In health class in elementary school our textbook was filled with all sorts of cautionary tales–of children who only ate candy and got sick, or took up smoking. One of them featured a little boy who went around after his parents parties and drank all the alcohol sitting at the bottom of the glasses left strewn about. I can’t recall what happened to him as a result, but the story left a vivid picture fixated inside my mind. Because at that age when I was alone in the house (as was often) I would often spike my iced tea or orange juice with vodka from the liquor cabinet, and I would sometimes get quite tipsy. I had seen my mother do it so many times, she was constantly using me as a device to retrieve yet another beer from the refrigerator…but there was something more.
A flashback this week showed my mother sitting on her bed holding a cup to my mouth filled with some milky, sweet liquid that had the distinct taste of strong alcohol lurking underneath it. She had me drink it, and then clapped her hands in a childish manner, exclaiming that now I could play with them. She and my brother were there, but he hadn’t been incapacitated like I was, lying face down on the bed naked, the world spinning…he was able to climb around, and on top of me. I woke up alone there some time later and went out to the living room to find the whole family watching tv. ‘You fell asleep while we were playing,’ my mother said, so publicly, so innocently that there was nothing else to be said. It’s clear to me that this was not an isolated incident (I remember her cloying offering me this ‘drink’ other times), though they didn’t “have” to do this, they sexually abused me without alcohol plenty of times. It was an extra violation and attack on my health simply for their amusement, or perhaps because my mother wanted my brother to do things to me without meeting any resistance whatsoever. I was six or seven years old at the time.
In the morality tales in health class they never talked about the fact that a child won’t pick up a drinking habit simply out of curiosity. There’s a much deeper and more personal reason at play, as well as unfulfilled emotional needs that are drawing outward. In my case this was a learned behavior, one I never even thought about while I was doing it; except to reflect afterwards how I was “bad,” just like the boy in the story. I don’t think I ever spiked my drinks like that again once I entered puberty and the sexual abuse stopped. I drank a few times with friends as a teenager and decided it did nothing for me. Actually, what it did do was remind me of the way my mother acted all the time. So as I neared legal age I decided I wanted nothing to do with alcohol or the social practice of getting drunk, and I refused the glass of wine at holiday meals that my parents were so keen on offering.
When I was fourteen my brother got me stoned many times. The first time he shared a joint with me out on the deck of our house, I immediately went to bed and slept for eighteen hours. The scenario is similar, but he was 16 by then and too busy with his girlfriends to mess with me, I’m quite sure. Eventually I started saying no when he offered, as there was simply no thrill in it for me. My father was a pothead, my mother an alcoholic; and I had to breathe in second-hand cigarette smoke all throughout my childhood. I didn’t see why my brother was so interested in taking up all of their addictions. Did he want to be reminded of our mother sitting on the couch, drunk out of her mind, our father stoned next to her, the melodrama and vacant looks? Or he just blocked all of that out.
My parents even grew marijuana in our backyard when we were very young, and dried and processed it in the basement. Perhaps they even sold it, as my brother later would. When I was twenty mother once asked me to tell her what she had done to alienate me. I told her; “well, you’ve been drunk for most of my life…” in response to which she became extremely emotional and said ‘you might think that…’ When her voice was slurred and she was stumbling around the house, when she started drinking immediately upon arriving home from work every day and started much earlier on the weekends, yes, I correctly inferred that was she drunk most of the time. It hurt me that she couldn’t just be herself, stay stable, calm and rational as opposed to the state that alcohol would put her in. Her alcoholism is not something that I made up in my head, but in her condescending powers of denial, anything could just be brushed off.
I’ve been attacked by people in the past for not wanting to get drunk after my experiences in childhood; most notably my sister, but also some people I met at college. In one case, all I said was that I didn’t like to drink or use drugs because there were addicts in my family. And in response she went into this long tirade about “judgmental” people. She was incredibly defensive of her own dependency on drugs and alcohol, to the point of being emotionally abusive, when I really didn’t care about what she did. If I make a judgment, it’s about me, my health, my safety and the fact that I really don’t want to be around people seriously under the influence anymore. I do have a right to judge what situations and people I want to be around, and I’m not going to be pre-emptively shamed and attacked for that, let alone for just having an opinion that I don’t like _x_ substance.
These memories are very difficult to look back on and contemplate. I’ve noticed lately that I feel really good most of the time, but when I do my therapeutic work, what I find in my past is more difficult to face and process then it used to be. In this particular case I see that I’ve had a lot of different feelings and experiences on the subject, but I never really integrated or processed them together. I’m having to ask myself, If I think something or have a fear or feeling, who’s perspective am I speaking from? The person I am today, or who I was at 18, 12, 8, 5? I never did this in the past, so it really blows me away to explore it now, to find if there are contradictions and ask, why are they there?
I didn’t actually repress drinking alcohol alone at home at 9 years old, I just excluded it from my self-image, because it makes me uncomfortable. But I did block out the fact my mother drugged and raped me as a young child and thereby caused me to act out in strange ways. It’s interesting that I would consciously remember details that make me feel bad but not what preceded them, not those aspects which make other people look worse.
What unnerves me is that it brings up a fear that I was somehow like my mother, an alcoholic. But it was still her abuse, her alcoholism at play back then. When I could think more clearly and choose for myself I didn’t go that way. Even though I have had my eating disorder, at least I don’t have children, I didn’t abuse and traumatize either directly or indirectly innocent young people with my problems. I don’t treat anyone the way she treated me. The fact is, there’s no possibility of a sudden act of cosmic cruelty that is going to make me “like my mother.” I’m like me, and I don’t have anything at all in common with her or most of my other abusers. Even if I found one or two vague similarities, so what? I’m sure I could find that with millions of people and it doesn’t mean anything in itself. What I care about are the bigger things, and in them, I will always be divergent from her.