“Whatever you’re feeling, be good to yourself. If you feel lost, be patient with yourself while you find your way. If you feel scared, be gentle with yourself while you find the strength to face your fear. If you feel hurt, be kind to yourself while you grieve and slowly heal. You can’t bully yourself into clarity, courage, or peace, and you can’t rush self-discovery or transformation. Some things simply take time, so take the pressure off and give yourself space to grow.” – Lori Deschene
If someone were to walk up to me right now and ask if I wanted a ‘re-do’ on my childhood, and take back the abuse, alcoholism, and trauma, I’d decline. I often felt my story wasn’t worth sharing; others have had it so much worse. However, I have come to learn this is a common train of thought among survivors and those battling depression and anxiety like myself.
I say this because we cannot truly grow or appreciate a moment without first suffering. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t have life figured out; in fact, most of the time I’m questioning my purpose here on this earth. But, let me go back a few years.
Growing up in a small suburb of the Twin Cities we had a pretty picturesque house. Large two-story home, big front yard and walking distance to the park and the elementary school. We pretty much always had at least one pet in the home, and I grew up being a middle child in a family of five kids. I have good memories from growing up, just like everyone else. I remember my mom being my best friend and having thought-provoking conversations with my dad into the wee hours of the morning. I had friends, I participated in gymnastics and dance, and I went to school. I was “normal.” You see my entire life people have been telling me I have an old soul, something I not only took pride in but was constantly trying to live up too, even into adulthood. All through life I was labeled a type A, I was the only kid who got home from school on a Friday and immediately sat down to do my homework. When my mom would ask me why I was doing it so soon, I’d simply reply with “if I do it know I have the rest of the weekend to play and don’t have to worry about it.” At the time, I felt I was being efficient, on top of things. I didn’t realize the violent cycle I would begin putting myself through for many years to come or just how much my childhood would come back to affect and bleed into essentially every aspect of my life.
When I was six, I started asking my parents if they were “staying up late” that night. At the time, I loved it when they stayed up late; it meant I got to stay up past my bedtime! But as I got older, I realized every time they stayed up late, they were binge drinking. It started out two or three times a week, but eventually, it was nearly every night. My parents would drink until they were so intoxicated, they often could not make it up to their room; they would fall asleep sitting in a chair, or it would end in a screaming match between the two of them.
At nine, I would stay up late to clean up after them, something that I felt was my responsibility. I would stay up in my room and continually go downstairs to check on them to gauge how close they were to going to bed. Usually, I would start to clean up and tell them they needed to go to bed at which point I’d lead them upstairs. At this age, I was petrified of sleeping in my own room. I was convinced that I would get kidnapped or something similarly terrible would happen- something I later realized was a symptom of the fear I had from the instability in our home. My parents enabled this fear by allowing me to sleep in their room. As a result, throughout my parents’ battle with addiction, I was sleeping on a mattress on their bedroom floor. Looking back, it was weird. I think even at the time I knew it was weird, but I was so ‘scared’ to sleep in my own room that I allowed the fear to win over me. The first time I was abused, I was around age nine. My dad came into the bedroom very intoxicated and proceeded to molest me. I remember telling my mother the next day, and her response was, “Well, he probably thought it was me, just forget about it.” This happened three times over the course of my childhood, and yes, I never said anything again after the first time. I buried the abuse so deep in my psyche that I rarely thought about it and when I did, I would do everything I could to shove it back down as quickly as possible. I thought that was how you dealt with abuse i.e. ignore it. I remember hearing that victims of abuse often feel they are to blame, I never felt that way and in some weird way I thought that because I didn’t fit that box than I was okay.
Fast-forward to age 15. My mom had suffered through enough of my father’s emotional abuse and they filed for divorce. I was numb. I remember thinking I didn’t care; my feeling was, “It’s about time.” However, that was the tipping point for my mother’s alcoholism. For what I thought may be her saving grace, ended up being part of her downfall. After the divorce, she is spiraling trying to re-capture all the years she felt she had missed out on by being with my father. She would party with my 20-something brother and his friends, only to get blackout drunk, and repeat the cycle nearly every night.
