila, I agree with you 100% that the key issue with the show is that all these people are hurting.

          Reply
          • Susanna

            The Americans I know make fun of Canadians. 😬😅

  4. Kristen

    Sheila, this post really resonated with me. I have not watched Tiger King (I’m willing to take others’ word for it lol), but I can relate to your changed perspective after you watched it.
    I live in West Virginia, one of the states most ravaged by the opioid epidemic, and after a woman high on painkillers hit my parked car while I was at work years ago, any patience or compassion I had for addicts went out the window. I blamed them for their addiction, and I started to view them as subhuman, if I’m being honest.
    When I started a new job at a local restaurant last summer, however, I worked with two nineteen-year-old girls. They were best friends and partied together, but one of them lost her mother to overdose at a very young age, and her father was in a Florida prison. She started coming to work high, more and more, until she got fired. Everyone judged her for the choices she was making, except for her friend, who still worked with us; but no one ever really asked how she was doing. She overdosed on heroin last fall. At nineteen years old. Such a waste of a life.
    I know I can’t be responsible for the other friend’s choices, but I try to keep a check on her and let her know if she ever needs to talk, I’m just a text away. She overdosed a couple months ago, too, but thank God the paramedics were able to revive her.
    All this to say…I get it, Sheila. It was easy for me to judge other people until I was actually forced to get to know them and see the brokenness that lay behind bad choices. Like you, I’m not absolving people of responsibility, but just trying to better understand what can lead someone to do such harmful things.

    Reply
    • Kristen

      Oh, I meant I still keep in touch with the other friend, who still lives. I should have read this more closely before posting it.

      Reply
    • Phil

      Hi Kristen – there is an important lesson that I find in looking at being a judge of others. I fond two sides to this. first we need to be careful in being judgmental of others. God is the judge not me. Being judgmental of others creates biased and resentfulness and pride. On the other side we can learn from judging others. That being said we learn “what not to do” or in other cases we learn compassion for others. For me watching the Tiger King is not for me. I have no reason to watch it or try to learn from it. I really like the insight that was shared about Jesus. He hung around tax collectors and sinners to help them. That is what he wants us to do. I think there are certainly circumstances we can inject ourselves into where we can learn from and then pass on to others. For each of us we have our own path. I appreciate you sharing your story how you learned from your scenarios that you have encountered. I say that is spiritual growth that can be helpful to others. Thanks!

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yeah, go with your gut, Phil. Don’t watch it! Really not necessary at all. (Seriously–EVERYBODY in my tribe was talking about it. It was #1 on Canadian Netflix for so long. I now know WHAT they were talking about, but the whole thing just made me so sad).

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Isn’t that sad about the young woman who died? What awful circumstances she had, too. I’m glad you still text that other young woman. That’s very kind to let her know she’s not forgotten.

      Reply
  5. Bethany#2

    As a teenager, I dealt with my issues by extensive self therapy sessions, through long walks. I’d talk to myself out loud and go through everything. Therapy probably would’ve been helpful and or faster. But I didn’t have the option, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my stuff.
    My mom thought silence and space was her way of helping me.
    And in my own siblings, I’ve seen what happens when you don’t deal with hurtful situations. It made them vulnerable to being swayed by a now revealed narcissistic brother-in-law. And one of them, for unknown reasons has never had a good relationship with our father. So I’ve always tried to remind my younger siblings, they need to resolve situations and not ignore problems. And learn to apologise! Not a fun skill, but invaluable to life.
    Now I’m thankful that I don’t have access to the tiger king! That sounds like a terrible show, and people primarily seen to watch for the drama of whether or not Carol killed her husband. …..like really? That’s the selling point?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I did the same as you! I took so many long walks as a teen.
      You’re really not missing much. It’s just one of those cultural icons, and I really think it is just like a train wreck. It’s all so terribly, terribly bad it’s hard to look away (but eventually I couldn’t do it anymore).

      Reply
  6. Meredith

    My psychologist says that everybody needs therapy. Hurt people hurt people- and that is how trauma becomes generational and cyclical. That is why I am in therapy- I refuse to pass the emotional and religious trauma that has been going on for at least three generations onto my two small children. I believe that working towards wholeness and healing in ourselves is one of the most powerful and redemptive acts we can do- for then we are ending the generational cycle of trauma, and we are then able to help others work towards their own healing.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen, Meredith!

