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The Younger Years

The Younger Years

Let me give you some background about my family.  We lived with my maternal grandparents from birth until age 4.  After that, we lived in a house that we rented on the same block as my grandparents and right next door to my uncle.  My grandparents on my mother's side were from eastern Kentucky.  They lived in the hills between the Pine and Black mountains.  My grandfather was a coal miner and walked through a coal mine to get to work each day.  My grandmother raised nine children and managed to work outside the home in a store.  They moved to Louisville, KY when my mother was six years old.

Moving was quite an undertaking for my grandparents.  My grandfather and one uncle came to Louisville before the rest of the family to secure jobs and housing to live.  To me, my grandparents were awesome!  They were the example of what I wanted my family to be like.  That are committed to each other, trustworthy, hardworking, loving, and predictable.

There was one more key item in the family that I wanted…a dad.  If you notice, I have not mentioned him yet, and that is because he was not in the picture.  He was incarcerated, and I didn't know him at an early age.  I didn’t have a chance to bond with him.  When he finally came home from prison, he was too busy getting high and drunk to think about his family.  I never received love from my dad, and for this reason, I made myself feel unwanted.

There were a few other concepts that I wanted in my family.  They were not to go to bed hungry, feel safe in my home (not fear my father’s voice), and live in a loving and trusting environment.

I think because we lived in a screwed-up and dysfunctional household, I became creative and good at problem-solving, and this leads me to develop unhealthy coping skills like disassociating, splitting, and withdrawing.


Disassociating is an experience of having one's attention and emotional state disconnected from the environment.  Dissociating is something I did a lot as a child.  I could be somewhere…yet not be there.  Disconnecting was handy when the screaming and hitting took place because my mind would “check out.”  Disconnecting is not so useful today when I am trying to work through stressful situations with my therapist or husband.

Splitting is also known as black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking.  Splitting is a common defense mechanism for people with borderline personality disorder.  The idea that a person or situation is “all good” or “all bad” and there are no shades of gray can be quite confusing for the individual being labeled.  The person who was once idolized has now become bad, sometimes even evil, and deserving of some punishment.

Withdrawal or what is called a “quiet borderline” behavior is characterized by the tendency to avoid unfamiliar, people, places, or situations.  During times of isolation, my thoughts and emotions would turn dark and confusing.


When I was home, I was working in my mind the next angle of how I was going to handle my father’s anger.  Remember that anger comes from fear.  Whenever you find yourself angry just ask yourself one question, what am I afraid of?  One of the crucial steps to controlling anger is controlling your fear.  For example, Robert says he doesn’t want to talk right now.  My fear could be the following irrational beliefs.  What have I done for Robert to want to be angry at me?  Does Robert even want to be around me ever again? Well if he doesn’t want to be around me then “screw him”.  The truth is I can make up anything in my mind using anger to mask my fears and vulnerabilities.


My father must have been afraid of everything because he showed anger all the time.  Remember, anger is the fight part of the fight-or-flight response to the threat.  My father was angry that he was adopted, that he went to prison, that he had children, that my mom loved us, and so on and so on.  He was a mean and angry person and was abusive mentally and physically.

Sometimes Dad would spend our money intended for groceries or gas to buy drugs and alcohol.  We were on food stamps to assist us at this time.  The one thing that I remember very vividly about being on food stamps is the taste and thick consistency of the powdered milk.  I also was embarrassed even then about the stigma of getting help from the government.  When my father spent money to get his next “high,” then my mom would take extra shifts at work to earn more money.

My mom did the best she could with what little help and resources she had.  Mom found a job working 3rd shift at a meat packing plant.  She first worked in the bacon room at the plant and always smelled like bacon when she came home.  Her days were very labored both physically and mentally during these times as she provided for my family.  My mother’s time was very limited to what she could devote to my brother and me.

I have one older brother who was 18 months older than me.  John, my brother, and I went to daycare since we were six weeks old until we were ready for school.  Even after that, we spent the summers at the same daycare because mom was working.

My brother and I were close.  No one outside the family dares mess with the other one without both of us getting even.  With that being said, my brother and I fought all the time.  Why?  The only reason I can think of is that our parents fought all the time and we did not know any other means of conflict resolution.  One example of our fighting was when I was six, and he was about 7-8.  We were fighting in the bedroom over a toy truck, and after a mound of frustration, I went to hit and bite him.  He reached for the first thing he saw, which was a screwdriver, and landed one blow.  The next thing I know is that I feel the warm feeling of something oozing down my cheek. I raised my hand to my face to see what it was.  My hand was covered in red, and it resulted in me screaming "bloody murder” and burying my head in a pillow.  My parents came in, and they knew before they entered the room that this was not a normal scream.  They saw the red on the pillow, scooped both of us up, and drove like Jehu to the hospital in an old beat-up Volkswagen bug.

The hospital ride seemed like it took forever.  I was screaming, and my parents were trying to find out what happened to me between sobs.  The funny thing is that I only needed a couple of stitches for the wound  Not only did I need very few stitches, but the doctors had to quit stitching me up to take care of my brother who was in shock from it all.  When it was all over, I was more upset about my head being shaved on top, so I wore a snowball hat to school in the middle of spring.  So this was our family dynamics.

My mom made my dad get a job eventually, and he started working as a grounds person at the University of Louisville.  He had jobs before which only lasted for a few days to a couple of weeks.  However, Mom told him that he better keep this job or she would leave him.  He was never motivated to do anything for as long as I can remember except drugs and alcohol.

One would think having our father back in our lives would be a positive thing, but it wasn't.  It wasn’t good since my parents fought with each other and struggled financially.  Sometimes the fighting was physical.  I remember hearing them in the other room cursing at each other and the smacks and bumps that came from hitting or throwing things.  I would pretend that it wasn't happening. I would hide in my closet and drift into nothingness.  Sometimes I would imagine that I was outside playing with our pets.

The one thing that I loved about my pets is that they did not judge or reject me.  They comforted me during difficult times.  The idea of someone rejecting me was constantly in my mind.  Probably because I never really felt any acceptance from my parents.  I knew Mom loved me and Dad was another story, but I always felt as though I was the “black sheep” or outcast of the family.

Speaking of pets, I had many pets and strange animals as a child.  I believed that my dad thought anything weird would give him attention and he was mostly correct.  We had a wolf hybrid, a skunk, hamsters, squirrels, and various other critters.  The two pets that I relied on the most for comfort were my dogs and my hamsters.

Angel was our dog, a wolf hybrid mixed with a Belgian Shepherd.  She was larger than life to me.  She did not like my parents fighting and would pace back and forth when she heard them yelling. She even got in between Dad and us kids when he had a “rage fest.”  That is what I called his grown-up temper tantrums.

I had known Angel since I could crawl and she would let us do just about anything to her.  We could pull her fur to stand up for example, and she tolerated just about everything.  One day, I took a branch from a tree and hit her with it.  She never did anything until about the 3rd or 4th hit.  Then she was lightning-quick, and before I knew it, she had nipped my lip, and I was crying.  Not so much from the pain but from the fact that she had bitten me.  That was the last time I hit her with a stick

My hamsters were only rodents to others, but to me, I saw them as kings of their cages and named my first one George.  Not much for originality but he had a noble name.  I always took him with me.  I even snuck him to school a couple of times. He would climb in and out of my pockets searching for the next treat tucked away somewhere in my shirt.  George would soon be an example of how cruel life could be.

I started figuring out at a young age that things were not "good" at home. The louder the yelling got, the more removed from reality I got.  The louder the hitting was, the more I tried to be absent from home.  Remember, I was the creative one.  I would hide anywhere a scrawny six-year-old could fit her little self into, but most of the time I would hide in my closet or under my bed.

My closet was only about four by four feet deep.  It had several toys thrown in it from where my brother and I “cleaned” our room.  The clothes on hangers reached down to the stack of toys.  It was the perfect place for me to hide.  I would sit on the stack of toys like playing King of the Mountain.  Then I would hide behind the clothes like walking through the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’s books.  After that, I would imagine what it would be like for the shouting to stop.  I would take George out of my pocket and hold him until I fell asleep.