It’s been a long time since you’ve asked me to comment on the book you wrote about your mom’s suicide. I think you are amazing to write about it and I’m glad that you did. I don’t enjoy bringing that chapter of life to mind, given the chaos of those years, but I’ve thought about it often. Especially when I think about what it means to be a mother and uncovering fresh layers of fucked up that we both learned from our mothers.
I know it’s not fair of me to judge them now — but it’s hard not to.
I took your mom’s suicide hard.
Talking about my relationship with your mom is hard for me because I admired her very much — I was flabbergasted by the way that she slipped back into drugs and addiction.
I was shocked that she abandoned you like that. I was just shocked.
I couldn’t believe your mom would die by suicide.
I still can’t.
I remember the first time I met your mom, I was playing in the front yard while she moved in across the street. She introduced herself from over the fence and told me that she had a daughter just my age, with my name: “I have a Sarah too.”
By the time you came to visit for the summer she had already arranged that we would be playmates. She even arranged a phone call between us before your visit.
When you showed up at my front door, I knew we would be lifelong friends.
My mom worked a lot and my dad was physically or mentally absent most of the time, so your home was like a second home to me.
During these years, your house felt like a Norman Rockwell to me, though now I see that it was far from it.
My mom remarried a man who was addicted to heroin, while at your house, your mom packed lunches, set up the tent in the backyard for us to “camp,” and made goody bags filled with candy. She took us to the zoo, the mall, and the flea market. She prescreened movies, took us for mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, and insisted that you wore a bike helmet. I remember going with her to an NA picnic in the park and how proud she was of her sober chips. We’d to admire the shiny metal coins she earned for racking up months and years of sobriety.
I envied the amount of time and attention that your mom spent with you when she was sober As a kid, I saw your mom as kind, fair, the type who would take the time to listen.
When your mom died by suicide, I was glad that she had doted on you those years before she started using again.
As my home life became marked by violence and fear, I began that the world was full of bad people. I quickly became withdrawn to protect myself.
Beth was a reminder that there were safe adults in the world.
When my stepfather and my mom first started fighting, I called your house in the middle of the night. I was so scared. I didn’t know what was happening or what to do.
It was very late and your mom answered the phone and insisted that I tell her what was happening. My stepfather hadn’t started hitting my mom yet, but the yelling was really over the top. She gave me a speech about how adults sometimes argue and it can be scary for children to hear and explained that my mom and step dad would never want to do anything to scare me. She told me to go downstairs and tell them that they were scaring me and I couldn’t sleep. They told me to go back up to my room.
Many nights of fighting followed with growing intensity and I tried to call you but ended up talking to Beth.
Beth eventually called my mom and told her that she was concerned about me – I was in big trouble. I was forbidden to speak about “private family business.” It worked: I didn’t speak of the violence again until after his death.
The violence escalated and my stepfather began beating my mom and my brother when he was angry. We moved on several occasions to get away from him.
The emotional abuse from my stepfather became our new normal and we began spending school nights on random people’s sofas, hiding our car down the street.
I spent as much time as possible at friend’s houses and took up babysitting to get out of the house on weekends.
Beth was the only person who knew what was happening; I’d assumed that she would be the person to help me out of that situation. I’m no longer sure she understood how bad things had gotten. She provided me a safe place to go whenever I needed one and a reminder that there are kind people in the world. She told me that I should become one of them. She affirmed that there were a lot of fucked-up things in the world and they would probably never make sense.
Honestly, I don’t know how I would have turned out without Beth as a moral reference point during those years.
Beth became addicted to codeine cough syrup and her behavior changed: she didn’t take us on outings she slept all day everyday. One occasion when she woke up, I remember her running down the hallway singing “boo boop be boo.” This is when I learned that there was something wrong. I was pretty sure that people with bronchitis didn’t do that kind of thing normally.
I knew things were coming unhinged for you, but was too young to appreciate the full weight of what was happening.
I lived in Beth’s house twice, once for a short time when I ran away after my stepfather died and for the school term after that.
By the time I officially lived with Beth she was pretty far gone in her addiction. She slept or was gone most of the time.
It seemed that you were on your own, too.
I still cared what Beth thought of me. She seemed one of the few people who didn’t see me as a lost cause and so I didn’t see myself that way when I was around her.
On Fridays, Beth would take us to the grocery store. She taught us how to grocery shop and some very basic cooking skills.
