“When You Start Seeing Your Worth, You’ll Find it Harder to Stay Around People Who Don’t, even if it’s your own FAMILY.”
The Bible teaches me to “Obey Thy Father and Mother” …
That can be somewhat hard to do when you had been put down, left to feel your worth nothing for many years beginning as a little girl. No excuses, not a victim, just clear-sightedness of how I FELT and had perceived these actions each time they happened to me by family members growing up.
To learn dark secrets coming into adulthood that make you look at your parents much differently and it is an uncomfortable feeling. I am also sharing my feelings as it seems, even after almost fifteen years of estrangement from my dysfunctional side of the family, they keep leaving “ugly” comments on my book as reviews and anywhere else they think they can hurt me. I’m good today so I just ignore it.
See, my book ‘Addicted to Dimes: Confessions of a Liar and a Cheat’ published in 2013, my family was upset due to the fact I wrote and disclosed some dark secrets I came across while doing my research and looking in public records and so on and they don’t have a grip on reality or any link to an understanding about addiction and recovery either. My memoir is NOT ABOUT THEM.
It was written to give insights about how my past issues and trauma growing up can had such a negative impact in my life growing into adulthood which all that added fuel to my addiction. When using addiction to try and cope, escape, or numb old hurt and pain we all may have gone through in life, many times it can or may have many like me turn to any addiction in the first place. By sharing my story, I hope to help others. It is not HOW TO RECOVER, it is the WHY I turned to gambling and became ADDICTED.
But Let Me Start At The Beginning . . .
When I was 7-years-old and again at 13 years old, I had been sexually abused by my brother and an adult friend of my parents, the 17-year-old son of those friends of my parents who lived up the street from us. He was a year younger than my brother. I still have trouble today describing in detail what had been done to me, but each time it happened, I’d get sick to my stomach and a little piece of my innocence stripped away leaving me feeling ashamed, dirty, and confused.
Even as I’d would say, NO, it would leave me feeling guilty and worthless as it was MY FAULT. I kept thinking and tell my little self I must be bad or doing something wrong that this continues to happen to me. Feeling baffled and confused and not understanding the nature of “my sexual misconduct and being molested.”
In turn, as I began to grow up and become an adult woman, those experiences began to seep into my thinking, become distorted in many areas of my life as you can imagine. The relationships I would sabotage not only with men, all because I felt NOT worthy of them. Becoming promiscuous at an earlier age as a woman and thinking that’s all men want is sex.
I walked away from several serious relationships with a few men who treated me like a princess, then, again, not feeling I deserved or worth the special attention, I’d walk away. I was not worthy of being loved because I was tainted somehow. Besides, my family treated like I was not worth it, so should I accept anyone else to?
My parents always said as I was growing up that “I was a liar or a whore, a pot smoker or pill popper just because my dad would see me with my girlfriends out front of my Middle School or High School. Judging those girls by what they did or just because of the way they dressed or may have been smoking? And I never did any of those things except in high school smoked a cig or two back then like any normal teen did.
See, my father worked for the school district as a painter after he retired from 22-yrs of service in the air force. He wouldn’t tell me if he would be working/painting at MY school. All my family, as I got older, had still treated me poor at times as if I wasn’t at all important or part of the family. For example, and I know it seems dumb, we’d all be going out to dinner together and most of us were married by then. We’d all meet at my parents and ride together.
If I was even just a few minutes late, they would all just leave without me and I’d have to drive myself. Sounds like no big deal, but when it happens ALL the time? When you are already dealing with hidden trauma and suffering in silence, it begins to make you feel less and less cared for.
I will admit looking back, I was very hypersensitive when my family did this because of what I went through as a little girl. None of them knew what happened to me as a child until I finally reached out for help the first time at age 31 and even then when I disclosed it all to my parents, my mom didn’t believe me! It was like being slapped in the face and felt like being abused all over again.
I just could not stuff all those painful memories away any longer. Also looking back and connecting the dots through years of therapy, treatment counseling and after finally being properly diagnosed in 2002 with mental health disorders after my first suicide attempt and not the last. Knowing and feeling I had mental health problems since childhood like OCD, ADHD. I had many of the symptoms through childhood I remember like, daydreaming, forgetting things, fidgeting, talking too much, inattention, impulsivity, unnecessary risk-taking, and having trouble getting along with others. I had all of these. Then in my early to late teen years with depression and isolating in my room for hours.
Of course, my parents or other parents didn’t know then what they know today about mental and emotional illness and disorders. And, I had an aunt on my mom’s side that passed away from a prescription drug overdose and she was on many mental health drugs as I learned later as an adult. So I always felt my mental health challenges came from my mom’s side of the family. Even my mom was put on antidepressants about the last 5 or 6 years of her life.
