In one of my first posts, I gave a brief rundown of my life story, and in that, said I would go into more details later. Well, here are the details. If you’re interested in understanding my motivations behind blogging and reinforcing positive mindsets about mental health, here’s a taste of it. Before we begin, here are a few disclaimers:
- I am in no way stating my own trauma is worse or more notable than anyone else’s’.
- In posts where I mention my personal life, I will use the terms biological parents and adopted parents. My adopted parents did not legally adopt me, but took me in and assumed all of the responsibilities of an adoptive parent.
- In no way is this post intended to belittle or degrade anyone mentioned. It is simply my perception of the things that happened in my childhood.
- With its length, I know this post seems like a bill proposed to Congress, but I feel I should state there’s still more to the story. This is just all I can handle divulging at the moment.
My connections with my biological family members as a child were few and far between, with the main influences in my life being my biological mother and my grandparents on my biological dad’s side. My bio parents divorced when I was a baby, so I have no memory of any issues they may have had.
I’ve always thought of myself as a sensible and logical person. I’ve always been one to notice patterns in behavior (trends, if you will), and became fixed on finding the solution. First, I would notice the pattern. In my childhood, I first noticed them with mother, my grandparents, and myself. Let’s break it down for a moment here.
I first started paying attention to my mother’s patterns when she lost a stable job with a health insurance company. The reason being is that she directly blamed me for losing this job because I caused her too much stress. I remember sitting in the passenger seat of the car thinking ‘Am I really that much of a problem?’
She would sleep any time she wasn’t working and only get up to use the restroom or eat. When she was working, she would quit or get fired from every job she got. When she was looking for work, she would always go to our local Unemployment Office.
I always knew money was a problem for us. We moved all the time – I actually went to 4 different elementary schools – and being the logically minded child I was, I knew you can’t pay rent without a job.
We had multiple pets at different times growing up. Before I moved out at the age of 16, we lived in a 1 bedroom studio with 3 cats. Being that my mom would only get up in the house to sleep and eat, things were in a constant state of disarray. All of our dishes would be piled up in the sink, there’d be very little food in the house, and cat hair covered everything. EVERYTHING.
I also noticed a pattern with my grandparents. They were, and still are, highly religious. They are Pentecostal Christians (or “Old Testament” Christians, as I’ve also heard it described) who practiced legalism in their beliefs. Shorthand, this means men wore pants and women wore skirts/dresses. Also, women didn’t cut their hair, paint their nails, show too much skin, curse, or get tattoos. Those are just the basics. They owned their own church up until about 2 years ago, where my grandpa pastored and my grandma led worship and ministered as well.
I spent nearly every weekend up until middle school at my grandparents’ house. I always felt a strange sense of calm in their home, and my grandma would dote on me, as grandmas often do. Compared to my house, their house was like heaven. I know you feel the “but” coming, and trust me, it’s coming.
While I felt incredibly secure and loved, I also constantly felt insecure and afraid. My grandma would always make it a point to have serious discussions with me (where she discussed and I listened) about everything I was doing wrong in my life, and what I needed to do to make things right. To get saved. To go to heaven. Here were my basic instructions for doing so:
- Dress the part – stop cutting my hair, stop wearing pants, stop wearing any type of fitted or revealing clothing (especially when I started developing as a pre-teen), stop painting my nails, do not (under any circumstances) wear makeup
- Do my research – start reading the bible, listen to more talk radio (Art Bell on KMJ 580, anyone?), listen to all of the “Left Behind” series on cassette
- Pray constantly and unrelentingly – pray for forgiveness for all of my sins, all the time
- Speak in tongues – this is a requirement of Pentecostal Christians, according to my grandparents, to be considered saved, and you won’t get into heaven unless you can
We would “discuss” all of the above every single time she felt the opportunity present itself (it presented itself a lot). She instilled in me a spirit of fear. I remember being in constant, paralyzing fear that I wasn’t saved.
In my teen years, it got to where would have panic attacks if I called my adopted family and my grandparents in the same day and no one answered, thinking God had come back and I had been left behind.
