First let me start off by saying that I hope my parents never read this, but if they do I want them to know I love them and I’m not blaming them for my anxiety…but I believe they were a factor.
My childhood had a lot of happy moments, but those were often punctuated with moments of sheer terror and self loathing.
My father has a brilliant mind for mechanics and an even sharper mathematical talent to go with it. For fun he used to race my grandmother’s Olivetti Electrosumma 10 key adding machine doing all the math in his head and beat it to the answer every time. Granted the Olivetti had to grind through cogs and gears to come up with the answer but we’re still only talking a few seconds for it to compute even a fairly big math problem. My father was also a functioning alcoholic, he’d come home every night after having a couple beers on the way, and have two or more Black Velvet and Coke (mostly black velvet, and a splash of coke for color and fizz), then the fun would start. My father when drunk is scary mean, he’d argue, demean, ridicule, and yeah sometimes devolve into physical abuse.
This was an every night occurrence. He’d sleep it off and be up for work the next day. Wash, rinse, repeat. The most terrifying thing is you just never knew what was going to set him off at any particular moment…but you knew that once that happened you were in for an hour or more of yelling if you were lucky (if you weren’t lucky you also might get knocked around with the yelling).
One event that stood out for me was when I was in third grade learning my multiplication tables. It had been a pretty quiet night so far and I was at the dining room table working on them and when dad got up to get another drink. He stopped on his way back to see what I was working on and when he saw it was math he decided to get in on it. He grabbed my table away from me and started quizzing me. I did pretty good up through the 5’s but then started faltering. With each wrong answer he got angrier and more worked up. When we got to the 8’s he asked “WHAT IS 8X8?”, I replied “I don’t know we’re only up to the 6’s.”. This proved to be the moment the arming switch was thrown on my dad’s thermonuclear temper and I could see his face getting redder and angrier by the millisecond. “FIGURE IT OUT” he yelled at me, spittle flying in my face. At this point I burst into tears and said “I can’t. I don’t know how.” That proved to be the moment that the clock on the detonation sequence began ticking down from 10. “YOU CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT? AMERICAN ENDS IN I CAN. YOU DAMN WELL BETTER FIGURE IT OUT.” Now I’m crying so hard I can barely breath and in full on panic mode. “TELL ME THE ANSWER”, he screamed. “ARE YOU REALLY THAT DUMB?”. It went on like this for almost 2 hours, him screaming at me and threatening to keep it up all night if I didn’t give him the right answer. I didn’t get dinner that night because the “lesson” went on past my bedtime and I didn’t finish the rest of my homework.
For several weeks after that night he quizzed me relentlessly and I would inevitably choke on one of the answers and then he’d start yelling and I’d start crying. My mother would sometimes try to stand up to my father and get him to leave me or my sister alone, but that usually just made him angrier and started what I like to call the triple play where we’d all take turns getting yelled at and demeaned.
This went kind of thing went on for years. I dreaded the time my dad would get home from work because I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I did something to set him off. I tried to stay at friends houses most weekends to avoid him, or have my friends over because he typically wouldn’t get angry in front of my friends.
In later years my father cut back on his drinking and for the most part we got along. Even still there were often tense arguments between us on a weekly basis.
I’m happy to report that my father no longer drinks (because of a bout with pancreatitis). Though I never wanted him to get sick, it’s been the best thing to happen in our relationship. My father is compassionate, understanding, and damned fun to be around now that he’s sober. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I don’t blame my father. Alcoholism is a mental disease and it’s a damned difficult one to have to deal with.
As I travel down my road to battling anxiety I look back at the kid I was and I wish I could have told him it would get better. That kid went through hell and was terrified all the time. Getting through a rare night without getting screamed at was like a vacation in the Bahamas. When I turned 12 and started realizing that I didn’t like girls and was really attracted to boys that just added a whole new layer to the anxiety…keeping a secret from my family, my friends, and the kids at school. In the 70’s and 80’s being found out to be gay in my hometown would likely have gotten me beat on a daily basis at school and home. Anxiety has been a constant unwanted companion to me for as long as I can remember. Some days I overcome and some days I just survive. For the last few months it’s been a constant battle to just survive, barely keeping my head above water, my arms are getting tired and I keep dipping deeper and deeper into the water.
Wow, I don’t think I’ve written this much since college. I guess the old saying, ‘write what you know” applies…though I really wish that my subject matter was happier, or even entertaining. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or alcoholism get help, you don’t have to suffer.
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