(Note: This is the second in a series of blog posts originating in work completed for a video series titled, “You Are A Writer – Getting Past the Fear and Moving Forward.” Created by Lauren Sapala, the course is aimed at sensitive intuitive writers suffering from toxic procrastination and crippling perfectionism.
This series is the result of some intense inner work completed during the first two sessions and is shared here in hopes of aiding others going through similar circumstances. You can learn more about the course here. )
Trigger warning: this series contains descriptions of alcohol abuse, physical and emotional abuse, and sexual contact between adults and minors
A Short Recap
If you’ve read the previous posts and background information, you know that I had a childhood that totally jives with Lauren’s findings:
- I grew to fear any form of self-expression due to physical and emotional abuse from an alcoholic father. Later on, I experienced bullying from my peers because I was a “weird” kid. Because of this, my fear only increased.
- Parental enmeshment occurred on an extreme level with my mom. Not finding the emotional support she needed with my father, she basically raised me to be a surrogate husband who could provide her with whatever he couldn’t. This enmeshment led to a dissolution of boundaries between us and I lost the ability to take care of my own needs, let alone know what they even were. Her needs became my priority and I learned to stuff my own deep inside.
- The combination of the two created a situation that finds me today almost terrified to express myself in many areas of my life, including artistically. This web site and the novel I’m working on are my attempts at reclaiming the voice I lost and the needs I buried.
I need to make it clear that I’m not blaming anyone for the events that follow – neither my parents nor myself, my siblings, and my peers. It just was how things worked out this time around. Being the eldest of 3 kids, I seemed to take the brunt of the damage because I spent the longest time in the tempest. (My sister was 5 years younger and my brother 9 years younger. When my parents divorced when I was 16, the kids were younger and the entire family dynamics shifted. For the better? Who knows.)
(I’ve already described much of the general situation during this time period in earlier posts. Still, I feel the need to addess some additional events because they impact later parts of my life. Just realize that the pattern of physical abuse and alcoholism that I described earlier was also fairly prevalent during this entire time period, increasing the older I got. )
As I said before, I grew up in northeastern Indiana during the 60’s. As a kid, I’d always assumed we were middle class. That’s the term you always heard bantered around so I figured it also applied to my family. Looking back, though, I see that wasn’t the case. My folks were struggling to get by most of the time.
My father was a blue collar worker. He quit school when he was 14 and hit the road doing whatever work he could find. For most of my childhood, he was a construction worker on the interstate system being built in the midwest. He then managed a sawmill and finally opened a welding shop when the mill closed.
My mom had quit school to get married and get out of her parent’s house. She left because she was being sexually abused by her older brother. Her parents wouldn’t believe it, though, because he was the golden boy and could do no wrong. For the first several years of their marriage, my father kept her locked away at home because of jealousy – she was gregarious and everyone liked her. She was a housewife until I was in the 6th grade and he took over the sawmill. Then, she ran the office for the extra income. Again, though, my father’s jealousy was an issue as she had to deal with all of the male workers.
Besides these jobs, my folks also mowed lawns for extra money. I, of course, had to help. Everything I earned went into the family pot which I guess I never questioned. My mom and I would also drive along country roads and pick up pop and beer bottles to turn in for the deposit money. Every weekend we’d drive until the car was full. Then we’d go to the local A & P grocery store and turn them in for cash.
Somewhere along the line, things got worse financially for my folks and my role started evolving into more of an impromptu money maker.
One year, my mom said I could earn money for a bicycle selling Christmas cards. (This was a common occurrence back in the 60’s. The ads were always in the back of Boys Life magazine and they provided everything you needed.) I really wanted a bike and went hog wild. I sold to everyone we knew – family, friends, teachers, neighbors, etc. I even got the nerve up and went door to door in town.
Needless to say, I sold more than enough Christmas cards for a bike. I had one all picked out – purple, sparkly silver banana seat, chopper-style handle bars, sissy bar, the whole nine yards. Except the bike never arrived.
It seems that the Christmas card order never was placed. My mom had used the money I collected for bills and I, a kid maybe 8 or 9 at most, was left to explain to everyone who asked when their cards were coming. Eventually, folks must have figured it out because they quit asking. That was the last year I tried selling Christmas cards.
Other similar situations occurred. I was in 4-H and had signed up for a series of small engine repair classes. At the end of the series, the group planned a cookout. I volunteered to buy the supplies from funds collected from the sale of the lawn mower we fixed. I got the money from the leader and passed it on to my mom for safe keeping. The day of the cookout arrives, and surprise – no money and no cookout supplies. I had to go and tell this group of kids expecting a fun time that none was to be had. Eventually, another father stepped in and offered to buy things so we could have our party but that was after a couple weeks had gone by.
