Video: Wendy’s Story - A Story of Addiction and Co-dependency
Thursday, November 4th, 2010
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We are very privileged to have both a written and broadcast journey from Wendy. Her story in Carers Community is powerful and moving. This broadcast is compelling, at times haunting.
A Story of Addiction and Co-dependency
It’s a long time since I have written about myself and I have been surprised by how reluctant I was to do it, and how emotional this recollection of events has been for me.
I was an adopted child brought up knowing I was adopted. This meant I never really knew who I was, and always felt different, maybe embarrassed, and possibly even inferior to other kids whilst growing up.
My parents were good, and were strict Catholics. We had to go to Church every Sunday, and I was brought up to be quite religious. But the one thing I couldn’t understand was their violence. Mum could lash out at me, hitting me round the head or throwing things at me; whilst with dad it was more ritualised – the belt would come off, and he would hit me with it, sometimes buckle end. It wasn’t all the time, but it was enough to sour my memory of them I feel they let themselves down, and helped make me even more insecure and rebellious.
By the age of sixteen I was in a relationship with an injecting ‘junkie’ who was eight years older than me. I didn’t inject, but I would take the drugs on offer from him – weed, speed and barbiturates, not that he gave me very much, he used most himself. He relied heavily on me, despite the age gap, and many was the night he’d collapse with the needle and syringe still in his arm and I would take it out, and get him on the bed on his side. I never slept until I knew he was safe. Sometimes he’d wake up violent, and I often got punched in the face. I used to have to go to college with black eyes or split lips; but I did go and managed to get some ‘O’ levels.
On my seventeenth birthday I overdosed on barbiturates and alcohol and nearly died
Eventually, after 18 months, I moved on, but I wasn’t ‘right’, couldn’t settle to anything; I was always looking for something, and drank and used drugs when I could get them. On my seventeenth birthday I overdosed on barbiturates and alcohol and nearly died. This scared me, and I moved to Greece to get ‘off the scene’.
All this and more was repressed by me and never discussed with anybody until I entered addiction treatment when I was forty-one years old. I always attached a certain amount of shame to this early history of mine – why, I don’t know. In some way I felt I was bad, and possibly that everything that happened to me was deserved. I now believe that I hadn’t faced up to the horrors of my early life and preferred to be in denial, (although, obviously I didn’t know I was in denial).
When I was in Greece I got a Greek boyfriend who stole my money to gamble with, such that I ended up living with him and his mother. He was so controlling that I couldn’t ‘move’ without his say so. Eventually, after 16 months I went back home.
I had another couple of disastrous relationships, one with a mentally abusive alcoholic, who was always demeaning me and ‘putting me down’, often in front of others. I stayed with him for one year despite this – I don’t know why I couldn’t leave these men, even though they treated me badly – maybe I was lacking in confidence, or maybe I thought I could change them, or ‘save them’, and then things would be alright.
I even chose a career of caring and I became a nurse. This changed me I feel. I stopped using drugs, began to despise them even, but I drank heavily, although this seemed to make me ‘fit in’ more, as everyone seemed to drink heavily on a ‘good night out’. Those years in nurse training, and subsequent years, when I left nursing to be a full time student in the 1980’s, were probably the years when I felt most ‘normal’ actually. I didn’t prioritise relationships, had friends to go out with, and loved studying and learning, and being part of a student group. I felt I ‘belonged’ for a change.
I did feel very alone at times however, and envied those nurses who had stable, loving relationships; the kind I craved but had never found somehow. On top of this my dad died in 1980 and my mum in 1983, (when I was 26). These deaths changed my world forever – the lack of any sense of ‘home’ or stability was gone.
My sister, Liz, who was also adopted, was very upset when mum died, as she found our original birth certificates, which had our birth names on them. Neither of us could believe that all our lives they had known who we were, and could have told us.
My sister immediately hired a private detective to try to find her mother, I did my usual ‘passive thing’ saying ‘I didn’t care’. Liz did find her mother, an Irish woman who had got pregnant whilst working in Manchester, and had her illegitimate baby adopted so no-one would know.
I carried on denying that I cared and went on to have more relationships; usually with alcoholics who I cared for, not realising I was ‘enabling’ them to carry on drinking. I made excuses for them and fell deeper into my own alcoholism.
Classic scenarios would be fierce arguments about their drinking, about letting me down, about being in the pub when I needed them to help me with jobs etc. I suppose I had become like my mum, having to be ‘in control’, and occasionally having temper tantrums or crying fits. I’d tell them they’d have to go, and then go looking for them to bring them back, even when violence had been involved again, as it had when I was 38, with another man who had a really bad temper, or when they’d taken advantage of me financially, as the next man I was with did. I was an emotional mess, seeming to prefer a bad relationship to no relationship.
I had also been sexually abused when I was eleven, by a nineteen year old, and then again at fifteen, by a man in his twenties who I had been seeing. These, and other untoward sexual incidents, were not discussed either, (similar to the violence), until I had treatment and therapy. I was always very reluctant to see myself as a ‘rape victim’, but this is what I was. I still find it hard to use these words, but I am now in no doubt whatsoever that I was not to blame in any way, for these events.
Again, my therapy and treatment have taught me this; it seems strange that I had to be convinced that this was the case, but I did carry a sort of ‘guilt’ about these long repressed incidents. In my 40th year I found myself involved with another man, who was also awful to me – humiliating me at every turn; mentally cruel, and sexually abusive. Yet, I still maintained that he loved me, and that it would all work out in the end. Why I was like that I didn’t know – there was something in me that was almost masochistic I feel. I was also in love with fantasy rather than reality.
I preferred it when I couldn’t feel.
Inevitably, I had a nervous breakdown as I had been trying to keep my career, now teaching, going, whilst living this other awful emotionally dependant life; full of sadness and pain. I used drink, and then drugs again, to numb myself. I preferred it when I couldn’t feel.
In the end, the constant repetition of violent and abusive themes and life events in almost all of my relationships was becoming visible to me, and it was clear something had to be done. I had treatment for my alcoholism at 41, and stayed abstinent from alcohol for eight years. I learned a lot about myself in treatment.
The counsellors told me ‘I had the word victim running through me like a seaside resort has its name imprinted in a stick of rock’. I knew this was true, and looked at ‘why’ for the first time. I stayed abstinent from relationships for many years, trying to build up my self esteem and deal with my awful history.
I thought I was doing well, but the most recent relationship I had was with another heavy drinker, (which I only found out later), who also had a bad temper, and was also violent. I couldn’t believe it had happened again; consequently I am still getting over it, and again feel alone and confused.
Now, however, because of all the therapy and treatment I have had over the years, I realise it wasn’t my fault, and I don’t blame myself, or feel that I am a ‘natural victim’. I used to believe I was responsible for everything that happened to me in some way, but, I now realise it wasn’t my fault; I didn’t choose men because I thought they may turn out to be violent or abusive, I chose them in the hope that we could have a good relationship. Many of the problems that ensued were because of them, their addictions, their own histories, and their own unresolved issues. The difference between the ‘me’ of now and the ‘me’ from before is that I can see my role in situations much more clearly, and I refuse to take on the blame when things go wrong, unprovoked by me.
Giving up on a relationship is as hard as ever because obviously my emotions are involved, and making a firm, final decision to ‘end it’ still seems difficult. I do however, put myself and my own well being much higher in my priority list than I used to. I am currently awaiting counselling with a domestic violence specialist, which is being arranged through my Alcohol Treatment Unit, and I am sure I will benefit greatly from this.