I understand despair. I have faced down some of the worst of life’s tragedies. I know what it feels like to be at the end of my rope, wondering if it is time to just check out. I also know what it is like to be left behind. There are too many reasons to tough it out; to force myself to be grateful for all the blessings that remain, beautiful tangible and real in my life.
I have come to realize that depression is a blinding and deafening roar that blocks me from seeing and hearing these blessings, but it cannot remove my knowledge that they exist. That is the weapon that defeats it, maybe the only one that shows up as something I can use now and do not have to wait for.
Of course prayer is always what people say works, but the reality is that prayer leaves me waiting for an answer and sometimes there is no time for waiting.
I force myself to remember that I have blessings and that they are real. I remind myself that those blessings are still here, even when I am blinded and deafened to them.
This is what I can admit to after many long years of struggling with the deep depression that often accompanies tragedy. It was with me when I was a child, through my teens and followed me through my adult years. When my son took his life at the age of 26, it intensified by a thousand percent; and I am still here.
I can say with authority that there are weapons against life’s tragedies that are effective.
I was born into the post depression era of baby boomers. Life was filled with drinking, drugs, smoking, gambling and other illicit activities which were the foundation upon which my family was built. There was prostitution and organized crime: the fear of destitution was a driving force that ran these activities.
There was also a lot of denial; the elders who saw the destruction were ignored, why live off the land or punch a time clock when there were good times and plenty of cash?
I was the oldest of 4 siblings, at the age of 4.
It seems I was left alone with my siblings to babysit when the police were called. My sister was with a friend of my moms and she ran off to Chicago with her and raised her as her own…..my youngest brother was adopted.
Myself and my oldest brother, 10 months younger than me were placed in foster care. It was not pretty, we were almost twins and I was his mother in many ways, at least to our understanding. We bounced from family to family, 11 or 12 of them during that first two years.
Then we were placed in a foster home where we were income to the family. I was 6, the perfect age to train as a caregiver for the many babies that were processed through this family. The only catch was my brother; he was the only thing I truly cared about and so they took him away from me. I was later told that we were too dependent on each other to be able to bond with a new family.
One day the social worker in charge of our case sat me down and told me that they were taking my brother to a new family and that I would never see him again. I remember that I could not even begin to process that information, it meant absolutely nothing to my seven year old brain. We sat together on the steps and waited to see what would happen. I watched him walk away with Mrs. Edwards and moved away from thinking about this for a very long time. It was too much to comprehend.
I became the official potato peeler, dish washer, diaper changer and babysitter. I cleaned the poo from the cloth diapers in the toilet. I wiped noses and read bedtime stories, walked them in the stroller, washed floors and cleaned bathrooms. I changed sheets, took out the trash and was beaten bloody when I did it wrong or was ‘lazy’.
Of course, there was school. A nightmare of being ridiculed for my ugly clothes, my lack of normal behavior, my hair (I was not always able to brush it due to the blood that dried and caked up).
Stella, my foster ‘mother’ made certain that I was an outcast. She was not about to release me to normal childhood activities. She tortured me in every way imaginable;
“You are ugly”.
“You will become a prostitute, just like you mother”.
“Your father is a devil junkie and you will be as well”.
I was so ‘bad’ that I knew due to corrupted Catholic dogma that I was going to hell by the time I was 8. I spent a lot of time trying to gain the appropriate ‘indulgences’ to be worthy of heaven. Reciting rosaries, offering my suffering to the suffering of saints, martyrs and Jesus himself, accepting that my suffering could bring me redemption was always playing in the background of my mind.
I was made to write a thousand times a day ‘I will not be lazy’. This had to be done after chores, before homework and before bed; sometimes I had to stand on my toes in the basement while writing. There was even a summer when I had to kneel on lego’s while writing or read the bible loudly so she could hear me. Or the summer when I was locked in the cubbyhole of the attic with no water that extended far into winter (after chores of course). I remember trying to wrap myself in insulation to get warm; once I tried Christmas wrapping paper as a blanket. It didn’t work.
That’s enough of that.
On my own:
I turned 15 and had just started high school. There was the incident in the garage where I stood up to her and told her she was not going to continue treating me this way. She took a baseball bat to me and I was bruised and sick for a several days, then I left.
It was about survival. My young mind told me that whatever was out there was better then being killed or broken forever.
I hitchhiked. I stayed mobile for as long as I could. I was exhausted most of the time; hungry and scared. I found ways to survive. I had a live in babysitting job for a few months, the husband helped himself to my virginity on the sly while his wife slept.
I started working in restaurants, lying about my age. The rules have changed since and it would be nearly impossible to survive in any wholesome way now, but back then there was not a lot of paperwork involved in getting a simple thing like a job.
I rented rooms, shared apartments and learned about the pleasures of drinking and drugging. Nothing like heroine of course, I was never going to fulfill Stella’s prediction of becoming a junkie or a prostitute. If she did me any favors at all, that was the one that saved me.
