By Candace Schoner
My love for writing goes back to my early childhood. It served as my voice when I could not speak the truth out loud. We didn’t have a lot of money back then, so I saved every penny of my weekly allowance to pay for my little black diary which I kept hidden under my bed. Despite being the youngest of four siblings, my diary became my best friend. Every night before I went to sleep, I would write about my innermost thoughts.
As the youngest child raised by an alcoholic father and narcissistic mother who argued constantly, I tried hard to remain invisible at home and at school. It was a lonely existence and having a place to share my feelings, even if it was only on paper, made it bearable.
Decades later, through therapy, I learned that my childhood experience, psychologically speaking, was considered a “trauma.” How could that be? I was not kidnapped, sexually abused, beaten, or tortured by anyone. I did not lose a limb to an injury, an illness, or war. Yet, deep inside me are scars that may never heal completely.
Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. It can also be described as personal trauma like the death of a child. In my case, I lived in constant fear of not knowing when my parents' arguments would turn violent and require police intervention.
Living with an unpredictable alcoholic father felt like living in a war zone. By the time I turned 15 and went off to college, my father had broken several windows, punched multiple holes in the walls, and nearly killed my mother by throwing her down a flight of stairs.
As a child, I could not understand why she stayed married to someone who abused her both mentally and physically.
Most of the time when they argued, I would curl-up in the dark under my bed covers trying to drown out the terrifying sounds. On one occasion, when I heard my mother falling down the steps after my father threatened to kill her, I came out of hiding and intervened on her behalf, pleading with my father to stop his tirade and just leave. As far as I know, that was the last time he physically abused my mom. Unfortunately, the mental abuse continued all through their marriage.
You may be wondering what my other siblings were doing during these violent episodes. The oldest two usually stayed after school or went to a friends' home to study. My middle sister usually fled the scene before it got too ugly.
As the youngest child, I felt it was my job to keep the peace, using humor to deflect from my father’s anger which grew the more he drank. If my father were a child, then alcohol was his pacifier. Whenever he was stressed or overly tired, he would reach for a bottle of vodka or gin, like a child grabbing for their pacifier.
The truth is, as memory serves me, my father was either angry, depressed, or deliriously happy. He had high highs and low lows. If he were still alive today, his diagnosis would probably be bipolar disorder. Eventually, his excessive drinking, unhealthy eating habits, and three heart attacks led to his early death at age 60.
One of my biggest fears growing up was that I would turn out like my dad; an angry alcoholic, working 60-hours a week just to pay bills. Lucky for me, I was not interested in alcohol or any illegal substances. However, I did inherit his entrepreneur spirit and mood disorder.
It’s amazing that after all this time, I still feel the anger, disappointment, and sadness associated with my adolescence years. Yet, I am somewhat thankful too because it gave me strength that I didn’t know was possible.
When I think back, which I try not to do often, I realize that my mother was not blameless. She could have done a better job at protecting me and my siblings. To this day, she and I never talk about my childhood or my biological father. It’s like it never happened.
At times, I want to clear the air and ask her why she stayed in an abusive relationship. I want to tell her how pissed off I am at her and what an awful mother she was but I can’t. I can’t because she is a 91 year old narcissist who has out-lived two husbands, her parents, five siblings, all of her friends, and most recently her son, my brother. Confronting her now would not change the past or the future.
So for now, I bite my tongue and continue to keep the peace. After all, it is easier for me to write about my childhood trauma than to speak it out loud.