Recently I listened to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy via audiobook through my online public library. While my family doesn’t really fall into the ‘hillbilly’ category, it does fall into the substance abuse realm which is what Vance dealt with his mom. His mom had grown up with her father being an alcoholic. Much of his descriptions about his life really hit home with me on this realm. Except it was my father not my mother.
I have another blog that is completely anonymous, I don’t post it to my social media, I don’t put in any identifying items that it could be tied back to me. I’ve used it to write about my painful past, especially growing up with a schizophrenic, alcoholic father without upsetting my family or having people feel sorry for me. The purpose was to reach others in my situation so that maybe in some small way, I could help them.
Recently, a visit with a maternal aunt revealed that after my parents divorced, my dad had gone off the deep end. So much so, that he was phoning in bomb threats to my mom’s work which threatened her job. He’d call everyone he knew and act like he was in Vietnam (he never served overseas) and all this batshit crazy stuff. My maternal grandmother grew so tired of it and being from Youngstown, Ohio, she considered hiring a hit man to rid us all of his shit. If you know my grandmother, you’d not even blink an eye at this. I was in my mid-teens when this was happening and my dad died seventeen years ago yesterday, June 2. So from say age 14 till I was thirty-two, and really all the years before, my dad created havoc in lives all around him. He cheated on my mom at least after my sister was born and maybe before. He did crazy shit like get drunk and karate chop a priest at a family member’s wedding reception.
Essentially, my dad needed to be institutionalized. He should have never been allowed to live among polite society acting so god damned crazy and it’s amazing he didn’t hurt or kill someone else in one of his paranoid phases. My dad could have easily been one of those people who had procured an automatic weapon and shot up a crowd. And no, it wouldn’t have been the gun’s fault, it would have been my crazy ass f’ing father’s fault. That and the lack of mental health care. When your ex-mother-in-law is considering hiring a hit man, you are a burden on society. Part of me, when I learned this little historic tidbit, sat and thought about how much easier all our lives would have been without my father running lose. I realize that may seem insensitive or cruel but my dad didnt’ want to get better, he wanted to live in his victim mentality disrupting everyone’s lives because he had been enabled his entire life to act like a freaking idiot. People tried to help him. I don’t know how many times he had been in and out of programs. He was given medication for his mental illness but refused to stay on it. Because if he did, he would have had to been a responsible adult like the rest of us and he wanted to be special, even if it meant hurting the people he claimed to love.
My paternal cousin, Chad, whose mother was my dad’s sister, lived the same hell I did and even more because he had to live with his alcoholic parent even past her divorcing his father. We’ve become close over the past few years, helping each other through our healing process which has been eerily similar. He’s more my brother than cousin. He mentioned how the neighboring dairy farm had bought our paternal grandparents small dairy farm after my grandmother moved into town. Recently, someone built a beautiful home on their old homesite. This farm served as a safe haven for my cousin and I where many of our happiest childhood memories reside. At first, it seemed sad that someone built there but then when I thought about it, I’m glad someone loved the little hill they lived on enough to build a nice home there. The family that bought the land were always kind to us, which makes it even better. But my father had been bitter about the sale of ‘the home place’ and for the longest time, I mirrored his feeling and now I just think, well if you wanted it so damned bad, you should have worked to get better, get a job and buy it.
Vance in his Hillbilly Elegy book laid out his crazy family’s skeletons for all to see but he rose above his upbringing with the help and encouragement of his hillbilly grandmother. But mainly, he brought to light how his relationship with his mother had to be distant, and while he tried to help her, he stopped being pulled into her drama. He made sure to put his well-being and family first. At one point, he called out his mother by telling her what a ‘shitty mother’ she had been. But the best point was how his mother’s brother and sister both chose to live better lives while his mom went the route of drug and alcohol abuse. He doesn’t sugar coat the fact that his mother made that choice and that he came to the point he was done suffering because of those choices. That he went beyond where he was from, the tough circumstances he lived to go to Yale law school. He could have chosen to stay in Middletown, Ohio, and work in a dying factory. But he didn’t.
Yesterday, we attended my cousin’s daughter’s high school graduation party. I was sitting there surrounded by family, watching the excitement of his daughter at graduating high school, when it hit me. I have everything in life I could ever want. My daughters are happy and healthy as well as responsible members of society. I live in my ‘dream’ house which is modest compared to what most consider their dream homes. But my closest neighbor is a quarter of a mile away, I have views of rolling country side and can walk out any of my doors without having neighbors disturb my peace. I own everything material I could ever want or more. My health is good (knock on wood), I have a wonderful husband and a great job. I have great friends, supportive family and so on. Why do I choose to keep dredging up my past? Yeah it was tough, but it’s over.
Now it’s my turn to make a choice, and today I closed out my anonymous blog with a final post. I chose to leave that past behind me and embrace today. My tumultuous upbringing wasn’t fair nor was it a safe, loving environment at times but I survived. Yesterday was seventeen years since my father died on June 2, 2002. I think today is a good day to move on.
I chose to let it all go and not be defined by my past. I chose to be happy and to live in today. I chose happiness over perfection. I chose gratitude over self-pity. I am a survivor and I am also very blessed. I am letting it go….