Chapter 4 – Letting Go
Throughout the years to come, I’d experience hurdle, after hurdle, just to jump over and beyond tiny dirt mountains culminated mostly from my own doing. Although I stayed away from drugs and alcohol, with the exception of a Bill Clinton style non-inhale of marijuana moment and those four glasses of sex on the beach with one of my teenage besties that had me vomiting profusely, I went down a different type of self-punishment slope. It would be years before I could move through the guilt I felt for choosing myself over my baby brother. The permission to live that I gave myself came at a cost and the price I’d pay would be internal turmoil. All through high school and into my early adult years, I wrestled with my vacillating attachment issues. I’d fluctuate between avoidant-dismissive behaviors to being anxious and preoccupied. Harboring so much anger and resentment towards my mother and my father, feeling exhausted by my grandmother’s mental health illness and gambling addictions, I was furious on the inside, all the time.
For the first year, I’d go visit my youngest brother nearly every weekend. I couldn’t bring him back to my grandma’s, and I wasn’t ready to risk any overnights at my mom’s brownstone apartment quite yet, so I’d go and get him for the day and take him to the park most weather conforming days. Old enough to go and visit my younger three siblings without approval from my grandmother now, I wasn’t prepared for how I’d feel around them. It was odd, but I was afraid to get too close. I had this nagging feeling that I’d disappoint them too and loose them the way I felt I was losing my baby brother. I’d visit occasionally, but I felt more like a guest then family so often that the visits became farther in between.
At 16, I had three jobs in addition to my school, cheerleading, and cross-country track schedule, so it was becoming harder and harder to travel back in forth. Any boyfriend I’d had at the time, understood that my brother being attached to my hip for most of our dates, which I considered optional social time, was simply non-negotiable. Except for a boy I dated in high school (prior to my husband), you really wouldn’t see me outside of the school hallways with a boy, unless my baby brother was with me as well. I didn’t make much of a good out-of-school time friend within my female social circle either. My philosophy was, if I don’t work, I can’t stack, and if I can’t stack, I can’t save my brother so… most of the regular teenage playtime wasn’t on my radar. I won’t even waste time telling you how horrible I was to myself about the thought of putting savings away to rent a dress just to go on prom…that’s an entirely different bag of unkind self-punishment. In reflection, I can just thank God for few good friends around me that convinced me I deserved to have a night off from work.
I’d be lying if I said I never went to any house parties or jams at the Germantown YMCA. I went to a few, always around my work schedule of course. Laughing and smiling on the outside, tormented with guilt on the inside. So, what did I do? Well, what any other teen would of course, I lashed out. I was incredibly disrespectful with my grandmother every chance I had. My disrespect was direct and would absolutely not be tolerated from my own children so no, I’m not proud of it. My tone was always telling of how angry and enraged I was whenever I had to talk to my grandmother about almost anything. My eye contact was aggressive, like an animal peering through your soul right before it attacked, and my mouth…. oh, my mouth was horrible, primarily with my biological mother, grandmother and when he was around (albeit rarely) my biological father. Imagine for a moment the poster child for talking back and then place my face on the picture.
With all of that said, I still had a few boundaries, mainly the ones built on fear, but I had them. I would never lay a hand on an adult if I planned to keep those hands, and I knew better than to use curse words in front of them. I also knew not to bring people to the house without permission unless I was a 1000% sure no one was home. Of course, during my high school years, that was nearly never since my grandmother was a Registered Nurse that worked the night shift, she was liable to be home all day if she wasn’t hitting the casino. At my grandmother’s there was really no point of asking for permission because the answer to have anyone over, even female peers to just chill and listen to music with was an emphatically resounding, “no.” But like I said earlier, I found other creative and courageous ways to slide down the self-punishment and rebellious teen slope.
I didn’t smoke or drink, but I surrounded myself with others who did. Most of my, outside-of-school friends, did a little of anything you could think of. It was my way of riding the line, testing myself, and trying to prove that I was better than her… my mother. In some kind of sick and twisted way, I felt that if I could be around all of this nonsense and not get into anything, that it was confirmation that my mother was purposely choosing to be sick, to stay in her bondage, and that meant I had a choice too. If I could pass my own ridiculous test of exposure to temptation with all my trauma and tough days, that meant my freedom was, in fact, my choice, and I’d win the war against my life. You know, the one society says you are nearly doomed to fail if you come from a highly dysfunctional family with little to no support in a non-inspiring environment? Well, that war could be won if I’d simply past those tests.
If I’m honest, it was the reason I tested those couple of “sex on the beach” drinks. It’s also why I tested weed the day I so comically tried to take a few puffs during a cypher with my junior year boyfriend. I truly wanted to inhale correctly but couldn’t. I coughed and choked everything up and almost vomited. It’s hilarious now, but it was clearly my way of testing my warped version of battleground training — self-limiting belief mixed with a bit of ignorance at its finest.
Was it all in my head? The feeling of needing to vomit. Sure it was… I was subconsciously protecting myself with these psychosomatic reactions, but of course, I didn’t know that then. To this day, I can’t be around smoke of any kind for too long, and I can barely handle more than two glasses of wine without feeling like I’m losing control. Is it in my head? Sure it is. Do I understand that it’s my way of protecting myself, even after years of therapy and being in safe places with safe people? Of course. Do I do it anyway? Yup. My rebellious ways weren’t just about my mother and definitely didn’t stop with testing myself around drugs and alcohol. My story was littered with a pound of daddy issues too.