I feel like I need a quiet place to sit down and reflect on all that has happened in the short (yet so very long) 25 years I’ve been here. The truth is, a quiet place doesn’t stop the bombardment of memories, the instinct to protect myself, to protect those around me, and to stop looking for clues of abuse and trauma in those I meet.
There are a lot of gaps in my childhood, most of which I’m thankful for, but there are moments that are so drastically burned into my memory that I cannot erase them no matter how hard I try or fight.
I remember the drugs – being locked out of the house, beating against the locked front door, screaming as loud as I possibly could for my mother to let me in, while inside there were people doing drugs. Locking me outside was their way of “protecting” me.
I remember fights, words so explicit I could only imagine what they meant. I remember fists meeting walls and flesh; I remember locking myself in my bedroom trying to keep myself out of reach from the drunken and drug-fueled rages my stepfather would fly into. I remember so vividly the pot full of spaghetti sauce flung against a dining room wall, splattered red, the pot lying sideways on the carpet…it looked like blood.
I remember my mom’s screams every night for a year, protesting his advances. I remember wanting to turn on the small radio next to my bed so that I didn’t have to hear it, knowing his rage if he heard it. If I cried, I knew I had to stop, otherwise he would surely give me something TO cry about. I remember my mom disappearing for days on drug binges, leaving me with him. I remember wanting to escape, to run away.
I remember him trying to rape me. I remember fighting him off and telling him that I would tell my grandmother. I remember him being almost too drugged to care. I remember running and locking myself in my bedroom and hiding while he beat on the door. I remember him coming into the bathroom while I was showering, sneaking peeks behind the curtain.
I remember being touched and molested by a boy in the same apartment complex who said that we were playing doctor. His brother molested one of my friends at the same time. I was seven years old.
I also remember the sounds of the ferris wheel, the smell of the funnel cakes and cotton candy, and the laughter of those walking around the LA County Fair, one of maybe a handful of “good” memories. He promised that he would protect me, that he would be a shoulder and a guiding light in my life, a support structure. He should have been. Instead he took the trust of an impressionable little girl and twisted it and abused it, just like he did to his wife.
He turned the parts of my childhood that should have been filled with sugarplum fairy tales and gum drop play scenes into nightmares. Nightmares of beatings, threats and scars. Scars that, while not visible, lie under the surface causing trust and emotional issues in that once 8-year-old child who has grown into a 24-year-old woman. I sat there as he told my mother matter-of-factly that he was going to blow up her car while I was in it. I stood up for my mom and told him that he wasn’t allowed to threaten her anymore and if he didn’t leave I was going to call the police. I was 8 years old.
I heard a few months ago that he died. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but I can only assume it is with the lifestyle that he lived.
My mom was afraid to tell me. She was afraid that I’d actually care, afraid that I may have actually cried at the news. To be completely honest, I was so incredibly relieved. No longer would I have to hope that some unexpected person or family would have to deal with the disaster that came along with him. Not another child would have to go through nearly being raped by him. Not another woman would be raped, beaten or threatened with murder. Not another little girl would have to spend a Halloween inside the house in her costume, peering out the front window at him screaming and yelling at her mom. Not another child would have to go through any of that, ever.
At the same time, I have to thank him for it. I’m not sure if I’d be the person I am today if those things hadn’t happened.
I hope he got what he deserved while he was in prison.
I remember living on the streets in my mom’s car. I remember sleeping on her friends’ couches, floors and empty bedrooms. I remember moving in with my grandparents, giving my mom yet another shot to get on her feet. I remember it not working, her disappearing for days, only to come home in the middle of the night strung out. I remember her moving out of the state with her disgusting, attempting-to-be-intimidating shell of a man who abused her emotionally, verbally and sexually. I remember telling a children’s lawyer that I wanted my grandparents to have custody of me and her willingly signing the papers. I was 9 years old.