Things went sour when my mom suspected Beth was using the money she gave her for things other than my upkeep. You and Beth were at odds more often than not. I decided it was best to move back home. Home was a sort of hell, but it was my own hell and I knew how to navigate it.
I didn’t see much of Beth after that.
I’d spend weekends at her apartment while she agreed to leave us totally unattended. The last time I saw her, she’d picked me up from my house to bring me back to your house for the weekend. I remember her being warm and chatting with me for the ride, though I can’t remember what about.
I remember her smiling and I remember that she mentioned that you were unhappy with her these days.
The next time I saw her she was in a coma.
Atrophied hands, hair cut short, dead to the world.
No warm smile, no more sun-kissed freckles, no more frizzy bun atop her head.
She was gone to the world and she couldn’t recover. That’s the last I saw her.
I couldn’t talk about her death with you. It didn’t seem like you wanted to and then you were gone I knew that she let you down and ultimately abandoned you with her suicide. You have every right to be angry with her; hell I was angry on your behalf.
I was just shocked and sad. I think I felt abandoned too.
The next few years were hard for us; the one person I saw as a safe adult had succumbed to drugs and took her own life. It didn’t add up.
Suicide was cruel and yet I remembered her as such a kind person.
There was nothing I could say that would lessen the pain for you so I said nothing.
You remind me of her because you look so much like her now. If you want to talk about what happened, I’d let you start.
What is there to say now, after all of these years?
That was fucked up. There is some fucked up bad shit in the world and it will never make sense, but there is some wonderful stuff too. I think that, despite it all, we both turned out to be people who contribute more to the good than to the uglyl.
I hold you close in my heart, my sister and my dear friend.
With much love,
Addiction isn’t called a “family disease for nothing.” The family of an addict is just as impacted as the addict.
This is her story of her son’s addiction:
My child has become an addict and loving my child is so very hard. I’m trying to find my happy as I learn to deal with his addiction.
With the overload of health issues around here, along with the common “life stuff,” I willing took a break from blogging after the last attacks from trolls; trolls who don’t know me, know my child, know my life, know my situation, and will never understand my life or my thoughts.
Simply: I took a break because I wasn’t strong enough to keep going,
Three blogs, five days a week, and two little freelance writing gigs with groups have kept me tied to the computer dumping out my odd take on humor, insane fake advice, and occasional a vaguely serious topic.
I have decided I will blog, on my blog, and the trolls will not, cannot affect me. I won’t allow them that kind of power. I have to share this story because as odd or awful as this is, I can’t believe I am the only one. Sometimes knowing you aren’t alone, can make a differences on your life. It has in mine, just like everyone here at Band Back Together.
For a very long time, I’ve been living while waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I call it “living” but it’s really just existing – when I can muster the strength to push the elephant in the room to the back of my mind. This horrible addiction elephant.
When someone you love makes horrible choices, you can still love your addict child, but you also have to make a choice.
I made a choice to love from a distance to allow my son to deal with his addiction on his own time, allow that person to do things at their will, wherever they wanted. The condition was: I would not support that person, their activities: not emotionally and definitely not financially.
Of course that comes with a higher emotional consequence for me, a soul-eating, mind -boggling, hellish existence.
Torn when the phone doesn’t ring, furious, emotional and torn when it does. There is no happy medium, is no mutual enjoyment of life, it’s an inner ring of hell.
It’s odd how the human brain learns to process things so completely outrageous and unacceptable if they happen often enough; the brain removes logic to save the heart. The brain knows if one more little piece of your soul falls to the floor, you will collapse and finally fade away.
Things you never thought you would hear, become expected. Disappointing? Of course. Scary? Almost every time. Seeing red with anger? A lot. Somehow, your brain allows it to roll off your back.
loving an addict through childhood
You can’t fix it, they don’t want to be fixed, no matter how absolutely insane and ludicrous the situation, you cannot even point out how completely illogical the situation is, let alone offer solutions. There are no less than 683 million reasons why all of your ideas are completely stupid.
You learn to focus not on the highs, not on the lows. Not the shocking news, but only that you love that person, your child, who just happens to be an addict.
You make sure whatever you say won’t offend them, or their choices, and you make double damn sure that person knows you love them, you love them deeply, you love them completely, you love them from your soul. You only want the best for them, safety for them, happiness for them.
No one really has the same idea of happiness.
it took me 43 years to realize that.
Another thing I learned; just because it’s ” the normal” thing that you’d make anyone happy, happy and delighted and feeling so very lucky, this can seem like hell on earth to someone with a different view of happy. So who am I to attempt to enforce my idea of happy on anyone? Simply put, I am no one. I am just a daughter, a wife, a sister, a mother, an aunt, a friend.
