My childhood years were full of pain and confusion.
While I am still doing my best to uncover and remember the younger years that my mind has blacked out — with the help of the ARCS Program, I have been able to actively work through the things I do remember. My mom was a social worker, from a tragic background in which she was put through the divorce of her parents and, while living with her mom, many more divorces followed. She was sexually abused by one, or more, of these men in her early teenage years and began her career in social work vowing to help anyone she could to stay away from similar situations.
My dad grew up in a house resembling a 1950s traditional family lifestyle. While his parents both loved him greatly, his dad was very authoritarian and his mom “loves with blinders” — seeing past any of her loved ones’ negative behaviors to the point of flaw. His tough dad and “too-soft” (codependent) mom often left him in charge of his 3 younger siblings, not only to work but also to maintain their thriving social lives, as they had all four children before the age of 24. My parents met in college, bonding over weekends at dance halls and their newly found thriving relationships with God. Once married and set in their careers — mom with social work and dad with landscaping — they became pregnant with me and took on fostering two young teenage girls who were biological sisters. The girls were twelve and thirteen when they became a part of our family, having dealt with unfathomable abuses their entire lives.
In 1998, weeks before my third birthday, on the way to church, I was laying asleep across the backseat of my mom’s car while she drove and the oldest sister sat in the front seat. Some one ran a red light, hitting us and sending our car flying into a nearby fence. As a toddler, I walked away from the accident physically unscathed. My sister had a few broken bones and a terrible memory that would haunt her throughout her life, and my mom went into cardiac arrest due to a heart murmur that I also have. She did not pass away on the scene; however, while she was on life support, my dad was told she would remain in a vegetative state for her remaining years. Without having access to her family for help or any support in making the decision, he did what she specifically had requested in her will — and had the plug pulled.
While I know nothing about the life my family had with my mom in it, other than the chaos they dealt with in trying to help my foster sisters grow away from their traumatic pasts, I know that things would have been immensely different if we hadn’t lost an amazing woman and mother that day. In the years following, my dad moved out to the country to live on the same property with his parents, to have help with his now “single dad” lifestyle. My sisters both got pregnant in high school shortly after, and left my dad to live with their children’s fathers. My dad began drinking heavily “to help sleep” every night. He refused to admit his anger with God for taking his wife and turned his anger inward. He lost friends, jobs, church groups that could’ve offered significant help and support if he had accepted it and became wrapped up in feeling trapped as a single dad without the woman who promised she would be there to help raise me. My childhood became a cycle of dad losing his jobs, attempting to drink his pain away, and raging on anyone close to him.
With his best intentions forward, he often tried to plan father-daughter dates on weekends for us. As a child, I was excited and didn’t see the problems around this pattern of “sleeping” all day and leaving me to be completely by myself — other than the two hours of often grumpy and negative attention given to me when he would finally drunkenly venture out of his room. Often, he would sleep all day and come out yelling, smashing things and punching walls about how I was supposed to have gotten him out of bed. What he will never admit is that, in his drunken state of half sleep, he never heard or remembered my attempts to wake him. As I got older, he depended on me for more and more.
Household cleaning and laundry became my given responsibilities from a very young age and, although he wanted to believe he would come out of his room to feed me if I hadn’t figured out how to cook for myself, I would never have had food in front of me. All the while, his parents saw nothing wrong with the situation — often also blaming me for not having my chores done or not having woken him up. My sisters also, while physically gone, were a part of these cycles as they would constantly call him and always end up in screaming matches with him over things out of all of their control. It was a family of no boundaries. As I entered my teenage years, it became apparent that not everyone’s parents punched walls and broke things — yelling about how their 8 year old was a “bitch” for not waking up on time.