I remember being trapped in a community pool bathroom – held against the cold tile wall. I hadn’t slept for days before this and was too weak to fight back, not able to scream loud enough. Not that the screams would have done any good – we were the only ones at the pool. I said no, I said stop, I said get off me, I said don’t do that, I said no. He didn’t care. He was older, a bad boy, a friend of a friend. I had already lost my virginity so I guess he thought he wouldn’t be taking much from me. I still cringe or turn around and swing when someone touches my back or grabs my shoulder. I was told he was murdered a year after, and I felt relief. I was 15 years old.
I try to find validation in every relationship. I try to fix the man that I’m with, try to make him see that he can be better than he is. I tell myself I deserved the shit I put myself through. It’s hard for me to trust people, to comprehend the way they function rather than the way that I function.
In two of my relationships, the men overstepped their boundaries and threw me into a completely defensive mode. I threw them into a wall. I question whether I am now becoming the abuser instead of taking the abuse, but then I feel that even though I did physical harm to them, I was put into a bad position and took the action necessary. I still don’t like being cornered or pinned against a wall with someone screaming in my face.
The doctors didn’t expect me to make it through the birth process, let alone actually live. But I lived. My whole life I’ve struggled so as not to become a statistic, not to follow in the footsteps of my mother – to beat the odds. I made it. I made it this far and I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up now. I have a child on the way; I am nearly 5 months pregnant and it’s a girl. Now I get to try my hardest to protect her from all of the things that happened me.
I’m excited … and absolutely terrified at the same time.
Our apartment is not Hoarders level bad, but it could get there easily if I allowed it to. I don’t allow it to because clutter triggers my anxiety.
This pandemic has been hell on my hoarding-related anxiety and on my depression.
I know, on an academic level, why people hoard things. I even have a very good guess as to the reasons behind my husband’s hoarding. But knowing the why doesn’t help; it doesn’t ease my anxiety, it doesn’t make me more empathetic… I think it actually makes me even more frustrated and depressed.
This is one way that having a psychology degree can be a double-edged sword. The knowledge is helpful when you’re looking at the behavior of someone you don’t know. But when it’s someone you live with and you have emotional ties to, it feels like it makes things worse.
The hoarding is a major anxiety trigger for me. It’s limited to his “office”, but sometimes, it seeps out into the rest of the apartment. My husband has this nasty habit of setting things down “for now”, but never picking them back up. I refuse to pick it up. In my mind, my justification is that I didn’t put it there, he did. I shouldn’t have to be picking up after a grown man. So then it sits.
As I type this, I’m looking at a pile of cardboard that needs to go out of the recycling. I look at it and I am seething, both at him and at myself. I’m seething at him for just piling it up and not taking some of it down with him to the dumpster when he took out the trash. I seethe at myself for being so overwhelmed by a pile of cardboard that I freeze when I think about having to haul it out by myself.
I’m resentful. I resent being the one who has to clean. I resent having to tiptoe around his anxiety because if I don’t, then he becomes passive-aggressive and tries to emotionally manipulate me and make me out to be the bad guy because I expect him to help me keep a clean house. Then I start keeping score.
I shouldn’t be keeping score, but I can’t help it. I feel like I carry more of the weight around here and do 90% of the emotional labor in this relationship. This comes from my past; I grew up in an abusive household where I was both scapegoat and maid. I had to clean the whole house while my father sat on his ass and ordered me around. I feel a lot like this now. Except I’m an adult and I don’t live in fear of my husband if I refuse to do it.
I try to clean, but I feel like it’s a losing battle. It’s also becoming very difficult for me to keep pushing on and on. I clean up, but he brings in more crap and sets it down, never to pick it up again.
I think I might be at the end of my rope. Actually, I think I’m hanging on to a thread as far as the hoarding is concerned. I’ve contemplated going into that room and just getting rid of everything that I think is garbage. I’ve even considered ratting out my husband to the landlord as a wake-up call. I’m mortified at the thought of maintenance or the landlord coming in and seeing that room.
