Addictive

My New Year’s resolutions go a lot like an episode of Pinky and the Brain. This is how mine goes:
Pinky: What are you going to do this year?
Brain: Same thing we do every year. Stop television from taking over my life!

I am a television addict. I think TV addiction must be fairly commonplace these days. Almost everyone has a TV, sometimes in every room, sometimes in their bedroom, and can also watch TV on their computer, phone, and more. I imagine that some people would hear me say TV addict and scoff, because it isn’t like a real addiction. It isn’t like drugs and alcohol where it ruins a person inside and out.
But I know all about addiction, having watched my parents’ slow decay. I agree my addiction doesn’t cause the same level of harm that drug addiction does, but it has ruined my life, and that is what addiction is about.
Addiction is the great enemy of freedom, because addiction decides what you will do, how you will spend your time and money. Television may not be physically harmful like substance abuse (though it does correlate with a sedentary lifestyle) but it is the great waster of time. I spend hours every single day watching television. Sometimes, I try to multitask, to exercise, to groom my dog, to do my nails, to wash the dishes, so that I am not “wasting” my time, but even after those things are done, I still crave television. I yearn for it. I seek desperately through the channels for something to watch, and then relax, satisfied, and let the time fleet away.
And it has ruined my life. My house is a mess, I have only a part-time job when I need to find a full-time job, I’m overweight, I have few close connections with people, and don’t spend enough time with my family members. I act like I don’t have enough time, but I would! I would, if I didn’t give up hours a day to a box that gives me nothing in return.
This is an addiction. I know it is harmful, and yet, the behavior repeats. I try to change the behavior, but it makes my anxious and upset.
If anyone out there is calling me out, that this addiction is really just weakness, and that I need to take personal responsibility for my choices, YES! Absolutely. It is weakness. It is my own fault. It is I that have ruined my life, and for what? It couldn’t be come clichéd fear of success could it? Some nonsense that I am clinging to what I know, to what is easy, rather than a chance at something better?
I am responsible for the state of my life. But I use this bold language, the language of addiction, to help me to deal with the problem. I want to take this problem as seriously as I want my parents to take their problem. I want to demand from myself no addiction, not even one as stupid as television.
Because no addiction is harmless. It costs. I don’t want it to cost me anymore.

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Crying out loud; bad behavior begs for help

I consider myself successful because I avoided the pitfalls my parents dug all around me. I have never been arrested, I am not addicted to any drugs, and I don’t have children with men I can’t stand. I can take a lot of the credit for this, but I can’t take all the credit. Luck was definitely involved. When I was young and hurting in a house of drugs and violence, I acted out. Maybe it was for attention, maybe it was a cry for help, and maybe I couldn’t help but do the things my parents taught me to do.

When I was eleven or twelve, I was a thief. For some reason, the boundary between mine and not mine was blurry and unconvincing. I took things off the shelf and put them in my pocket. Sometimes it was just one little thing, like a packet of gum. Sometimes it was a lot of little things, and I packed me pockets full of jewelry or trinkets.

Twice I was caught.

The second time I was at the mall with some friends. Another customer tracked me down and I was so terrified I went with him. It turns out, he had no authority and I could have kept going. I handed over all the merchandise. The assistant manager at the store took down my name and number, said she would call my dad, and the store would decide if they were going to press charges. I saw my life crumbling before me.

When I got home, I was so terrified I told my parents right away. There was some yelling and screaming. I was sent to my room while they thought about my punishment. A little while later, two of my parents’ friends came over drunk, their kids in tow. I remember it being chaotic. I remember screaming through the front door and trying to get the kids down to my bedroom. In the maelstrom, my parents forgot all about my transgressions, and the store never called.

Was this a lesson learned? I guess. I’ve been on the straight and narrow ever since. But I have to recognize how lucky I was. That store didn’t press charges, and I never got a record. I think we as a society often look at children, especially teenagers, with records and we scoff at them, turn our hearts, hunch our shoulders, blame them for their criminality, hold them accountable like they’re adults. But how many of them were crying out for help the way I was? How many of them only got detention centers and probation when they needed someone to intervene in their lives, to get their parents help, to clean up their whole family? How many of them were only acting out the terrible life lessons their terrible parents bestowed upon them? How many of them fell into the pits and traps left for them by the cycles of abuse, violence and drug addiction? Once they got that record, their lives change drastically. Doors close. I was never labeled as a criminal and was able to walk away from my mistake. If one person in that store had made a different decision, who knows how far I would have made it, if I could have avoided the other traps set for me? Would I have still avoided drugs like the plague? Would I still have protected myself from pregnancy?

I have to wonder. Did I get off easy because I am white?

Winning and losing; surviving and succeeding

sun-eclipses

I reflect a lot on what happened to me, on how I was treated, how I was raised (or rather not raised) and the influence that had on me. I am the person I am today in large part because of my parents. Maybe I was a sensitive child, and the screaming, the stealing, the belittling made it worse. Maybe I was always troubled but the abuse took me over the edge. Nature vs. nurture, who can say for sure.

