By Marie S.
The date was November 4, 2001. I was sixteen years old going on sixty. My eyes had seen more physical, emotional, and sexual abuse than I wanted or expected. A few months earlier, I had finally found a place where I fit – a boarding school that specialized in training ballerinas. I dreamt of going professional some day. I loved everything about the school, from the woods surrounding it to the array of students from every walk of life. Most of all I loved the understanding I felt. I went to school with other tortured artists, like me. Most of the students understood my self-destructive ways.
They even co-signed my hateful actions toward myself. There was a large group of us and I could choose my disorder: bulimia, cutting, drug addiction. What was on the menu for the night? We got it and we got each other.
It wasn’t the healthiest environment for an impressionable girl with low self-esteem, but it was the first place I felt like I belonged. I didn’t blend in at the posh private school my parents sent me before I came here. Those students didn’t get me and I didn’t want to get them. I didn’t care about shopping or boys. My life was too complicated for that.
From the earliest I recall, I felt extremely sensitive to and aware of my surroundings. I felt and I knew everything that was going on. And while my family tried to protect me from the problems they were going through, I knew — I felt – what was really going on. When I was born my father’s finances had sky-rocketed. By the time I turned five he lost everything. What he didn’t lose, he sacrificed so he could pursue his life’s dream.
The family changes were difficult for me. I had grown up in an overly privileged environment where all children got everything they wanted — except me. I felt like life gave me the short end of the stick in every situation. Although most of what I claimed to need was superficial, I didn’t feel any compassion for my parents, who gave everything they had to put food on the table daily and keep me and my siblings dressed in decent clothes. By the time I hit puberty, we had moved over a dozen times. I yearned for stability and I longed for material things.
Looking back, I know that what I thought I saw so clearly was a blurry illusion. The Dean of Academics felt the same way. After ample explosive warnings about my behavior, he had it with my antics. No more threats. This time he followed through. He sent me home escorted in a white caravan. He didn’t even let me go back to my dorm to get my belongings. “Out!” he said. “Now!”
The incessant nonsensical jabbering and chatting of the two staff members that accompanied me home turned the already long drive into a much longer one. They chomped on doughnuts, occasionally turning back to offer me one. I rudely declined each time they held out the box of nasty sugar covered circles of dough.
When I finally reached the Santa Ynez city limits, my heart fell into my stomach. I wanted to scream, yell, cry, and beg them to take me back but my pride wouldn’t let me. When we finally reached my mother’s house, I ran straight to my room and locked myself in my closet. I finally felt safe enough to do what I’d wanted to do for as long as I could remember.
I broke down.
Tired of feeling pain and resentments about my childhood, I became exhausted. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t even keep the pain inside. I whaled until my lungs felt raw. About nine o’clock that evening, I snuck into the bathroom and swallowed almost two hundred pills. Then I went to bed. When I woke up, a week had passed. I was in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital looking up into my father’s eyes. He kneeled over me and for the first time in my life, I saw him show true emotion.
I felt ashamed about the pain I caused my family. It was my Grandma’s birthday that day and she spent it on an airplane to come to my bedside. My entire family had gathered around me in the hospital. The taste of charcoal from the stomach cleansing pills saturated every cell in my body. I wanted to get up but I knew if I did, I’d collapse on the floor.
Despite my shame, I didn’t fully grasp the pain I caused the people who loved me most – my mother, father, sister, and brother. It would take years until what goes around came around, and I tasted my own medicine. It didn’t taste good.
My mother had struggled with health problems, struggled with sleep. Then she began taking sleeping pills during this rough patch to help her get her through the nights. What made this experience so bizarre was that I had never seen my mother drunk. She didn’t drink. Didn’t use drugs or take pills. She rarely took an aspirin for a headache.
I’m in awe of her. She’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met. A native of North Dakota, she’s soft, delicate, not a mean bone in her body. She did the absolute best she could raising us. My dad did too. They both played the hands Life dealt them the best they could.
Through our worst, most difficult times they continued to be solid, stable role models – leaders and parents who never gave up. They weren’t perfect. Absolutely they made mistakes, occasionally taking out their frustrations on us children. But if I had to face the trials and problems I watched them go through raising us, I don’t know if I could handle it the way they did. In the end, they achieved the dreams and goals they set for themselves — plus more.
But during this period, Mother had suffered. For once in her life, she turned to sleeping pills for relief. ”If taken for longer than ten days, could become addictive,” warned the label on the prescription bottle. Mom took the pills for more than ten days anyway. After two months, the pills turned her into another person, a woman I didn’t recognize or know. She no longer welcomed me home on weekends. She became irritable. Even though she gobbled those sleeping pills, she slept only a few hours a night. She’d become addicted, discontent, and sleep deprived.
Some days always feel like yesterday, no matter how long ago they happened. This warm October day is one of them. A few days before her birthday, I called to check on her. She didn’t answer the phone. It wasn’t like her not to take phone calls, and it especially wasn’t like her to be gone. The past few months her anxiety level had escalated so high she rarely left the house.
Busy preparing to leave the ranch where I boarded my horse, I still took the time to call her ten times that day. Finally her new husband (and my new stepfather) answered the ringing phone. He came home from work to take her to the doctor, he said, but couldn’t find her anywhere. She had laid out her clothing to wear that day on the bed, next to her wallet and car keys. Her car was in the driveway. But she was gone — nowhere to be found. I dropped what I was doing and drove home as fast as I could.
As I walked up the steps to her house, my dad called on my cell phone. “They found your mom,” he said. “And it’s not good.” He told me what hospital they rushed her to. I sped there crying hysterically all the way. I didn’t know if my mother was alive or dead. When I arrived at the emergency room I immediately saw my brother. He was the one who found her. He told me what happened.
That day, my mother had done the same thing I’d done years before. She tried to kill herself by overdosing on pills. We almost lost my mom that day, the same way the family had almost lost me years before.
Everything we do comes full circle. It hurt so badly to know that my mother was in that much pain. It hurt to think that she tried to leave us. That’s when I understood how badly my family felt when I tried to kill myself. That made everything worse.
Years have passed. My mother returned to being the amazing woman and role model she really is. She turned her life around, became more active. She crawled out from under the big negative thumb that held her down.
Me? I’m still barreling through grief as my illusions about life shatter, one by one. I’m growing up. But I deal with my pain and grief differently now. When I feel upset, I ride my horse or try to be of service to other people in pain. I don’t cut myself. I don’t slash my wrists. When I feel heavy and depressed, I go to the gym instead of binging, purging, or starving myself. I stopped playing around with potentially deadly eating disorders.
Those moments I feel alone in the world, I know I’m not. I reach for the phone and call a friend instead of writing a suicide note to the people I love.
I learned the hard way that my choices don’t just affect me. They touch the people who love me. It’s my decision whether I want to affect my family in a way that hurts and devastates them, or touch them in a way that uplifts their spirits and hearts.
Many things I can’t control, but I’ve learned I can always choose love.
From the desk of Melody Beattie
Originally posted 2010
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