      Reply
    • Phil

      Hi Meredith. I am kinda all over this board today cuz well I am bored and really want to get back to work. Covid 19 has been an interesting experience for me but I am done with it now and want to get back to life. That being said I join you in wanting to break the cycle in my family and believe I am doin just that with sex addiction and addictions in general within my family history. I sometimes forget that that was my goal and return to selfish ways. The end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 were not so great to me and then as I was coming out of my funk this pandemic hit and so there has been no normal for me for about 6months. I am glad to be reminded by your share what I set out to do and what I have accomplished and why I need to trudge on the path that I set out on many years ago. For me things were so tough for a while there I questioned why if I am trying so hard to be better and all I get is trouble then why keep trying? I have been working on that process for a couple months. Thank you for sharing your comment. It is helping me cement once again the journey I have been on and why I need to continue. I feel like an Isrealite. lol

      Reply
  7. Lori

    I have read most of the books you recommend.
    My favorite book on healing from abuse is “Mending the Soul” by Stephen Tracy.

    Reply
  8. Sheila Wray Gregoire

    Okay, no one has commented on where I talked about being absolutely scared of drunk people when I was a child. Anyone else have that? I can’t remember ever being around drunk people or being hurt by anyone drunk, and my family didn’t drink a lot of alcohol, so I have no idea why I felt that way. But it was a very, very strong feeling.

    Reply
    • Phil

      Sheila. I dont have direct experience with being around drunk people as a child or feared such like you mention. While I am no psychologist it seems you may want to look at control issues. Obviously not only is the drunk person not in control but the people around them are not either. With out sounding like a creepy stalker, I pay attention to you and tend to recall what you share about yourself around here. I would say your issue may stem from being abandoned by your Father and seems to have produced a positive fear to stay away from people who are out of control and in turn keeps self in control. Thats where I would look anyway. Thats my 2 cents you can take or leave.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I think control is likely the root. I’ve thought that for a while. Just wondering if anyone else ever had anything like that!

        Reply
    • Doug Hoyle

      My Dad was an alcoholic, and didn’t overcome it till I was well into adulthood. One of my earliest memories is accompanying him to a bar and drinking 7-Up. It was “normal”. That said, he was a high functioning alcoholic so I only recognized drunkenness in him on occasion. Despite all if that, there was plenty of exposure to others who didn’t cary their liquor well. They absolutely made me uncomfortable.
      Drug addicts were another story. We lived in the country but there were still drugs and everyone knew who was taking them. We were actually taught to be afraid of them, that they would steal and kill to get their fix. I am not fearful of them anymore, but I give then a wide berth and if I am in an area where drugs are prevalent, I tend to go into the same mode I would in a war zone. There are no friendlies. Everyone is a threat and my head is on a swivel.

      Reply
    • EOF

      I’m more fearful of anger in general than drunkenness. I’ve been emotionally injured much more by non-substance related fury.
      However, I’ve spent most of my life feeling like alcohol is “bad”. I used to associate drunkenness with sports because a lot of what I was exposed to was at family gatherings while watching games. As a result, I’ve avoided sports like the plague. But I’ve also been around dangerous acts of drunkenness in other situations, like the time drunk neighbors were throwing fireworks into our yard when I was a kid, threatening harm and basically declaring war. (I grew up learning that almost nobody is safe, and you never know when danger could arrive.)
      As for watching the Tiger King, most every character reminded me either of someone I’m related to or someone I’ve known at some point in my life. I suppose that explains why I’m so messed up and don’t trust anyone!

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        EOF–Oh, dear. You know people like that? Oh, dear, dear, dear. That’s tough!
        Those family gatherings must have been scary as a kid, too!

        Reply
        • EOF

          Sadly, some of my relatives make some of those on the show look mild. I’ve had boyfriends furious at me for introducing them to my family members. It’s that bad.
          I’m very careful about bringing my kids around certain family members, mostly funerals or other events I can’t avoid. I’ve gone out of my way to be as different from them as possible – the first to graduate college, following Christ, etc.