I am made up as we all our of a unique cocktail of our childhoods, our teachers, our elders, our peers, our life lessons, co-workers, books, and shows we have seen. Just a big casserole of a human being trying to find “happy.” When I achieved happiness, I assumed it would be wonderful – more than wonderful – and that, in turn, everyone else would become happy. Everyone would see how hard work brings happy, how loving each other brings happy, how walking the right road, singing your own song, and smiling would obviously land you in happiness.
The past 20 years, I tried to shove people into the happy, I tried to drag them into happy, push them in, beg them, lure them, slide shows of happy, handmade cards, long emails, song dedications, heartfelt talks, and hugs, I could surely get them to happy. Once they saw happy they would be like “duh, I want to be happy too!”
I was wrong. Their happy was so different than mine so I had to accept they would not be in my happy with me. Maybe they were taking a different route, and we would meet up in happy. Maybe their happy just meant more pit stops, more experiences, different criteria, maybe their happy would never lead to the same location as my happy. What would I do then?
Their happy could be really good for them, so I will work on being happy for their happy.
Little crumbles of your heart fall as your soul tears.
In the end, all you really want is for them to be happy. You convince yourself not to be such as narrow-minded selfish ass who demands everyone’s happiness is within arms reach of your happiness. We are not all alike, and really, what a boring world that would be. Keep telling yourself this as it makes it easier to persevere your heart, mind, and soul. Besides, it makes them happy that you are happy for them. It’s painful but it’s good for them and for the relationship.
Then the call comes, not a happy call, you are prepared because you know when this disease spins ’round, the calls come in two forms and two forms ONLY.
One, the world’s best thing ever, everything is amazing.
The next call, though, could be in a week, a month, a day, or within several minutes: the world is ending, there is no hope, no escape.
There’s not a single thing you can do to make it better. So you listen, try not to cry, remembering to love, offer helpful solutions, offer to make arrangements or calls, you do what you can and it’s usually for nothing. It rarely works out, but you make damn sure they know you love them so much you can’t breathe when they are in pain.
The calls – you see the caller ID – it’s a number from a state that you don’t know, but you do know who is on the other end, you never know the type of call, only that it’s from them. So you take deep breaths and you prepare to play the roulette game of their life. What kind of call you don’t know it could be: an incredibly fantastic words of grandeur.
Or the call can be gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, sobbing pleads for help.
You don’t know, because you can’t know but you answer the phone, inviting the roller-coaster of love and hate and pain into your world.
Nothing surprises you now.
As long as it’s their voice on the end, you are prepared, it’s now become common practice. You’ve learned to stop yelling, begging, urging, and learned to focus on conveying the fact that you love the elephant in the room. You love that elephant when your eyes open in the morning, and you love that elephant when your eyes close at night without a tear running down your cheek. No one sees your tear.
No one hears your cry and no one, no one can understand why this elephant is needed, deeply; it has become comforting.
Then as you are in your happiness on the back porch wind blowing you sit with your little family, cross-legged looking at your happiness, eating sandwiches, and thinking how peaceful and loving and happy this all is.
The phone rings.
The addiction elephant steps outside. The elephant sits on your chest, takes your breath, and overcomes you. Sometimes, when that elephant climbs on you, you compartmentalize you soul, your heart, and your brain as this allows you to attempt to speak in a sane, calm, tone, using gentle words, no blame, just love.
The call ends, with mutual ” I love you’s.”
The happiness is now gone for them as they are faced with a very adult matter that can’t be “worked away.”
You don’t remember the rest of the happy picnic: the people in your happiness with you do not have a conversation about it. You move on as you do after every call. But something is wrong, very wrong
You can’t tell anyone, yet you don’t cry, you don’t sob, you don’t fall to the floor, you don’t steal a car to get to the addiction elephant to hold them.
What the hell is wrong with you?
Why are you not responding like a human?
Why aren’t you happy?
Why not like the other times?
You haven’t fallen apart yet.
Will you fall apart?
Will this change your ability to move forward?
You know that If this person comes back, can you handle it?
Can the happy team handle it? What will be the cost of the elephant if you don’t?
What will be the cost of happy if you do?
I know the other shoe will fall, there’s just no way to process this without dying more inside. Maybe I am out of a soul, a heart, tears. Maybe I have been cried out, maybe I am stronger, maybe my brain is trying to protect me.
