Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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born into heroin
Wednesday April 30, 2008

Dear Alice Miller, Barbara Rogers, and to all the people reading this,

first of all: I like to share my story with you, since I know that here, although I cannot see all you, I will find a listening ear, and just as I used this forum as my daily bread, to find courage to speak out, I hope I can do the same for YOU.

My parents were both junkies, and I have lived with them in a house for five long years. When I was born, I was addicted because my mother used heroin while I was inside her and this helpless tiny body had to suffer withdrawal in the first 2 weeks of his life. My medical record states that I had a blue colour, hyperventilated and after a few hours symptoms of withdrawal began: restlessness, tense muscles and trouble with feeding. Months after I still had a tendency to opisthotonus, which is a spasm of the back that makes you bent your head in your neck, I coughed a lot and had diarrhea continuously.

But I grew up well, played with my toys while my parents were shooting heroin in the house. When they went to score drugs in the city they took me in my wagon. I cannot remember having breakfast or dinner together, as a normal family. My father was always away, dealing or scoring drugs, and my mother was a hysteric and manipulative woman. They were either lying on the couch high, not being able to communicate or take care of my needs, or they were shouting and fighting each other when the dope was out of their blood. Strangers would walk in and out to buy and use drugs, and I have a memory of hiding from the police under the window with my mother. I think, I KNOW, they left me alone many times, even as a baby. Until my mother ran off to some other drug dealer, and my father realized he was not able to take care of me by himself. He took me to my uncle and aunt, were I stayed until my 18th.

My whole life up until now I have honestly never realized that this was abuse, a horrible crime. I have always seen my parents as victims, trying to understand them. I knew of course it was not a good and happy childhood, but when talking about it I have never felt any emotions, except sometimes sadness. I know now that I paid much for this ignorance.

I have suffered from a chronic mild depression since the last 10 years (I am 27 now), with only short intervals of feeling good. A year and a half ago my condition got worse. I was trying to write my master thesis on philosophy when I started developing panic attacks. Then, for a long and hellish period my mood swung 3 or 4 times a day, from very low, to very exalted. I started seeing a cognitive therapist which didn’t help. Then I started self medication by using St John’s wort, because the extreme mood swings were awfully tiresome. I went for intakes at the mental health institution, was diagnosed with dysthymia (a chronic mild depression) and got applied for weekly psychotherapy. Although the medication and the weekly attention helped, I felt I was not making much progression. In summer holiday the St John’s wort got too much and I went easily hypomanic, so I quit taking it. Then my therapist told me that underneath my guilt, there were not only feelings of sadness, but moreover anger. I couldn’t understand her, since I had absolutely not experienced any of that. I went through the worst weeks in my life, not being able to do anything, but lie on the couch moaning of some undefined pain, thinking daily of jumping from the balcony. By some fortunate luck I got my hands on The Drama of the Gifted Child. It spoke right to my heart and changed everything. I got vivid memories, but more important the exact feelings I had experienced as a child, not the feelings I or my foster parents had reconstructed for me. I felt my anger for the first time and surprisingly it made me feel vital, not tired at all.

There is one memory I would like to share specifically, because it sums up perfectly how I have got used to feeling like shit and unloved. I got to my uncle and aunt just before my fifth birthday and it was like paradise. I had two nice sisters to play with, many toys and there was always enough food. My parents were allowed to visit me, but they only came at night at the door, asking to see me in my bed, or when refused, threatening to take me away again. But they never did, because they knew I was a hindrance in their drug scoring. One scene I remember vividly, and I think it is the one my tears come from. One afternoon, my parents were going to visit me. I stand at the back door, nicely dressed, looking through the glass at the garden path, watching and waiting for my parents to come. I wait eagerly, I want to show them my happiness, telling them I am fine, don’t worry. I wait and wait, for minutes and minutes and minutes, I can’t remember how long, it seems like eternity, until my aunt says to me that they probably won’t come.

I cannot describe how much that hurt me. And at that time, I was not allowed to feel it completely. It was perfectly clear to me, as that young boy that I was, that my parents did not love me. I knew that their feelings for their son were not strong enough to leave the drugs aside for one afternoon. It was too hard a truth for that boy. And so I started to blame myself. I was not worthy of their love. I had done something wrong. I was a bad boy.

This guilt has marked my life so far. When I was nine I started to pray to God obsessively, afraid as I was he would punish me if I didn’t. Praying could take an hour, because I had to think really hard about everything and if I made a mistake, or swallowed during my prayer, I had to start all over again. I had myself read the bible every day. When someone cursed, I had to say a little prayer. Whenever I saw a crucifix I had to say a prayer. And this I did all in secret, for I was ashamed. Never did my uncle and aunt knew this, or found out. I hid it.

