Google, “An Open Letter To…” and you will find plenty of articles. This trend has allowed people to address their feelings and share their stories with others that have had similar experiences. The ones I find most luring are the ones about abuse. I relate to the pain, the hopelessness, and the strength when you find your voice again.
However, one thing that’s always missing is the part where this person who has hurt you is your family member. There is usually a section saying to rely on your family, or remember that people love you, but I can’t read that part without rolling my eyes or feeling sick.
What if the people who let you down are the ones you’re supposed to trust? Not the ones that you want to trust, or fall in love with, or see as your family, but the ones that are actually your family.
Most people I know can’t relate to this. Even if they didn’t grow up in the best circumstances, they knew they were loved. They can call their parents when they need help and know they’ll at least get sympathy. I am not one of those lucky people.
Some background: I grew up with teenage parents who never married–and hated each other. My mother had suffered abuses of her own, while my father had a pretty normal childhood. I am the oldest, with my twin brother being a minute younger. I also have three half-siblings, but two of them were born after I was already a teenager.
For as long as I can remember, I have been depressed. My grandmother tells me that even as a child I seemed sad and closed-off at times. My twin and my younger sister both have behavioral disorders, whether from nurture or nature, I have no idea. But all of this, I’m sure, was not easy for a young, single mother to deal with on top of her own issues.
First, let me say that I love my mother and respect her for everything she has been through and how she has succeeded in life—but she has anger problems. It wasn’t until I went away to college that the knot in my stomach, that I didn’t know was there, disappeared.
My siblings and I were always on edge, never knowing what she would be mad about, not wanting her to yell. The anxiety you feel in these situations as a child is unreal, because you don’t understand any of it. You blame yourself.
I always just wanted her to be happy and to please her. I would clean before she got home from work, yell at my sister for not helping me, yell at my siblings for making her mad, because they weren’t “smart” enough to know how to keep her calm.
I see now that I was just too observant. They were trying to be children and not worry about anything but having fun, while I just added to all of our stress. It’s something that I resent now, because I’m sure my siblings would have liked me a lot more if I hadn’t felt the need to do that.
All of these ways that I tried to help my mother made me her favorite. I always got more toys or clothes when we went shopping, I got the better presents, and she yelled at me a whole lot less. Still, though, living in a household where things are barely ever peaceful, where one day is so much different from the next, when you have to grow up years before you should have to, is a lot for a child to deal with.
I don’t want to rag on my mother, but let me tell one story that might make people who think I’m being ungrateful or dramatic understand: My brother was sent away by Children’s Services for a multitude of reasons, mostly his bad behavior at school, so it was just my sister and I living at home.
We fought constantly, never agreeing on anything. My memory is not perfect, but I remember we were up fighting after our bedtime and our mother was getting pissed. At one point, she came back to our room for the second or third time and I talked back to her about something. I was mad at my sister, who had caused the fight, and because I was older I was getting blamed.
My mother picked me up and held me against the wall in our hallway, by my neck. I cannot remember what she said, but I will never forget her red, angry face, yelling so much that spit was hitting my face. In that moment, I thought she was going to kill me.
Even writing this, it seems like it happened to someone else and not me. I have other, less violent, stories like this, some having nothing to do with my mother, and when I’m reminded of them I forget how uncommon it is. I will bring it up in conversation, to a new friend or boyfriend, and they just stare. I’m not sure if they feel bad or they don’t believe me, because for them it sounds crazy. It’s impossible that a parent would do that to their children, right?
My father has never hit me, never really yelled at me much either, but he and his family didn’t do anything to stop what was happening either. There were months in my childhood I didn’t see my father because I was such a sensitive child, I couldn’t stand to be around him and his family because they joked around so much. I was a child who couldn’t take a joke and preferred an unstable household.
I’ve had friends, roommates, and other family members tell me my whole life that you can’t choose your parents. They told me I had to learn to deal with how they were. I was made to feel that I just didn’t get lucky and you should always respect your parents, no matter what, so I never complained about it for a long time.
How do you grow up “normal” when your life hasn’t been that way? It affects you in ways you can’t imagine. I rebelled, did drugs, self-harmed, tried to commit suicide.
I had a college roommate tell me when I was suffering from severe depression, “Just get better. Fix your problems and stop complaining.” Well, that’s easy for some people to do when they’re problems are easy to get rid of. Some issues stem from your past, and you can’t forget your past when you have to go home to it.
I know there are plenty of people who have had worse childhoods than me. I promise I do not spend my life complaining about it, nor do I hold anything against my parents as an adult. I have confronted my family, gone to therapy, done everything I can to help myself, including cutting some family members out of my life.
I think it is important for people to recognize that if someone has been hurt time and time again by the people who are supposed to love them, it takes years to love yourself and to recognize what the right way to be treated is. It takes years to realize that what happened to you was not normal. It takes even longer to forgive the people who hurt you.
And the messed up part is, sometimes you have to forgive them, because they are your family. Not because you’re obligated to, but because you rely on them to help you through college, you can’t lose touch for fear of not seeing your other siblings, or the worst part of it all—you still want them to love you, even after they’ve hurt you.