Modern society is built around a culture of complaining. It is almost as if it is hardwired into our brains as a legitimate way to deal with serious issues. We complain because our kids are underachieving in school even when the most logical answer to the problem necessitates action on the part of the individual. But just as this culture of complaining is learned and formed by habit so is its opposition, acceptance. The person interviewed below is someone who has been through many difficult problems in life but refuses to join this culture of complaining.
When I was around 4 years old, I was driving around town with my grandma and I remember her pointing out the college that I eventually graduated from saying, “You have to get all A’s to go there.” I remember telling her emphatically, “I know grandma, I can do it…I can go there.” It’s weird that I actually did end up going back home to graduate from there. I feel like I’m the sort of person who has always been ok. Some people view life as something that is dual in nature. Good or Bad. Black or White if only because grey isn’t a color. But life isn’t a Hollywood movie, it’s resplendent sometimes to the point of being unrelenting and yes, sometimes it sucks. I feel like I’ve been ok because when I look back on everything I know that there are no heroes in my life but there are no villains either. I couldn’t control my family because they were people that were just given to me and that meant that I was subject to a lot of grief. But I was lucky in that when one person failed me, I could choose whoever was to be next in my life. Furthermore, I am lucky that there was always someone there to help me out even in difficult circumstances.
My parents are both addicts. My dad is an alcoholic and my mother was a crack addict. When I was growing up, my father would drink heavily and become really violent towards my mom. Things got really bad and my mother thought it was best to pack my brothers and me up and move across the country. She hoped that by moving far away from my father she could protect us better and give us some sense of stability. It didn’t work. My oldest brother was a teenager and had lived through my parent’s dysfunction for many years without his toddler sister and brother. Soon after we moved, he joined a gang. He was arrested a number of times and eventually was charged and jailed for 13 years for an armed robbery. It was really difficult for my mom to raise my brothers and I alone and in addition to my older brother’s behavior we were subject to the instability of moving around from town to town. Just like my dad he was out of the picture for most of my life. Every year I got a new school and made a new set of friends only to repeat the process the next year. For a time, I wasn’t fully aware of why we were moving around so much but by age 8, I fully understood that we were moving around because we couldn’t pay our bills–we were being forced out. In retrospect though, I never really felt lost. From an early age, I have been thankful for whatever is given to me no matter how small. At this time, I had my mother and my little brother and I never doubted that I lived in a home with love.
Eventually, my parents patched things up and we moved back home. My father was still drinking but we thought we were living well (with a few problems). I wasn’t confronted with the truth until I came home from school one day and my mother wasn’t there. My mother had been arrested for embezzling money from a wealthy woman who lived in our small town. An accountant by profession, she had been hired by this woman to help keep her books together. In the end, my mother’s $500 a day crack habit and her resolve to take care of us drove her to embezzle $25,000 from this woman. Her gaffe was public knowledge, published in the local newspaper and the gossip of all the moms in town. My father was in jail at this time because he had been caught drunk driving too many times. He was going to be out of jail in a few months and he wanted me and my brother to live with him but we decided that this would not be a good idea. We were well aware of the hardships that my mother had experienced with him and he had been in jail for almost two years so we felt like we really didn’t know him. It was a pretty difficult conversation to tell your father that you didn’t know him well enough to live with him even in the craziest circumstances. Since there was no immediate family to claim me, we stayed in foster care for a week until my aunt who lived across the country came to collect us.
We stayed with my aunt for a year but she lived in a small apartment and had recently been married. We knew our aunt really well and were happy to stay there but the financial burden of taking care of someone else’s children was a lot for her and my uncle. We moved to a different city to stay with another uncle who we didn’t know quite as well. The adjustment process was weird but we adapted. He treated us really well and made sure that we had the same opportunities as before. We grew to love him and he us. Eventually my mother got out of jail and she asked me and my brother to come back home. My brother returned but I decided against it. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my mom anymore but it was more that I had always been driven by a strong desire to go to the best college. Living with my uncle, I was going to a very good high school and I had friends. After many years of moving around, I didn’t want to leave the friends I had just made. But even contemplating living without my brother was difficult. He was a constant in my life and to this day we are very close. I understood why he decided to go home. We both missed mom but I needed to do something for myself. Getting an education was self derived and gave me independence. My brother and mom understood why I stayed because this dedication to school was nothing new for me and they both understood my decision.
After both my mom and dad had completed their jail sentences, it seemed as if everything had calmed down. My mother had gone through rehab as part of her sentence and my father was now clean. Things seemed great until my mother fell ill. During my sophomore year of college, she died and I’m still grieved by this. In a way, I’m happy that I came back home because I was able to spend time with my mother during her last few years on earth. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that her presence is missed everyday.
Some people don’t understand how I could feel so much love and be so ‘normal’ after living in what appears from the outside to be a deeply dysfunctional home. They don’t realize that I have always been able to find something besides the negativity of my life’s circumstances to focus on. There are things that I can and cannot control. I cannot control for instance, the actions of others but I do have the power to control who is in my life and how big a role they play in it. I guess that I have come to a point where I have tried to understand why my parents, especially my mother, made the misguided decisions that they did. For my dad, it is a little easier for me to rationalize. He has been sober for a while now and I know the difference between my father and the person that alcohol makes my father. I think that he blindly made a bad decision that he couldn’t escape.
My mother is different because she’s gone and I was not ‘aware’ while she was living. I had to learn more about her from my aunts and uncles to work out why she chose drugs and why she died so young. My mom partied hard in the 70’s. I was told that once for her birthday my mom had her name and “happy birthday” spelled out on a large glass table in coke. I’m told the letters were beautifully displayed in an intricate ‘classy’ cursive script. But I think the thing that really triggered her lifelong relationship with drugs was a car accident. For a while she began to abuse painkillers and then she moved on to other drugs. When I think back, I “caught her” doing something weird in the bathroom a few times. I would come into the bathroom and my mom quickly turned away from me hiding something behind her back. Though she apologized to me once, as a child there was a lot I didn’t know.
People seldom are able to make consistently good decisions and sometimes the consequences weigh heavily on not only the individual but on those around them. It’s really just a matter of perspective. They say “to err is human” and I guess that’s my whole philosophy of life. Accept what is given to you and work with it is all I mean.