(Life’s not fair but at least) I’ve Already Been Through the Hard Stuff

(Life’s not fair but at least) I’ve Already Been Through the Hard Stuff

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I try not to get too personal on here but I figure if I’m going to do it I might as well go big. Here is my personal story in a nutshell to not only give you some perspective on my background but to also help those who are in/have been in the negative situations no one likes to talk about.


Someone New

I grew up living with my mother and grandmother. My mother showed her emotions materialistically. She would work double shifts at the local factory to be able to buy me Christmas presents. I had lots of toys but never saw my mother. Our family (and everyone else in the area) were very low-income but since I had nothing to compare it to, I didn’t realize this as a child. Besides, there was a lot of credit card debt behind every Christmas season.

When I was 11, very shortly after my mother started dating John (name changed), we moved to a new apartment and he moved in with us. Less than a year later, he and my mother married. He told us he was a carpenter, but I quickly learned he was more or less unemployed. This meant John and I were always in the house together while my mother was busy working or sleeping.

I didn’t like John a whole lot but of course I had little choice in the matter anyway. Since he was always home, John would casually drink a few cans of beer a night. Even though my mother never drank, I didn’t think too much about it in the beginning.

A few months later we moved to another apartment. My mother continued her nonstop working/sleeping and John continued to be home all the time. His drinking increased but that wasn’t noticeable until the fights started. I would be woken up late at night by loud fights between him and my mother. I quickly learned to stay in my room if I saw him drinking.

After a year of fights and increased drinking, the three of us moved yet again to another apartment. Drinking a six pack had now become commonplace for John. There had begun to be nights where he would drink through a case (24 cans) of beer. These were bad nights. Any little thing would set him off. The terrifying yelling, furniture throwing, and worse was inevitable.

Lockdown

On top of the drinking, which progressed slowly from inside the situation (it sounds much quicker writing it out like this), John also became excessively controlling of me and my mother. I wasn’t allowed to be friends with certain kids. I couldn’t go on special school field trips. I would get in trouble for coming home late from anything. I couldn’t listen to certain types of music. I couldn’t travel far from the house. He read through my diary. He listened to my phone conversations. He read every email I sent and every website I visited.

This type of possessiveness was unfortunately very easy in the town we were living in. It is a town of two streetlights, three gas stations, and a grocery store. No fast food, no movie theaters, no stores. Absolutely nothing for a kid to do. The nearest mall/movie theater/civilization was at least a 25 minute drive away. For a child without a car and for parents trying to save on gas, that is quite a distance.

Stupid Bitch

On top of the excessive drinking and controlling behavior, something else permeated through our house. This began when I received my first high school report card. School had always come easy to me but high school was a tough transition. I simply could not get my head around algebra. Because of this, my report card was an 85 instead of the usual grade of 90 or above. When John saw this, he looked at me and said, “What are you a fucking idiot?” I was 13 years old.

The name calling only grew worse from there. If I wore gym shorts around the house, I was “a little slut.” If I spilled a drink, I was “a clumsy moron.” If I complained about having to do the dishes, I was “a lazy cunt.” If I said the TV was too loud, I was “being an asshole.” If I got a bad grade on a test, I was a “stupid bitch.” There’s more, but I think you get the idea.

It’s difficult, as an adult, to think about how hurtful this was. The verbal abuse was constant and occurred no matter what I did or didn’t do. As adults we throw around these words without thinking but imagine saying that to the face of a 13 year old? Imagine a parent saying that to their child? It’s baffling when I think about it now. But in our house, it was acceptable. My mother accepted this behavior.

She Loved Him Very Much

On top of the increased drinking, controlling behavior, and verbal abuse, it is not surprising that this culminated into physical violence. I hesitate talking about it because although it comes off as dramatic, it honestly was not nearly as hurtful as the other abusive behavior that was occurring.

I’ll put it this way. Even now, it does not pain me as much to think about the times John shoved me around, pushed furniture into me, pinned me against the wall, pulled me up by my hair, or hit me across the face. None of that is as painful as remembering my mother’s reaction to seeing all of this. She did nothing. She wasn’t the target of this violence so she silently accepted his actions. She allowed him to hurt her child without objection.


Small Rays of Hope

Turning 16 and getting my driver’s license gave me the freedom to leave the house for sanity, entertainment, and to work. Being of legal working age meant I could now earn my own money; one step closer to independence.

Another glimmer of hope was John getting arrested. During the worst fight at the house, I snuck away and called 911. Let me tell you, calling 911 in this situation is absolutely terrifying. Thankfully the police arrived before John knew they were on their way.

This was the second time the police had been called to our house for domestic violence. They were called out several months earlier but my mother did not press charges. This second time, however, the cops themselves pressed charges and John was arrested for domestic abuse.

