Four girls from the same town that have each grown up with adversities ranging from substance abuse to mental illness. I experienced both of these situations as well as the stress of being “low income” and watching my best friends make choices that continue to keep them in the same situations they wanted to be liberated from. I will share my story and show similarities and differences between my own experience and the those of my friends, let’s call them Mae, Telle and Gracie. In the end, I want you all to become more aware of those around you who have some or all of these hardships. You can’t know how difficult it is to move on when it means possibly leaving unfortunate friends behind.
Poverty is a growing issue and causes many problems for young people who are the most impoverished group in our society. Even in the best economic times impoverished communities must be aware of: substance abuse, malnutrition, inequalities in education as well as the potential for serious mental disorders. The current economic stress just makes these issues more common and drastic in already crumbling communities and add a burden to already struggling families. Facts and figures about teen pregnancy and drug and alcohol use may “scare” society momentarily into caring but the facts have always been there staring them in the face. Real stories are more compelling and easy to relate to.
I call individuals and communities to act now! It’s easy to see myself and my friends in stats. I have found it much more helpful to understand socioeconomic, emotional and environmental reasons for these behaviors. I will show how our responses to our parents’ shortcomings have affected us in our adult lives and how these issues can be caused by social factors. What can society do to make better situations for young people? It can listen to us now.
Timothy M. Rivinus lays out common responses that children of substance abusing parents go through in “Children of Chemically Dependent Parents.” These children are much more likely to imitate their parent’s behavior as a way of dealing with emotional strain or painful events. Many feel they are “destined” to deal with reality the same way their parents did even if they are resentful of that parent. All four girls have used drugs and/or alcohol to cope with stresses and have maintained lasting addictions.
Gracie is a good example of this because she was forced to work and be “responsible” from an early age and she stayed away from drugs, sex, and alcohol because above all else she feared becoming like her mother. She is a smart and capable person but never learned her value as a person and was unable to stop herself once she gave into her inherited disposition to substances and bad relationships. Gracie also exhibits “workaholic” tendencies.
In “Daughters of Madness,” Susan Nathiel provides insight into daughters who have mentally ill mothers. Nathiel talks about “psychological fallout” which includes substance abuse, dismissive attachments, too much focus on peer relationships, sexual acting out and attention seeking behaviors. My position is that when you are brought up in bad circumstances you will continue to live life as you know it to be until you find an outlet or someone who can guide you in a positive direction. I will use this information to aid my memory of my own mother’s suicide attempts, hospitalizations and my responses to those events. A child’s response to a parent who is unfit due to substance abuse is not very different from one who has a mentally ill parent and often the two coincide with each other. I was able to be resilient due to my ability in school and interest in extra-curricular activities. For my friends who were devastated or overburdened in their home lives it is not surprising that they dropped out, turned to drugs, alcohol or sex or had children of their own at a young age.
Growing up in a low income household prepared me for life as a broke college student, even in the midst of current concerns about our declining economy. I am passionate about this project because it comes directly from my experience and understanding of the world and there is no substitute for being there and being able to look back on it from a different perspective. Now I can see the disadvantages my friends and I had “growing up too soon” due to age-inappropriate stress as a result of living in poor neighborhoods with little supervision. We were forced to take care of ourselves as well as younger siblings even though we had a poor model for parents ourselves.
I was forced to assume a care giving role at thirteen when my parents divorced and my mother began showing signs of long a suppressed mental illness. I want to show people what my mother was before she got sick, how drastically she changed as a result of substances (illegal and prescribed) and how she came out of it all alive. My mother is supportive of my writing and film making goals now and is proud that I was able to take my pain and produce something that will help others. Now that I’m close to graduating college (the only one of the four girls to get this far) I still fear for my future and theirs. I am exhausted from years of balancing my professional and personal lives and feel now is the time to examine the past in order to move on. I also have reasons that speak to the larger population, to the fathers, siblings, and teachers of unfortunate young women in this country and all over the world. I hope they can take away something from our experiences that will better equip them to deal with the issues disadvantaged young women face at an alarming rate.
Mae assumed a motherly role to her younger sisters and brother when her parents put her and her friends in charge. The whole family was ill cared for and all of the children had rotten teeth because their mother didn’t like the dentist. She became a teen mother after dropping out of high school. Mae currently has two children and got married to their father.