          Reply
    • Cynthia

      Was there anything particularly scary that might have happened, even if you don’t explicitly remember it?
      My family didn’t avoid all alcohol, but they hardly drank and didn’t particularly like alcohol. We would have the required sips on religious occasions and we once did some wine tasting in France, but that was it. I have a weird reaction where taking more than a sip or two of wine makes me face flush, so I didn’t even drink at my own wedding and I believe that our alcohol avoidance may be genetic. I don’t see the point of doing something that is likely to make me feel bad instead of good. I can’t say that it is a result of superior self-control – I know that things like chocolate and Coca-cola are bad for me, but sugar and caffeine make me feel good.
      Anyway, my main experience has been watching other people get drunk when I’m stone-cold sober. While I know that other people might consider it fun, it’s not something that feels that way for me so I have no real interest in either drinking or watching others drink. At the same time, I don’t have traumatic memories associated with it, so it doesn’t really scare me. Like I said, I had very little contact with anyone drunk until I was in my late teens. I would only be nervous if someone wanted to drive or if I was afraid that they would do something dangerous.
      Is there a chance that you were around people who would use alcohol to lose control or express nasty things that they would cover up if sober? As I understand it, alcohol suppresses inhibitions and the ability to think about long-term consequences. So, if someone is really angry or has violent impulses, they may suppress it normally but it could come out while drunk. Luckily, most of the people who drink around me are happy drunks, and just get more sociable.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I actually have an allergic reaction to too much alcohol, too. I actually become really stuffed up and sneezy and quite miserable, so it’s not a lot of fun for me, either. One glass I can handle (usually); anything more than that and I’m popping antihistamines and putting myself to bed.
        Yeah, I don’t know what triggers it. But I am glad that I’m not scared of it anymore, and that I can have some compassion.

        Reply
    • Rachel

      Hello. I hopped in to the comments just to say I can totally identify with your fear of drunks, however, I can’t pinpoint any specific reason. My father was a pastor, and we lived in the country and there were a couple of neighbors (and their friends) that were known to drink. Sometimes they would come to ask my Dad a favor/ride/talk. As a small child, one of them told my Dad that if he caused him to hit his head on a bumpy road – he would “knock his block off”. I can remember the anxiety I had – and they said when my Dad got home, I ran to him and said, “Did he knock your block off Daddy?” It’s a funny story now – but the fear was real. Maybe that’s where it comes from. That fear has stayed with me – even though I have had limited exposure. No one in my family or extended family that I know of – drinks alcohol. My sister dated a guy that drank – to the point of blacking out. And I remember that same paralyzing fear when I was around him. Even now, I am extremely uncomfortable around anyone drinking alcohol – which thankfully doesn’t happen very often.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Rachel, that’s what I was like as a kid, too, and even at university. I remember my housemates bought some margaritas at a restaurant when we were celebrating the end of exams once, and I almost had a panic attack. Really weird stuff. And I honestly remember NOTHING negative about alcohol in my childhood. And I don’t think I have any repressed memories of abuse or anything, either!

        Reply
        • Bethany#2

          I’m the same way about alcohol, and I grew up in a home of abstinence of alcohol. It was explained that the Bible allows for it In small amounts, but that didn’t mean that it was for everyone. And then when I was 11ish, we read Luis lamoor books. Which treated it like a neutral fact, but a potentially dangerous mistake to make.
          It all adds up to me naturally getting very upset and avoiding alcohol.

          Reply
    • Anon

      Maybe you had a bad experience as a child that you can’t fully remember? When I was a child, we were standing in a queue and the woman in front of me, who was smoking, gestured with her hand as she was talking and stuck the tip of the lit cigarette on my bare arm – I was about 6, and remember screaming with pain and shock and what upset me most was that when she realised what she’d done (it hadn’t been deliberate) she just laughed. I guess it was maybe embarrassment rather than amusement, but at the time my brain made the connection that smokers = untrustworthy and it took YEARS to break that!

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Maybe it was something like that! (And what a terrible thing!)

