My life before I married was not easy or free from difficulties. I grew up in an abusive household where the abuse was physical as well as a constant grind down of negativity towards me. I was told I thought myself too clever, I was too arrogant, that I thought I was better than the people who decided to raise me. I was not a good daughter, I was withdrawn and serious. I was not affectionate or fun. I was always told I must defer to give everything to my younger preferred sibling, everything from ice cream I was eating when she had finished hers, to attention that centered around her and her tantrums in a constant round of ‘hey look at Barb.’ I was sick at looking at Barb. I was sick of the fact she was allowed long luscious hair down to her waist, while mine was cut short. I was sick of her theatrics. I was sick of her sugary sweet affectations and her mean sly spiteful streak. One day Barb would not leave me alone. She was pick pick picking, poking, demanding, performing…so I snapped. I pulled her hair….and I pulled it pretty hard. I had never hurt anyone before and stood there horrified as she dropped to the floor squirming like a fish out of water, kicking and flopping this way and that, red face, burst capillaries, tears streaming, whilst she yelled like a stuck pig for our mother.
I had long since let go, but Barb was never going to. We were not going to call it quits and move on. Barb wanted blood. My father grabbed me round the neck, called me Lizzie Borden, called me names of famous female killers. He slapped me again and again and again and again. He put his hands round my eight year old throat. My father was my first abuser. My mother took me upstairs and demanded I changed into a high necked shirt and did not undo it, and told me we had to go out for the day. So I did what I was told.
One foot in front of the other.
I learnt the value of simply making myself carry on, and I became very good at it. I was in pain that day, my neck hurt, I felt like I could not breathe. I was bruised and had to pretend that I wasn’t, and had to carry on, paint a fake smile on my face and just do the day ahead of me, and the next day….and the one after that.
Sometimes I decided that moving on was the only way, and as hard and scary as that is, to be in freefall, no safety net, no family, no friends, nothing, except the promise that the next day you might start to heal because where you go to will not have someone hitting you. When I first moved on, ran away from home at almost 17 years old, I launched myself into another reason to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Another burden to carry on with.
I was a deeply hurt teenager, rejected by the mother that bore me, and the one that raised me, abused by my father. I had been wounded almost mortally, on a deep psychic level, and already my body had been abused. I was in such mental anguish, I was so filled with hatred for my body, that I needed to detach from it, I needed to untether myself in order not to die. There was no therapy, there was no one to listen or to medicate or to help me. I had no one, and back then, there was hardly the awareness of even how to help. Even if help had been available, I really do not think there is anything but time that can heal or lessen those kind of wounds and turn them into manageable scars. If I didn’t do something, that was going to be the end of me. I woke up every day not wanting to be me, no idea of how to reconcile myself to myself.
I did well at school, shockingly well, all things considering, I had colleges clamoring over me, but there was no way I could take my scholarships and run towards the future. I had been mostly destroyed.
So what I did was smack. I saw a young man smoking heroin in the apartment block I was squatting in with a group of other young rejects. I spoke to him. I saw how his eyes looked vacant and peaceful, and I wanted some of that. I needed that. I wanted to be empty and vacant and peaceful. And that was that.
I had no family to run to, I had no friends, there were no organizations to take me in, and in order to survive, I turned to drugs. I suppose I’m hoping when you judge these junkies on the street, overdosing on fentanyl, you might remember this, and perhaps adjust your judgment. Maybe you will judge the people who broke the person so they ran into the arms of oblivion. Perhaps when you judge mothers who give birth to addicted babies, you will remember the person that that woman is, and instead of judging them, feel compassion. Women matter too. I know we are conditioned to dismiss women’s value and worth as soon as she becomes a mother, and define her solely by her worth as is relative to the child, but these women, these mothers still remain people too. Mothers are not symbiotic creatures who exist in a vacuum. They are individuals with all the pain and difficulty and human frailty, and their pain matters. Their suffering does not become secondary. Mothers are people too.
