Suppose you woke up one Saturday morning and realized you were sick. You had a headache, abdominal pain and constipation, your joints and muscles hurt, and your fingers and toes tingled…worst of all, your brain felt like you were in a terrible fog and you seem to feel cranky most of the time. First you think it is flu but, upon reflection, you realize that you have been feeling this way for a while.
You make a point of checking your family and find that your husband, your teen daughter and pre-teen son are complaining of similar problems…only the toddler seems unaffected. A good mother, you go onto the internet and Google your symptoms and, of course, you get lots of hits…most of them for infectious viral illnesses that eventually go away.
Cup of tea in hand, brewed in your favourite mug, you go back to the internet, determined to find something more fitting…you’ve felt like crap much longer than any flu virus would keep you sick. You finally find something that looks like it might fit—lead poisoning—but you reject it because you cannot think of any sources of lead that you and your family might have been exposed to. Just to be on the safe side, however, you go to your doctor and when your tests come back, you nailed it…you are suffering from lead poisoning, as are your husband and two older kids. Only the baby is unaffected.
After some investigation you think you have figured out what the source of your lead poisoning is. On vacation in Mexico several years ago you bought a beautiful set of handmade dishes and for the last couple of years they have been your every day dishes. You drink a lot of tea and coffee, and your mug, part of the set, is seldom far from your hand. Your husband, whose lead-levels are lower than yours, only has coffee at breakfast. The rest of the time he prefers cold drinks from glass tumblers. Your older children have even lower levels of lead…they don’t drink any hot beverages and are only exposed to the dishes for breakfast cereal and dinner. The baby has his own “Winnie the Pooh” set of dishes and doesn’t use the Mexican ceramic ware at all. You take the dishes in for testing and, sure enough, they have a glaze containing a high level of lead, which is leaching into the food and drink that you serve from them.
So, what do you do? The dishes are obviously the cause of the illness…you are the sickest because you have had the most exposure, your husband and older kids aren’t showing much in the say of symptoms…yet…and the baby isn’t affected at all. But you love these dishes…they are beautifully designed and made and they are brightly, cheerfully coloured. And you have a lot invested in them…you bought a set for eight, complete with serving dishes, platters, and other accessories. But they are making you sick…and if they continue using them, they are going to make your kids as sick as you are, maybe worse.
You have a lot of choices:
1) Denial. Nah, it’s really not the dishes, it must be something else. Whoever heard of dishes making a person sick?
2) Stop using the dishes everyday: put the dishes in a display cabinet where everybody can see how pretty they are but only use them on very special occasions, like serving the turkey on Christmas Day. A little bit won’t be that harmful, right? Of course, putting them up doesn’t mean your kids won’t sneak them out to use, either. They can’t see the contaminants, so they may not even believe you.
3) Give them away: you could give them to charity or to a friend who likes them…but will you feel responsible if someone else gets sick from using them? Oh, you can give them away with a warning, but do you have any guarantee that your warning will be believed or passed on to others who may find the set attractive?
4) Stop using them altogether and get them out of your home and your life: Break the pieces of the set so nobody else can use them, and throw them away. Buy new dishes, this time by a reputable manufacturer, so you are sure there is no lead in the glaze.
I don’t know about you, but I would choose the last option. Those dishes are potentially harmful to not only me, but to my entire family. My children having contact with them without me knowing can harm them. If my baby starts having contact with the dishes…maybe his brother or sister leave a dish down where he can reach it, he is going to start picking up particles of lead, too. The safest thing for my family is for me to put aside my own reservations…I paid a lot of money for them and I really, really like them…and get them out of our lives, permanently. It makes no sense to knowingly harbour such a danger to the well-being of my family.
Would you feel guilty about throwing out a set of dishes that was giving your family lead poisoning? Would you be tempted to keep them because of what you had invested in them, or would you simply decide your family’s health outweighs that investment? Would you keep them around, knowing your kids might take them out when you aren’t looking, or that baby sitter might use them or that a visitor might? Or would you get them and their contaminating lead out of your house and out of your lives forever?
Now, suppose that set of dishes were a bunch of narcissistic family members? You know they have mistreated you and they will continue to do so, as long as you have contact with them. And they aren’t going to be any better to your kids…the damage may be different, but it is still damage. Keeping you in an anxious state and upset, they aren’t helping your marriage, either, are they? And yet you keep them…you have a lot invested in them and you are afraid of losing that investment so you may put them in storage and only have contact with them on special occasions. But they are there, lurking, tempting your children to have contact without your knowledge, and inflicting their sickness on them.
What do you do?