        Reply
  9. Ash

    I haven’t seen Tiger King… I don’t think I could handle it. But, I have wondered what it is, so I am glad you have this article. Growing up, my dad was an angry alcoholic and so I have always been very fearful of alcohol esp when men are drinking. Also, anything that alters you in a way that causes you to not care about things you should care about is upsetting to me… I just feel like we only have such a short time on earth and we need to make the most of our relationships and yes- deal with things! I know it isn’t easy… I have been on a mission of getting healthy for the last couple of years and most of that has been dealing with things. But it took God opening my eyes up to how unhealthy things were because it was all I saw growing up. So so sad to me now! I think people who marry someone with similar character as they saw growing up is because brokenness is similar. It results in selfishness, bondage, and
    Oppression… instead of love and freedom.
    Oh yeah, one thing I have thought about lately is that Jesus “hung” with the 12 disciples. He didn’t hang with tax collectors and sinners. He spoke with them and He loved them, but He really hung with his best friends who loved God! Good lesson there! God bless you, Sheila. 💗

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Interesting, Ash! I like your last paragraph. Of course, some of those tax collectors BECAME his disciples, but he did have the groups he mingled with and then the groups whom he identified with and fed. Interesting!

      Reply
      • Ash

        Yes! Our family of 9 recently moved 1800 miles away from “home” and before we left, my mother told me this lesson. And I got thinking about the wisdom in it!

        Reply
  10. Sam Furches

    Hi Sheila, Thank you for your blog and all that you do with your writing. I’ve been a pastor for almost 20 years and the Lord has used your blog to help teach me some very important things. Thank you for urging those who need help to get it now with a professional counselor it is so urgent and important. I know you red and like the Body Keeps Score and it is a good book, for survivors of childhood sexual trauma and their spouses though I would highly recommend “When The Woman Abused Was You” and “When The Woman You Love Was Abused” by Dawn Scott Jones/Damon. Also the best book I have found for husbands of childhood sexual survivors is “Help my Wife is a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse” by Bill Ronzheimer. Sheila I would also encourage you to write some additional things directly to CSA survivors your sexual advice is so good and helpful but CSA survivors and their spouses deal with terrible and unique hurdles in the area of marital intimacy and sexuality. Encourage encourage encourage them to get professional help and give them as many answers as you can. God bless you and your ministry.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks for those recommendations, Sam! And, yes, I’m a big proponent of getting licensed therapy. I really hope many can use this down season of COVID to reach out and perhaps start that process via Skype or something. So many walking wounded, and God really does want to see healing.

      Reply
    • M

      One question I would like to pose to anyone who might know of a book or reference… I’ve not seen it addressed on here and have had trouble finding biblical guidance in this regard… You say “Cut yourself off from toxic people or toxic family members or anyone who encourages you to deal with your woundedness in counterproductive ways.” And I agree 100%! But especially with family members, it’s difficult to know when the cut off point occurs. My mother has been drinking and doing occasional drugs since she was a teen, and my siblings and I are trying to decide if we’ve finally reached “enough.” Biblically, we want to do whatever we can to help her, but we’ve taken her to AA meetings, held an intervention, taken her to counseling, and her behavior has only gotten worse since my father died. I can’t imagine she wants to live like this but it’s become unsafe to go to her house or let her near the kids. I want to love her, but the overwhelming emotion is loathe, so the love is a very conscious choice. I feel so stuck; we want to help her but we need to stop the cycle. I’ve gone to counselors and they’ve helped immensely, but it’s still difficult to deal with her and keep my head above water. Even having lunch with her, it’ll take me several days to mentally recover. Are you aware of any biblical resources for people going through this?

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        M, have you read Gary Thomas’ book When to Walk Away? It’s really good. I talked about it in this post, and it may help you a lot.