One foot in front of the other. I trudged through that first year of addiction like a soldier through mud. I waded though withdrawals and dry spells, through a little too much and a lot too little. I fell into selling my body, and by extension, what was left of my soul. I was young, I was hurting, and whilst I’ll take full responsibility for what I did, I really did not have much choice. Life just marched on and dragged me with it, trapping me in the mud. There was no exit, it is not so easy as to just choose not to live like that. I became pregnant and aborted my first baby. I was told in absolutely clear terms that if I did give birth the child would be removed. I was lied to and told that heroin causes birth defects – it does not. I was forced and pressured and shamed into the abortion and I never quite got over it. This was the point where I cleaned up, really cleaned up, for the first time, shocked into it by the small tragedy of the events as they unfolded. I was visibly pregnant, as I was tiny thin and wasted, even my junkie friends were squeamish at my continuing to shoot H. If I didn’t I would miscarry, I knew that. The woman at the clinic looked at me and said “just the way things happen, those that want babies can’t have ’em, those that don’t they just fall pregnant.” She looked me up and down in disgust. This was the woman, the professional that I went to for help. For understanding. For information. It was this woman that told me I was pregnant. I went in for rigs and condoms, piss tested as usual. She airily walked into the room, and without sitting down said, “did you know you are pregnant?” Her words and sneer remain decades after the fact. I wanted the baby, I just couldn’t do it, the midwife’s lie about birth defects ringing in my ears. She decided to take fate into her own hands. She told me I couldn’t carry on with the pregnancy, told me that the baby would be born horribly deformed because of heroin. These were total and utter lies, and she knew it. Unfortunately I didn’t and aborted before it was too late.
I kicked in a room in a squat. There was no detox, no rehab. No help. One foot in front of the other. One day at a time. I did it because I wanted to, because I resolved I was going to have a life, I was going to be a good mother. I was going to redeem myself. I was stubborn and steadfast. I kept reminding myself that the older wiser junkies had told me it would not kill me, and kept going…one foot in front of the other, shaking on the mattress on the floor like an old sick dog, covered in my own vomit and waste. Occasionally I would crawl across the floor to try and get water, which would not stay down. Nothing stays down. Not a sip of water, definitely not a bite of food. You do not dare move. Your bowels become uncontrollable. Your legs tremble and shake, I became so hot that I stripped off, sweating in the cold winter night air. The worst of it was over in a week. The restless legs stayed so long I thought they were permanent.
When you see people on the street, or read of their babies born addicted, when you wonder why they carry on, know this, it is not so easy. I am unusual. I had had a childhood spent being abused, I was not a stranger to pain and suffering, and did not know to expect any different. People have different tolerances to pain and suffering. If I can help just one person look at a junkie and feel compassion, or at least understanding, then laying myself so open will have been worth it.
It is so easy to judge. It is so easy to feel the natural revulsion, so easy to throw people out of the human race and delegate them to monster or thing, a thing not like the rest of the people around, lesser than. Sullied. There is always redemption, and understanding not judging will cause so much less suffering all around. Do we want to punish, or do we want to help? Who are we as a society of people? Do we want to judge, or do we want to pull people back to a life that is productive and safer for them and everyone around them? Who are we?
When years later, I was being beaten to within an inch of my life, something in me awoke. One foot in front of the other. Hauling myself around with broken bones, and smashed in head, with concussions, detached retina, broken beyond broken, I was reminded that I could haul myself along life. One foot in front of the other, driven to do so by love for my children, by a desire to see better days, out of sheer bloody-mindedness that I would not be broken by this man. I wanted to survive. I wanted to see what was next. I wanted to get out and I wanted to help others get out too.
I know I’m not always much fun. I know I’m not always easy going, or calm or quiet. If I was I would not be here writing, I would be dead. He would have killed me, or I would not have made it through that first year of addiction through to the first time I cleaned up. Yes, I fell a few times after that, I relapsed. It happens. It has not happened for many many years now. I hope experiences like this remain beyond the first hand knowledge of people who read this, but if this resonates personally with you, I’m here for you. No shame, no judgement. Write to me, and Ill try and listen. If this remains outside of your experience, I am glad that life did not go that way for you, and I hope you will hear me out, and maybe learn a little of what it means to survive.
One foot in front of the other.