Again, not a picture of the author’s actual garage…
I’m not even going to get into how our rented garage looks. That does look like an episode of Hoarders. I’m angry that we pay extra a month to rent a garage to house all the crap he brought home and never used. We need to clean it out, but I’m both overwhelmed at the idea of how much stuff is in there. I’m also mortified at having to open the garage door and having everyone see how bad it is.
I could go to therapy, but the issue here is that I don’t want to tolerate this hoard anymore. I’ve lived with it too long and I feel like I’m enabling him by not saying anything. I’m hanging onto that last frayed strand of rope. I’ve lived with it long enough. I don’t have the time nor the patience to live with all the physical crap. I don’t have the luxury of waiting until he admits that he has a problem and gets help for it. If this makes me sound cold, then so be it. I have to think of myself. This is wreaking havoc on my anxiety and my depression. I don’t want to end up having another nervous breakdown and spending a week in a behavioral health facility because my anxiety and depression have reached the levels of suicidal ideation again.
Don’t laugh. The last time this happened, it was because the idea of going to work triggered panic attacks and I felt like such a failure that I began thinking about suicide.
I have few ways to escape since the pandemic started. I feel trapped, both by a virus and by someone else’s physical crap and emotional issues he refuses to deal with. I’m exhausted, too. I feel like a failure because I can’t keep my house clean. Short of staging an intervention, I don’t know what else to do.
On January 4th of 2020, I picked up my One Year Chip. How awesome that was. And in a stretch of ego, how proud I was of myself. Yes, I know I didn’t do it alone, but I was still proud of myself for not giving into the craving, especially early on.
So, I picked up my chip and all was so good in my world. February came and I was still on that pink cloud, vowing to never step off of it – hell, my sponsor said I never had to if I didn’t want to, so why would I?
Then came March, and we all know what March brought. For me, it brought a little more unknown than I was ready for. But I have a program and a higher power, and I was going to be okay. My meetings shut down, but we all found Zoom and again I knew it would be okay.
April got a little harder. I was diagnosed with Covid on April 9th. I was lucky and able to manage my symptoms at home. One thing that was becoming more and more evident, though, was that I was starting to miss my fellowship – the Zoom meetings weren’t quite filling the void anymore. Plus, I had been laid off on March 16th, so I was living in an isolation I knew would be NO good for me. But I was still okay. I leaned on my higher power hard, but He’s got broad shoulders. Then came May.
May was gonna be good. We got back to work on the 13th and although it wasn’t as busy as it needed to be, it would pick up. I just knew it would. And although Covid was ripping through the world, I could stay busy with work and feel some normalcy.
Side Note: I live in South Carolina and masks weren’t much of a thing here until quite recently. So we eventually became a “hot spot”, made the national news – the works. And as Bill would say when sharing his story… “And then it got worse.”
My mom had always lived independently. At 77 she was the neighbor who took all her neighbors to doctor appointments, the pharmacy, grocery store; whatever they needed. On May 20th mom was doing what she does – taking a neighbor to a doctor appointment. Except that after dropping off her friend, she disappeared. Just like that. We searched and searched, checked parking lots of nearby doctor offices, hospital parking lots, made all the phone calls, and yielded nothing. We checked her apartment for clues, and that’s where we found that her wallet with all her money, credit cards, and license were still there. As was her cell phone. Mom disappeared and had no money or ID or way to call or be called. That’s when I started to feel a serious WTF feeling.
In the meantime, I had filed a missing person report here with the police department. Besides walking in the rooms of A.A., that was the smartest thing I’ve done. All told my mom was missing a total of 26 hours. She was found at about 1:30 on the 21st, in Virginia. I may have forgotten to mention my mom lives here in SC too. She was pulled over by a police officer for driving with her hazards on. The officer here in SC who filed the missing persons immediately put mom on the NCIC, so her license plate dinged as soon as the officer in Virginia ran it. Maybe that’s procedure, I don’t know, but I’m grateful he did that. Beyond grateful.
