My journey to find out who I am and where I fit in took me places I never imagined. Twisted, dark and deadly places. How I found the light and the will to make it through is undeniably a miracle, and a blessing. Given the chance to live my life sober, I now have the opportunity to show others it can be done, and lead the way.
You know how they say that some people peak in high school? Yeah, that’s not me. To be honest, I don’t think I have yet reached that point, which is disheartening and exciting at the same time. I feel like I’m finally in a good place and on my way to better things, but the road I took to get here is as crooked and twisted as San Francisco’s Lombard Street.
My childhood seemed as normal as anyone else’s – from the outside. Over 50% of marriages in the 1980’s ended in divorce, so it wasn’t unusual to be from a blended home. After the divorce both parent’s remarried, and each spouse had children of their own. Before that I had been an only child.
My parents had been high school sweethearts, married young, and fully intended on having a family. Busy with careers and education, they didn’t think much of the empty nursery in their home until their own siblings were popping out kids one after another. While waiting for their own bundle of joy they decided to foster children and teens and were very involved in community programs for kids.
Almost 10 years into their marriage, and still without child, a social worker from the county suggested an option they’d never thought of before. Adoption. There were some hesitations from the family but they knew this was the only way they were going to have a child of their own, so they ventured on.
One day the call came, and my parents were told to take a two hour journey North and a 4-week old newborn would be waiting for them. They were to look her over, count her fingers and toes and make sure she was what they wanted, because she could be their daughter.
She was perfect, this was the baby they’d been waiting on for years. They named her Bethany and took her home, where their family rejoiced that their dream had finally come true.
Fast forward two years, and the happy little family they had worked so hard to create was falling apart. Divorce papers were signed, and that happy little family was torn in two, with me right smack in the middle.
I had always known I was adopted, it was never regarded as a stigma. Everyone knew, and in fact it became my identity. A student, a daughter, a step-sibling… But more than that I was adopted. It was something that made me different and unique. In a world where I felt like I was living in the shadows, being adopted gave me a momentary spotlight.
In my earlier years I was that awkward kid that tried to get attention in weird ways. Putting on plays with McDonald’s happy meal toys. Choreographing a dance that only I thought was rad. It always felt like I was being observed, like a bug in a jar. ‘Who is this specimen we have here? She’s quite a peculiar thing isn’t she?’ I still saw the wonder in the world, as only kids do, and I was naive enough to believe that others would see it too. After many failures of trying to capture the heart and attention of my audiences, I gave up, and the wonder of the world fizzled out.
As I got older I wasn’t outgoing or very popular. I had a few close friends but preferred to stick close to home; my sanctuary, the only place I felt like I could really be myself. I was quiet, shy and reserved unless you were in my close circle. My childhood awkwardness only got worse as I entered my teenage years. I was put down, let down and shut out from people I thought were friends, and even family.
Every six months I assumed a new identity. For half of the year I was at a home where things were pretty laid back, there were limited rules and I had the freedom to express my feelings. The second half of the year was filled with rules and structure, but also felt lonely and oppressed, like I was to be seen and not heard. And sometimes, not even seen. It also meant my personality had to switch every time I made the move from one house to another. Those first few weeks of the switch were the worst and really messed with my head.
My parents grew to loathe each other and I spent a lot of time trying to make peace between the two. It hurt to see one or both of them upset or angry, so I tried to distract them and hoped they would forget about whatever issue they were fuming from. I’m not sure if it really worked, but I developed some great mediation skills at least.
I’m not saying that my entire childhood was a big bummer, because there were good times. Plenty of them. Road trips, camping, summers at the lake, Disney World, snowmobiling, backyard ice skating rinks. Holiday’s were the best: Coloring eggs and Easter egg hunts. Finding or making the perfect Halloween costume – my favorite was the year my mom made me into Ariel from the Little Mermaid, with a homemade mermaid tail and all. That had been my all-time favorite movie as a child. For years I believed I was a mermaid because everyone said I could swim like a fish and I lived in the water every summer. Every Christmas Eve my mom and I would take a drive to look for Santa’s sleigh, which you could usually find by looking for Rudolph’s red blinking nose. 😉 Those are the things that made childhood so vivid, so colorful and magical.
Around the time I entered high school I started gaining more confidence in myself, becoming more aware of who I was as a person. I was a good student, respectful to my teachers and other students, responsible driver, and a hard worker.
A few boys noticed me and I liked the attention, but then again I didn’t. It was alright if they noticed me from a distance but having to hold a conversation with someone (especially a boy!) made me sweat bullets and trip over my tongue like that old wolfy cartoon character.
Turning 16 and becoming a licensed driver is where I gained my independence. I was capable of taking myself to school and to work with my little red tin can on wheels. That thing was indestructible, and I proved it by taking it to the pits with all the boys with their big tire trucks where we went hill climbing and muddin’. I drove that little Subaru to the top where we had our bonfires, the boys had beer and the girls had Schnapps or Hot 100. (puke)
Even when I had knee surgery at 14 – stupid trampolines – I didn’t like taking pain meds because they made me feel fuzzy, and I didn’t like anything that made me feel less than clear headed. I had daily headaches and kidney stones in my teen years also, but never took anything for pain. Not even Tylenol. And although I did drink a few times, I hated the taste. It was more important to me that I got my Certified Nursing Assistant license and then the job at the hospital. That was my priority, and that’s exactly what I did. I loved working at the hospital and knew that my life’s ambitions were to finish high school, attend college, finish medical school and become a cardiac surgeon. I had it all planned out.
Unfortunately that’s not how things turned out.
I was six months pregnant when I walked onto that stage to receive my diploma. Only my close friends and family knew because I hid it well. Not even my teachers knew. I wore a lot of baggy sweatshirts and bib overalls which were in-style at the time, thank God. It probably saved me from a lot of stares and whispering classmates.
What did my parents think? My dad, who comes from a family that firmly believes in marriage before children, was obviously disappointed. I went to see him on his lunch break at work to deliver the news, and it physically pained me to see his reaction. The last thing I ever wanted was to be a disappointment to my dad. (Little did he know, I would be full of disappointments over the years.)
My mom took the news better. She cried, but they weren’t sad tears. She said, “I knew you got hit with that idiot stick.”
After I had my son I quit my job at the hospital with the intention of returning to work when he was a few months old. My mom, having a childcare center in her home, told me she would love to watch my baby when I went to work. But I never went back. I found that I liked being a mom, and that it was too hard to hand my son over to someone else to care for, day after day. Even if it was my mom.
The feeling I got when I looked into this tiny human’s eyes was pure love. Such a huge feeling that I’d never felt before. I knew that he counted on me to care for him, love him and protect him, and that melted away all the years of not fitting in, not knowing who I was or where I belonged. He gave me my reason and I was going to be the best mom I could be.
What comes next in my life are the happiest and most successful years I have known, followed by the darkest and deadliest. If someone would have told me that I would battle addiction hard and fast as well as spend a considerable amount of time incarcerated, I would tell them they’re crazy. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine myself going down the road I followed, but nonetheless, it was all too real.
Join me for the next chapter in my life, where things get crazy, and life takes a drastic turn in the wrong direction:
Buckle Up, It’s Going to Be a Bumpy Ride – Introduction Part 2