        Reply
  11. Tory

    This is so insightful and I can personally relate to your daughters’ dating experience— I met my now-husband at 17, I was drawn to him because he just seemed like a solid guy who had his stuff together, and we just passed 21 years together:-) our marriage is not perfect and we have had some rough patches along the way. But I would say that each of us was/is a pretty healthy, not “broken” individual. I have so many wonderful girlfriends who are smart and beautiful, but keep dating these losers who are “bad boys” and no good, and I just want to say “why don’t you trust yourself to choose a suitable life partner?” And I do think it comes down to self esteem, and why some women are attracted to “bad boys” — is it that on some level they think it’s all they deserve? A guy who will lie to them and cheat on them? I think Sheila’s advice to work on yourself and your own issues first is really spot on. Broken attracts broken.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Tory! It just breaks my heart to see some women make these terrible decisions, and know that it comes from a place of woundedness. In reading The Body Keeps the Score about trauma recently, too, it talked about how those who have trauma honestly can’t even identify who is healthy and safe and who is not. It doesn’t work that way. And that’s just so sad. So the more we can deal with our trauma before we marry, the better, but if not, at least deal with it for your children’s sake.

      Reply
      • Chris

        Sheila, it goes both ways. I know a few very good men who got taken down by low quality women.

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    • anonymous

      I also think that some of it is just luck. I know women (and men) who came from a good home, didn’t have a ton of baggage, had a good self-esteem and managed to get conned by someone pretending to be something they’re not. You said that at 17, you were drawn to your husband because he seemed like a solid guy who had his stuff together.
      Well, other pple have been drawn to the same thing only to realize that they were lied to. It was a trick to get someone to marry them.
      We hear stories all the time about women marrying seemingly good guys only to discover that the guys were addicted to porn. During their courtship, the guys didn’t pressure them for sex, the guys were « perfect gentlemen ». I know someone who married a « solid » guy who was involved in church, always wanted to lead bible groups, read his bible, prayed. They got married and she found out he had 40K of debt and a child he didn’t take care of. She had no clue. No one did. Not even his best friends…
      All this to say, that sometimes ending up with a great guy is just luck….

      Reply
  12. Heartbroken

    Reading this post after the worst weekend of my life is surreal. Forgive me, but I’m going to spill some stuff that I still can’t believe is happening in my family.
    Saturday afternoon my little sister (young teenager) borrowed my mom’s ipad and promptly discovered some horrifying messages. Another sister (major health conditions, lives with parents) called me in a panic. By Sunday afternoon we had told our brother and our other sister (she lives in another state) and had a meeting about what in the world we should do.
    So we got our little sister and brother out of the house for the night, and last night my sister and I confronted our mother about the full blown affair she is engaged in. We told her it had to end, that she had to tell our dad, and we wanted her to tell a friend who could support her and hold her accountable. She was devastated. I have never seen her like that before.
    My other sister is coming home for mother’s day this weekend, and we gave that as the deadline, because it’s not fair to our little sister to try to pretend everything is normal around our dad.
    The thing is, I fully understand why my mother did this. My dad is emotionally stunted, constantly puts her down and picks at her and doesn’t respect her, and has some narcissistic traits like inability to empathize, inability to have a close emotional relationship with anyone, and intense self-centeredness. Their marriage has been a wasteland for years and he’s uninterested/unable to grow or change in ways that would benefit the marriage or himself. She grew up in an emotionally neglectful home where everyone criticized and controlled and her own mother didn’t like her.
    I know the man she’s involved with – he’s a good man, which is why this happened and why she’s devastated that it’s ending. But he’s married. I’m the primary babysitter for the GRANDCHILD HE AND HIS WIFE ARE RAISING. How am I supposed to babysit that special needs child again with this knowledge?? How can I ever look that man in the eyes again and act like everything is normal?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that is one hot mess. I’m so sorry! I’ll say a prayer for you and your siblings that you’ll be able to be there for your sister. How awful. The messes we make are sometimes so huge, and it has tremendous impact on those around us.

      Reply
  13. Heartbroken

    I knew I didn’t want a marriage like my parents or a spouse like my dad. I knew our family was unhealthy in ways that I couldn’t change. But now we’re in pieces. My little sister already had a much tougher childhood than the rest of us for various reasons (big age gap). Now something is broken that can never be fixed.
    I have no idea what’s going to happen from here. We the older siblings have collectively decided that our priority is our little sister, whatever that looks like in the future. Our parents are adults and we can’t carry their burdens or try to fix them. But I love my mom. I’m much closer to her than my dad – I struggle to even have a relationship with him because there’s not much emotion there. There’s all kinds of other things too, like my sister’s severe health challenges, that my little sister is being homeschooled, that finances are a mess due to medical bills and layoffs and other things.
    Please, please pray for us. And if you can give us any ideas, any advice on next steps, please please do so.
    (If these comments are too much/too personal and you don’t want to post them, that’s okay. Just writing them has been a little therapeutic.)