I was emotionally needy and became an easy target for men, not the good kind.
I did finally find a good man and got married, raised children, saved money and accumulated the standard worldly goods. I was never really okay though. It wasn’t enough to fill the holes in my life.
Episodes of depression, anxiety and fear still dominated my life in a kind of roller coaster ride. I would be okay for awhile, then the bad times would envelope me. I tried therapy but never found anyone who had a clue what to do with me. I refused the medications such as anti-anxiety or anti-depressants. I wanted to be healed, not treated.
There were physical symptoms developing: increasing episodes of diarrhea, bloating, weight gain, lethargy, fatigue and insomnia.
I tried getting medical care; tests, labs, ekg, upper and lower GI’s and spent many months hoping it was physical. I was finally diagnosed with IBS and later gluten intolerance and thyroid disease. At the time though, I was told I was healthy and had IBS for which there was no known cause or treatment.
So I began treating myself with alcohol. I became one of those heavy drinkers that would wait all week for a binge. I called my friends at 2:am because everyone else had either gone home or was passed out. I juggled a job, motherhood and taking care of my home and husband with the weekend binge as my reward.
Naturally, this was not going to last and it didn’t. I found myself in divorce court, retained custody of my children with adequate child support and started trying to live without the emotional support of the only man that ever loved me.
My children were nearly grown and they eventually left me as well. I don’t blame them, I thought I was doing all the things I was supposed to but in reality? I was broken.
I finally went to AA and got cleaned up. I learned to love myself and began to pay attention to my fears and anxieties. I rebuilt my spiritual foundation and began to form a relationship with a loving and kind creator, one who did not send people to eternal damnation.
I met and married my best friend; a man who had many years of sobriety and who loved and accepted me just as I was; newly sober and determined to make a good life.
I also began to rebuild my relationship with my children. I admitted my shortcomings, I cried and I made amends to the best of my ability. I asked for and received forgiveness.
I was determined to give my grand-kids all the things I failed to give my children. I gave them the grandma they deserved. I relived the camping trips and the museums and the playgrounds as a sober adult and it was different. I did all these things with my children as well, but my attention was always divided, dealing with stress and anxiety and depression and drunken weekends put much of it in a haze.
It was too late for my son.
He took his life at only 26 years of age after an argument with his wife on February 13th of 2007. I was 7 years sober and he was proud of me, but the brokenness of my own life had altered his brain in some way and he was suffering from depression. I should have known, but I did not. I believed that my recovery would transfer to my kids, I knew he was in and out of depression, but truly did not know how bad it was until it was too late.
Everything I had ever believed or hoped for or wanted disappeared in a flash of agonizing despair.
Its not always the same as it was that first millisecond, that space in time when my whole world collapsed and exploded; landing me in the wreckage of guilt, fear, loss and a wrenching sorrow that I never could have imagined. After 11 years and 4.5 months I am now living what may or may not appear to be a ‘normal’ life. I laugh, I cry, I have hobbies and do all the things that everyone else does.
That millisecond in time lives inside of me though. It triggers itself and I am launched back to that place where my only refuge is denial. This cannot have happened! It is a nightmare and I still find myself just wanting to wake up and forget this awful dream.
The real difference between today and Feb. 13th of 2007 is that I know the waves will recede again and leave me empty but clean and functional, determined to carry on and hope beyond imagining that my son is really here when I feel his presence.
It doesn’t actually matter is the conclusion that I have finally reached; our reality is what we believe and I choose to believe he still visits me and talks to me and feels my love for him.
I could tell you so much more about this, but that is not the reason I am sharing.
I know, after many years of battling the beast that there is hope.
I have rebuilt my life around a new foundation. The holes in my life are still there but I am no longer afraid. I recognize depression for what it is; it is the place where my broken childhood and my life trauma’s live. This cannot be erased or covered or ignored. It demands my attention and I give it with courage and bold action.
We all have our sorrows and our burdens.
We are all faced with life’s tragedies at some point, some of us more then others.
After several years of just trying to keep breathing and working and loving I did find some answers that are universal.
No matter what our obstacles are in life, we need to do certain things to maintain our existence here, in this physical manifestation of life.
Relationships and social connections
Support, encouragement and accountability
A career that satisfies our individual needs, talents and experience
Without these basic foundations we cannot hope to deal with the extra weight of grief, financial worries or whatever other burdens we are faced with.
My mission is to be part of the solution.
I can offer experience, strength and hope.
I have no judgement of the consequences of life’s tragedies and I understand what brings us to our knees and takes our very breath away.
I know that indulging in food, drugs, alcohol, sex and many other obsessive activities can seem to bring relief. If its a choice between indulgence and suicide?
Then by all means indulge!
There are answers and tools that can bring us back to the basics, rebuild our foundations and restore the light into our lives.
You don’t have do it all… and you don’t have to do it alone.