A long forgotten memory crept up unawares this afternoon. I don’t know what set off the plunge into anxiety that followed. Shadows, ones I had put to bed years ago and thought never to visit again, paraded in front of me. Just for that moment I was terrified. I swiftly pulled back and looked at the happening through an objective mind, a defense mechanism learned in recovery.
Before recovery my life was a semblance of the main character in the film, Looking For Mr. Goodbar”. By day I was a single mother, raising four children that I adored. I was Team Mother for my son’s Pop Warner Football Team, I was active in PTA, I had meetings with my children’s teachers, I hosted my daughters’ slumber parties (and one time for my son and all of his Pop Warner Football Team), cleaned the house, did the laundry, disciplined my kids, helped them with homework, cooked dinner and went to mass on Sundays.
By night, especially on the weekends, I attended singles parties and organizations, looking for the perfect mate, sleeping indiscriminately with whoever turned me on at the moment, always ending up with carbon copies of my first two husbands, both alcoholics, the second one abusive and unfaithful (and proud of it). I wouldn’t date anyone unless they smoked, drank and were controlling, preferably older men. If they were kind and sensitive I avoided them with a marked aversion.
I lived on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. Sometimes they worked. But sometimes I fell into that deep pit of hell, the one where terrible things happened to me, if only I could remember what they were. In moments of complete insecurity I landed in the pit called anxiety. It always started the same way, an overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear with only doubt as to its source. It didn’t matter. I hadn’t a clue where it had come from, was afraid to even try to find it. I might have to face it if I did and if I knew nothing I at least knew that I was incapable of dealing with these enormous fears. My heart palpitated wildly; I was brittle with tension; my mouth became dry. A terrible sense of foreboding seemed to cover my body like The Blob in the movie of the same name.
My weapons to fight this off were all made of flimsy stuff: chain smoke while shaking with continual tremors, a swift shot of brandy, maybe two, maybe more, pacing back and forth hoping the children wouldn’t find me like this. Eventually the anxiety stopped but not without leaving behind its deadly message. There is a way out of this. You can always take your life. Then it will be all over.
Many failed suicide attempts followed this dreary pattern of my life. I had been in Psychiatric Wards twice when in my early twenties and did not want to go there again. I had children to raise. Their father was in an alcoholic institution. Who would raise them if I weren’t here? Somehow I cheated death. Somehow I pulled out of the attacks and went on, one foot in front of another.
Once I entered recovery and moved forward across that bridge, I had anxiety attacks so much worse than any I’d had before. But then I was living with my third abuser, one who was a sadist, one my therapist said I would never survive. I was also going back in time and seeing the enormity of the betrayal my father visited upon me. The long forgotten memories began to surface bringing with them an agonizing truth. The reality of what my father, who I adored, had done to me was like the piercing of an ice pick into my heart.
I was painstakingly able to discover that I was not to blame. It had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with my father’s patriarchal beliefs. “They do it in the Appalachian District all the time,” he said when first telling me of the horror he had done. It was like finding out that your husband was Jack the Ripper. It wasn’t just my father’s sexual abuse, it was his physical abuse. The violence of his beatings, the cruelty of his punishments, all worked together to put me into a hell I lived with for decades. I kept putting one foot in front of another; working the program I later called REPAIR. After five long years I was now strong, spiritual, and capable of handling any problems that came my way. I had confidence, something I had never had before. I was able to rid myself of the shame I had carried for so long, shame not only of what my father had done that I thought was my fault, but the shame I had added to it by my promiscuity. I rid myself of my abuser and even the lingering memories of my life with him became more and more shadowed as the years went by. After recovery I had a sign on my desk that read, “If I’d have known life was going to turn out this great I would have started it sooner.
Today, I can remember what those anxiety attacks were like without being dragged down by the tremendous weight of them. If any of you reading this article is plagued by anxiety attacks I urge you, no I beg you, to get a copy of the book REPAIR Your Life and begin working the program. That program is the culmination of everything I learned in my own recovery, not only what to do but what not to do. I went down so many wrong roads, wasted money on so many other books and even more money on therapist after therapist, most never even asking me about my childhood. I want everyone who has ever experienced an abusive childhood to be where I am today, the happiest person I know.