My family was never a loving one. There were no hugs, no kisses, no “I love you’s” that I can remember. If someone was upset or traumatized and needed support, they weren’t going to find it in this family! Nobody ‘rallied around’ to support them. I never knew self-esteem or self-worth-not even briefly. Everywhere I turned, I found cruelty, sadness, fear and pain.
Any attention-seeking or moping around was usually met with something like-“Oh, for Christ’s sake! Get over it!” If I had friends over, she would scream and yell and completely humiliate me right in front of them. After a while, kids just stopped hanging around with me.
And, of course, my mother’s favorite: the wooden paddle! It was in the shape of a hand and had ‘Mother’s Helper’ written across it and when she got really mad-well-you knew you were getting smacked with that paddle.
I truly felt like my parents resented having to raise me. I was sort of born and left to figure life out on my own; to somehow instinctively learn right from wrong; how to be a perfect child. Of course, when mistakes were made, she made it perfectly clear what a failure and disappointment I was.
My childhood was over before it started
I took my first drug at age nine. One day, in 2nd grade, I had come home from school crying, probably from being bullied. My grandmother sat me down at the kitchen table and put a half of a little orange pill in front of me. “Don’t chew it” she said, “It looks like a baby aspirin but it’s not. Just swallow it with your milk”. So I did. And I loved it! It was a valium.
I started drinking at 12 years old. See, my parents had a fully stocked “liquor closet”; full of every kind of liquor imaginable. This puzzled me because I had never seen either of my parents drink alcohol-ever. But, there it was, so one Sunday, while both of my parents were working, my friend Pam and I filled BIG Styrofoam cups with a little bit of every type of liquor. We just mixed some from each bottle.
I blacked out that day, and when I ‘came to’, Pam and I were across town and hanging at the park with some boys from the other second grade class. I soon learned that kids wanted to hang out with me when I had drugs or alcohol. Heck, it beats not having any friends at all, right?
Within one year, I well on my way to becoming a full-blown addict and alcoholic. The first thing I remember noticing is that I was unable to go to sleep without a drink. I had to wait until everyone went to bed, then sneak downstairs for a big cup of alcohol.
Then I had an “AHA” moment. “This”, I thought, “must be why mom and dad keep a liquor closet!” I honestly thought all grownups had to drink to sleep! Since I never heard my parents talk about drinking, I assumed that it just wasn’t something to share. So, I kept it to myself.
I think it’s worth mentioning that, being so young and naïve, I had no idea what alcoholism was-even at age 14. I had never heard of an alcoholic, much less known one! I had no idea there was anything wrong with what I was doing!
By age 14, I physically couldn’t stop drinking. I suffered a couple of minor seizures, woke up with the shakes, developed insomnia unless I drank at night, got really nauseous when I couldn’t drink and all sorts of other hideous withdrawal symptoms. My depression was also worsening rapidly. I was beginning to think about suicide. I stayed in my room all day, every day reading books.
I remember sitting in my pediatrician’s office one morning (I think I was 13-years-old) and telling her-no, begging her–to give me some antidepressants. I told her I was so depressed, I didn’t care if I lived or not (and, in fact, only days ago I made a feeble attempt while I was walking to school. I could hear a heavy truck coming up the road behind me and without a second thought, I jumped in front of it. Fortunately, the driver was alert and stopped just in time).Anyhow, her response was a flat “I’m not prescribing many medicine for you as long as you’re drinking the way you do”. This was coming from my DOCTOR! Not a single adult in my life had ever had a discussion with me about getting help. Nobody had ever told me that there were places I could go for help, like detox.
Around age 19, I started dabbling with heavier drugs. At the time, I was working at a sports bar. Each night, after our shifts ended, the other waitresses and I would sit down at the bar and have a few drinks. When we got to feeling pretty good, one of them, Barbara, and I would go across town to another bar where we would buy cocaine from the bartender there. Then we would proceed to get majorly fucked up into the wee hours of the morning. Still, I didn’t see that a problem. To me, it was just the norm. After all, we ALL drank the same way. I had nothing else to compare my drinking to!
Then, one afternoon Barbara came back from break, crying, and told me she needed to go to a hospital. “Why?” I asked. She said “Because I’m an alcoholic”. I said to her, “No. You’re not. You drink the same as the rest of us!
Clinical Depression: Unrecognized & Untreated
People who suffer from untreated major depression (as well as other mental health issues) quite often end up turning to drugs and alcohol to cope. Children and young adults are especially vulnerable because they aren’t capable of understanding what is wrong and surely can’t find the right words to ask for help.
Any plant-even a flower-that grows where it is not wanted
I grew up feeling like the most unwanted, unlovable, worthless, homeliest child in the world. I was always afraid. Afraid of being bullied. Afraid of being humiliated. Afraid of making mistakes. Afraid of everything!