I am very much not okay, mostly because I feel okay, there is no way that I should feel okay.
Why am I not shaking, sitting in the shower crying, sobbing, and vomiting like I’ve done before when the bad news comes?
I’m not even shaking.
The shoe will drop, I hope, I beg, I have the strength, the knowledge, the wisdom, the compassion, the ability, the life experience, balanced with the brain, the heart and soul, to take this journey.
To share my happy, to understand their happy, to make a new happy, but most of all, to convey they undying, deepest of love and the basic humanity to make their happy the best happy I can.
Please find your happy; let everyone you know how much you love them – no matter what what makes them happy.
my dad was, and still is, a serious control freak. he wants everything to go his way, all the time, forever. His need to control + my rebellious streak – any display of love or affection = a seriously fucked up child.
i’d love to write this on my regular blog, but it would upset the people who know me (and we both know that i shouldn’t upset others, right?), so i’m writing it on the down-low. anyway, this is more for me than for you, because you would never admit to fucking up. mom has put up with a lot of shit to stay married to you for 44 years, but i don’t feel sorry for her because we both know she loves to play the martyr. you two are a textbook case of how not to raise a daughter, and i’ll get to mom in another blog. this one’s for you-
i know that you and mom “had” to get married. i know that you weren’t thrilled about it. i also know that you really wanted a son, but you got me instead. while i made do with the john deere tractor and matching wagon, you and i both know i really wanted the barbie corvette. so barbie and her friends went on lots of hayrides, no biggie. because i loved you.
lesson #1- be happy with whatever i get and don’t be disappointed; any affection i may receive depends on this.
we had fun when i was little. we played football with pillows in the trailer that i grew up in, you pretended to be a horse so i could ride on your back. except you always bucked me off, every time. you’d hide in the bathroom down the narrow hall and call to me and when i came to you, you’d jump out of the dark and scare me. i hated that game, and tried to refuse, but mom would insist i go every time. when mom called that dinner was ready, you’d always hold me back and say that i didn’t get to eat. even though i knew it was a game, i didn’t like it. now that i think about it, your sense of humor was somewhat sadistic. but i didn’t see it that way at the time. because i loved you.
lesson #2 – play along, even when i don’t want to.
when i was small, and did something wrong, you whipped me. you had that fucking collection of belts and always made me pick one. i took a long time choosing, hoping you would change your mind, but you never did. i always chose the red, white, and blue one, because if i had to get whipped, it should be with a pretty belt. and it wasn’t just one or two times. no, you beat my ass. and bare legs. and back. and arms.
i stole some of your coin collection to use in the gum ball machine at the trailer court. it was only a couple of wheat pennies and a dime, but you found me at the gum ball machine and my heart got stuck in my throat. you had a wire coat hanger in your right hand and it was summer and i was wearing shorts. you beat me with that wire hanger all the way to the trailer and that was a long way and i couldn’t run fast because i was only 4. and still, i loved you.
and that time you got mad ’cause mom made chili in july. i was still in a highchair, even though i was 3. i dumped my chili onto the metal tray and you swore at me for wasting food. you grabbed me by my shirt and pulled me out of the highchair. my legs got all cut up because you didn’t take the tray off first. then you threw me on the floor of the living room, and that’s how my favorite top got ripped. then you grabbed a belt from your collection and started beating me and you wouldn’t stop. mom finally pulled you away and threw you out. she let you come back, though. because she needed you more than she loved me. i asked mom to fix my top, but she threw it away instead.
lesson #3 – i am bad, and being hurt by someone i love is acceptable. in fact, i should expect it. i need to learn the art of survival, nobody else is going to protect me.
you have never told me you loved me. never. not once. you have never told me you are proud of me. not ever. not when i graduated from college, or grad school, or got straight a’s, or stuck with my crappy marriage for so long, or left said crappy marriage when it was time. i craved your approval like an addict craves that next hit off the pipe, knowing it will never be enough. and i chased after your approval the way a child chases their shadow, knowing that they will never catch it but always hoping against hope that this time might be different. and i never hated you for it. instead, i hated myself for not being enough.
lesson #4 – it’s not you. it’s me. and it will always be me, even when it’s you.
you had a girlfriend on the side, beginning when i was 5, and ending around the time i went away to college. i know this because i rode the bus with her son in high school. he told me all about how you’d come over on christmas day when he was little. i always wondered why you left after we’d opened presents. you were going to your other family. the one with two boys.
