Written by Coco   

I realize this morning how much my issues are about the shame I felt/feel about my childhood and thus my life. I learned to feel ashamed of just about everything about myself. Even the good parts. If I was good as a child, it did not matter, it was never good enough. Each time my mother was hospitalized I was shamed and ashamed on several levels. I thought I had done something wrong and that I had not been a good enough girl and each time I felt more and more ashamed for this.

I was ashamed of the things she did when she was manic, like dancing in the local cafe with her dress up and no underpants on. These kinds of things I had to live with regularly. I like it better when she was depressed because then I had more control over her. I was somehow easier to be able to hide anything in the house that she might try and kill herself with and to stay awake all night to make sure she did not jump out of the window. But in the end, I was ashamed of all of it because no matter my effort she always ended up back in the hospital. I was ashamed of having to be the one to have her hospitalized. I had to go to the hospital emergency room and as for a letter from them to give to the police. I had to call the police and explain to them, then show them the letter when they came. I had to let them in and I had to endure her yelling and screaming and telling me I was the crazy one and that I would go to hell for this. I had to sit with her in the emergency room while she called me everything but a child of God, with people watching and looking as if they believed her because she seemed to be talking sense to them.

Then there is the shame of the childhood sexual abuse that occurred because my mother was too sick to know it was happening or to protect me from it.
The man who did it to me gave me and my siblings food and so I thought at the ripe old age of seven that I was doing it for my family. There is the shame of having in some way enjoyed the special attention and the fact that it seemed this person was treating me more gently and with more care than my own mother. There is the shame of having felt I somehow deserved it, after all, my mother was beating me ruthlessly on a regular basis. I thought I deserved it all. I thought I was this awful person who had somehow done something really awful to deserve all of this. I felt ashamed that my mother was not protecting me. I felt ashamed that she neglected and abused me. And I grew up feeling ashamed of my body, both because of the abuse and because my mother was relentless in the effort to make me feel ashamed of my body.

My mother was in and out of hospitals from the time I was six until she died when I was 30. I was ashamed that I had only one parent. I was ashamed that we were on welfare. I was ashamed that I had no decent clothes, was often hungry and could not invite anyone over because of my crazy mother and how our apt. looked. Every time my mother beat me or yelled at me or called me a name I became more and more ashamed of who I was. I did well in school, it was my refuge. It was the one area in which I received positive feedback and when my mother was on her meds she praised me highly for this and strongly, almost with vehemence, encouraged us to do well in school.
School was my saving grace. But somehow I have not been able to fully appreciate or feel or take advantage of my talents in this area or any part of my life. I have left job after job. I have left a almost completed doctoral program and began and ended two other masters programs. I use school as a way to get away from it all and as a result I have over $100,000 in student loans. The little bit of peace I find in my life is always in schools. I feel safe and protected there. And of course I feel ashamed of this. I feel ashamed of the fact that I desperately want and need to feel safe and protected.

From the time I was about 13 or 14 years old I would not report to the authorities that my mother was hospitalized and it was usually only for 3-4 months. Once she was on medication she did really well. She would come home and be the best mother any child could ask for, no one would ever have known she was mentally ill. But of course she would not stay on her meds.
As a child I could not understand how she could love us so much and still choose to not take her medication, thus it had to be my fault. I took complete care of myself and my 3 younger brothers and sister. We had been placed in fosters homes twice in our lives and bad as home was, that was worse for all of us. At 13 I decided I would not allow us to be separated again. So, each time I had my mother hospitalized or when she did it herself, I never told anyone. Only the neighbors knew and because I did such a good job caring for us, no one ever came asking. No one ever asked when went to the hospital to visit my mother each week. We were clean and well mannered and appeared to be well cared for. No one ever missed school and everyone did well in school. We lived in New York City, so in a city with thousands of neglected children no one ever asked any questions. I cashed my mother’s welfare checks at the local check cashing place, with her ID and no one ever asked questions. I paid the bills and did a much better job than my mother, who would often spend everything in a mania mode. At one point, during a long hospitalization, my aunt went to the welfare office and said she would care for us but that was only so we would not be taken away. She lived in another area of NYC and worked nights and would check on us from time to time but I still did all of the day to day care. I was a child raising children and I yelled at them and beat them and tried to control them the way my mother did me, the only way I knew how. And of course I felt/feel ashamed of this. At that age I had the pressure of raising a family, including my mother, and even though every one familiar with the situation agrees that I did a remarkable job, I still feel ashamed that I somehow failed all of them. After my mother died I tried to keep the family together but it became too exhausting and when I stopped trying everyone went their separate ways. No one has heard from one brother in over 14 years, my sister stopped speaking to most people in my family over 12 years ago. I had a painful encounter with my youngest brother some 8 years ago and we have little to no contact. It is extremely painful and I still feel it is somehow my fault and I should be able to fix it. I feel so hurt and resentful that my siblings have never so much as said thank you for the fact that I gave so much of my life to and for them, even long after they were all grown I continued to feel responsible for them and tried often to try and save them at the expense of myself and my own needs. Even though I am very aware of the logic of it all and how much pain each of them must be in, I cannot seem to get over how resentful I feel about this and of course I feel so ashamed that I still, at 46, feel so much pain, hurt, guilt, and resentment about this.