When I graduated high school, I took classes at the local community college. It was terrible. I couldn’t focus on anything. I behaved dangerously. I procrastinated like a criminal. I barely made it through the first semester, B’s, C’s, and even an E.

Those months transitioning away from my parents, away from the crap, was hard but I got through it. I grew strong, I gained confidence, and I did well. I aced my classes, I made Dean’s list. I graduated with my bachelor’s with highest honors.

Did I fix everything and become successful? Did I finally escape the horror and damage my parents inflicted on me to become a great person?

Mmmm, I don’t think so. I work part-time. I have a ton of debt. I watch way too much TV. And I live in a freaking mess. In short, I am a loser. This is my opinion of myself. I am currently going to graduate school to try to fix this, but it might be too late. I might just be a loser.

But I can’t blame this on my parents. I have been out of their house for almost ten years and in that time I grew and changed. I became truly free. And if I compare myself to my parents, to the terrifying cycle of drugs and violence, I definitely won. I have never been in jail, I have no kids with terrible men, and I don’t have any dangerous addictions. I’m even happy. I am. I am a very happy loser.

Being a loser is not my parents’ fault. I remember a few years ago suddenly realizing I was an adult. I knew that I was responsible for myself in every way. There was no one else to take credit or blame for I was and what I was doing with my life. I was in charge, and I had plenty of time to do something, to accomplish something, to be something.

Why haven’t I done anything?

I’m a criminal procrastinator. I haven’t done anything because of my own flaws and weaknesses, like millions of other ordinary, regular people. These are my mistakes, and my life. If I want more, I have to make more. I wonder how much a loser can do.

<a href=”http://www.public-domain-image.com/full-image/miscellaneous-public-domain-images-pictures/sun-public-domain-images-pictures/sun-eclipses.jpg-royalty-free-stock-image.html&#8221; title=”Sun eclipses”>Sun eclipses</a> by Jon Sullivan

So sayeth the government “help the alcoholics and kick the drug addicts to the curb”

Many conservative people I talk to think that the drug war serves some godly purpose, protecting our children, keeping drugs off the street, and putting those terrible drug criminals behind bars. This is just such an inaccurate perspective.

Addiction is a problem that can tear apart families, is expensive for communities, and can lead to crime. But we need to step back, start over, and really ask “what is the best way to deal with the problems of addiction?”

I have had the unique opportunity to watch police forces deal with alcoholics and drug addicts. The difference is astounding. My father was a mean drunk. I think the fact that this phrase, mean drunk, exists, tells us all we need to know about how dangerous alcohol is. My father turned violent after a few drinks, and everyone fell to his wrath. Even the dog was abused. The police came to the rescue and dragged him away.

But my mother never pressed charges. She was too dependent on him for that. But the police got sick of coming out to our house, so they eventually pressed charges against him and made his stop drinking. He had to detox, go to Alcoholics Anonymous, and take that pill that makes you sick if you drink.

The government treated my dad like an addict with a problem, and they dealt with the problem.

Years later, my parents had serious drug problems. Pills, cocaine, crack, I don’t know what else. He wasn’t a mean drunk anymore. He didn’t stop being violent, but without the alcohol driving him into a rage, he was able to be cunning and cruel instead of just dangerous. The police were still over to our house frequently. Child abuse, stealing, embezzlement, a new string of crime. My father was still arrested, my father was sent to detention centers, to jails.

Where was he never sent? Detox. Rehab. Narcotics anonymous.

There was never a plan to deal with his drug addiction even though that fueled his property crimes and contributed to dangerous situation we had at home.

And when he was in jail my mom fell apart. She hallucinated, she slept all day, she delved into deep depression and all but abandoned her children at home. Things were harder for us at home while he was away because my family had no way to deal with the repurcussions of his addictions.

Isn’t the point of the drug war to protect children and serve the community?

The drug war did nothing to help us, the children of drug addicts, while the police were very helpful when alcohol was the problem.

Past meets present: My parents screwed up love story and contemporary women’s issues

I was talking with my sister, Mimi, and we inevitably get to our parents, or rather my parents, us sharing only a mother. It’s always sad. She has a harder time with it because she has all these memories of times before my dad showed up with his rage and his addictions. She remembers our mother acting like a mother, making dinner and helping with schoolwork. She rails against the mother that let a man pull her away from her children and into his dark world. The other day she told me the story about how they met. I knew some of the details, but she knew the whole sordid tale.

They were both serving jury duty, some medical case. At lunch one day, she was chatting with a friend she made. They were complaining about men.

I can hear my mother’s voice as she says “Men are such assholes.”

My dad overhears this, interrupts them at their table, and so elegantly says, “Not all men.”

Not all men. Oh my god. I nearly keeled over when my sister said that to me. I had followed the commentary closely back in March/April of this year, when the news and social media were such a flutter with that exact phrase. “Not all men” was the interruption men made to stop the nation from considering what might be happening in women’s everyday lives, violence, oppression. “Not all men,” was their contribution, making a statement loud and clear that it was more important to talk about innocent men then the real problems women face.