When my father died during summer holiday when I was fourteen I cried, because I thought I was supposed to do that. I framed his picture on a black board. I made myself remember him every month at his day of death, reading his funeral card, singing songs on the guitar, praying. When I was sixteen my father’s father died, also during summer holiday, and I put another picture on my death board. A year after, my friend D. who was 21 and told me God was bullshit – I stopped praying immediately, and have never done so since - took an overdose and died, also during summer holiday, shortly after I had stayed at his place for two weeks. Another picture. I didn’t dare to tell my uncle and aunt he died of drugs.

My summers were marked by death, and I felt I was next in line, since there was no one between me and death: not my father, not my father’s father, not my ‘brother’ D. For a long time, I didn’t want to get older than thirty. When I went to live on my own, the first two years I was stoned all day and spent most of my money on drugs. I hardly studied, but was able to pass my exams. Then I got very isolated, and paranoid, and frightened: I hardly dared to enter a cafι, afraid that people thought I was weird and stupid. Things changed when I did an early training ship at a magazine, now almost 6 years ago. I did well and they asked me to stay. It gave me some much needed confidence.

But my philosophy thesis proved too much. I panicked continuously while trying to write it. I am sure it reminded me of the situation I was in when I was a baby and child, being alone in my cradle with no one to pick me up, or playing in the house with no one there. For a baby and a child this is eternity, this is death. You cannot allow yourself to fully grasp that you are ALL on your OWN. My thesis is a trigger for that painful, then life threatening truth. A thesis is a big project, something of which you have to embark and cannot see the end immediately, and that reminded me too much of the helpless child who had to cope with a situation he couldn’t cope with. On top of that, my thesis was about ethics, and my study of philosophy had always been a way to find my way back to life, to THINK my way back to life. Now I understand fully how philosophy is the rational acceptable way of rebelling and dealing with truth without embarking on emotions. I was trying to write a purpose in my life, some sense, some joy of living, but my body said: No NO, you are so WRONG with this direction, I won’t co-operate. Don’t fool yourself! Don’t try to find a rational justification for your life. Don’t silence this little boy inside, don’t neglect his unique personal pain by creating a rational system about the meaninglessness of existence.

I need to accept and learn that I am good as I am, that I do not need a successful thesis to claim my right to exist. I need to learn that as an adult I do not depend on parents anymore that cannot fulfil my needs and thus threaten my existence. All anxiety is past anxiety. If I do not feel this, I will keep panicking, trying to flee from something that happened years and years ago, when there was no escaping. I need to learn to feel that I am safe, now, here, in the present.

When I do not, I will flee and this will mean I will shelter myself from feeling the old pain of not being loved, and blaming myself. When things get too much eventually my heart closes, and I flee into meaningless, or self-destructive activities, just to keep myself from feeling. In my mind I go from one place to the other, trying to comfort myself, or I engage in mind numbing activities, staying inside for days. When this fails, I engage in self-destructive activities, blaming myself that I have done wrong again, and feeling more at ease in that position because it is the feeling I am used to when I feel threatened. It is my life saving strategy, my self-defense mechanism. It makes me do stupid things, like use drugs and drink too much and fall with my bike so I can feel bad about myself. It neglects people, and pushes the ones I care for most away. It alienates myself from people I know. It makes me treat people I love badly.

The only thing that got me out of this darkness and destructiveness was reading the work of Alice Miller, which helped me find my feelings and especially releasing my anger. So hard to find people who stand by your side when you say you feel a murderous rage towards your parents! Then the child gets scared again and the depression freezes you again.

You NEED to feel you are not alone, you NEED someone to say to you that your anger is RIGHT. You NEED unambiguous support, only 2 friends and mostly the books and answers of Alice Miller on this website have empowered me EVERY day to speak up, to continue.

While reading The Drama this summer and releasing my anger it was still too much, too scary. People told me to forgive my parents. I discovered the books of Ingeborg Bosch then, the PRI therapy which has been discussed here before. It appealed to the scared child in me, because it said anger was a negative emotion and shouldn’t be ventured. Bosch said that whenever feeling anger you should not act on it, but let it pass until you reach a sort of boeddha (buddha) calm. How poisonous a therapy this is! Within 3 months I fell severely ill for 4 times. I got fever, pain in my muscles, my head, my stomach, for days. Then I got better, and after 3 weeks fell completely ill again. This happened 4 times, and after the last time I got a blood test at the doctor and it said I was perfectly healthy. Then I understood it had to do with something else, and when reading The Body Never Lies I came to decipher the messages my body was giving me. I started to take side of the mishandled child and release my anger again to my abusers. And I know now, that the fever and muscle pains I experienced those times were the withdrawal symptoms of the tiny baby I was.

The last time when I had a fever attack was when a friend of mine more or less declared that I was hung up on my drama, a whiner and poser, telling me to move on and feel ‘positive’. I was very shaken by this attack and I started doubting again. But during one feverish night, lying half awake, half asleep, I felt so clearly that the pain I was feeling was the pain of me as a baby, that I was literally communicating with myself in this way, and that I ended with picking myself up, comforting this baby, helping him to get through the spasms and the pain of withdrawal, that I am never going to doubt myself again. The day after my fever was gone.