Telle also had three siblings, all boys. They lived with her mother who worked and drank a lot. Telle’s mom was “cool” with her oldest son “doing pot” as long as he was around her while he was doing it. Her family moved a lot but we stayed friends until she started running with a rougher crowd. Her mother has stopped using drugs and alcohol and it is my understanding that she goes to church and that Telle lives with her.
Gracie was my best friend all through high school. She was moved back and forth between her parents. She had to get a job at sixteen and was responsible for paying for bills and items her parents or siblings wanted. She felt strongly against drugs, alcohol and sex until we graduated and she moved to a slightly bigger city to “get away” from her family. She often jokes about “being an alcoholic” because she fears becoming like her mother. I think we both secretly do.
I want you to physically see the kind of places we grew up. It’s only fair if we’re comparing lives. Mae lived in a rundown, overcrowded, bug-infested two story house on the east side of town. These girls could have lived in any town. Each story hits on similar themes but contains unique insight into the core issues of growing up a poor girl in a medium sized city in the Midwest.
It may be disturbing to people who exist outside the culture of drug addiction that parents would “get high” around or with their children but it is a reality. Our parents seemed to approach that situation in different ways but all of us knew what they were doing.
Going to Mae’s was something I loved and dreaded because although she was my best friend I hated the constant secondhand smoke and deplorable living conditions. Two families lived cramped in tiny bedrooms and the community spaces are overflowing with laundry and clutter. The house is infested with cockroaches and young children play unsupervised and talk about things they shouldn’t be aware of yet. The conversation centers around the sexual experiences each girl has had. Mae and her cousin are much more experienced due to sexual exposure and abuse within their family. Mae and her “boyfriend” had sex for the first time in a wooded area. Her cousin was raped by her own father who was in prison at the time of that conversation. Mae’s story has a lot to do with growing up too soon and assuming adult roles. She is the only one of the four who has successfully had a child and started experimenting with sex at a young age. Her interviews will focus on her identity and self-esteem as girl who had a neglected appearance and little guidance in relationships.
I will contrast Mae’s parents, my parents’ early “drug buddies” with my mom’s best friend when I was a little older. Telle and I became friends because our mothers did drugs together and while she wasn’t perfect she was much better at providing for her children. Telle and I spent a lot of time alone making up things from our imaginations.
This scene is a combination of three consecutive “New Years Eve” celebrations that I had at Telle’s ever-changing homes. The emphasis will be on what kids talk about when their parents aren’t around. The tone is more humorous but still disturbing as there are five children left alone until well after midnight. The scene ends with Telle’s mother coming home to the kids listening to rock music. She has clearly been drinking all night and begins singing along to “Can I Sit Next to You Girl” by ACDC which is blaring on the radio while insisting that she isn’t dwunk.
Telle’s story is focused on the effects of divorce on the family dynamic and with how daughters eventually emulate their mothers. I will interview her and her mother in order to get a better sense of their relationship before and after I spent a great deal of time with them. It is significant that many of my memories with Telle are of us walking to the store to take back cans to buy candy and making creative meals for ourselves such as “salt and pepper macaroni.” Her mom raised four children with little help from her husband and turned to alcohol and drugs to aid in her pain and allowed her children to do the same as long as they were “good kids.”
Gracie had to work and I had been staying the whole weekend. She came home to find her mother letting her younger sister and I drink. Gracie gets angry at me for having fun while she has to work. We are about sixteen at this time and it is the first time I have been drunk. This scene shows how she felt about “having fun” in high school and provides a stark contrast to her life now.
My scene begins with a birthday card that my mother didn’t have time to sign before she was admitted to the Mental Health Institute when I turned thirteen. I remember a quiet meeting with a mother who is drugged with bandages on her wrist.
That was one of the worst sights I had ever seen until the moment I realized my mother was addicted to Meth and didn’t want me when I came to visit in the hospital and only wanted what I was supposed to bring her. Or the time I saw how much her face had aged.When she lost all her teeth, when she got in a car accident and almost died. That she lives handicapped with a shattered ankle, gout and and amputated middle finger. The last image of my mother is the one people see now, scarred, crippled yet smiling.