**At this point I’d like to point out again that mom had no ID or money. I have no idea where she spent that 26 hours because the trip to Virginia from here is 4, maybe 5 hours. This troubled me for weeks, but she doesn’t remember any of it, so that right there is some Grace of God stuff, and I chose to let that go**
Mom had no idea where she was, how she’d gotten there, or why she’d gone there. She was belligerent with the officer and he brought her to the hospital for evaluation. That hospital was less than helpful. As a matter of fact, for a minute I thought about legal charges against them, but knew I could not afford to pursue litigation against them. So, I let it go. Mom wasn’t hurt by them; she just wasn’t helped.
That Thursday we were ready to head back to South Carolina, but it was too much to drive so we decided to get a room. I had to stay up all night long at that hotel because mom kept trying to leave the room… that was a long night. We came back home the next morning and I will spare too much of that story; let’s just say that immediately upon returning home I brought mom to the hospital here, where she was admitted and stayed for what ended up being a week. There I found out mom had developed a bad UTI which brought on an early onset of dementia. That explained her previously inexplicable trip to Virginia and her subsequent behaviors.
About the 4th day in the hospital, it became obvious that once the UTI had cleared up mom wasn’t much better. That dementia wasn’t just going to go away. What was worse though was because she wasn’t “medically” in need any longer, the hospital wanted her gone. Every day they would tell me she needed to be released. I had no idea what the hell I was supposed to do with her! She certainly couldn’t live alone anymore and if she stayed with me, I’d have to quit my job and probably never sleep again for fear she’d sneak out of my house. None of those were viable option, I was so lost. Suddenly I’m the caregiver with absolutely no clue what my next steps were. Medicare, Medicaid – I knew nothing, but I was about to get a crash course.
Again, I’ll spare you all the details, but I found a place for mom to be transferred to while I tried to figure the Medicaid/Medicare piece out. It’s a lovely assisted living that is costing me $2000 a month. I cannot sustain that for much longer before I bankrupt myself. To make matters worse, this assisted living facility (I have very recently learned) doesn’t accept Medicaid payments. As a matter of fact, there’s one place that covers most of the eastern seaboard of South Carolina for Medicaid assisted living residents. It’s an hour away and NO ONE is taking what they refer to as “community transfers” due to Covid. So, for now, mom has to stay there while I try to figure out how old is too old to become a prostitute…
Kidding, of course.
So, for now, mom is where she is and she’s safe. She’s as mean as a rattlesnake every time I see her, she even told me she wished she had killed me when she had the chance. Yes, I know she has a disease and doesn’t always know what she saying, but I can promise you that doesn’t make it hurt any less. But I’m all she’s got and I don’t get another mom, so it is what it is.
My sobriety has taken quite a hit, but it’s still intact. Year 2 of sobriety has thrown a shit ton of curve balls at me and I’m trying to learn when to swing and when to let em go by. I’m getting better at it. I got to go to an in-person meeting last night – first one since early March. It was glorious. I have been missing my “people” so much. Way more than I realized.
I’m sure there’s a lot I left out, maybe forgot, but I’m finally beginning to realize what some of our slogans mean. Living Life on Life’s Terms isn’t for pansies. One Day at A Time is something I’m having trouble with these days, but my people smack me in the back of the head with it when I need it. Also when I need it, they’re here for me. You’re here for me. That’s amazing and I hope to never take that for granted.
It’s one in the morning on New Year’s Day. I’m alone in my room savoring the last taste of mini-chocolate donuts before my medicine kicks in. Once it does, I get so nauseous that all I can do is lay still and hope that I can sleep.
When the clock hit midnight, I was lying in bed watching a documentary about obese people on my computer.
The only “Happy New Year” wishes I got were two texts. One was from a wrong number. The other was from one of my friends that I’m in the process of losing touch with; I suspect it was a mass message to everyone in her phone.