Not my family, not my friends, nobody, can take care of this little child. Only I can do this, but only now that I have learnt to fulfill my own needs, to chose for myself, to be true to myself.

My mother was always claiming me, telling me in her high-pitched voice: you are MY SON, MY SON! While telling me all her awful stories about beatings from men, and her terrible life, surrounded with drunks and drug users. She was totally incapable of relating to ME, to know what I was feeling. She was a little girl, and I had to take care of her. I had to comfort her, hold her, ‘ahhh... come on, baby, come on, sweetheart, baby, your mother needs you, come on’. She still talks to me like this and I know that this is exactly the way she behaved towards me when I was a baby and a small child. I had to comfort her, hold her, lie close to her naked body, while dad was away dealing heroin or spending time in jail.

I was all alone, 5 long years, in the hands of that terrible hysterical woman, and whenever I showed my own NEEDS, she beat me, scared me, shook me, mishandled me, chased me, screamed to me, almost completely MURDERED me.

So when she left my dad for another drug dealer and he told me in panic that he could not take care of me and he was going to take me to my uncle and aunt, I was happy. All those years I have used this moment in my mind to convey all the tragedy of my life, my Dad sitting on his knees telling his 5-year old son who was playing with his toys he couldn’t take care of him anymore, the heartbreaking sadness of it. But no: I know now that I was completely happy. Yes, dad, you moron, you fool, I don’t like it here, in this awful house with that terrible creature with the big wild eyes and her screaming voice. Finally, can we go now? Now now now!

Unfortunately my aunt also was and is an emotional blind woman, suffering from her own neglect from her grandmother, a very ‘strong’ dominant narcistic woman that didn’t spare the rod as well. Although I wasn’t alone anymore and had sisters to play with the emotional abuse continued and when I reached my puberty my aunt again destroyed my right to my own needs. She manipulated, abused my trust in her, so that I became silent again, she slapped me in the face as a teenager when she found out I had kissed a girl and when my friend D. died I was all alone, for she could not cope with my sadness for this junky that overdosed. And instead she always sustained the myth that my parents loved me, especially my father, her brother, while I knew, deep down, that this was not so, that he was an unloving father who had never wanted me in the first place because I didn’t fit in his gangster fantasy. So when I was 18 I could finally flee from her as well, but it took me another 9 years to fully break the spell, the power she still had on me. Things will change from now on, I will tell you this, aunt: I will no longer fulfill your needs, no longer be the good son that shows up sheepishly whenever you need him. Your emotional blackmail will no longer work. I have my own life now, face it.

And everyone is allowed to know, I want everybody to know, that YES I want to kill my mother with my bare hands, to push all the air out of her throat. I want her to look at me with fear, dread and disbelief, while I return with a cold gaze. I will say: yes mother, now you feel for only seconds what I have felt for 5 long years. Fear, dread and disbelief. Couldn’t you see my fear? Couldn’t you read my eyes? Couldn’t you see me telling you: do you not love me mom? Why do you hurt me? Why are you so cold in your eyes? I don’t understand, I want your love, I want to make you happy, I am smiling to you all the time. Why do you kill me?

I know that the little boy in me will always be looking for the love of his mother. But as an adult I can protect him now, I will give him this love and I will take him in my arms. My mother is no longer needed, neither my aunt, nor all the replacement mothers in my adult life, those hard to reach, never to please women I have always fallen in love with.

O o o o o o o… all you fuckers who want to touch this boy, to silence him, to neglect him, to tell him to shut up, I will NOT let you anymore. I will protect him with everything that I have, my tender heart will be a bloody fist to all you oppressors, molesters, rapists, abusers, and I know you all FEAR the life and pain inside yourselves, but until you refuse to see that and feel your own pain, I will have no mercy with you. No mercy at all.

My mother can drop dead, and when this happens the little boy in me will do a little dance, he will go boogie woogie, and I will be like Uh! Yeah! I feel good… tum tatum tatum tatum… So good! WHOEHA!!! And yes we will have tears in our eyes, but we will be alive…

My kindest wishes, and deepest respect, IS, (Netherlands)

AM: Thank you so much for your amazing letter. It is very strong and convincing, it shows indeed that even a former child of heroin addicted parents can help himself to heal if he dares to confront HIS truth, to feel, to reject the lies and illusions suggested by society, religions, even by philosophy and therapies of all kind. I was very moved by your letter and also glad for you that you are not going to loose your time writing a philosophical thesis and thus avoiding the FULL truth about YOUR story. Fortunately, you have dared to find it. Heidegger wrote about being "thrown" into existence, in an abstract way, probably without realizing emotionally that this is the story of most people, including perhaps his own, but not of ALL people. There are some people, though not many enough, who have been raised, protected and loved. Your mother lying on the canapι, filled with heroin, next to the highly intelligent little boy crying for attention whom she didn't see, represents to me the horror that you can FEEL while so many can't and have to endure illnesses instead. Congratulations.

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