He was quickly bailed out of jail by a friend. Although he wasn’t allowed near my mom or me due to a restraining order ,this this did not stop him from writing my mother love letters. She took him back at the end of the summer.

When John came back to the house, going into my senior year of high school, things were different. He knew that if he did anything to me, I could call the police and have him arrested in a second. Living in the house was still unpleasant but having the freedom to drive helped a lot.


Escape

As I mentioned earlier, the town I grew up in is very small. In my high school graduating class of 90, more students graduated while pregnant or already had babies than the number of students who went on to attend a four-year university.

At home, I was actively discouraged from going to college. My mother wanted me to apply to the factory where she worked. John said I was too young to live on my own and that I would surely get myself knocked up being the slut that I am. He said I was allowed to go to the local community college and commute from home.

No one else in my family had attended college, so I had no one to ask for help and of course no support from my mother. I went ahead and applied to colleges anyway.

That summer I had become close friends with a guy I met online. I used my own money and flew out to Michigan to meet him. We clicked and I decided to move out there with him and attend Michigan State University. My mother and John were furious but I was 18 by then and had the legal freedom to go.

To this day, I can’t quite explain why I felt confident about moving so far from my home of upstate NY with complete parental disapproval. Of course, I did not really care for their opinions. I knew I needed to get out of the situation. If I had any apprehension or fears about leaving home in the beginning, there was an incident that pushed me over the edge.

My boyfriend at the time had come to visit me for a week and met my mother and John for the first time. Things went well enough until one day John was drunk and, unprovoked, began cursing at my boyfriend, calling him names, and yelling in his face. When I saw this, it instantly pained my heart to see someone I loved being hurt and treated that way. I jumped right up and threw myself in the middle. My mindset was, I can take your shit, but my boyfriend doesn’t deserve it.

That was when it dawned on me. That moment, when I did everything I could to stop someone I loved from being hurt, was an awakening. It made me realize that my mother did not care about me the way a mother should. She did not protect me the way a mother is supposed to. She did not want me to stay at home because she loved me, she wanted me there to take the brunt of her husband’s anger.

Learning “Normal”

Moving away from my family was exactly the dose of reality I needed. I finally saw how normal families live. I learned that real-life families, not just those on television, do care about each other. Families do talk to each other, politely, encouragingly.

I learned that my family was poor. I learned that I was raised in an extremely negative situation. I learned that I needed supportive people in my life. I learned that I would have to go out of my way to find nurturing relationships. I learned that life wasn’t fair.

One of the more significant influences of my college life and who I am today was my college-boyfriend’s family. They were extremely supportive, loving, and encouraging of everyone in their family. They made dinners, his mom packed lunches, Sunday was pizza night. They were stable. This stability was greatly needed in my life. I had no idea families like this existed. Knowing nothing about me, they accepted me and cared for me. It was the first time I had ever felt loved and a part of a family. Everyone deserves to feel that way.

Another significant influence in my life was the job I had during college. I was hired as the office manager/web designer/director’s assistant at an Arctic Ecology Laboratory on campus. I found it through the campus job board. I worked there all three years of college, working 30+ hours a week. They were flexible with my schedule, allowing me to work around classes. This job provided me not only 3 years of real-world web experience but also life experience opportunities like traveling to Sweden for an Arctic Conference and being in charge of an influential web research project. I needed the income to live, but the professional skills I learned while working there have been invaluable.

It was stressful to work 30+ hours a week, take a 16 credit course load, and worry about having enough money to stay in my apartment and having enough financial aid to continue covering tuition. This is where stubborn determination comes in. I did not have the social life a lot of college students have (so I hear), but I had a boyfriend who loved me, a (pseudo)family who supported me, and a job that would give me an advantage in the work force.

After graduating, I did not have the choice to move back home while looking for a job. I had no one to ask for financial help while “figuring life out.” I needed to keep working. Fortunately, because of my college job, I graduated with four years of professional web experience. I had completed several major projects and had the additional bonus of showing an employer that I did all this while also attending college.

Asking for Help

I am a strong-willed person and that strength pushed me to get out of the abusive situation I was in, but strong-willed or not, living in such a negative place takes a toll on a person that does not stop just by walking away.

It is no surprise that from living in an abusive environment, I was left with self-esteem, trust, and abandonment issues. I stubbornly believed that since I was a college graduate with a successful career, my past was behind me. After running away from this for eight years, I finally asked for help. I wish I had reached out sooner.

Living in a toxic situation is not something anyone can deal with alone and there is nothing wrong with you for seeking out a professional to talk to. Seeing a therapist has been extremely helpful for me. I went because I didn’t want to end up like my mother. I began to notice a pattern in my relationships that I didn’t like and swore to myself I wouldn’t do what she did. I now feel confident that I won’t repeat that cycle.

