Thursday, February 11, 2016
My parents were equally to blame for the chaos and dysfunction that surrounded us as children. I know this rationally, yet when I replay situations in my mind, it does seem as though most of my resentment focuses on my mother. I think one reason for that is I recognize my Dad’s alcoholism for what it was; a disease. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have tried to get better and it certainly doesn’t excuse us growing up in an old house that was in dire need of repairs and was never properly heated in the winter or cooled in the summer, even though he made a good living. Sometimes his co-workers and even people who earned less than him would invite us to their homes (courtesies that were never reciprocated, incidentally) and they all lived much better than we did. This was the 60s and 70s, and a lot of the wives didn’t work, so I know it wasn’t their income that was making the big difference. It was that only a fraction of my Dad’s paycheck would make it into our household coffers. His illness also doesn’t excuse the horrible things my father would say or do when he was drunk. I just grew up feeling that my mother was cold-hearted while my Dad was good-hearted but tragically flawed.
I suppose I also relate to my father more as an adult due to my own substance abuse struggles, with food rather than alcohol. My husband and I earn a much better combined income than my parents ever would have dreamt of, plus we only have one child. My food addiction doesn’t play havoc on our budget the way my Dad’s alcoholism did and I certainly am not given to the obnoxious behavior alcohol can trigger, but I do understand what it is like to battle the demon of addiction. I don’t understand what it is like to be resent your children so much that you tell them they’ve ruined your life, like my Mom did.
My parents didn’t save any money to help us through college, so we had to figure out our own way to pay tuition and living expenses. One summer, I lived with 2 girls from work. They had grown up in a rough part of town and were renting the attic apartment of a home owned by the mother of one of their boyfriends. The only thing it had going for it was that it was dirt cheap, but that was enough. My Mom made such a big deal out of me living there. If she had protested because she thought it was unsafe, that would have been one thing. As it turns out, in hindsight, I do think it was probably unwise to have lived there and feel fortunate that no harm befell me. Given what I found out about the area’s crime rate, it easily could have. I guess that because my roommates had grown up there and felt safe, I was lulled into a false sense of immortality that only naïve young people can ever experience.
For years afterwards, whenever I was with my Mom, she would tell anyone who would listen about how horrible that neighborhood was. The first time I took the man who is now my husband to meet her, she made a snide comment about whether I was going to take him to see it. This was 9 years after I had lived there! Why would he be interested and why would I want to go back? I finally said to her, “Gee, Mom, that’s really sweet that you want me to go back there, knowing what it’s like.” Later, I recounted the story to my sister, who said to me, “Well, in Mom’s defense, it was a scary place.” This just illustrates how our upbringing screwed us up. My sister didn’t sympathize with me that my mother had attempted to embarrass me in front of my boyfriend; she found a reason to defend my mother’s inappropriate remark. I asked my sister if she seriously thought that all the people our mother belittled me in front of us felt that I was the one who should be shamed for doing my best to get through college or if it wasn’t possible that some of those people were thinking, “Gee, if that was my daughter, I would have felt an urgency to help her get out of there.” I honestly believe that was the first time it occurred to my sister that, hmm, oh yeah, maybe my parents didn’t handle this the way that responsible parents would have. My Mom has never mentioned that neighborhood to me again. To this day, I’m not sure if it was my comment to her or if my sister said something to her (or even if possibly she overheard the conversation with my sister, although I can’t remember she was even there that day) that made her stop talking about that.
There is so much more, so many other situations I can think of that eroded my self-esteem and any sense of being the worth the time and effort to take better care of myself. Sometimes, if I can force myself to stop in the middle of a binge, I can almost feel myself forcing my sense of inadequacy down my throat along with the chips or Oreos or Hershey kisses. I go through months, sometimes years, when I’m able to function relatively normally. I keep my house and my car clean, I keep my weight stable (even if it’s a bit higher than I’d like it) and I spend my time off productively, being social or getting errands done. Then I’ll hit the skids and although I’ve always been able to hold down a job and stay engaged with my son, I don’t take care of anything else. My house and my car look like pig sties, my weight climbs ever higher (not that I’ll get on a scale to find out how bad it actually is!) and I hole up inside, watching TV or sleeping every chance I get. I have to rely on my husband to do the grocery shopping, which is always a bad idea because he is a false economizer (buys stuff we don’t even like because it’s on sale, etc.) and comes home with more junk food than I do. I’ve been out of my winter shade of foundation for weeks and instead of going to Ulta to buy another bottle, I am using a shade that is too dark for me because I bought it during the summer when I had a bit of a tan. This is the point in the cycle in which I currently find myself. I am trying to claw my way out, but so far, it’s been a struggle.