remember that time when i was a senior in high school and my friend viki and i saw your truck at your girlfriend’s house? i rang the doorbell and asked your girlfriend if you were there and i told her who i was. after viki and i drove away, we hid in a driveway and watched you speed past us in your truck, racing towards home. and we laughed because we knew you couldn’t touch me. not unless you wanted to tell mom what you were so pissed about.
mom still doesn’t know about that time i called your girlfriend at work and called her a whore and a bitch and demanded that army picture of you back. the one that mom kept asking about and you kept telling her that you’d left it in your locker at work. only it wasn’t in your locker, was it? it was on your girlfriend’s tv, because her son told me. you brought the picture home that night. that’s when you stopped looking me in the eye and started hating me. because you’d been caught by your daughter. and i began to hate you right back.
and when you suddenly decided not to pay for grad school, i became a stripper to pay for it myself. because i had learned the art of survival.
lesson #5 – i have nothing to lose and it feels good to be a bitch.
you stopped hugging me when i turned 10, and i’m pretty sure it had something to do with my going through puberty. especially when you went on a trip and brought me back that cleveland browns sweatshirt, threw it in my general direction while averting your eyes and said, “here, this will cover up your bumps.” nice way to encourage a young girl to have pride in her body. so i started covering up my bumps, all the time. when i was in my late 20’s, i got rid of my bumps altogether by developing anorexia. then i had to cover up my bones. i began to loathe myself.
lesson #6 – my body is sexual, and sexuality is bad.
the only birthday of mine that you ever came to was when i turned 5. i still remember it because that’s the birthday i got my first barbie. you took her away and wouldn’t give her back. you thought that was funny and i played along so you would stay. to this day, i occasionally find myself playing along, for fear of being abandoned or pissing someone off. when i was 17, you never came to my high school graduation. i know this because when i got home after the ceremony, the ticket i’d left for you on the kitchen table was still there. you were still pissed about me finding you at your girlfriend’s two months prior, and calling her at her job. because i’d stopped playing along.
lesson #7 – when i stop playing along, you will hate me.
in high school, you started to have me followed, instead of sitting me down and asking me about what was going on in my life, you got kids from the trailer court to tell you shit about me, a full $5 for each bit of information. that’s how you found out i smoked, drank, got high, and had a black best friend. you even sent two guys on my fucking spring break trip to daytona beach. i know this because on the last night, we all got drunk together and they told me. then they proceeded to tell me your name, my full name, where i lived and what you wanted to know. i wasn’t even safe from you 1,000 miles away.
can i just tell you how fucked up that is? that is seriously fucked up. i was the most paranoid teenager i knew, even without the pot.
you made me stop being friends with kim, you beat my ass when you found out i smoked and you grounded me for three months for drinking. fuck you. i started getting high with my dealer’s 16-year-old wife before school, i went through the bottle of vodka you had hidden in your cupboard, filling it with water instead. that’s right dad, the more you tightened the screws, the more i fucked up. i went to school drunk every day, or high, or both. i hid beers in my bedroom and drank them when you were asleep. i smoked in the bathroom after you and mom left for work. i feared getting caught, but the rush was incredible.
lesson #8 – my father is out to get me, and he will always find me.
you wouldn’t let me date the same guy twice, because you didn’t want me to get pregnant, the way mom did. you wanted me to get an education and be someone. or something. not for my sake, but so that you could say you had a college-educated child. and i was so terrified of getting pregnant that i didn’t had sex until i was 19. and then i slept with every guy i wanted to when i went away to college. because i could, and you had never taught me to respect my body. you had only taught me to get away with whatever i could. i never enjoyed the sex, but being sneaky felt awesome.
lesson #9 – sex is about power and revenge.
when i was in my final year of grad school, i met my future husband, only i didn’t know it at the time. i was smart and i knew about birth control. but when you should have taught me confidence, i learned fear. where self-esteem should have been, there was an empty well, waiting to be filled by someone else’s ideas and beliefs. fear of abandonment took the place of knowing my own worth. standing my ground was replaced by an aching need to please, at any cost. so when my future husband said “no rubbers, please” i said “ok”. because i needed to be loved, and i was afraid of losing him.
lesson #10 – do whatever i have to do make other people happy. my thoughts and feelings don’t count and should be kept to myself. they will only make others stop loving me.
and then i got pregnant. your biggest fear. and because you were my biggest fear, and because i didn’t believe in myself, and because my boyfriend didn’t want a baby and because i didn’t want to be abandoned, i had an abortion. then the self-hatred really kicked in.
lesson #11 – all decisions should be based on fear.
it has taken me 20+ years to undo what you did to me. everyday i untangle a bit more of the knot, trying to smooth out the yarn. it’s still good yarn, and everyday i knit myself.
lesson #12 – you made me stronger, smarter, tougher and braver. so fuck you.
