Free from the Inside
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
| This is the 117th story of Our Life Logs |
My life began in Cincinnati in 1995. As the youngest and only girl in my family, I was spoiled a lot and had tons of fun when I was little. I remember coming down the stairs on Christmas Day to stacks of gifts. I remember spending a lot of time running around with my older brothers, exploring the neighborhood. I remember we’d go to the creek in the backyard to play with salamanders (well, that’s super gross as I think about it now).
Despite getting spoiled, I felt there was always a lack of emotional connection between my parents and me. I did have a close relationship with my dad in the early days. He would drive me to all my soccer practices and games to cheer me on. He would also take me to get ice cream after getting my braces tightened. However, those moments of happiness happened less often as I grew up. After I quit soccer in the eighth grade, we didn’t have much of a relationship anymore, somehow.
My maternal grandma was the only family member that I felt close with. My cousin and I used to sleep over at her house all the time. Grandma had an infectious sense of humor that always kept a smile on my face, and she was always patient with us. Sometimes, we’d wake her up in the middle of the night to tell her that we were hungry. Instead of scolding us and making us go back to sleep, she’d get up and make us something, usually creamed corn, one of our favorites. As we ate our corn, we’d play Mad-Libs and laugh at my grandma’s crazy answers. It would ask for a body part and she’d say “butt” or something else funny. There was never a dull moment with her. She filled my childhood with love and laughter that every child deserves.
My parents expected me to do well in school and be the perfect child. which I think led me to develop anxiety. I was the girl afraid to walk into a room alone out of the fear that everyone was staring at me. I couldn’t know or control what others were thinking about me, and that was terrifying to think about. I had a lot of problems with my anxiety, especially in middle and high school. Most kids didn’t understand it, so they were often dismissive of my feelings, which only made them worse.
Thankfully in middle school, I was able to find friends that helped me forget my anxious thoughts for a while. They were mostly strange kids, but who wasn’t in middle school? I had great memories with them. I remember once going in one of their backyards to play in the creek when one of them got pantsed. We all laughed until tears ran down our faces.
The friendship eased my mind, but there were still things that happened and amplified my anxiety. Around 13 or 14 years old, I got into my first romantic relationship, but it didn’t work out because my boyfriend’s sister didn’t like me. She would prank call me all the time calling me a chipmunk and saying that I was fat. People like her made my anxiety and self-esteem worse as I went into high school. I didn’t talk about my problems much. I just kept it all inside because I thought I could control it.
Meanwhile, back home, my parents were either fighting or not speaking at all. They never had a close relationship when I was a kid. My dad worked third shift, so he wasn’t around much, and I think that angered my mom sometimes. In eighth grade, my mom began getting drunk on weeknights. She hadn’t really drunk alcohol before then, so it seemed out of nowhere. If my parents had fought earlier that day, I’d come home to find her slumped over the counter, slurring her words. She’d usually say awful things about me. She was out of control, and I didn’t know how to contain her, so I tried to stay out of the house as much as possible.
In early 2010, we moved into a new house (after my mom amazingly won $100,000 off a $5 scratch-off!). Not long after we moved in, my grandma, the family member I felt closest to, was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. She had a blockage in her stomach that when examined was determined as cancer. There was nothing I could do. Cancer had burrowed into her body, and all I had was hope that she’d somehow pull through.
It was devastating news not only for me, but for my mom. As my grandma got worse, my mom stepped up and spent all her time caring for her. Even through all the chemo treatments, my grandma stayed the funny, caring person she had always been. She had this habit of bringing containers of mints for people, and during chemo, she’d give mints to the doctors’ offices. It’s a memory of her I hold fondly in my heart.
My grandma moved in with us for a couple of months when she was well enough to leave the hospital. During that time, my mom had to help her function. After an important surgery, my grandma had gotten a tube in her stomach that had to be pumped out every time she tried to eat something. The food went in and came right back out. My mom had to pump out the food each time, among many other things to care for her.
Sadly, the chemotherapy wasn’t working, and we started to feel hopeless. We had no control over the outcome, and that made me feel very anxious. Everything took a heavy toll on my mom. I could see her changing before my eyes, withering away as my grandma did. It was heartbreaking. The drunken nights here and there got worse as my mom dove headfirst into alcohol to cope with the impending death of her mother.
By April 2012, my grandma was on her deathbed. I was in her room at the hospital with my mom and aunt as she struggled. It was terrible to know that my grandma was suffering and there was nothing I could do to help. It brought tears to my eyes. I thought back on all our good memories: her getting words mixed up, her rocking me in her lap when I was 8, her making me dinner…It all flooded back, and the person in front of me in the hospital bed felt like someone else. I held my breath as I watched my grandma take her last. After that final exhale, she was gone, and so was a big part of my mother. I had lost two people that day, and the damage would be difficult to undo.
After losing my grandma, I stopped caring about much of anything. She was gone and there was no way to bring her back. I fell behind in school because I didn’t feel like doing my homework, and I didn’t talk to many of my friends. I shut myself in as I tried to deal with the death of a person that brought such incredible light to my life, and the death of my mother’s psyche.