Even though I have lived my adult life through now without family-support, I would not be where I am today without the support I have received from non-family. In the end, we all want to feel loved and all it takes is some compassion and open arms to help someone who might be going through or has dealt with a painful situation. Everyone deserves to be loved and cared for.


I have learned that my life has been harder than others. I have learned that my life will always be harder than some. This is okay. We can’t control the families we were born in to. Life’s not fair.

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9 Replies to “(Life’s not fair but at least) I’ve Already Been Through the Hard Stuff”

  1. Leslie, I’ve been thinking a lot this Christmas – especially after a conversation I had with David’s aunt yesterday – about how lucky I was to be born into a supportive family. Why are some kids put through the wringer while others have perfectly normal lives? We’ve had this conversation before, but when I think of children growing up in abusive homes, I’m so frightened that they’ll continue the cycle of abuse or choose abusive partners.

    You’re proof that it doesn’t have to happen. I’m so proud of you for sharing your story and for becoming the person you are despite the odds being stacked against you from such a young age. As corny as it sounds, you give me hope. <3

  2. Thank you for sharing.

    I’m just back from Christmas lunch with T’s family (a mishmash of children, parentage, and general family messiness) and find myself wondering what will happen to most of those kids. I hope they’ll find their way to something better and that I can help them climb on up if need be.

    Merry Christmas.

  3. I can relate to some of this as there are some similarities in our backgrounds – and at this point in my life, particularly the “learning normal” portion. That’s what I most think about these days, years later.

    It always amazes how awesome folks with no one in their corner and a lot stacked against them turn out sometimes!

  4. You aren’t at all what he said of you. At all.

    I still don’t know about your conclusions about your mom. It may not be that she didn’t love you enough to stop him, but perhaps that she didn’t love herself enough to believe that she could stop him. I just can’t/don’t want to believe that a mother could put herself above her own child in a “normal” situation.

    You’re right though, you’ve traversed the worse. Keep your chin up.

  5. Hi.

    I feel awkward writing this, because you’ve probably heard of me, but we haven’t actually talked. You posted on the blog of a woman who doesn’t care for me all that much. I decided to read your blog out of curiosity and I’m struck by something we share in common.

    My mom’s ex-boyfriend was an abuser and verbally abused me (thankfully the physical abuse was minimal) and created an unstable and unpleasant situation. My mom did not have the strength to get rid of him, and she put his needs before ours. As a result I have issues with men, and I don’t really trust anyone.

    I’m still searching for that normal family that is so elusive. My mom was very abusive to me and my home life was very unstable. I recently moved out and I’ve been doing much better without the stress of living with that.

    I’m really sorry for what you’ve been through, but I’m amazed by your strength and courage.

    C

    1. Thank you for sharing. I am sorry for what your parents put you through. Since you were strong enough to get out of that situation, I’m sure you will be strong enough to pull the rest of your life together too.

  6. Amid all that you wrote – I also see a rebellious child – one who had issues maybe with a divorce – and one that had trouble with boundries – you mention getting in trouble for coming home late – no sane, loving parent would allow that to slip – nor would they allow children to associate with riff raff – AND they would set limitations on what is allowed in their house – In my home, we did not have what I would call trashy music – or rap – and we did not allow the Simpsons, Southpark, and other shows that either set bad examples or were just plain trashy. In short, we didn’t watch much TV. We did videos – the old VHS tapes. And I actually called the police on my daughter a couple of times when she wasn’t where she was suppose to be and we couldn’t find her. Was it a perfect life? Heck no – but my children are strong – and they are not disrespectful. As they have grown up – they actually have been able to own their own mistakes – amazing – and BTW – I read the diary too.

    1. As an adult, I fully realize the need for discipline and looking out for your child’s best interests, despite the child not liking it. Parents are supposed to protect their children. If our arguments were only over my coming home late from church and dance class, I wouldn’t have anything to write about.

    2. There’s a big difference between punishing your child for staying out late and not telling you where she is and being physically abusive because your kid was out late AT CHURCH. C’mon now.

      My parents also restricted our access to shows like South Park and Beavis and Butthead. We weren’t allowed to listen to hip hop, rap, or lewd pop music. We went to church three times a week, and yes, my mom read my diary multiple times when I was a teenager. Even as an adult, I think this is a gross violation of a young person’s privacy, and it’s very obvious from reading your comment that you are not critiquing Leslie’s childhood but justifying your own behavior where your children are concerned. “Oh, your stepdad wasn’t REALLY abusive, Leslie, because I do the same sorts of things to my kids! So it’s okay!”

      I don’t think a person is an abusive parent for reading their child’s diary. But a person IS abusive if he’s calling his stepdaughter “stupid bitch” and many more unimaginably hurtful names, if he’s hitting her and throwing her against a wall. I feel like we didn’t even read the same blog post if the conclusion you came to was that Leslie is rebellious and her stepdad’s actions were okay.

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