She knew I was home by the trail of vomit that started at the front door and lead to the bedroom where I had passed out. My mother, her fiance, and my brother had been out all day. They did some family bonding outing that I had no interest in. Think vampires in sunlight enthusiasm, I did not want to go. I had better plans, with an empty apartment for several hours, I could party.
Now the term “party” was pretty inconsistent. I didn’t have much money, a place to go, or any kind of real plan but that did not deter me. I found some other bored teens to hang out with and we decided to find some trouble. So in our quest to “party” with no plan and no funds, we decided to hitchhike. Sad part is this wasn’t the first time we used this as a means to get high or drunk, it was “party roulette.” We never knew who would pick us up and what adventure awaited us. I cringe at the old memory, the sheer stupidity of it, and the absolute lack of self-preservation. Pure insanity.
The details are a blur. They were a blur 35 years ago and they haven’t sharpened with the passing of time. I know I got drunk with strangers. I was in and out of a black out. I remember asking the driver to pull over so I could vomit. Somehow I stumbled up the steep wooden steps to our shabby apartment above the local hardware store. I don’t know how much time passed before my mother found me and insisted I was drunk.
I was a good liar then. I could think up shit on the spot like my life depended on it. I feigned the flu, a stomach bug, so many classmates had it. I convinced my mother’s fiance and my brother that was the case. Mom wasn’t having it. She took me to the Emergency Room to confirm her suspicions, I was busted.
My mother knew a thing or two about drunks, she was in the infancy stage of getting sober and it wasn’t her first attempt. I like to joke that my gene pool is polluted and it is, mostly with alcoholism and heart disease. At 15, I was pretty safe from heart disease but alcoholism doesn’t have a minimum age, that bastard.
Fast forward a few days and I was greeted with “you’re going to rehab” when I got home from school. I had 12 hours to say my good-byes and then I was off. I had no idea what to expect but I figured I could get some street cred from the experience. To say I was flippant is an understatement. I had no intention of getting sober. I was just doing time, garnering pages for my future memoir.
My mother drove me to the place which was a little more than an hour from where we lived. It was in Long Branch, New Jersey and was billed as an adolescent rehab, it formerly served as school for troubled boys. Part of it looked like an old house and part of it looked like a dorm. Guys and girls were separated by common rooms. There was a cafeteria in the basement with intake, detox, and a nurses station on the second floor.
I remember getting asked a series of personal questions in the intake office. Based on some of the questions, I didn’t think I belonged. I mean I never lost a job or drove drunk (psst…still 15). I was focused on finding the “not me” which I later learned would be “not yet” if I continued on the path I was on. The place was only open about a month when I arrived, the smell of fresh paint still lingered in parts of the sprawling building.
I remember the first time I walked into the Day Room, “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash was playing. There were maybe a dozen residents there all between the ages 14 and 17. They came from a range of backgrounds and they all had way more experience than me. Most of them had been arrested for a variety of similar reasons and almost all came from broken families. It was misfit island for teens with a fairly structured daily schedule. We had job assignments, group therapy and some type of meeting, AA or NA. On Sundays a couple came in to bring us their version of Christianity.
The place was so new it was still working out the kinks. Kids were pairing up and couples could be seen holding hands in the Day Room. Most of the staff there were sober an average of 2.5 years and were deep into the zealot phase of recovery (that usually winds down sometime after the 5th year). I don’t know what qualifications they had beyond early sobriety. The counselors were more skilled and had some credentials.
I learned a lot in that place and much of it has followed me all these years. I remember reading the Twelve Steps of AA on a poster. Foolish girl, I thought I could get through a chunk of them just by reading them and giving them a moment’s thought. These steps provided a road map for living and I still abide by them.
THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
*Copyright 1952, 1953, 1981 by Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing (now known as Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.)
All rights reserved.
I know there’s a lot of God stuff in those steps. Relax, it’s a God of your understanding, a Higher Power (HP). I have heard some interesting spins on HP over the years….some people have used their home AA/NA group as their Higher Power. I once heard someone speak that stated Jack Daniels was their Higher Power because it was stronger than them. Another friend chose Good-Orderly-Direction as their G-O-D. I stopped judging this stuff decades ago and life got a whole bunch simpler.
