Voices of COHP
In some ways I am luckier than many because I remember a time when my family seem to thrive. In my early years, the house was tidy and clean and well-organised. My parents had a social life and we had visitors.
Both of my parents were creative, my mother was an actress, playwright, and artist. My father was a jazz guitarist. We were part of the community.
It's hard to know exactly what changed or when. One of the terrible things about growing up in these situations is that the jigsaw puzzle is always incomplete. There are so many "why's?" So much missing information that will always remain hidden.
When I was young, very young, I suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a neighbour. This went on for a number of years until I was six or seven.
I still don't know if my mother ever found out about it or whether this is what changed her, but when I was six or seven we moved to a rural location, which proved to be the beginning of the end.
After we moved, my mother changed. She became highly stressed, panicky, overly dramatic. She stopped caring for the family. She no longer cooked or cleaned.
My father had suffered a head injury and was unsupportive. He disassociated from the family.
He began to collect things, and his behaviour became destructive. He developed an obsession with fixing things, most of which he destroyed. The house, an array of vehicles, his marriage, and his relationship with his children.
We became completely isolated. We had no grandparents or immediate family, and I often liken our situation to being a group of rats clinging together on a sinking ship.
We had no visitors. We did not fit in with the new neighbourhood. My mother developed a victim mentality and started to become paranoid.
Around age 8 or 9, I realised that my mother was not going to look after us, so I began trying to clean the house.
It was a dreadful time. I was terribly bullied at school by the children and the teachers, who obviously understood that there were severe problems at home and enjoyed making comments about my clothes etc.
I had one dress which I wore until I literally could no longer fit it. After a day at school, I would come home to a filth pit, constant arguing, my mother screaming and crying.
My mother's public behaviour deteriorated. She would turn up to school for teacher meetings wearing no underpants and a short skirt. People laughed behind her back. And of course, teachers and children would say things at school about it.
She stopped parenting. And my father was incapable of parenting.
I remember being so stressed out and terrified of going to school, that I would wake up at 4 in the morning, turn on my little transistor radio and listen, desperately trying to stave off the dawn.
I would wake up with teeth marks in my lips and fingernail marks in the palms of my hands, where I had been so anxious through sleeping that my body was clenched tight.
Eventually, I left school, and was faced with the prospect of going out to work, but I had been so socially isolated and grown up in such a dysfunctional environment that I had no idea of how to live in the world.
I would describe myself through these years as almost being autistic in my behaviour.
I met someone, and like many women who grow up in these situations, moved in as quickly as I could to escape home.
Over the next 10 or so years, I got stuck in a cycle of leaving and coming back when I had nowhere to go. Every time I left the state of the house deteriorated. Every time I returned, I cleaned, and seemed to be nothing more than a maid.
My parents spent their hours sitting in chairs smoking and watching TV.
They were like empty shells.
A turning point came for me after I had had my son and moved out. My Croatian neighbour asked me if I would accompany her cousin to a Croatian ball, as he had no partner.
Their family got my hair done, bought a beautiful dress, had my makeup done, and I accompanied him to the ball.
It was the first time in my life I had ever seen women who were valued. And it hit me like a slap in the face.
These women were treated like precious things. They had been mentored, advised, guided, by their families.
They had fathers who protected them. They had mothers who had taught them how to be women.
It absolutely devastated me. For the first time in my life, I came face-to-face with the reality of my own situation, and my family situation.
Not long after that my mother was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. It took her 8 years to die. During that time, my father was in charge of the house, and it deteriorated to the point of absolute irretrievability.
My brother, who was 3 years younger, had picked up my father's hoarding habits. After my mother died, the two of them clung together and embarked on a journey of filth.
A few years ago, we managed to clean up Dad's house and sell it, we bought a beautiful house in a rural area, but they quickly began to destroy it.
Once again, I had gone home and was living there.
I decided once and for all that the end had arrived for me. I decided that I wasn't going to be anybody’s housemaid anymore. That I wasn't going to let them destroy me the way they had destroyed everything else including themselves. So we sold the property, and they are now trashing their new property.
I am 54 years old. I have had a lifetime of destruction.
If I had one piece of advice to give to any young person in a similar situation, it would be to get out.
Even if it means being poor until you get on your feet. Get out.
The legacy of my childhood is that I struggle with depression on a daily basis. Everyday, I wake up and struggle through the day. I have done counseling. I have done self-awareness. I have tried herbs and various medications. The grief never leaves you. And the longer you stay, the more parts of you are destroyed.
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