Losing her mother pushed my mom completely off the deep end. She was riddled with guilt about her death. As my grandma got sicker, she became more delusional and had said some things to my mom that she took to heart, one of them being my grandma’s dislike of her drinking. She felt that her mother’s death was somehow her fault, and this led her to turn to the bottle even more often to try to forget about the weighted guilt on her shoulders.
The person my mom had become was someone I could no longer recognize. She became more manic because she was drinking on her medications for anxiety and depression, which amplified her feelings. She would grab knives off the counter and threaten to slit her throat. She’d say awful things to me that I had to remind myself weren’t true. Once when I had a friend over, my mom grabbed my father’s gun and tried to put it together. I was terrified and tried to reason with my mom to put the gun down. Luckily, I was able to smack it out of her hand before she tried using it.
Moments like this happened a lot in high school, and I decided enough was enough. I got my mom and myself a therapist. We began seeing the same therapist for different appointments during my senior year. I hoped it would play some magic, but it didn’t. I was very angry with my mom at the time, so I’d say bad things about her to the therapist, who unexpectedly would tell my mom what I said in our sessions, which made her attack me for it. I felt very distrustful of therapy after that. The drunken rampages didn’t stop.
It seemed like things were never going to change. I didn’t know at the time that sometimes things get worse before they get better. I graduated high school and enrolled in a local prestigious college art program. College was tough for the first few years while I still dealt with difficulties at home. Through all the crazy stuff that had happened to me, I remained friends with the same people from middle school along with a few new ones. In my sophomore year of college, I started dating one of the guys from my friend group and felt a deep connection with him that I hadn’t felt before. Unfortunately, our romance caused tensions within our group that led to a big falling out where half my friends cut me out of their lives. It was a difficult time for me because I felt very bitter and angry about the whole situation. I also felt guilty because the friends that had stuck by me had gotten cut out too even though they were innocent bystanders.
I began to feel like a burden to everyone. I wanted to stop feeling the pain in my heart. And they say that love heals a wound, and it did. My boyfriend stuck by my side and helped me get through everything. He’d listen to my rants and help me with school projects, so I wouldn’t fall behind. He was my anchor through college.
Meanwhile, I found an escape in my art. I had tried to control my anger and depression for years, but they couldn’t be contained anymore. These emotions brought a whole new meaning to what I had been doing earlier in high school and my first year of college. I created artwork that displayed my feelings. I allowed myself to lose control of my feelings and put them into my pieces. Art gave me an outlet to talk about my feelings and feel validated for having them. It helped me begin to heal mentally. I knew that I couldn’t let difficult moments consume me. I didn’t want to fall into deep guilt like my mom had.
My boyfriend also encouraged me to go to therapy and get better, which made a world of difference. I faced my fears and returned to therapy. This time, I had a much better experience. Through the sessions and my art, I started to really heal.
I graduated college in 2017 feeling better mentally. I felt more like an artist and therapy helped me understand myself more. Not long after graduation, I was able to reconcile with the old friends. I think we all needed that time apart to grow up and improve ourselves on our own. I couldn’t control them leaving or returning, and I think that’s what made their return more impactful. They returned on their own.
I’m getting better, but I’m still fighting my inner demons and deep-rooted trauma. I still have a lot of anxiety and get stressed out if I can’t control every single thing in my life, but I’m working to stop thinking that way as often. I couldn’t control my grandma dying, and I think seeing my mom feel the pain helped me realize the fact that I couldn’t keep bad things from happening all the time. I worry about friends becoming alcoholics if they drink every day like my mom does, but I’m working to relinquish those fears.
The older I get, the more understanding I become about everything. I have become a stronger person because of the problems I went through. I was afraid to seek help at first, but I’m glad I did. I think it’s important to get help if you need it. Trying to deal with it alone will mentally destroy you. Don’t torture yourself. Talk to someone. All the problems I faced in my life so far have forced me to look for reasons in life to make me feel better and want to be better. I know I can’t control everything. I’m working to accept my life for what it is, both good and bad.
This story was told to us by an American storyteller. After years of suppressing her anxiety and feeling that she could control things in her life, the death of her grandma and her mother’s reckless drinking made her realize that some things are beyond a person’s control and you must take life for what it is, even if it isn’t always good.
In her free time, she loves to spend time with her boyfriend, hang out with friends, and focus on art-related projects. She loves to paint and has dabbled in screen printing, sculpting, and embroidery. For her senior thesis, she created three-foot-tall sculptures with holes in them that symbolized the wounds left by people that have hurt her. She will be starting graduate school in the fall for mental health counseling. She hopes to one day start a nonprofit to help families dealing with a member going through different types of abuse. She wants to give others the relief that she didn’t have. For now, she does what she can to be there for her friends going through difficult times.
This story first touched our hearts on July 16, 2018.
| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: Adam Savage; MJ |
#family #abuse #relationships #sickness #loss #grief #mentalhealth #depression #therapy #coping