About three days into my stay something remarkable happened. I was in the bedroom that I shared with a roommate but I was alone. I can still see myself sitting there with my white jeans and favorite scarf, a beam of light shone in through the window closest to my bed, near where I was sitting. People call it a spiritual awakening, for me it was an awareness that changed my life forever. In that moment, I got a clear picture of the destructive path my life was on. I also got an intense soul deep understanding that it did not have to stay that way. In that powerful moment I felt the presence of something greater than me and I made a decision to get sober. I have been faithful to that decision for nearly 35 years now.
This longevity of sobriety is somewhat rare. What’s really exotic is getting and staying sober at such a young age. I can only take partial credit for that. That loving, crazy and ever vigilant HP that watches over me has done most of the heavy lifting. I have also met a thousand sober angels along the way. People that guided me through different phases of my life. The ones that told me the harsh truths but always with a solution or helpful suggestion. I’ve also met people that determined I could not possibly be an alcoholic because I got sober so young. I don’t try to win them over with stories of the stupid shit I did for my brief time using. I do remind myself of something I learned long ago in that rehab….”it isn’t how much or how long you drank that matters, it’s what happens when”. When I drank I always put myself in harm’s way, always.
If I can pinpoint one thing that has kept me sober it’s probably the realization that being sober is actually the easier, softer way. That probably sounds nuts to people who aren’t familiar with alcoholism but it’s the truth. If staying sober was harder than being drunk, I would have gotten drunk long ago. Down to my toes I believe that this is the best path for me and that’s why I’ve stayed on it so long.
At the age of 3, my father began sexually molesting me.
At the age of 5, the sexual abuse was replaced by physical abuse from my father and my mother.
At the age of 9, both my mother and father went to rehab for alcoholism.
At the age of 10, I finally knew what it was like to have a home after living in over 200 houses, more than 100 cities, fifteen states, and two countries.
At the age of 14, I was raped by a classmate my freshman year of high school.
At the age of 15, I started working two full-time jobs and single-handedly supporting my family because my parents flat-out refused to work.
At the age of 16, my parents decided to start drinking again. I took on a third job to support their alcoholism.
At the age of 18 I graduated high school at nearly the top of my class.
After my first year of college, I was told that I was not allowed to continue even though I had scholarships because “I wasn’t raised to think I was better than anyone else.”
At the age of 21, I was raped again … by the man who had betrayed me seven years before. My parents told me I deserved it, and was lucky that a man had paid that much attention to me since I was worth nothing. I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
My birth certificate says that I was born on April 2nd, 1987 at 1:25 p.m.
I was born on March 30th, 2009 at roughly 9:45 p.m. when, at nearly 22 years old, I decided I had been through enough.
I am the adult daughter of two alcoholics who have been diagnosed by multiple mental health professionals as suffering from a variety of mental disorders.
My father suffers from Bipolar Disorder and severe Anxiety. My mother is a Paranoid Schizophrenic. Neither one has any sense of reality beyond their immediate perception of the world, and both are Compulsive Liars.
The man who raped me intimidated and frightened me into a silence I would not break for almost ten years. When I ran into him again, he introduced me to his wife and child as if we were old high school friends.
He contacted me after getting my information through old mutual friends and asked if we could meet to reconcile and so that he could apologize for what he had done. He never had any intention of doing so and in my own foolishness, I met with him and he forced me into the back of a car and raped me … again.
My parents told me I had to be lying, and that if I had been raped then I should consider myself lucky because that was more than I deserved from anyone. When I insisted that I was not lying and needed their help, my father smacked me across the face and broke a chair over my back.
I was almost twenty-two years old at the time and the only thing I remember after that was my youngest sister’s face. She was staring in horror and fear trying to figure out what to do.
I was the only one who stood up to the two of them. I defended everyone. I fought everyone’s battles and kept everyone safe. The thoughts in her mind were clear on her face: Who was supposed to protect me? How could they help me?
I had stayed for years thinking that I was protecting them. In that moment, I realized that if I showed them that all you could do was take the abuse and not actually do anything about it … then one day my little sister was going to be in my position … and no one would be around to help her either.
I didn’t have anywhere to go. I had nowhere to stay that night. I called up a friend and grabbed a ride, and crashed on a couch while struggling to find somewhere to live.
