I was always a worried kid. Always afraid of something bad happening, always anxious. I was so worried and had such a hard time sleeping that my mom bought me worry dolls to put under my pillow at night. Not sure that it helped but it brought me some measure of comfort I guess.
Growing up with parents who were most often drunk at home was a lesson in always being alert, always watchful for the explosion that was coming. I knew how to avoid the blow back or duck and run for cover. Nothing was stable in my house – my parents fought all the time, mostly when they were drunk. Normally it was the usual yelling and swearing but there were times when it was violent too. My mom complained to me about my dad starting from when I was about 7 until she was diagnosed with cancer when I was 13. She threatened divorce but never left, she said she was too afraid of being poor. I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t leave, why she would stay if she didn’t want to. Mostly I was afraid she would leave and not take me with her.
This is what anxiety looked liked for me, a constant, hyper vigilance – difficulty sleeping, a lack of concentration to the point where I fell down the stairs in our house three times, cracking my head open each time and needing stitches. Good thing we lived so close to the Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, otherwise I may have really been injured. Each time we went to the hospital for more stitches in my head, I guess my parents told them I was clumsy or accident prone. No one ever asked me if I was ok or if anything was going on at home.
It wasn’t until I was in my 20s, and in therapy for the first time, that I started asking some difficult questions about what had happened when I was young. I couldn’t ask them of my mom because she had already passed away. I still regret not having the courage to ask her when she was alive. It’s a painful lesson in the damage that alcoholism can do in a family. It’s also a painful lesson for me about how my parents never really did anything to help my mental health when I was a kid. Why didn’t I sleep? Why was I always injuring myself? Why didn’t I have many friends? Why did I cry a lot? I never understood any of these things until the last five years or so, watching my own daughter grow up and be the age, now, that I was then. It’s a real trip down memory lane and not a fun one. But it’s important and necessary. It’s also really painful and tiring. I hope that if you get the chance to think about your own early years you don’t have this kind of stuff come up. But if you do, that’s ok. You’ll be ok, and so will I. xo Janet