I had a counselor in rehab who told us that the reasons behind addiction can typically be boiled down to one of three issues: grief, abandonment, or abuse. I don’t know if this is universal; I’m obviously not familiar with the stories of everyone suffering from addiction. I do know that it fit the stories of everyone who was in rehab with me, including myself. For some reason, childhood memories have been coming back to me lately. This happens from time to time. It gets me thinking back to what the counselor said about reasons behind addiction. For me, it was a combination. Abandonment and abuse.
My parents divorced when I was young. I bounced between their homes countless times over the years before finally moving in with my dad for good when I was 14. The years before that… rough times. Especially when I was living with Krystal (my birth mother). I’m not exaggerating when I say that she is just about the worst person I’ve ever met. She got pregnant in high school and blamed me for “ruining her life.” That’s a direct quote. Imagine telling your child that you hope they are one day in prison, thus ensuring they won’t be inclined to visit on holidays. At Krystal's house, we had one of those side-by-side fridge/freezer combos. I’ll never forget the image of a chain and lock keeping them shut so that “Michael couldn’t steal from the family.” Apparently, getting a snack or glass of milk is stealing from the family. Good lessons that I’ll be sure to never pass down to my child.
I spent a good portion of my childhood hearing how pathetic I was. The person who was supposed to love me unconditionally treated me like garbage. Worse than garbage actually; the garbage got thrown away and didn’t have to be in that house anymore. She kept me around seemingly just so she could treat me worse. Seriously, it was miserable. The emotional and psychological abuse was appalling. She will never meet my kid. She doesn’t deserve that. The final straw was when she hit me. I hit back and within weeks was back to living with my dad and stepmom.
Man, I treated my stepmom like crap. It’s just what I was used to. A mom was someone you were supposed to fight with, right? How did she put up with me for so long? I was a complete ass to her. I was just an overall unhappy kid — always angry, fighting, throwing tantrums (punched so many holes in walls!). I’m not sure when the shift really happened but one day, I stopped calling her Angie and started referring to her as Mom.
The last time I communicated with Krystal was when I was 22. I was visiting my family for July 4th and my birthday. I got an email from Krystal. I exploded. My response was very harsh and she hasn’t tried to make contact since. That same morning, I was drinking coffee with my dad and for some reason he said that if I ever wanted to see my mom, he wouldn’t mind. He was always good about keeping his feelings about her a secret from us. I always appreciated that. My response was very simple and yet incredibly complex. “Dad, I see my mom all the time. She’s asleep in the other room right now.”
Looking back on things, I never gave my stepmom the respect she deserved when I was a kid. I love her now. Hell, I sometimes forget that she never actually gave birth to me. Childhood may have been crappy but adulthood has been pretty great, especially since getting sober.
(Seriously though, what kind of person would treat their child the way Krystal treated me!)
It took many years and a ridiculous amount of therapy and support to realize that I’m not the person Krystal said I was. That I’m useful and have a purpose. I think part of the reason I hated myself for so many years was because I always had her voice in the back of my head telling me I’m not good enough. Screw that. I’m more than good enough. I’m freaking awesome! I’m brilliant, great at my job, an excellent father, and my pet bunny is so adorable he could probably win awards!
If you're on a journey like I am, working through childhood trauma, you are not alone. I know it may not feel like it, but other people exist who know what you're going through. Working with a trauma therapist has been key for me, but you know what else has played a major part in my healing? Peer support. Talking with others who are working through their trauma has helped me heal. Join me, and others, on the WhiteFlag App, to talk it out.
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