Sarah’s story was the first of the Share Your Story requests I received and it rocked me. It’s so powerful, it kind of takes the wind right out of you. What’s even more amazing is the grace in which Sarah owns her past, her vulnerability, and the person she has become through her ups and downs. I won’t say anymore because Sarah will say it better.
My personal story is quite a whirl-wind of events.
My parents divorced when I was about 2 years old, and I never knew my dad growing up. All I knew was what my mom told me, and she never told me “bad” things, most everything was good, but I never really asked too many questions because I did not understand the concept of a dad. I think it goes along with the whole thing of ‘you can’t miss what you never had’. They divorced because my dad was an alcoholic who was emotionally (never physically) abusive to my mom.
My grandparents partially raised me since my mom was a school teacher and a single mom. I give my mom so much credit because she managed to let me do everything from dance and gymnastics, to acting, to many vacations to visit family. When my grandparents died in 2002, I was about to start high school and it was like my world came crashing down on me. They died within 6 months of each other, and my mom who had battled depression since the divorce from my dad probably did not handle it well. I do not remember exactly how she handled it, but I do remember how I felt. When my Grandma died in February, I remember being in the room after she had passed and not even crying because I knew I had to hold it together for my grandpa and mom. I remember the nurse telling me how “strong” I was being, and how she was telling me, at 13 years old, the next steps of how to get the body to the funeral home and what to do. Inside I was broken, my nanny and I were one in the same and she had just been taken from me. But I knew I had to hold that inside. We ended up moving in with my grandpa to help take care of him but he died in July, a day after my birthday – to this day I am pretty sure he died of a broken heart.
In high school I began drinking around 14 years old. The first time I got drunk, I blacked out, threw up, and to make matters worse – I was at school. I got suspended for 5 days, but it did not stop me from my partying ways. My mom never really punished me for it either, I think that I was just too much to handle and she did not know what to do with me. After all, it was just her and I all my life and now my Grandparents were not there and so she really was just as lost as I was, I think. I ended up switching schools to try to get back on track, but it didn’t really work. I continued to party and drink, but in my mind everyone was doing it. I had no self-respect, was dating the wrong people, almost got pregnant at 16, and throughout it all my mom thought I was doing just fine. I think because my grades weren’t suffering she was not worried. I was almost raped (got away somehow), but that did not stop me.
By my senior year of high school I was out of control. I also stopped eating. So, if you’re keeping track I am now drinking and not eating…great combo right? I am not really sure why I stopped eating. I was working at a clothing store that put a lot of value on body image, so I wanted to fit in. I was going to clubs and bars and drinking 4 or 5 nights a week. I was rarely home, and if I was it was just to sleep before another night of partying. Again, I do not know what my mom thought I was doing. At this point I was noticing a change in my body, I knew I wasn’t eating, but Mary Kate Olsen was not eating either and it seemed like she was getting attention for it.
All I wanted was the attention from my mom. I wanted her to notice that I was in need of her, I wanted her to take care of me for a change rather than me taking care of her. She always said that we were roommates, for as long as I can remember she referred to us as that. It was funny at first, but then I think she really believed it. I remember being 8 years old and waking her up for school, I would make breakfast, and ever since I got my license I have driven every time we are in the car together. I was 5’7 and had gone from about 140 lbs to 91 pounds in about 4 months. My mom finally took me to a doctor for my weight loss.
They thought I had a thyroid problem, and I let them think that. Eventually, the doctors caught up and advised I start treatment for an eating disorder. I wanted to go away for treatment, I wanted to escape, but that wasn’t an option. They signed me up for a nutritionist, which to me was a joke. I also started seeing a therapist. I tried going to 3 different therapists when my grandparents died, but neither of them were the right fit for me — so I did not have high hopes about finding a therapist again. A little foreshadowing, but I would prove myself wrong on this point about therapy. I loved seeing my therapist, but I certainly was not an easy client. I did not talk sometimes, other times I would tell her anything she wanted to hear. I had started dating a new guy, but of course with a life like I was leading, we were rocky and when he broke up with me, I tried to kill myself and ended up in the hospital for 3 days. Now, I had recovered from my eating issue, I had gained back weight, but emotionally I was still fragile. I think that boyfriend and I probably got back together, a time or two, but I kept seeing my therapist. I started noticing changes.
The summer between high school and college I really began partying, but emotionally I seemed to be doing so much better. I had learned so much from my therapist. I realized that I had always been afraid to make my mom upset, and she made me realize that it is okay to say ‘no’ to someone, or it is okay if someone is upset with me. It is part of life. I credit my life to this therapist. If it was not for her, I think I would be a very troubled person right now, or dead. During my first semester of college she told me she thought I could stop seeing her, but that was not what I wanted. I liked going to her every week. I liked that she listened and helped me. But, she made me realize I have the tools to do this on my own, and if I need someone she will always be there. I became okay with the idea of stopping counseling every week.
Within about a week or 2 of discussing the fact that I was going to stop seeing her, I got news that would forever change my life. My dad, who I had never met, never talked to, always tried to find him on Google, had died. Worse than that, he had been homeless for about the past 10 years, he drank himself to death, he was only about an hour and a half away from where I lived, and I would never get to meet him. I always wondered what he was doing, if he remembered me, if he had a new family, what his job was – I never thought he would be homeless. The people who he was around said that he did love me and that he knew one day I would find him. It was comforting to know that he did not forget about me. But one thing that stuck out in my mind – he died from alcohol. The path I was on was ruining my life. I needed a change.
As you can guess, I continued to see my counselor for a few more months, but this was where I really got my act together. I decided I wanted to be a counselor and work with people who have substance abuse problems. My dad felt ashamed of who he was; everyone was shocked that a homeless man had a family who loved him and cared about him. I wanted to change that stigma.
I stopped drinking, my body was healthy again, and I was thriving in school. I ended up graduating with my BA in psychology, but thought I wanted to go into forensic psychology. Doctoral programs in Psych are so competitive, I wanted to get a master’s in criminology first and maybe just join the FBI or CIA. I began my M.A. program immediately after my undergrad and quickly realized my heart was in psychology. I finished my M.A.. in criminology and I am currently in a master’s program for Psych with plans to get a Ph.D. in Clinical Psych when I finish here. My mentor for my Crim M.A. changed my life, introduced me to so many opportunities and now I do research studying alcohol. I do not want to practice full time anymore – I want to teach at a university, mentor students, and be able to practice on the side. I do not believe that my dad is the reason I am doing alcohol research, but I do think it guided me to where I am at.
Overall, I had lots of bumps in the road. Well actually, just one really LONGGGGG bump, but I came out of it alive and successful. My relationship with my mom is better than ever now. I do not dwell on my past. What I went through may be a lot to some people, but to others it may be nothing. I feel that we are each faced with different obstacles, and we each can handle different things in life. What may be a big deal to one person may be a minor hiccup for another — who am I to judge another persons’ struggle? The stereotype around homeless people drives me nuts. No one looks at me and thinks, “Oh, her dad was homeless, so I hear all of their stories”. I understand that they are just naive to the situation, and I just listen. I sometimes tell them that part of my life and they often are in disbelief, but that is why I am all for the Affordable Health Care Act. My dad had lots of medical problems, he was hit by cars several times, but never could get adequate treatment because he obviously could not afford insurance.
I hope that people realize it is possible to come out of the hole they may feel like they are so deep in. Find one thing that motivates you, and use it daily to succeed.
Thank you for your story, Sarah. If anyone out there would like to share their stories, please contact me at jen [at] thepursuitofsassiness [dot] com.