    Reply
    • Wifeofasexaddict

      Heartbroken
      It might not be safe for.your mom to disclose her affair to your dad. It might be better to just get both her and your little sister out of there. You’re right that it’s not fair to ask your sister to keep the secret, but your dad sounds like an emotionally unsafe, maybe even abusive, person.

      Reply
      • Heartbroken

        My dad is many things, but at least he’s not abusive. He’s mostly a twelve year old boy who was already growing up in an emotionally neglectful household when his mother died, and he’s been emotionally stuck back there ever since.
        I did ask my mom during the awful confrontation if she were afraid he would hurt her physically, and she said no. I wanted to be sure. He’s been told now (tried to give my little sister guilt money) and they seem to be planning to try to sweep this under the rug. (Classic family pattern) That’s hard to do when my little sister will not speak to my mom…
        I don’t know what things will look like in the future, but if they don’t choose to change, at least to try, their relationships with all of us will never what they could have been. All of us have decided that. And they’ll just be miserable together for the rest of their lives.

        Reply
  14. Melissa

    We tried to watch Tiger King and gave up as well. It just made us feel disturbed and depressed. I too saw a lot of broken, hurting people. But I’ve been that way for a while now. Life has taken my husband and me on a journey that has exposed us to a lot of people who have had very different lives than us. And they’re…just people. People who are searching for something to fill some kind of hole inside themselves.
    And yes, playing with cubs should be banned. It isn’t right.

    Reply
  15. unmowngrass

    Hi Sheila, have you heard of this song?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNoEDGBaHSs&pbjreload=10
    It’s one I could get lost in for days, at times.
    That being said, compassion in the abstract is easier than when there’s an out of control person shouting at you, that’s for sure! (One of the many, many, many ways that Jesus is better than me/us, even just as a human, before we get to the miraculous and the sacrificial and so forth…)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true! Abstract is always easier. I’ll check out the song!

      Reply
  16. Anon

    I’ve not seen the programme you mention, so can’t comment on that, but one of the things I found most helpful in dealing with my own brokenness was the realisation that you are not responsible for what life does to you, but you ARE responsible for what you do with it.
    A while back, I came across a quote that said ‘being dysfunctional is a choice’ and it really hit home – because it’s so easy to look at the things you’ve had to deal with and think ‘oh well, there’s no hope for me, I’ll just have to stay the way I am’. But God never wants to leave us that way. We can choose to stay the person we are, with all our wounds, or we can come to the Great Physician and ask for His healing and help in making us into what He wants us to be. It’s not easy, it can be painful, but I know that He who began a good work in me IS going to finish it!
    Regarding those with addictions, I think anyone who struggles to view them with compassion should take the time to get to know some of them. I used to volunteer for a local rehab, and some of the stories were heartbreaking. They’d never use that as an excuse – they’d always say that they had a choice about how to react and they chose the wrong one – but it did make me think “how would I have reacted in their place?” I’ve never yet met an addict who wasn’t using their addiction to block out their brokenness.

    Reply
  17. Madeline

    I love your analysis of humanity in this, Sheila. This year I’ve been earnestly working on myself and trying to get healthy, so thank you for this reminder to persevere.

    Reply
  18. Cee

    This show unsettled me. There’s an underlying something there. The ownership of people and animals that reminds me of slavery…or the audacity of slavery. When you go to the African American History and Culture Museum there’s a heck of a lot of similarity in the behaviour of a lot of the characters in Tiger King that is easy to miss. The taking advantage of people and animals for their own popularity, sexual prominence and money is something else.

    Reply
  19. Meg

    I’d like to encourage people to check out Celebrate Recovery. It’s a wonderful faith-based 12step organization for anyone with hurts, hang-ups, and habits. That describes all of us, eh?
    This 60-something grandma is understanding herself better, and gaining tools to heal from past hurts, and live with more joy & peace in the present!
    celebraterecovery.com

    Reply

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