I had suffered many more instances of being berated, belittled and humiliated in front of anyone who was near at the time. By the age of twelve, I had become depressed and withdrawn. I couldn’t seem to make even one friend. I was verbally, emotionally and, quite often, physically, abused by my parents and I was bullied and tormented in school-by students and teachers alike. I would get physically ill at the thought of having to face the bullies at school.
I endured a lot of emotional and mental abuse at home. I’m not going to get into specific details because it still brings up strong feelings in me that I would rather forget. But, once I discovered how to self-medicate all that went away.
So, If my story sounds a little scattered and disjointed, it’s because my recall of the last 40 years of my life is a jumble of memories and blackouts that I’m still trying to piece together. I did my best to get the dates as right as I could. I guess my story, much like myself, will always be a work in progress.
1974-ish: I remember coming home from school one day, crying inconsolably over something (I had probably been harassed by the other kids again. Kids can be so cruel). Anyway, I was in 3rd grade, I think, so I was about 9 years old. My grandmother sat me down at the kitchen table and put a half of a little peach-colored pill in my hand. My grandmother told me “I know it looks like baby aspirin but it’s not. Don’t chew it, it will taste awful”, so I took it and remember falling in love with the feeling it gave me.
That pill was a Valium. From that day on, I went into my grandmother’s purse every time she turned her back on it and I looked for those pills. Actually, I would take a couple of any pills I found and I would eat them and see if it was something that made me feel good or bad. If I felt good-I went back for more.
1977-ish: At age 12, I discovered alcohol. See, my parents had a “liquor closet” stocked with every imaginable type of hard liquor-and they weren’t even drinkers! I never understood this. So, while both of them were working one Sunday, a friend and I proceeded to “taste test” everything. I just poured a little of everything into a big styrofoam cup and drank it down. I blacked out that first time and when I came out of the blackout, I found myself on the other side of town-hanging around a couple of kids I didn’t know. But, hey-at least I had friends now, right? From then on, I drank every chance I got.
I remember thinking how wonderful it was that I discovered these miraculous things called drugs and alcohol. These things that made my insecurities go away and made other kids want to hang out with me! I became one of the crowd. I had friends and a social life. I felt like I had been saved!
1978-ish: After maybe one year of drinking, I was unable to fall asleep without alcohol or drugs, so I would sneak to the “liquor closet” and steal a few drinks. That’s when it finally dawned on me… so THIS is why my parents kept all this alcohol! They must drink to go to sleep, too! Being just 13 and extremely naive I thought that everyone drank alcohol before bed.
Another incident I remember is standing in my pediatrician’s office and begging her for antidepressants. I kept telling her that I was so depressed all the time that I couldn’t eat, sleep and could barely make it to school in the morning. Her response? “I’m not prescribing you any pills as long as you keep drinking the way you do”.
I often (VERY often) wonder how my life would have turned out if someone, some grown-up in my life-had intervened. Instead, it just seemed like they all wanted to sweep it under the rug. I think about all the times I would be out babysitting and as soon as the parents left, I would go to the cabinet above the refrigerator (that’s where everyone kept their alcohol in those days) and I would get totally inebriated. I mean, there were times they took me home and almost had to pour me in my front door. Yet, nobody talked about it.
Okay, this is where my memories start getting a bit fuzzier.
At the age of 19-my little 13-year-old brother-Anthony-was hit and killed by a drunk driver in front of 4 of his friends. He was crossing the street to go to the movies and a drunk driver blew the one red light on that stretch of road and killed him. At the time, I was in charge of my 2 younger brothers and 2 younger sisters (for the FIRST time) while my parents vacationed in Italy. That was a nightmare! We had to have the American Embassy find my parents, we asked the American Red Cross to find my brother who was in the service (thank God he was still in the US).
I remember that only the day before, I had picked up a full prescription of Valium-120 of them-from my friend’s brother (he was a paraplegic, but didn’t like the way Valium made him feel, so he would give them to me) and within the next 3 days, while we tracked down my parents and brother, I had eaten them all. I didn’t want to lay down because I couldn’t fall asleep. All I could do was cry for my little brother. And I didn’t like being awake because all I could do was think about my little brother. So, I drank coffee and ate Valiums for 3 days until I was so exhausted that I could finally sleep without thinking or dreaming.
By this time, I had already been taking painkillers for years, but after my little brother’s death, someone urged me to try cocaine (when I wasn’t in the process of getting shit-faced). To be honest, I didn’t really care for it the first few times. Then I realized that if I did coke while I was drinking, I could drink longer without much effect. Yeah. I was up for that. After that, I never went out drinking without my cocaine.
1988 through the late 90sIn 1988, at age 22, I found out I was pregnant-and I quit everything.