Many of you who follow my writings started to get to know a bit more about me personally about a year ago. Now I’d like to share more details of who I am in a series of articles, and how I got to where I am today. First and foremost, you should know that I identify as an adult child. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with that terminology, it means that I am a child of parents who were involved in drugs and alcohol. For my dad, it was highball cocktails (think decades ago), and I would describe him as a functional alcoholic, and for my mom, it was those cocktails, more hard liquor, and legal, doctor-prescribed uppers and downers because she had trouble getting up in the morning and going to sleep at night. She was a full-blown addict although it was usually swept under the carpet in those days. Both of them smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. And by the way, my mom’s doctors knew she was drinking lots of alcohol.
I am a middle child. I am the second-born kid in a family which turned out to be six of us – two parents and four kids. My younger brother, the fourth kid, was not expected, but we loved him very much. I remember taking care of him a lot; I was ten when he was born, and I loved being a little mother. I also have two sisters, one older and one younger. I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We lived in a row house, and it was quite large. We had three bedrooms upstairs, only one bath, but downstairs we had a huge kitchen with a big table in it, a large dining room, a large living room, and a beautiful sunroom. We had a small front yard, and a back alley. We had a fairly sizeable garage. There was an unfinished basement behind the garage. I lived in Philly from birth to two, then we moved to Miami, Florida till I turned six, and back to Philly to this row house it was … at least until I turned 12.
I used to be smart when I was young. (Hmmm…does that mean I’m not smart anymore?!) I remember walking several large city blocks to Clara Barton Elementary School every day, walking by the 5 and 10 store where I loved to stop and buy penny candies and stamps for my growing collection. We would line up in a courtyard when the school bell rang, by class and grade, and I recall little Monkey Brown (my nickname for him) who had a crush on me, punching out anybody who was standing in his boys line where I was in my girls line. That was really funny because he was not very big at that age. I also remember chasing Bruce during recess in that courtyard, along with several other girls, and we cornered him and kissed him on the cheek. We all had crushes on him, but he hated being ganged up on, and he certainly hated being kissed (then). I lost track of him. I wonder whatever happened to him.
Fast forward to third grade, and Monkey Brown and I were skipped up a half year because our teachers felt we were smart enough to do so. Then it happened again in fifth grade, so I ended up a year ahead in school. (In my senior year of high school, I was 16 until three months prior to graduation…I was really a babe. But I’m getting ahead of myself….)
I was completely unaware when I was this young that my mother was a narcissist, and that she had it in for me. She desired all attention to be on herself, especially all attention from my father. My father had a fairly large affinity for me, though. Although I did not have good self-esteem from all the dysfunction in my family, I didn’t know then how cute I really was. When I look back at family photos, I literally look like a Cabbage Patch doll, with curly hair, ringlets, chubby cheeks, and more. The real clincher was that I was interested in what my dad did – at that time he used to fix televisions and other small appliances in our basement, and I loved standing there watching him work with all his gadgets. I can remember when he somehow hooked me up to an old-fashioned oscilloscope and when I spoke it was thrilling to see my voice in wavy lines on the little screen!
But my mother was having none of it. She punished me constantly because he loved me and showed me attention. Nothing I did could please her, even when I skipped school (although she did have a small smile on her face then; it was probably because I made her look good). I think in her own dysfunctional way, she did love me, but she was jealous and couldn’t seem to get past that. My dad and mom argued constantly about life in general, but especially about how she was treating me. She never figured out that if she’d treated me lovingly, he might have actually looked more favorably on her. I got the feeling from her that I was not allowed to be a shining star or be successful at all really. I felt that everything I did was wrong and that there was something awful about me so that nobody would ever be able to love me. I got spanked frequently. It was the start of a bleak, downward spiral, for me and for my family.
More to come 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.