I began to look more and more like my mom, and this seemed to throw him deeper into his drunken depression. I spent most of my teenage years throwing myself in to getting straight-A grades at school, taking early college courses, getting a job the second I was legally old enough, and excelling at sports. I also maintained a thriving social life — all of these things allowing me to put space in between me and the scary man that I called, “dad”. This space also caused him to blame me for being gone all the time and not having time to take care of him or his house. We could not communicate about anything because he was not a fully emotionally developed adult, and I often say that I feel like I raised myself and my drunken dad. I did not see the situation I was in, past his good intentions. He gave me anything I asked for, even if it meant screaming at me every night for months, afterwards — about how now he wouldn’t have money for bills. He allowed me to participate in extracurricular activities and maintain my job, even though I didn’t have a license or car. After closing or after a game or meet, I was often the last one to be picked up. I would call him multiple times saying, “I’m almost ready. Please leave the house to get me now,” and he would show up very late yelling about how I never told him. The trip home was always terrifying after these nights — 15 minutes down a back country road where he was doing 100mph, where the speed limit was 65mph, either screaming at me for things out of my control, or sitting in dead, terrifying silence that would only mean the next week of my life would be exceptionally scary.
When I left for college right as I turned 18, I was able to escape his rage for the most part. He only ever called when he was drunk and needed to yell at someone about how my sisters were verbally abusing him or nothing in his life was going right for him. “I’m the asshole” he’d scream, leaving me to feel like somehow I had to console him, and leaving me in a horrible mental state when it was impossible to do so. Although I had no car to come and visit, and I was afraid to call him knowing it would always mean screaming — he still to this day refers to my going to college as me “running away”. After a year or two away from this family, I realized how different and wrong it was in comparison to everyone’s family I met in college. I spent a couple of years trying to talk to him about this and only got more frustrated with where it left me, mentally, and how it affected not only my relationship with him — but, also, my relationship with his parents and my sisters. To them, I was still the rebellious teenager that put my dad through hell and caused him to be this “rageaholic”. All of this was normal and accepted by them. I then found that keeping my space from them, while very painful — because all any child wants is her family — was the only way not to get yelled at or blamed for things that I knew weren’t my fault, but couldn’t articulate why or how exactly.
I got my degree in Psychology in four years at my University and, soon after, married the man who is now my husband. While we had been together for years before our engagement and marriage, it was like a switch flipped when we decided to take these steps. I stopped working out, began having trouble eating, and became exactly what I never wanted to be — a mean drunk. I began consuming too much alcohol too often and, while “black out drunk”, taking out the feelings I had for my dad on my husband. This almost destroyed our relationship completely and I almost put myself in the hospital with concussions multiple times because, after starting a yelling match and “running away” from him, I would end up tripping down a staircase or getting in a car accident. I was acting out and recreating things that I had gone through with my dad — and then blaming my husband for having any part of it.
When Covid19 lockdowns hit, things were bleak. I left a job that I was blaming for making me want to drink and had made efforts to stop drinking — knowing that I would eventually either lose my husband, who I love with all of my heart, or end up seriously injuring or even killing myself. I found this program on Craigslist while searching for help that I knew I needed, but wasn’t sure how to obtain during Covid19 — and, honestly, I had no idea what specific programs I should be searching for. I didn’t feel I had reached full “alcoholic” status, so AA didn’t quite seem right, and I was unemployed and uninsured which made finding an affordable therapist feel impossible. I was also searching within myself for employment options. I had a degree in psychology but no idea what exactly I wanted to do with it, as I felt I needed more help than I could give at this point. My first thoughts about the ARCS Program were uncertain. When I met my professor and attended my first meeting, however, I saw there were 50 other women in varying stages of life and with many different stories — all here just to support each other on what ever stage of the Program they were in. After hearing a few women talk and hearing my professor’s run down of how the Program works, I knew this was something that I wanted to do. While I am only about half way through the program, I feel I have come leaps and bounds from where I was thanks to the support of my professor, all of these ladies in our class, and the course material.
My relationship with my family, my husband and most importantly, with myself, has improved more than I ever thought possible because one of the many things this Program has taught me is to be my own parent to the lost child that is within me. I no longer spend time trying to figure out how to change or negotiate a relationship with my family because that is not in my control — but how I react to them is. This Program has given me the tools and confidence to use them in a way that, while I’ll admit can get me emotional, doesn’t leave me feeling like I have to make some drastic decision that will change my life forever in a painful way.
I am excited to get to finish the Program and go on to share my knowledge with others in hopes they will use it to positively effect their own lives, as it has positively affected my own.