Those of you who follow my writings got to know a bit more about me personally about a year ago. In this fourth installment, I’m going to share information about my early adulthood, which in my case started at the tender young age of 17, when I left home. I’m doing this to help you understand how I got to where I am today and want to do this series of articles to hopefully inspire my readers because I think there are many people out there who can relate well to my experiences. I am an overcomer by nature; I never give up when something is worth fighting for! Remember – no situation and no person is hopeless!
Again, as I said in my first article of the series, I identify as an adult child – which means I am a child of parents who were involved in using drugs and alcohol. With both of my parents, their substance use likely got started with smoking cigarettes and drinking cocktails socially. My dad was more of a functional alcohol, and my mom developed into full alcoholism. Additionally, my mom’s family doctors, knowing fully well that she was drinking, continued to prescribe uppers and downers on a regular basis. Addiction was swept under the carpet much more in the time my parents lived.
In this article, I will start with me at 17, having just moved out into my girlfriend’s family home for the summer before college. It was difficult for me to be around any and all people, and this delightful family tried hard to make me a good role model to counter all the negativity I had endured. The mother and father stood lovingly within sight of me, showing each other some love, holding hands, lightly kissing. They thought this would help. Instead, it made me want to run away. (They couldn’t have known this.) I couldn’t stand to physically touch anyone (probably because I had been hit and screamed at so many times), and even to see love in action was more than I could bear. I don’t even understand my reaction fully today. I was, however, very grateful to them, and in late August, I was off to the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland to live in a dorm. That didn’t last very long, either, as I had so much trouble being in anyone’s physical proximity. Having once been an excellent student, my grades plummeted to new lows in that first semester of trying to be on my own. I simply didn’t know how to feel or how to be.
One thing I had going for me was my indomitable spirit. I think I get this from my dad. I always had the ability to put one foot in front of the other, and so I plodded along in my young adulthood. I was always able to make and maintain friendships (strangely enough), and I moved out into my own apartment after trying to live with with a couple of roommates which didn’t work out any better than it had in the dorm. (Hey, wasn’t it Einstein who said the definition of insanity was to keep trying the same things, expecting a different outcome?! Will somebody look this up for me?) I was also good at getting and holding jobs, although admittedly, I changed apartments and jobs too frequently. Like a narrator in my own life, I could see that my pattern of these frequent changes was unhealthy, so I got a decent apartment, a decent job, and made myself stay in both for a full year. I did a couple of semesters of college, but eventually stopped because my on-again-off-again pattern applied to my studies as well.
In my mid-20s, I found a young man to date, a very nice young man, and he felt safe to be with to me, so I told myself this was love, and we got married. He took a job with the American government in (the former West) Germany, and we moved abroad. We had an apartment on the American caserne near Munich, but it was standard army fare, and we eventually got our own place “on the economy.” There was a branch of the University of Maryland in Munich – believe it or not – and I enrolled and began the process of finishing my associate’s degree. By then I had pulled myself together and was earning straight A’s. Remember, this is the one thing I thought my mother had been proud of in me, when I skipped and got good grades. In fact, I felt a compulsion to earn nothing lower than an A grade, which wasn’t too healthy on my part, but you can kind of see why and how this developed in me. I was later to counter this impulse by allowing myself to get A- or even B grades occasionally. With that compulsion broken, however, it seemed even easier to earn my A’s. Who said life always makes sense?!
I need to go back for a minute to my earlier time at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. At my very first opportunity, I made a beeline to their counseling center, as I was desperate to return to my earliest memories of my childhood when I considered myself to be a happy girl. This was the start of about 20-25 years of ongoing therapy, most of which was individual therapy (my preferred mode), but I also had a little group therapy. In fact, I can remember at one group session at the University, an intern was helping to conduct our groups. She wanted to help me specifically, and I asked her not to get too close, but she came close physically anyway. I started trembling; in fact, I couldn’t stop for a little while, and I remember how badly she felt when she saw my reaction. She put her hand on me spontaneously to help – I think she touched my knee – I believe we were all sitting on the floor. That, of course, made it worse for me, and then she backed off and apologized to me several times. I think she was scared that I was going to quit the group and that she had harmed me, but I continued to attend sessions for a while, and I believe she felt better about that. She never physically touched me again.
Back to Germany again. I had learned to go somewhere else in my mind when it came to any kind of physical touching. So, I started pretending that I was normal. I continued in this pattern. I wanted desperately to be accepted. I was playing a game, acting out what I thought was normal, acceptable behavior, and it turns out I was actually just being me! I found a group therapy thing in Munich that was an outreach of an organization in California and joined into it. I don’t quite remember how I met anybody in this group, but it was something I felt I wanted to do. So, I went to California for a couple of months (my poor husband footed the bill), and when I came back, I wanted out of my marriage. This unfortunately was more of my on-again-off-again pattern. We split up and divorced. I always felt bad that I had hurt him so much. But he’s made his way through life successfully and I believe is happily married today.
In the meantime, I found a fulltime job working for a patent attorney and moved into a large apartment with my new friends from the therapy organization. It was here that I began to learn a lot about nutrition, although just about supplements first, and mostly from two holistic medical doctors in the group. This was a very eclectic, lovely group of intelligent and talented people. We had doctors, musicians, and very ordinary people (like me). By this time, I had studied the German language fairly extensively and was mostly fluent in both languages (English and German). Within this group, we all used both languages interchangeably, and when I was later to return to America, I found I had quite a transition on my hands conversing in just one language!
A couple of us from this group liked dancing, and I started to attend dance school learning ballroom and Latin dancing. It was there that I met the man who was to become the father of my child and my second husband. He was an awesome dancer, but not one I found I could follow too well on the dance floor. That was maybe an omen of things to come … but more on that later!
As always, have a happy, holistically healthy day!
Dr. Donna Poppendieck (Dr. P) has over 30 years of experience in the mental health care field. She is a seasoned college professor and instructor for providers. She uses credible, proven holistic health strategies in instruction for parents of children with mental health challenges looking for another approach as well as healthcare providers seeking to implement or understand holistic strategies.