One night was especially bad. She was intoxicated and got it in her head that she wanted to take my seven-year-old little brother to the store. Obviously, my older brother, a family friend, and I were refusing to let that happen, given her current state. The situation eventually escalated to where we had to call the police on my mother in her own house. Fun fact: The police cannot do anything to forcibly remove someone if that person owns the home. So, since the police were of no help (aside from trying to put my mom to bed), we locked ourselves—along with my little brother—in the bedroom. My mom was screaming at us from behind the door, when that didn’t work for her, she started stabbing the door with a large kitchen knife to get to us. So, there I was at 15, contemplating moving out on my own because I was desperate to break away from my mother. I sobbed for hours to myself wondering how I could make it work to move away, if I’d survive.
After that night, I told my mother she had to choose between rehab and us. After a lot of tears and fighting she chose rehab, so I raised my younger brother with an older sibling for 30 days while she completed in-patient rehab. Rehab was seeming to go well, she was calm, sober and more herself; the mom I remembered. After returning home from her stint in the clinic she remained sober for a year. Ironically enough, on her one-year sobriety anniversary she celebrated with a drink.
At this point, all my older siblings had moved out leaving myself and my younger brother at home with my mom. After breaking her sobriety my mother and I began a crazy cycle of her drinking, lying about it and me catching her in her lies. I cannot count the amount of screaming matches we had over her drinking. Somehow during that crazy cycle, we came to an understanding, she had to ask my permission to have a drink. I continued my path of literally just trying to get through every day. I was working, going to high school, dating my now-husband, and trying to remain as “normal” as I could be. Once I graduated high school, I realized the toll my childhood had taken on my mental health. My boyfriend was always telling me I should get help for my battle with depression, anxiety, and OCD, but I downright refused. I thought, “Well, I’ve made it this far; why get help now?”
Eventually, I reached the point of no return. I was emotionally exhausted, and I knew I couldn’t continue this way.
I researched, read and sought the help of therapists and group support from Al-Anon, and learning what it meant to truly make peace with the past. Through the therapy I learned how much my childhood truly affected me. When I thought I was born type A, I realized I was conditioned to be so. I was finally able to accept that regardless of the good and the bad, this is who I am, and I am proud of that.
With the help of my support group, I decided I needed to cut ties with my father. I no longer have contact with him. My mother and I never stopped talking through the years, even though our relationship was certainly strained at times. We had a very raw and eye-opening conversation where I was finally able to let go of the resentment and anger, I was holding onto; some of which I didn’t even realize I subconsciously had. There was a significant weight lifted off my shoulders when I hung up the phone with her that night.
After that, life was stable for a while. I lived every day as a normal adult. I worked full time, had two dogs and a fiancé. I was a busy 23-year-old. I was going to therapy intermittently when I felt I needed it, because I already healed so I didn’t need to go consistently (oh how wrong I was!)
So, there I was, had a new job I loved, surrounded by people who loved me, had just boughten my first home, life was ‘good’. But I had lost all will to live. It hit me like a ton of bricks, the thought of suicide. It terrified me. This was something that through all the struggle, trauma and therapy, I had never had a suicidal thought in my body. Yet here I was, imagining how I would do it. I am forever grateful for my manager who is also a life long friend. I went to her office and told her of the struggle I was having, with her okay I took the next week and a half off work to re-center myself.
I dove headfirst into books, a new therapist, self-care, yoga, Pilates, meditation, you name it and I likely tried it. I did workbooks on perfectionism, got massages, drove over an hour one way to see a new therapist who specialized in my area of need. I came back feeling refreshed and re-energized.
I have come to terms with the fact that yes, I am a survivor, and yes, my past is something I will have to continue to battle. Looking back, I still wouldn’t change anything about my past though. It made me into who I am today, and it also allows me to share my journey and pass hope along to fellow survivors.
Just because I took that time off to grow myself does not mean my fight is over. I have times of crippling anxiety and depression still. But I am learning how to handle those moments better and not let them take over my day. This is a long stretch of re-wiring the years of negative self-talk, in life I have learned I must practice self-love in order to truly be there for those I love. If I cannot be there for myself, how can I expect to ever support the ones most important to me?
But I want you to remember to take care of yourself and always keep fighting, because we are not our stories and we are stronger than our past.
Have trust in your life, have patience in your life as it will lead us to where we are meant to be.