(It’s strange – just this year, someone from that class connected with me on Facebook. He remembered me and what a “cool kid” I was in the group. When I said all I remembered from the class was what happened with the money, he let me know that it was his father that had provided the funds. Still, it hadn’t affected his opinion of me. I, on the other hand, was mortified and am still bothered by it.)
Money wasn’t the only thing I provided. I don’t know how many record companies that I joined back in those days. (I guess I should say, how many my mom joined using my name.) This was never discussed – suddenly one day a box would be out by the mailbox full of LP’s or 8 tracks with my name on it. Of course, the accounts would eventually get cancelled for non-payment. (While in elementary school, I guess I wasn’t that great of a budgeter.) A few months later, we’d go through the same thing all over again with a different company. Fingerhut with their easy payment plans seemed to be another favorite.
We were in and out of collections throughout this time. In those days, you took the payments directly to an office for processing and this became my job. It seemed the staff had a much harder time questioning a kid why they were only getting partial payments instead of the full amount promised. I even had one older woman give me a Christmas present because she felt sorry for my lack of winter hat and gloves.
Probably the worst part of everything involved working at the sawmill. In sixth grade when my father managed it, I was required to work there stacking lumber. This was supposed to “toughen me up.” And I’m not talking “play” stacking either. This was “do everything the grown men were doing without complaint or suffer the consequences”stacking. When I couldn’t lift some of the bigger pieces, it didn’t matter; it was either do it or get a beating in front of everyone. (Of course, this only strengthened that fear of self-expression. My needs, my capabilities didn’t matter.)
One day I stepped on a nail. My father wasn’t much of a believer in doctors and just let the wound fester. Only when I couldn’t walk did we make an appointment to have it checked and the doctor was soon talking amputation of the leg. Eventually he was able to open the wound and clean it out enough so the danger subsided. My father showed no concern, however, except for the fact that I was not working at the mill while this was going on. Oh – and the added doctor’s office expense.
Sex was another one of those areas where boundaries just didn’t exist.
My earliest memory (3? 4?) is lying on the top bunk of a bunk bed set and watching my mom have sex with a female friend of hers. I was supposed to be taking a nap but had either not fallen asleep yet or had woken up unexpectedly. I remember leaning over the side and watching them go at it. One of them was wearing sea foam green panties and these were kicked off during the festivities. I remember laughing hysterically as they flew across the room. My mirth didn’t seem to phase them, though, as they just continued.
This female friend played quite a role in the early days of my folk’s marriage. Even with my father’s jealousy, my folks seemed to have a thing for three-ways. Apparently this woman lived with us for a period of time sleeping with one or both of them. Eventually, the section of highway was finished and we had to move on to the next area. The other woman stayed behind. Things settled back to “normal” for a while.
When the real thing wasn’t available, my dad relied on porn. No matter where you looked, there was some form of it laying around the house. Back in those days, there was no internet, no videos, etc. Still, my dad seemed to have a lot and it was everywhere. When you opened one of the drawers in the kitchen, there were 100’s of Polaroids and snapshots tossed in there demonstrating just about anything you could imagine. One day when I was about 9, I opened the family Bible on the television and found several flyers showing a wide variety of 8mm pornographic clips for purchase. I soon learned to recognize the envelopes these flyers arrived in when I got the mail. When I felt extremely brave, I would intercept one and hide it so I could look at it later on without worrying about being caught. When my father eventually purchased a small 8mm projector and some clips, I would find excuses to stay home when the family left for longer excursions. Then I’d pull everything out of their closet and watch the flicks.
The threesome bug seemed to strike again when my dad managed the saw mill. Instead of looking for another female, this time he chose a male – the previous manager of the mill who was also a friend. This threesome lasted for a while – at around 14, I can remember listening to my mom and this guy having sex in the den while I did homework in the living room next door. It just wasn’t a big deal to them and they often didn’t try to hide things. Eventually my father stopped being involved but my mom continued.
I guess one good thing came from all this – I never seemed to grow up with any hangups concerning sex. (I should say at least until I got mixed up with religion in junior high. Then things changed big time.) In his catalogues, I saw straights, gays, and lesbians, all in various combinations and colors. They were represented equally and without judgement. In my mind, I just assumed all forms were normal and ok. Of course, I had no one to verify this with until I started going to church – and only then did I see that my assumptions about acceptance were incorrect.
I think I’m going to stop here for the time being. I guess I should apologize if the enmeshment I spoke about earlier isn’t totally clear yet. It will be. What I described was just the foundation for what came later during adolescence. I’ll be speaking about that in the next segment of this series. Hopefully I’ll see you then.
Related Parts of This Series
- Out From the Shadows – Part 1
- Out From the Shadows – Part 3
- Out From the Shadows – Part 4
- Out From the Shadows – Part 5
Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash