Jimmy reached out to me to share his experience of how his childhood blew up because his parents were incapable of considering him and his brother during and after their ugly divorce.
I am sharing my story in the hope that it stops someone from doing the same.
Initially, I grew up a free-range child in a loving family in a small town in America. I was super smart and my parents supported my love of academics. I loved school, skipped grades, and won a few competitions. Dad infused me with his love of music, and we would spend hours together surrounded by vinyl. My brother and I were real close and would play in the yard or ride our bikes through town. It was the 70s and my parents practiced traditional family values.
Life was good and I felt loved and safe.
Soon after my 10th birthday we moved into a new home and from out of nowhere, my parents started arguing incessantly. Mum was screaming all the time and we no longer felt safe indoors. My brother and I would wait until the last possible moment to come in for dinner. Things got crazy volatile and Dad moved out but would come home for a week or two and then leave again. It was a confusing time for us, until one day she kicked Dad out for good.
For the first time in her life, Mum had to work. Dad, raised in the 50s had to learn to take care of himself in all aspects. We would spend weekends in his messy apartment in town, but at least he tried his best to take care of us. I don't know why, but Mum started a public hate propaganda campaign against Dad. She claimed he abused her and encouraged the community to believe that he was abusive. In a small town, this is social suicide and Dad never fought back, he just let everyone push him around. I felt I had to support my mother and stand up for her. I wanted to believe her even though I knew it was a lie. She manipulated us daily.
Mum was rich in drama
One day she sat us down and says, 'Your Dad is coming home so I can get more money.' This was the defining moment when I started to question her motives, how could she do this? By this time, I had become a confused, depressed, suicidal teenager. I often lashed out at her, man I was enraged. I don't know what Dad was thinking, but he came home and the fighting picked up where they left off.
Life got so bad that my brother and I had to see a psychologist, who forced me into expressing my feelings in front of my brother. It was wrong! I didn't want to add more to my little brother's load by sharing mine, and anyway, therapy was supposed to be private and confidential. I refused to return. Turns out my brother had been abused by the local Pastor and he reacted by causing trouble, skipping school, and being aggressive.
Neither of us were safe.
Eventually, Mum filed for divorce, and her lawyer asked us to testify against Dad in court. The asshole psychologist had shared my private sessions with Mum, who wanted to weaponise my struggles to paint Dad as an abuser! I was only 14.
With Dad out of the house, I took on the male role and she made me the dad. Mum had been in an accident when I was younger and had become addicted to painkillers. Her addiction worsened and I found myself caring for my brother, cooking, cleaning and maintaining the house repairs whilst she was passed out in bed. The neglect was real. This affected my education tremendously and I started to play truant. The town had turned against Dad and with neither of them speaking to each other, I became their messenger.
Do you think your dad was aware of your reality?
Maybe? He was such a weak man and I never talked to him about any of it at the time, I don't think my brother did either. After their divorce, we barely spoke for about four years. I stopped seeing him and when he met my step-mum I felt even more displaced, like there was no space for me in his new family. He had two stepdaughters whom he cared for and whose dad was out of the picture.
He was the dad I used to have.
None of our extended family reached out to help, and nobody stepped in to protect us. Sometimes we would stay with our grandparents, but our neglect was ignored. Mum started working as a nurse and had even more drug options which she brought home from work. I started drinking and experimenting with drugs, heroin, crack, you name it. It was a lot. My brother was caught breaking and entering, arrested, and institutionalised. Juvi was a school for con men and when he came out he was even more skilled.
Mum somehow met a man and re-married within three months. She married him two weeks after Dad married, maybe she was making a statement. They are still very much together. My stepdad is a piece of work to this day. I had to move in with them to his condo and with my brother still in the correction facility, I got all the abuse. I was 17 and living with an addict for a mum and a verbally abusive stepdad who constantly yelled at me that I was a piece of shit and would amount to nothing. The guy would wake me at 4:30 a.m. just to insult me.
I cracked, moved out, lived on the streets, and ate out of dumpsters. Whenever I was offered, I would crash on someone's sofa. The parents of a good friend found out and took me in. They helped me clean up and encouraged me to graduate High School. Can you imagine that once brilliant child was coasting through life? I recently found out that I had been offered a scholarship to some fast-track school-to-university program which my mother turned down because she didn't want to organise transport. She never even told Dad.
Did your dad know you were living like this?
I don’t know, but even if he did, and even if it wasn’t true, I didn't feel welcome in his new life. Meanwhile, my Mum and her husband managed to keep my brother in the juvenile detention centre for over a year, cashing in his child support. They got sued by the state for fraud. They continued to cash in mine after I left. A good $20k of money we never saw and money that would have helped my adopted family feed and clothe me.
When my brother was released he had to live with Mum, and she never allowed him out after school. We barely spoke and sadly became strangers. All I know is he got married, divorced, and still engages in illegal activities.
I was later diagnosed with clinical depression, but I never took it seriously. I believed I could keep myself alive by resolving my issues alone. My gifted mind kept me surviving by over-rationalising, and my self-control limited my drug abuse and saved me unlike so many of my friends who OD'd. I still smoke a lot of weed to numb out. When I am ready I will process the trauma, but it’s a deep well and therapy costs a lot of money. I wouldn't mind therapy, it's the mature thing to do.
How are things now?
I haven't spoken to Mum in years. Every time I started to excel, she would do her best to break me down. She has no interest in my life or my achievements unless she can abuse me. My stepdad would call and leave nasty messages for no reason, so I changed my number because their abuse never ends.
About my Dad; one day I picked up the phone and called him. I confronted him and vented everything. It opened the door to a relationship after not speaking all those years. It's sad that Mum created this divide between us when we had been so close. I had wrongly believed there was no room in his life for me, that I genuinely thought being homeless was a better option at the time. This was the impression that was given. My step-mum is my mum, she is an amazing, warm, and loving woman. She shared with me that Dad had waited for me to come around and that it had to be on my terms.
It's also sad that I went from being one of the 1% gifted and talented to being a bored student that coasted along, never feeling like I belonged. Mum destroyed that for me, but I love what I do today and the people I have met along the way have been kind and inspirational.
If you could go back in time, what would you say to your parents?
This is to all parents before during and after divorce.
This is your problem, not a kid's thing. You should grow up and learn to handle it like adults. Don’t put your kids in the middle and tear down their world.
And to the psychologist?
What the fuck, unethical, you shouldn’t have a license.
Today I am married to an amazing woman who took the time to get to know me and allowed me the space to show her all of me. She knows my mother and my stepdad. She has seen and heard their abuse and knows that keeping them far away keeps me safe.
I thank the kind people who stepped in and helped me during my turbulent years. Their warmth and generosity has been invaluable to me. If you know a kid going through hell, throw them a lifeline. You might just save a life.
If you want to share your story or you are a professional who wants to share some insights, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org