Oh, and I almost forgot. My grandpa hated me growing up. I never understood it. I cried so many tears over this. I learned only about 5 years ago he’s only my grandpa by marriage, which I suspect had something to do with it. Spoiler – my bio grandpa is worse than my grandpa in that if you’re not a classic car or super into classic cars, you’re a waste of time.
So, here I am, introspective little Sam (pictured above happily enjoying an Otter Pop – that’s me, so just add 5 or 6 years for timeline purposes). Seeing and understanding all of the above before I even had my first real crush. At a very young age, I understood that I was a problem, as were my thoughts, actions, and beliefs. Every time I would do something to try and make things better, it would either have little to no impact or make them worse.
I can say undoubtedly that I spent all of my formative years trying to be good enough for my mother and my grandparents.
With my mother, I kept to myself. I stayed in my room, listened to the radio, read tons of books, organized and reorganized, moved and moved and moved my furniture around. Anything to keep myself busy and not disturb her. As you can probably see, the parent-child dynamic was lacking at best. Her and I had basically 3 versions of our relationship.
- The one where I would keep to myself, as described above, for agonizingly long periods of time
- The one where we would have dinner together on the occasional Sunday night and watch Desperate Housewives while talking, getting along like normal people
- The one where we would have extremely horrible fights that would end in hysterical crying on my end
I wouldn’t touch any part of the house aside from my room until it got so dirty and gross that I couldn’t stand it. Then, whenever I was home alone, I would clean everything. You should know when I say clean, I don’t mean just picking up. I would deep clean. I’d do the dishes, sweep, mop, vacuum, clean the fridge, clean the cat’s litter boxes, get out the cleaners and go to town. I made myself into Cinderella. I have literally been on my hands and knees with a rag cleaning individual tiles.
When I started understanding our financial struggles, I would try and help by finding apartments for us or jobs for her, which only angered her. Nothing made a difference.
With my grandma, I made changes to my appearance, my actions, my statements. I tried to read the bible, even though I didn’t understand it and it scared me. I would try with every fiber of my being to make all the changes she wanted me to make. I would pray and cry and beg God to let me speak in tongues and it never happened. It hasn’t happened to this day and my grandma has made it known she prays adamantly every single night for my salvation so I won’t burn for eternity in hell. I went to camp meetings, revivals, church camps, and attended faithfully every time the doors to their church were open. Nothing made a difference.
With my grandpa, I tried everything in my power to not annoy him or be a burden. I took extra measures to clean up after myself, do quiet activities, and be the model grandchild. I did every single thing I could think of. Nothing made a difference.
All of this seemed to happen simultaneously and I began feeling increasingly upset, scared, out of control, and resentful. None of this made any sense to me. I knew what the problems were and I was doing everything that made logical sense to solve them and nothing was working. Cue a constant state of extreme anxiety and depression that would go unnoticed and untreated for years to come.
Things finally reached a turning point when I was 16. Following what I considered to be one of the biggest fights my mother and I had ever gotten into, I was issued an ultimatum. She explained she was leaving the house for awhile (I assumed to just go on a drive), and when she came back, my mind was to be made up. I had 2 choices. The first was to continue living with her, and the second was to pack my things and move into the foster care system (side note: I’m really not a fan of ultimatums).
In the heat of the moment after she had left, I did a quick recount of my experiences with her throughout my childhood. I decided I was tired of it. All of it. I was tired of not feeling good enough, for not being able to make things better, for making things worse when I just wanted to make them better. I had my mind made up. And I started packing.
I’m not sure how everything that followed came about, and I’m not sure I want to know at this point, but when my mom came back, she loaded me and my stuff in the car. She drove me to my now adopted parents’ house and she left.
That’s where I’m going to stop, for now, friends. The purpose of writing this was to share a bit more about myself and my background with you, and I’m hoping I’ve accomplished that here. Writing things out that you’ve experienced firsthand is cathartic, in a way, but also incredibly painful. If you’ve read this far, thank you.
If you’ve experienced something similar in your childhood, or any trauma in your childhood that you’d like to talk about, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Anything sent to me will be kept completely confidential. I value your story and your experiences and know there are ways to use those things to help better understand ourselves and have a more peaceful future.
Have a wonderful weekend ahead, everyone.