“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
This is a true story. Information gathered from charts, talks with doctors, family members, and people who were there.
There were 8 kids. 5 of them under 10.
3 kids were older.
One day, the mother of these children had her younger children taken away from her for physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
The abuse was a part of the daily routine. The children would be forced to kneel down in prayer in front of a statue of Jesus. They were to swear that their mother had not been drinking. The mother would threaten to beat them if they told anyone she had been drinking. She had followed through on that promise before. This was a typical day for these kids.
Some of the documented instances that led up to the children’s removal are below and pulled from the chart:
One day, her 2-year-old stepped on a broken beer bottle and sliced her foot to the bone.
“It’s just a little cut, get over it!” The mother yelled at her two-year-old. The mother, Unable and unwilling to do anything for the child passed out.
The 14-year-old daughter had to drive the toddler to the ER for surgery. She had no idea how to drive, but they made it. Surgery was needed. The 2-year-old is now a successful nurse.
In another incident, the mother passed out drunk and fell on top of one of the kids. The other seven children all worked together to get her off, preventing the infant from suffocating.
This child went on to be assistant Attorney General.
The oldest daughter took care of the children with what she had to offer. She cooked Ramen noodles on the grill in freezing temperatures as it was all they had to eat.
The kids rarely attended school and when they did, they usually were welcomed to harassment, beatings, ridicule and bullying. They wore the same clothes, usually dirty, without combed hair and sometimes bruises. They were all shy and scared. They were targets of the other children. This was in the St Louis Park, Edina school system. A wealthy neighborhood.
Why would they be in a wealthy neighborhood?
Who was he?
Well, he was actually a doctor and a well-respected man in the community.
But behind closed doors, he was an abusive alcoholic that lashed out daily beatings to his wife for her drinking and the embarrassment she caused.
One evening, while she was pregnant, he drug her across the room with a belt leading to a miscarriage—with the children burying the dead fetus in their back yard.
Around age 40, the father died of a heart attack, leaving the family in the hands of their alcoholic mother and eight children—most of them under the age of 10.
This woman was left with a healthy inheritance, but spent it primarily on booze. And when the money train stopped, the next train that came in was by the state department taking away her children to foster care.
Except the older children, 2 moved out. One stayed with her mother, the 14-year-old daughter.
Once the younger kids were in foster care. The mother would get drunk and call to harass the foster parents, trying to get the kids removed and separated. She never took time to go see them or get to know them.
The kids moved on with their lives and became successful by society’s standards. Doctors, lawyers, nurse practitioners, nurses, and musicians.
The 3 older kids, one started his own family and became a wealthy nursing home administrator. He also beat his child and abandon him at age 15. But he had a good job.
The other went to juvenile homes for stealing cars but eventually became a well-respected doctor and colonel. He became legendary for what he would do.
How did they all rebound so well? That depends on your definition of rebound. Money, success, validation, accumulation of stuff can be seen as success, but the reason people do these things is to escape and to prove something. Trying to fill a void.
They all were evenqtually scattered across the country doing their amazing things by all accounts if you look from the outside.
Then as time went on, their mother became ill. The famous doctor bought her a house and paid for her care. He was a success story getting out of trouble and becoming a great doctor. So, he financially helped a great deal.
They all stayed away as the mother was dying alone. She had destroyed them, and they really had no sympathy. This is what she deserved in their minds.
Except that daughter. The one that was 14 and drove the kids to hospitals, cooked Ramen noodles on the deck in freezing temperatures. She also paid for groceries for the brother when he was going to medical school and got him through. We all believe we get to where we got by ourselves, that is ego. I saw she paid for his groceries and rent to get him through medical school.
This daughter, now an adult in her 20’s. Continued to drive to her mother’s house. She is the one who stayed at home with the mother when the rest left. The drunken mother would abuse this daughter, call her 4 eyed baboon, lesbian, and a Russian half wit. I don’t know what that means. What I found interesting is she kept coming back for the abuse.
I heard people say she is weak with poor boundaries, and low self-esteem. Letting someone treat you like that is weak. This eldest daughter heard it. The staff wondered when would be the day she stopped showing up. But it never happened.
As time went on and the drunken mother lived at the home she was bought. This eldest daughter drove to her mother’s house, cleaned up the feces all over the house, and drove her around and even to the liquor store. Maybe in hopes of finally getting the “I love you” that she never received.
When people go through a trauma like that together, they all react different.
It’s like if a house set fire. All would be burned differently based on genetics, where they were in the house, and sensitivity. So, we expect everyone to have the same burns. But all were burnt.
Some denied it, some tried to accumulate, some did drugs. Some hid from the world, some accomplished, some became helpless.
No way is right or wrong, it’s all responses to different traumas from the fire. It all affected the way they raised their children also. Some taught kids to become performers, accomishers, some enforced images, some beat kids or forced them to achieve. Some overcompensated and did all for their kids. Some avoided relationships.
But society sees them as successful so that is what they hold on to. It was a cycle being passed on. They all judged each other’s response to the fire and all thought they were right, because they never got to the realization, they all were burned differently.
Without that the trauma continues to be passed on without even knowing it.. Regardless of outside appearance.
The drunken woman continued the emotional abuse, creating permanent psychological damage to her daughter—the only one who ever showed her love.
Unknowingly to the mother nearing death, this unconditional love and compassion of this child is what recovery is all about. People do not need to be kicked when they are down, they need someone to see beyond the behaviors.