It is fitting that this is how my parents met. While promising to be the man of kindness, of compassion, of sensitivity, he brought with him like a Trojan horse more violence and despair than we can understand. Or imagine. There must be men in the world who respect women, but my father was never one of them. He broke her nose and cracked her ribs. He contributed to her drug addiction. He framed her for violent crimes. He pushed her away from her children. He ruined her life, her mind, her body.

When he said not all men are assholes, he wasn’t talking about himself.

The one thing I wish someone explained to me when I was ten

There are many, many things that I needed to hear as a kid, things that could have helped build my self-esteem, battle my depression, curb my suicidal tendencies. But instead of list all the many things that would have been good to hear, I realized that there was only one thing that I really needed to understand, that everybody needs to understand, especially children growing up in abusive households.

My parents taught me to be helpless. I was afraid of doing anything because of my father’s explosive and unpredictable anger. I believed I couldn’t do anything right, that I was a failure, that I was useless. So even though there were resources available to me that I could have used, I didn’t see them, understand them, or really believe I was capable of helping myself. There were so many things I didn’t do for myself because I didn’t believe I was worth it. I

Everyone has to take care of themselves.”

There are exceptions. There are caveats. There are extremes where we go too far and need to let others take care of us as well, but really, this is the basic human truth. We have to take care of ourselves. We have to bath ourselves, dress ourselves, feed ourselves. Most importantly, we have to guard and protect our freedom, our happiness and our well being. If we do not guard these things ourselves, if we leave these essential duties in the hands of someone else, we risk abuse, neglect and abandonment.

We have the power to take care of ourselves, to go out and get the things we need, to talk to people, to move our lives forward. But power is worthless if a person doesn’t know he or she has it. Useless if a person does not know how to use it.

So please, take a minute to consider what it means to have the power to take care of yourself. For me, it meant the freedom to buy a pineapple at the grocery store (just for fun), to buy new clothes (because I need and deserve good fitting and nice looking garments), to go on vacation out of town (because I can and I want to). What does it mean to you? Do you have a story about how you realized you had power in your life?

Bad Parenting 101: How to give your children nightmares

The ways to screw up a child must be limitless. Some are grotesque and obvious. In my home, there was a constant presence of violence and drugs. At times, my father would be overcome with anger, and would act out in rage. At times, my parents’ desire to fulfill their addiction would win out and they would have to have something. It wasn’t entirely in their control, and I feel certain that my parents knew these things were wrong, on some level.

Unlike those things, there are many instances where my parents did bizarre and unacceptable things. And I don’t think they knew how wrong they were. I say that in part because I didn’t know they were wrong until years later. Only with time and distance away from my parents, away from the crazy, could I see that lines had been crossed.

The Story

My father was a mean drunk, but my mom never did anything to protect us. It was my oldest sister, Mimi, who took care of us. She called the police even though our mother always grounded her for it later. One time, (I was very young so I don’t remember all the details) but my sister struck my father, her stepfather, after one of his episodes began. When the police showed up to arrest him, he demanded they take her too. Days later, after they came home and everything was back to its “walking on eggshells” normal, Dad sat me down to talk about what happened. He told me he was sorry about what he did to my sister, having her arrested when she was just looking out for the rest of us. He told me he felt bad right away, but it was too late and there was only one thing he could do. He tried to kill himself by hitting his head on the wall in his cell. He knew she would be walked by his jail cell, so he used his blood to write to her on the wall, to tell her he was sorry.

I was six when this conversation happened. I don’t remember how I felt at the time. In general, I was very sensitive, raw, in tears at the slightest chastisement, and terrified of the man telling me this story. Blood and violence were normal to me, so this sort of blended into everything else, a quiet little story amidst screaming and breaking glass.

The Image

But it’s actually a terrible thing to say to a child, maybe to anyone. It’s literally a nightmarish image; my sweet, protector sister dragged in handcuffs in front of my dying father, his head bashed in, an apology smeared in blood. What could he have hoped to accomplish by telling me this? Was I supposed to forgive him? Understand him? Feel bad for him? How could he conceive that this story was a good idea? The story may not even be true, which only makes my father’s mistake more glaring.

More than anything else, I just can’t understand why he wanted to do that, to say such disturbing things to such a young child. But my father never made any sense. I don’t think he ever understood right from wrong, not really. I don’t think he ever understood how normal people behave and operate. He walks like a stranger through the world, mimicking as best he can the behavior he sees, a sociopath in his heart, unable to understand what being human really means.

Maybe this is part of what drove him to drugs. Maybe the drugs rotted his mind and with it his sense of morality. It could just as well be both. I can’t know for sure. But from my parents I inherited an inaccurate sense of right and wrong, a skewed idea of normal and abnormal, of appropriate and inappropriate. It is the subtlest of ways they have impacted me, and I walk the world like a creature, trying very hard to fit in but not quite pulling it off.