Just like we exercise and eat well to take care our bodies, we must also pay attention to feelings, attitudes and emotions in order to ensure our own mental wellness.
Mental Health Awareness Week is October 4-10, 2015. Each day of Mental Health Awareness Week, I will post a “STUCK” blog telling an anonymous story demonstrating a challenge faced by someone else. This person could be someone you love, it could be you or it could be me.
Everyday someone somewhere is struggling and feeling stuck.
If my blogs resonate with you, I’d love to hear your comments. Please share my stories and discuss. No one needs to suffer alone or in silence.
“This is ridiculous!”, said Susan as she told me she still thinks about her mother every single day and often many times a day. “It’s not like we were really close or anything. Quite the opposite – she was hard on me and demanding of attention all the time. When she got sick, she said she was sick because I was a bad daughter and didn’t visit often enough.”
Susan is a smart woman. She knows this kind of talk is nonsense and just part of the emotional mistreatment she endured her whole life.
Susan was an only child. Her father, Frank, was military and ruled with an iron fist. Never physically violent, but he had his ways of intimidating Susan to do whatever he thought she should be doing. Susan was told what to wear, whom she could have as friends and even which foods she preferred. Susan had no choices of her own.
Despite all the educational options available these days, Frank believed his daughter had just 2 choices – she could be a secretary or a teacher. Susan wasn’t interested in either of those professions. Susan’s high school teachers noticed her aptitude for science and math. At a parent-teacher meeting, Susan’s teacher told Frank about Susan’s outstanding marks in science and math; something most parents would be happy to hear. Frank responded “Fine, you pay for her education then. I’m not! “and he meant it. When Susan got accepted into nursing school, instead of celebrating her achievement, Susan’s parents cut her off financially and kicked her out of the house.
Susan moved in with girlfriends, worked 2 part-time jobs and tutored on the side. Five years later, when Susan graduated with honours, her parents still felt she had wasted her time and money. Susan was proud of herself and happy with her career path and felt she didn’t need her parents’ approval. But Susan had begun drinking. At first it was just a few drinks after work to unwind after a long day but slowly her drinking grew into a daily habit. “No big deal”, Susan thought. “I have a great job and I’m a good nurse. Who cares if I have a few drinks? I can handle this.”
Now 10 years later, Susan is still working as a nurse and has a family of her own. She is also still drinking every day. She works full time and pays her bills. She is a mother and a wife and takes care of everyone around her. When Susan’s mother got sick, Susan began drinking more heavily and often missed days of work. She claimed she was missing work to care for her mother but often she was hungover and unable to function. Susan did her best to keep up with her job, family and now her sick mother, as her drinking increased. Her father Frank told his daughter that “finally that nursing degree might be of some use to look after your dying mother.”
By the time I met Susan her drinking was out of control. Her husband was threatening to leave, her kids barely spoke to her and she often could not complete an entire 5-day work week. Susan’s mother had died 6 months before. Susan jokingly said “You would think with one less person to be caring for, I would drink less but instead I am drinking more.”
She was drinking more and it was really adversely affecting her life.
We talked about grief and what it meant. The ever practical nurse, Susan commented that she felt she had grieved her mother’s death and was finished with that. I asked her if she also felt she had finished with what had happened to her as a child. Susan admitted she had buried most of it and tried hard not to think about it.
Over time, Susan became aware that her drinking was her way of coping with her abusive childhood. She was numbing herself to avoid the hurtful feelings and rejection she experienced growing up. Now with her husband’s threat to leave her, the rejection she had felt all her life, was re-surfacing.
Susan began to understand that she had not grieved for herself. She had always managed everything else for everyone else but she had never looked after her own emotional health.
It was painful to discuss and was often very emotionally uncomfortable. She hated what happened to her and resents her parents for the way they treated her. She didn’t feel she deserved it. She tried her best to be a good daughter but she was never good enough. It hurt to not good enough. She is full of anger, hurt, and gut-wrenching sadness. Susan began to see her drinking was a result of not dealing with the emotional pain she endured as a child.
Susan is grieving. She is grieving the childhood she missed out on and the unfairness of being raised in an abusive household. Susan is grieving what she knows she deserved and didn’t get. Susan is grieving the fact she never got to settle things with her mom before she died. She would love to go back in time and make things good and loving between them. But she can’t go back and heal those past hurts. So she drinks. Once Susan realized she needed to face her grief, the sadness began to slip away. Susan slows became happier and stopped blaming herself for her parent’s mistreatment. She still drinks but not daily and not to excess. Susan began to find peace in her life and that she didn’t need alcohol for that.