My mom and sister were downstairs, but they made no effort to come see me. I’d snapped at them earlier, so they left me alone. My boyfriend didn’t say anything either. I haven’t heard from him since seven, when he said he was sorry for not coming over because he was tired and in a meh mood. I’m guessing he fell asleep.
I’ve spent most of that time crying on and off.
You see, the problem is that I’ve spent the last three days with a pain in my left side, and while it fades in and out, it’s been getting worse. Normally this wouldn’t bother me too much, but in the last three weeks I’ve been in and out of doctors’ offices. I started off with a Urinary Tract Infection (my third since May), and after being off of those antibiotics for a day, I developed an ear infection. While I had my ear infection, my allergies ran amok, and I had to get a special nose spray to allow some sinus tube to open back up. I just finished the antibiotics for the ear infection yesterday morning.
All of this would be overwhelming enough by itself, but this happened after almost an entire year when I didn’t go one week without something happening to make me stop what I’m doing and curl up on the couch and wait for it to go away.
All of this has happened because I have fibromyalgia.
I’d explain what fibromyalgia is to you, but I don’t even know myself – my doctors don’t either. They THINK it’s nerves over-reacting and sending out false pain signals. But if that were all there was, it wouldn’t be associated with so many other things. If you stop by any fibromyalgia website, you can click on a page and find a long list of associated diseases and ailments. All of them aren’t even listed.
As if the pain and stiffness weren’t enough, now I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, chronic fatigue and insomnia, sensitivity to temperature and certain chemical smells, loss of concentration, and worse, anxiety. I hope that my reproductive organs function properly, because I want children one day (Even though I already know this might not be true. I’ve had one cyst and irregular periods so my doctor threw me on birth control a few years ago and that was that.)
So I have my pill cocktails for this thing and that thing, and I have patterns I need to follow or else something will flare up. There’s an even bigger problem with all of these things: I’m nineteen.
I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia at sixteen, and for a while it looked like it was being managed by medication. I was able to function and go to school and go out with friends. It would flare up every now again around my periods and during the winter, but it was still manageable…until January of this past year.
My doctor decided to switch me to a new drug for fibromyalgia. This drug was hardcore. It came in a trial in this little book container. I had to ease into it because it carried some potentially harsh side effects. It was hell from the beginning. I was nauseous from the second pill, but my mom and I decided to give it a chance.
By the middle of the trial, I was so nauseous and weak that it put my new part-time job into jeopardy. I sat through the orientation trying not to throw up. When I started having heart palpitations to the point where my heart stopped beating long enough for me to panic, we decided to take me off of the drug, but of course, I had to taper down because there was a chance of seizures from suddenly stopping.
Ever since, the problems haven’t stopped. I’m more than a semester behind in college because I’ve had to drop classes. This next semester, I will try for the third time to finish Composition 2 and Intro. to Sociology, and at this point, I’m not sure if I will be able to do it on this try.
I did online classes last semester, and this semester was supposed to be my attempt at real classes again. My anxiety has been right below the surface for weeks. I keep thinking, “If I can’t even make it more than a few days without something happening, how can I make it through classes? How can I live a normal life and have a job when I can barely function for more than a few days?”
I’m very aware of how much my parents spend on my doctor’s appointments and medications – it isn’t a small sum. My mom’s stack of doctor’s bills and reports is easily over six inches. I know my insurance runs out when I hit twenty-five, so I know I have a time limit to finish school and find a job, but I’m going to school to be a high-school English teacher. My starting salary will be somewhere in the mid thirty thousand dollar range.
I don’t want to have to admit that I will have to rely on someone to help take care of me, but honestly, on a teacher’s salary, I will be stuck at home until I pay off all of my student debts or I move in with a boyfriend. I refuse to live with friends because I don’t want them to have to take care of me when I get bad. I don’t want them to have to bring me things when I can’t get up. I don’t want them to have to sit with me when I’m curled up in bed sobbing because I don’t want to be sick anymore.
All I can do is hope that it will go back into remission or I can find a way to manage it because I don’t know how I can ever have a normal life with it as it is. I always have the fear that people are going to leave me because I’m such a mess. I tell my boyfriend that I’m a mess; that I’m falling apart, and he tries to reassure me that the rest of me makes up for it.
It angers me when people don’t take my illness seriously. My sister laughs at me if I tell her why I’m feeling bad. I’ve had people tell me it was all in my head or look suspiciously at me when I can’t give them an adequate explanation of fibromyalgia.
I know I don’t look sick, but I like it that way. If I looked sick every time I felt bad, I’d always look awful. I get mad when I see all this research money being thrown at all these other manageable diseases or anti-ageing products when fibromyalgia has the potential to systematically destroy people’s lives. It doesn’t matter that it’s not deadly: if a disease has a potential to confine you to bed, it deserves funding.
My plans for my future are very tentative. Even if I’m only planning a week in advance, I have to add “I think” to the end of it because I have no idea if I’ll be up to it. I’m sick of having to add “I think” to all of my plans.
I want to have a job. I want to go to school full-time. I to live on my own. I want all of the things people my age complain about. I want these things because they’re normal. I want to know that I can be normal. It hurts to hear people complain about this stuff – I want so badly to do it all.
My political views are becoming more liberal. I’m okay with universal healthcare when we can afford it. I need it. I’d gladly pay extra taxes if it means I don’t have to pay for outrageous doctor bills or ridiculously expensive mediation because I react badly to certain generics.
I support abortion because if I were to accidentally get pregnant, I’d have to choose whether to put my body through excruciating hell and lose all functionality for nine months, or abort. I’m not even fond of the idea of abortion, but I still want that option.
I recently started supporting medical marijuana because my body is being worn down by pain medications. I get upset when people try to oppose me on that one. My favorite argument is that America doesn’t need more high people because people with chronic pain are already high all the time. People in chronic pain take pain pills to function, not to relax. (Also, the people who actually would need medical marijuana hate the people who want to abuse it just as much as you do.) I’d gladly eat a pot brownie instead of taking a pain pill that’ll leave me nauseous and weak for six hours and for half a day afterward because my body is already worn down.
Do I need to repeat that I’m only nineteen?
And all I can do is just sit, wait, swallow some pills, try to exercise when my body lets me, try to eat healthy when my stomach lets me, and hope that I can get everything into a manageable state.
I’m starting to feel it’s too much to hope for it to just go away.
Because of my lovely picture (which is in constant need of maintenance), I cannot talk to many people about the constant weight on my shoulders. This situation is not helped by the recent loss of the two closest friendships I have, which happened as these things do, with only small amounts of shared blame.
I’ve been limping along for a while now, managing occasionally to feel like life is worthwhile and these wonderful times of hope are mostly because of my wonderful husband, the one person in the world that I am not afraid to cry with, the one person I know will not think less of me, or dismiss my pain.
This wonderful husband just got a short-term contract (four months) in a city six hours from here. It is a wonderful opportunity for him, one which I happily encouraged him to take, but I cannot go with him for various reasons.
During the day this seems like something I can manage; after all, he’ll still be here on the weekends, and it’s only for a little while.
But at night, the darkness invades my heart, and I cling tightly to him, terrified by the thought of being apart from him for even one night. Because along with being my best friend and soul mate, he is frequently my salvation.
It is because of him that I have not dropped out of grad school under the overwhelming apathy that threatens to prevent me from finishing assignments.
It is because of him that I can sort through my often tangled feelings and come out the other end feeling like I might be okay.
It is with him, and only him, that I can say that haunting word “depression” and not feel like I have to have a treatment plan all mapped out for his perusal.
Five days a week without him is five mornings I have to get out of bed and go to class. It’s 80 waking hours that I cannot debrief in his arms. It’s five evenings of dread, knowing what’s coming when I get too tired to fight it off, and it’s five nights of hugging my pillow, praying sleep will come before the melancholy attacks.