As my early years progressed, there were more and more indicators that something just wasn’t right. Substance abuse and addictive personality reared its ugly head when my older brother moved back home during one of his bad times. He was 17 years older than I, and that summer, using his liquor supply I started experimenting. I remember one afternoon I managed to run a stop sign and hit a car while riding my bike after drinking. I still have an 8 inch scar on my leg from my first drinking and driving episode. My parents found out about that one, and their only reaction was “Why are you drinking so much”. I didn’t get into trouble, and nothing was mentioned about it again. Mom just drew lines on the liquor bottle labels so that she could see if I kept drinking or not. I was 13 years old.
My parents had no idea how to communicate with me. My Father was a total non-entity. As I was older and getting into more and more trouble, my Mother would leave me long, typewritten notes telling me how bad I was and how I had disappointed her, instead of sitting down and having an actual conversation. There was no Sex talk: They left me a copy of the “Kensey Report” study of human sexuality. There was no physical contact. Even the slightest touch was awkward and uncomfortable. I felt completely abandoned.
I started going to the YMCA. It turned out to have a huge impact on my life and for the first time I actually made some real friends. The Y was in another town, and having friends that went to different schools ended up playing a large role with my first depression. It was also at the Y that I developed much of my work ethic that I’ve carried through my entire career. The head of the youth program had taken me under his wing and gotten me a job there as a counselor. He did a great job working with all the kids on the staff coaching us on how to behave in a work environment like how to shake hands) and the importance of being early and giving the job our best efforts. He used our weekly staff meetings more to mentor us than talk about work. One time we were talking about one of our kids who committed suicide… He was telling us about it, how he was brutally teased and isolated, and seemed depressed all the time. He looked right at me and said “He reminded me a lot of you”. Needless to say that really bothered me and I wondered if maybe he was right, that I should be considering killing myself. I really looked up to him, and saw him as the father figure I was missing. Then I found out why he was so interested in helping us. He was a pedophile. I began to suspect when he started inviting me (and other male friends) to spend the night with him. He was single, and it just didn’t seem right. My parents wouldn’t let me go, but they did let me go one night to his assistant youth directors’ apartment for a sleepover. Turns out his motivation was the same and I woke up in the middle of the night with him groping me. I ran from him like a scare cat, and that was all that happened, but it was devastating, and made me feel horrible about myself. (Side note: Years later several of the boys from the Y filed sexual abuse charges against the director, and he was convicted and sent to jail) I was brutally betrayed by the first strong father figure I ever had, and the downward spiral of my mood began.
I never developed any friendships at my high school. It was the only high school in town, and was dominated by the “In Crowd” that I never fit into. So I would skip school and go visit my Y friends that were in the nearby town. This happened more and more, and I started missing weeks of school at a time. The more school I missed, the more guilty I felt, and the more self loathing. I was becoming more and more depressed, which lead to more missed classes and deeper despair. This turned into my first major depression, and I ended up dropping out of school altogether.
So, was it my upbringing and childhood experiences that led to my illness? Or was it the beginnings of my illness that ended up creating the misery. My opinion is that it was both. The environment of parental neglect along with my oddness and isolation just fed into the predisposition that was already there. Regardless of the cause, my formative years were just beginning of a lifetime struggle.
The good news is, having such a long history of unhappiness, over the years I have developed many coping skills that have carried me through all the bad times. There was no one else to take care of me, so I had to learn to take care of myself. I overcompensated for the cold and neglected feelings by cultivating warmth and intimacy. I have learned how to control the tendency to addiction and substance abuse. There was no fun, but it has given me some incredible strengths and insights. All that I experienced helped create the person I have become; Strong, resourceful, and caring.
I believe that all of our experiences, no matter how horrible, strengthen us and provide opportunities to learn about ourselves and others. It may be a cliché, but I firmly believe: everything happens for a reason. Without these experiences, good and bad, we wouldn’t be who we are.