Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My neglected adolecence

My dad never beat me. My dad never sexually abused me, for these things, I am lucky, very lucky. I am also lucky that for the first 9 years of my life, I had a parent invested in me, and for 2 years after the death of my mother, I at least had a nuclear family, flawed as it was. I was not abused, but I was neglected, and even the neglect was mild in the spectrum of child neglect. I lived in a house dirty enough that it could be on a news program, my father filled the house with cigarette smoke, and he ignored me, and my development, from the ages of 12/13-18, when I was finally able to ignore him too.

I always had food, though not vegetables until I started eating lean cuisines. The power was never shut off, and though my dad would lay passed out on the porch with the door unlocked, I had shelter. But my dad was drunk. Passed out drunk, from the time he got home from work until I went to bed. His ex-wife died, then he had to become a full time parent, then his second wife left him, and he started drinking tequila sunrises "to relax." In no time they became tequila & OJ, then just tequila, then skip the glasses, then at least half a bottle a day. He broke some ribs from trying to get down the stairs to go to the bathroom, which he told me, unaware of how hearing your father broke his ribs is not funny, but traumatic.

When I look back, from my "safe place" I forget how traumatic it all was for me. When I have a hard time commiting myself to anyone but the perfect man, I kick myself, thinking I am being irrational, and I forget that I am where I am for a reason, and my avoiding trusting men has been a survival instinct that has served me, and kept me safe, and was due to the trauma of my childhood. A pink spot on my shoulder has given me a reminder of what my childhood was like.

In jr. high I got an itch on my arm. Where the itch was turned pink, and started to have little bumps on it. I dont remember if I told my dad or not, I probably did, but most of the time when I talked to my dad he would say "uh-huh" or "oh?" and obviously be ignoring every word I said.

The little red patch grew over time, it grew bigger than a cherry tomato. I was terribly embarrassed by this strange blotch on my arm, but somehow did not feel I had any control over it, so I just lived with it. I probably avoided sleeveless shirts, and just went on with life, feeling like I was hideous and diseased. One day my grandma and aunt took out a health book and compared the pictures to my rash. They decided it was something called "rosy ring" and I don't remember what happened next. All I remember is that once I was at a doctor, we found out it was ringworm, a very common and very easy to treat fungal infection. It is very common with people who own cats.

That was a nuanced example of my neglect. One I didn't recognize at the time, but one that seems glaringly obvious now. If your child has a rash on their body that lasts for months, and grows, you take them to the doctor. If you cant afford a doctor, you take them to a free clinic. If you cant afford a free clinic you experiment with different creams until it goes away.

Last week I had a red bump on my shoulder the size of a pimple. It didnt go away in a day or two like a pimple or a bug bite, it grew. When I got home from my trip I put some anti fungal on it and after a week it is almost gone. Not sure how I got ringworm again, but I was just at a home with cats, and I am sure my immune system is pretty weak because I havent been eating or sleeping well lately. It was just so easy. I tried with a little anti-fungal cream and solved the problem. The point is I noticed the problem.

I will say this. I did get to the doctor when I pushed my dad to take me. When I was 17 or 18 and had my suicide note written (I was intelligent and and observant enough at that age to know that "suicidal ideation" is a sign that depression is at a dangerous point) and when I went, the doctor prescribed Zoloft for me, and my life began to turn around for me.

My dad hated the term "dysfunctional family" for good reason. A term like that drew attention to the fact that I wasn't getting what I needed as a child, that him giving me food & shelter and saying "I trust you" wasnt the equivelent to making and enforcing rules.

Thank god for my mom's social security, tons of therapists and medication, and family members who didnt take me out of my nightmare home, but at least paid attention to me. And to my grandma and aunt, who actually noticed that children shouldnt have large rashes on their arms, and opened a book about health, telling me that I matter enough that I shouldnt have skin diseases.

Say a prayer to your preferred diety(ies) for the children who suffer through so much worse

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