So, I awoke this morning thinking that the absolute worse part of being an adult of mentally ill parents is the breadth and depth of the guilt and shame. You grow up feeling so responsible for what is happening to your parents and so guilty and so ashamed and most of all so much like it is your fault you somehow deserve it all. I use to long to go on one of those TV shows, like Oprah, and tell my story to the world in order to somehow get it all out there for the world to see and tell me once and for all that it was not my fault and that I did not deserve this life. I feel it would take 20 million people telling me this in order that I might someday really believe it AND to tell the world would somehow relieve me of some of the shame because then everyone would know.

The shame is at times sooooooo unbearable... This is why I am writing to all of you on this forum. My New Year's Resolution is to face the shame, to let it go... because it is killing me, I cannot live, I cannot breath, I cannot love... It keeps me isolated from the world, from myself, from seeing and believing in my gifts, from taking any real risks... sometimes I can hardly believe the magnitude of the shame... I feel ashamed of both my strengths and weaknesses, my talents... When someone is jealous of me and I know this to be the case, it can through me into a depression, I display some talent that someone else feels threatened by and thus they try and put me down and it works... I feel guilty, ashamed and undeserving, so I try to make myself as small and invisible as possible... anything to not upset or anger or draw any kind of criticism or intense emotion, from anyone... which is a very difficult place to be considering that one of the gift/curses of this childhood is the ability to sense what people feel and need and want from you and a very good sense of how to meet those needs. Constantly having to gauge, assess, determine needs and wants every minute of the day, always being hyper vigilant, often I catch myself living like I am in the witness relocation program, this constant emphasis on survival and no clue about to live and enjoy life, to just be, to trust that all is well in the world, to trust that the world is a safe place and the universe is here to support me, that there are good and kind and loving people in the world who want absolutely nothing from me... I have very few friends and have very little contact with my extended family because I cannot deal with people wanting and needing things from me. And of course people are drawn to me for this very reason, I am so good at helping others without even trying. How can I be with people without being/feeling drained by them? I often seem to add to their lives but mostly feel they only take away from mine.

So, my goal this year is to let go of the shame that is at the very core of who I am, I can feel it in every cell in my body. I have tried just about everything under the sun in order to heal and God knows it has gotten better but still the one thing I need and want the most continues to elude me, Love and Intimacy. I have noticed that some people or even groups of people seem to do the Triumph of Tragedy extremely well and/or to the extreme but it seems to be a much harder road to travel for those who grew up with mentally ill parents, especially if this was your only parent. We are a very complicated group of people and I can hardly believe that more attention has not been given to this area of study.

How does one Let Go of the Shame? Do I tell my story to anyone who will listen? How do I really convince myself that I have nothing to be ashamed of? How do I convince myself that none of it was my fault? How do I come to really and truly believe that I did not deserve this and that I deserve to be happy and experience genuine joy in my life? How do I stop the cycle of isolation? How do I learn to really and truly, once and for all love myself? How do I come to believe that I am good enough and always was? How do I learn to really relax and enjoy life? I remember some years ago I heard a woman of some 70 plus years being interviewed. She was a renaissance woman of sorts. She had done many, many and very different things in her life. The reporter asked about this and she said something like: "It is true, I have had many wonderful experiences in my life, it is too bad I was not there for most of them." This has always stayed with me since it is very much how I feel. I am not here most of the time even as it appears that I am very much an active participant.

I think part of the confusion for me is that my mother jumped so often from being "perfectly" fine to being crazy and even in her craziness she had lucid moments. She was wonderful when she was on her meds and in general she was an extremely intelligent, highly intuitive woman. Physically, royal and elegant, would light up a room when she walked in. She was kind hearted to a fault and when on her meds a very loving mother. She came to visit me at college for parent's weekend during a "well" time, one year. None of my friends knew my story, when you are giving so much of yourself to others, often no one notices that they know very little about you. People came up to me and told me how much they loved my mother and more than a few expressed how lucky I was, how regal and graceful my mother was, how beautiful and kind. A couple of friends who at least knew I was poor said they would have thought I came from a wealthy family after meeting my mother. I think back and I realize how confusing this must have been as a child. Being loved by her one month and the next yelled at constantly and beaten with an extension cord or broom handle or belt buckle. And as a teenager what must have been the dynamic of me going back and forth between being the child and the parent and my mother going back and forth between these two roles. I never felt I really knew who she was outside of her illness. If it was not readily rearing its ugly head I was waiting and holding my breath for it to show up at any minute. This means I grew up not knowing myself outside of my mother’s mental illness.

I am back in school once again and this time I will be studying psychology.
I had not understood exactly why until this moment. I want to know all there is to know about what happened to that little girl and young adult woman? What effect does this situation have on the various developmental stages of life? I know intuitively that something very distinct happens for children in our situation and I want to know more, or as much as I can, I hope to start a support group next semester.

I guess mostly I just said all of this to get it out, to in some way make it public, to begin my anti-shame campaign for my self.

Thank You to anyone who has taken the time to read this. It would be helpful just to know that you have read it and also if you can in anyway relate.

Blessings, Coco