I went through months of endless torture and doubt while going through the trail that put my rapist in jail for what will be a very long time. I changed my address, my phone number, and all of my information so that I could cut ties with the life I didn’t deserve and start living a life that was not filled with fear, or doubt, or regret, or abuse.
Today, I am 23 years old.
I have a home of my own for the very first time.
I have sought counseling for the traumas I have been through in my life.
I have struggled with body image, self-esteem, guilt, and an intense lack of trust in people I care about.
I have cut all ties with my family, stopped supporting them financially, and moved on to start a life of my own.
I have found love in a man who is the best thing to ever happen to me. A man who would never raise a hand to me, who loves me in spite of my demons, and who has already supported and seen me at my absolute worst.
I have found peace.
I am not sharing my story to shock, horrify, or scare people. I am not sharing my story seeking sympathy although it is graciously received.
I am sharing my story because somewhere out there is a man, woman, or child who has faced demons that linger in shadows all around them. They may not feel that they are able to overcome them and they are utterly alone.
I am telling you my story to tell you this:
You are not alone. Ever.
No one is ever alone. There were moments when I wanted to give up and give in. Just tune out and wait for the worst to come so that nothing else as bad could happen. I figured there was nothing that could help or save me. I have been there.
I made it out and I am waiting for you with open arms on the other side. There’s plenty of room here.
First of all, I need to tell all the editors of bandbacktogether.com how amazing it is that they’ve set up such a platform (slash soapbox) for all of us to yell from. So, thank you. As a new writer just getting the feel for things, it always helps to have a friendly place to scream and shout. (ed note: We’re so glad you’re loving the venue. Keep writing and contributing!)
I know it seems really lonely right now, but it’s only going to get worse.
Sure, your father is getting remarried and you feel especially fearful of your place in the house since he said that she was just as important as you are. But, listen… You’re going to put up with a lot before you feel like yourself again. First, you’re going to find sex and then later alcohol. (Just so you know, this will be backwards from the way most people do it.) Then, you’ll fight with the new woman of the house. Constantly. And everything her kids do wrong will be your fault. Until the day you die. Trust me on this one.
Or, you know, trust yourself…
By the way, your mother is a drug addict. You don’t understand that now, but she’s killing herself slowly. Love her from a distance. She’ll eventually set your apartment on fire at two in the morning while hopped up on the Xanax.
And don’t expect much from your sister. When she comes back in ten years she will not be the person you envisioned. You will not find what you thought you needed.
As for family, remember to call Kimberly every chance you get. Tell her you love her endlessly. You won’t have her much longer. I know. I’m sorry, sweetie.
Once you get out of the house, you will choose not to become a doctor after all and, in fact, you will skip college altogether. But this will ultimately be a major plus as people will have more respect for your position in your career. When you’re twenty-three, you’ll hear the words you’re a smart one for not going bankrupt like the rest of us three times in one day.
But before this, you’ll lose every friend you ever had to the college experience. And you will ultimately lose yourself in the bottom of a bottle. Which bottle you ask? Depends on which night. Usually wine but often tequila or Jack. Pack aspirin in the future. And tampons. Just bring the white wicker bathroom baskets with you. Trust me.
When you hit nineteen and move to Houston to be closer to that boy, he will break your heart but you will move on just fine. When he comes back two months later don’t bother. He hasn’t changed. It’s the only way to avoid the disaster that will occur eight months later when you’re in the shower and he wipes out the entire loft.
Don’t go to that strip club in Culver City. Avoid any bars in San Antonio. Period. And keep close with Jessica. She’s the only friend you’ll ever have. Treat that guy you meet at twenty-two like you’re supposed to, but keep him distant. He will hurt you but in a way that keeps you strong. Also keep your emotions in check.
And when you’re where I am now, you’ll embark on a thirty day journey to find yourself again.
It will be scary but you will spend a lot of time writing. And it will be cathartic and it will make you happy. Enjoy your wine slowly. Enjoy the occasional smoke but don’t become a smoker. And treat your body the way you do in this very moment at your young age. Yes, you are pretty. No, you are not too tall. You will grow into your looks and people will appreciate them so enjoy the freelance modeling. You’ll do few shows but you’ll meet some great people.
Finally, be wary of people. They will use you and lie and inflict their own life problems onto your plate. The only way around this is to always be in control. If you feel a little larger than life, it’s okay. That’s who you really are. It’ll take a little bit of time to understand why you feel so cold and empty, but it will carry you at times.
Oh, and one more thing, you’ll start a website.
Keep it cool kid.
A much older Rabbit.