The other side of this is when my parents would discipline us kids and in a way that was unconventional. I remember the times that my mom went over the top. Like one time, my brother took something or got caught stealing something for my sister. How my mom taught him not to ever do it again, she made him and my sister put out their hands and she pricked the top of their hands with a needle until they were bleeding and MADE ME WATCH so we all learned the lesson. It was sicking to watch!
There we many things like this through the years and these traumatizing memories lingered in my mind. When we all became adults, it seemed abuse of alcohol was the common factor at many family gatherings like camping trips, birthdays or the 4th of July BBQ and even just a baseball game! My father, brother, and older sister drank like fishes as we got older.
And as they got drunk, something bad would always happen to ruin whatever family function or outing was going on when they were all drunk. It even happened after we all got together after my mother’s funeral at the memorial at my brother’s home in 2003. It caused my brother’s divorce, my oldest sister racked up 3 DUI’S in one year and more.
THAT is another blog post share for another day!
Through beginning and maintaining recovery, I shared all of this and my therapist and I agreed that my family was toxic and I needed to step away and not get involved even though I lived 980 miles away. I have tried to make amends where I could with my side of the family to no avail. I did, however, with my mom before she passed in August of 2003.
Again, I lived about 980 miles away in Oregon when I was in the worst of my addiction. So no one from my family was impacted. But as I had always been dubbed “The Blacksheep” of the family early on, it seemed to make it OK for them to treat me like shit through the years. Even when they came to visit. I was and always felt very disconnected from my father. I still do and don’t today know why.
After a while, you come to accept it and begin to ignore those times. As I got older, I began to set boundaries to avoid all the family drama and hurt except for when they would come up to visit us in Oregon. I just ignored the negative comments and stopped engaging with my mother that always turned into arguments when she’d make snide remarks that got worse the healthier I became. SHE did not like boundaries …I spent too many years starving for their validation and wasn’t going to do it any longer as I learned and accepted that they didn’t know how to give unconditional love. These are the many things I began to learn while in treatment and beginning my road and path of recovery.
Learning the tools and skills to keep me safe when you deal with family who do not understand the concept of recovery or mental health. And through the years don’t care to either. If it is not in front of them, they don’t have to acknowledge or care about it is how my own father, sisters, and even my brother have treated me …We all have been estranged since my mother was laid to rest in 2003. Through my almost 13-yrs maintaining recovery, I have processed this, forgive them and live my life for me and my husband. I do keep in touch with my nephews and that is good enough for me.
See, we don’t get to pick and choose who our family is. But I can choose not to continue to be treated poorly, seek their approval, or be abused by them any longer. I don’t have to continue and use poor behaviors like my mother used for years and most everyone let her even after we became adults and know better. Sadly, I needed to distance myself in order to keep my own sanity and recovery intact later in my life.
It is coming up on 15-years since I last talked to my father who just stopped calling me and still to this day I have no clue why …And almost the same with my older and younger sisters. My brother, I, and my husband spoke a few times and my brother did apologize to me for what he had done to me. He told me it happened to him as a little boy by our uncle Joe years ago when we still lived in New Jersey and before moving to So. CA., as kids.
One of my therapists had told me that when men molest 87% of the time they have been molested themselves. For me, I was just relieved my husband heard him admit what he did to me, but my brother wouldn’t to my parents. So my parents kept thinking I made it all up. What actually gives me comfort? Is knowing my husband, I, GOD and now my mom in heaven knows the truth. I know I am rambling but this has been laying on my heart the last few days. I know many of us maintaining long-term recovery have had to deal with learning the many underlying issues of why we had turned to addiction in the first place.
Some of what I share are many of the underlying issues and roots I had to overcome and let go. Instead of running or hiding within my gambling addiction, I did so because I was trying to “escape, numb, or cope” with all these ugly feelings and pain. Not being raised to know that it is OK to reach out for help when you are feeling mentally and emotionally weak and being tormented by old haunting memories you can’t run or stuff away any longer.
It is also difficult to start becoming stronger and standing outside “The Family Bubble” you came from looking in and seeing a really dysfunctional, fucked-up, unloving and hurtful group of people who are YOUR FAMILY Members. No, I am not better than any of them, I am, however, so much happier and healthier than they are.
WHY? Because I have acknowledged all the old habits and behaviors which have torn my side of the family apart and I choose to NOT be or play a part in it anymore. Yes, it is sad and hurts to see or accept your family for who they really are. And, again, as I said earlier, I never hurt any of my family members when I was within my addiction, so I didn’t need to apologize for anything.
But I have no control over people, places, or things. I have tried making amends and sometimes it just doesn’t always work or have an outcome you’d hoped for. Even when it’s your family . . .
That’s ok, because today I am happy, healthy, loved and BET FREE! 🎉🎉💖💞
And that is always something to CELEBRATE in this New Year!
~Advocate/Author, Catherine Townsend-Lyon