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This is Us – Families, Addiction and the Legacy of Shame
Have you ever watched the show This is Us ?
It’s a series that airs in the US. A show about families in all their brokenness and loving awesomeness. If you haven’t watched it and have it available, I highly recommend it but keep the tissues close by.
Last night I watched a recent episode focused on the life of Deja. Deja is a teenager who is fostered by a young couple and her history opened some old wounds for me. When I watched how she had been raised it was my story. Obviously, details were different but it was the same story.
See, Deja was born to a teenage mother. Her grandmother watched over things until she died and after she died Deja’s mother was left to cope alone. She was unable to do that.
Deja’s mother fell into addictions to substances and to men that weren’t good for her. Deja had to deal with utilities being shut off, evictions, constant moving. Her mother was in and out of rehab and jail. Deja moved in and out and back in and back out of the foster system.
When we read about stories like Deja’s in the news we automatically assume the mother doesn’t love the child. It is an easy conclusion to draw. If you love your child, why in the world would you neglect her and/or subject her to such strife? The logical answer is that you wouldn’t.
There is nothing logical about mental health issues and addiction.
If you watch this episode of “This Is US”, you will see a mother and daughter who genuinely love each other very much. The mother loves Deja but just can’t stop screwing up. Deja adores her mother and continues to hope that this time things will be different.
My mother suffered from anxiety and depression. My father and I were her world. She depended heavily on him for strength and decision making. He died around my 10th birthday.
I lost both my parents that day.
My mother was completely unable to cope with his loss. She spent the first 3 months in a mental hospital. I stayed with my Godmother and her family.
After she got out, my mother tried hard. She did what her doctors suggested but was very over-protective of me. Her over-protectiveness and insecurity made me very uncomfortable and I fought with her about it. Adults who knew that shamed me for it. The problem was that I was a 10-year-old in desperate need of a parent who I could lean on for strength and support. I needed a confident parent. Instead, I had to be the confident one.
A bit much to put on a 10-year-old.
By the time I was 11, my mother was abusing alcohol and my life began to parallel Deja’s life as depicted in the show. While I never got put in foster care, it was so much the same. My grandmother moved to live near us. That helped. Her presence gave me a place to be grounded.
I remember once being frightened as my mom drove me home from dancing lessons because she was drunk. She got pulled over. The police took me to my grandmother. Without her, I would have been in foster care that night.
My mother’s drinking accelerated. My grandmother was disgusted but I could always go spend time with her. She died when I was 14. I no longer had her anchoring presence.
I remember times when my mother was supposed to pick me up from some event or whatever and she would not show up. Calls from the payphone would go unanswered.
She was passed out.
I had memorized the local cab company’s phone number. The cabbie (it was a small town and I always got the same guy) would apologize for the size of the fare. He would drive me home and I would dig out the money from my mother’s waitressing apron-usually almost all her tips from the day and pay him.
I can’t tell you how many times she promised to be somewhere for me and wasn’t. She wasn’t there because she was either too drunk to be there or passed out.
I also can’t tell you how many times my mother promised it would never happen again. She promised she would stop drinking. She promised that things “will be different now”. I don’t remember how many times I believed her and hoped it would be so before I stopped believing. Eventually, I stopped believing her.
It should come as no surprise that we nearly got evicted for non-payment of mortgage but my mother somehow found a way to bail us out of that mess. Later, she did have to check us into a motel for a night or two because our utilities had gotten shut off for non-payment.
I spent the entire winter in 11th grade with a friend because my house had no heat. My mother said it was because the house we were renting at that time was poorly insulated. I wonder about that story now. Lucky for me, my friend’s family let me stay. They probably knew more about my situation than they let on.
We won’t talk about how filthy the house was. I kept my room clean as my oasis but I just wasn’t willing or maybe emotionally able to take it all on.
There is nothing logical about mental health issues and addiction.
I wonder if something were to have happened that brought the authorities attention on us, after my grandmother was gone, if I would have been placed in the system. Who knows? I am sure I would not have wanted that.
Through all of that, I knew she loved me. There was no question in my mind about that. I hated her drinking. I hated the neglect. I hated being embarrassed by how we lived. Somehow, I knew she loved me.
So much like Deja’s story.
She got sober when I was 20 and stayed that way.
Deja is me. Watching Deja’s story last night made me see, really see, the effect my mother’s alcohol abuse addiction had on me. This post isn’t about me blaming my mother for my problems. My mother and I made our peace years ago. She loved me but she was in way over her head with life. She couldn’t cope. She never learned how to cope. She tried but it just wasn’t there. She leaned on me until the day she died. It is just how it was.
This post is about realizing that the things that happened in my earlier years had an impact on me. That is just fact. It wasn’t my fault either. I didn’t get to be a child with a parent upon whom I could look to for strength after the age of 9. There are things in life I didn’t do right. Some things I feel guilty about some things I feel like…”gee why didn’t I think highly enough of myself to strive for better?”.
I had no guidance. I had no one showing me the way. No one insisting that I deserved better. That is just a fact. It probably contributes to my tendency to “settle for less” to this day.
Alcohol Abuse and addiction have very far-reaching effects.
What am I taking away from all of this?
To realize that my feelings of being “less than” are not truth, but are caused by those experiences, by the addiction and the mental health issues coloring my childhood. I am not “less than” those who were brought up by present parents. Yes, I know that no family is perfect. I had plenty of friends with parents who were doing a far better job than mine. That was because she couldn’t cope, it was not because I didn’t deserve it. It is past time for me to stop thinking of myself as “less than”.
I am not “less than”.
Be the change you want in your life.
This post was shared to the Boozemusings Community blog anonymously from a member of the BOOM Community
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