Sunday, January 26, 2014
Selling Somebody Out
Below is a story that was submitted by one of my readers. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.
Thank you, Emma, and please write more for me. -- Linda Jane
When I was twenty-one, my mother mentioned, almost in passing, that the woman I had identified as my great grandmother for all of my life was actually a step great grandmother. No matter, I had loved her the same. But something nagged at me—if she was my step great grandmother, who was the woman that had actually given birth to my grandfather? The answer had been buried, it seemed.
By interviewing my family, I was able to uncover very few things, a testament, I think, to the secrets we’re able to keep. My biological great grandmother wasn’t spoken of because she’d committed an early suicide—managed to acquire a number of pills, disappear into the woods, curl up in a cave, die. She didn’t leave a note. She did leave an ex-husband and three children with whom she had limited contact. She did leave a legacy that was apparently not worth mentioning.
But it would have been worth mentioning to me, more so as I watched my own mother sink into a depression that lasted several years. More so as I watched her disappear into a kind of functional alcoholism that, while kept within the confines of our family like so much else, greatly impacted her children.
And when I started college, living away from home, learning how to thrive outside the confines of family, I began to feel depressed too. At this point, prior to my mother’s revelation about my biological great grandmother, I felt like a freak. I had no context for what I was experiencing.
It might also be worth mentioning that my father, while blaming mental health issues on my mother’s side of the family, is not without his own. A long time addict, he has dabbled in every drug imaginable—most recently (though it’s now been ten years) spending time in jail for the manufacture of methamphetamines.
All of this to say that it is no surprise that I might experience some issues of my own. In college, I walked into the office of a mental health professional and broke precedence. The experience of talking to an unbiased professional offered tremendous clarity for me—my family was comprised of codependent addicts and it wasn’t just me who thought so. And I was predisposed to these types of behavior too, more likely than many of my friends to display the traits of an addict, more likely to overindulge at that fraternity party again and again and again.
But now I was aware. And knowledge is power.
So, instead of dwelling on the inherent darkness in my family, I chose to make something positive of it. I don’t do drugs, but I occasionally indulge in a glass of wine. It’s always in a social situation, and never when I’m upset or feeling down. I see a counselor regularly, even if everything in my life is going perfectly. I work with addicts and families affected by addiction. I practice innovative rehabilitation. And, most important to my process of acceptance and change, I write.
I write about my great grandmother and my mother. I write about my father and sisters and grandfather and friends. Joan Didon (who happens to be one of my favorite authors) says that writers are always selling somebody out—it’s true, but it’s a price I suspect most are willing to pay.
Emma Haylett grew up hauling hay and birthing lambs. Now, she completes the metaphorical equivalent in the city where she helps coordinate drug treatment programs for addicts and families of addicts.
at 9:02 AM