They need someone to tell them “you are a good person, but this disease is preventing you from being that beautiful soul. We just need to remove this barrier.”
However, it is much easier to have bad guys and good guys. To label people. Then we attach all they do to that label and prevents us from getting to know the real person.
It helps feel superior and helps hold onto anger. Being angry is a defense and a powerful one. It is easier than getting to know someone and seeing beyond the labels. Labels can describe things, It never can understand or explain them. To get to that point you have to lean into the fire. And if you are already guided by fear, the task is tall. That’s what I mean when I say the thing you need most is in the place you are most afraid to go.
The drunken mother was the monster, that caused this. This is how the pain all started. When we search for bad guys in this story it seemed to end here for them and most of society. Easily wrapped up.
She eventually died the villain. There was no story book ending where she saw the light and apologized.
Mostly became she saw herself as the monster that everyone else did. We all believe what others tell us we are. This is an extreme case. So, she tried to drink it away.
Then there was her funeral. I was there for this pre funeral meeting.
I remember it quite well. Her adult children all arrived from out of town, had not been around for years, but made their grand entrance for the spectacle. You could sense the anger and negative energy in the room.
“She is going to burn in hell,” was the common theme among these kids who had not seen her in years and never really saw it any other way. They never really knew their own mother. They were all in foster care before they were five years old, but made an appearance at her funeral to wish her well spending eternity in flames.
But the oldest daughter who always stuck around, caring for her mother as she watched her slowly drink herself to death. Continuing to care for her mother, no one quite understood what made her return day-after-day and take on the abuse. They questioned her mental stability, courage and strength. She stood up to them on this day.
While they thought she was weak and pathetic, they missed out on experiencing the strongest and most courageous person in their lives. This level of unconditional love this daughter had could not be broken. She did not listen to what others said about her, no one could prevent her from loving this “monster.”
Every day, people would expect her to stop showing up, stop caring, stop loving and stop trying. She saw something no one else saw. And if you haven’t been there before, there are no words in the world that can be said to make you understand. And if you have been there before, no words are needed and you already fully understand everything I’m talking about.
There was a side to this case that professional’s and everyone ended up missing due to being caught up in their own narrative.
The thing that was found out that had been missed in this case, is that when this drunken woman was seven years old, she was babysitting her 5-year-old brother. A 7-year-old babysitting a 5-year-old in New York in the 1930’s. Her 5-year-old brother explored as 5-year-olds do.. He wandered out into the street. Then there was a crash. A scream and chaos. Her 5-year-old brother was struck by a car and died instantly.
A 7-year-old watched her brother die. From this point on, she was blamed for his death. A 7-year-old does not have the mental capacity to understand this is not true. A 7-year-old cannot tell if Santa Clause is real or not, how are they supposed to know the blame is not true when her parents label her as a killer, irresponsible and bad person? On top of that, both her parents were alcoholics that immigrated from Ireland and faced immense discrimination during the 1920’s on the east coast.
She was blamed for the death of her sibling since she was seven. Her parents were her life and that is what she was told. She struggled in school and then was told she was a bad student and a delinquent and killer. She believed it. She trusted the adults. She was rejected and abused for this.
She grew up with pain and feeling as though she was a monster.
She married a well-respected man who was loved and adored by the community, the break she needed. Only to have this same man beat her within an inch of her life when he comes home from work. Then watch him be admired for his work. Who would believe her, the drunken killer?
Her husband was glamorized in public, while she was ridiculed. Her upbringing had trained her that you do not mention these things, so she buried it away, put on her mask and turned to alcohol. She began to believe all these things about her to be true, turned people away from her and “chose” booze instead of her kids.
At seven years old, we are innocent. Imagine back to a happy time when you were around that age. Getting ready to do something you love to do (in her case, dance class) and then to watch your 5-year-old brother wander into the street and get hit by a truck and killed. Life changes just like that. And then to be blamed your entire life for this without anyone ever letting you know the truth. Then the trauma continues to come in waves and waves, while others stand by at the dock pointing and ask:
“Well why doesn’t she get out of the ocean? Those waves are too high.”
So she lost her way, but how does the story end? When did she get out of that mess? The popular feel-good stories tell us the incredible journeys of those who overcome, get better and find their way in the world. How does this one end?
The truth is many of us with mental illness and addiction suffer until we die. We die thinking we are monsters. We are all lost, but rarely found.
This story is not unique, but unfortunately, the norm in mental health and addiction. We observe and judge the behavior without taking a look beyond the mask. The behavior (mask) is going to stand out.
And the uglier the mask, the longer-lasting impact it will have on us. We treat those with the ugliest masks, the worst. We use it as a guide as to determine the evilness of the person inside.
And until we can consciously look beyond the mask of each person effected by mental health or addiction, the situation will never improve.
The eldest daughter never heard the words, “I love you,” or “I’m sorry.” There is no storybook ending. The woman died without ever saying goodbye.
But this drunken woman did get what she always desired—to believe she was a good, worthwhile human. She had finally received her life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. This woman finally felt loved for the first time in her life during the last few years.
While the daughter may not have noticed this new unconditional love was reciprocal, I did notice. And it changed me forever.
I saw it in the drunk women’s eyes. She felt love for the last days of her life. I knew the daughter was right all along using love.
Seeing all these reactions to pain, I saw that the one who came back with love was right. She was not weak, pathetic or any of that. In fact, she was strong.
Strength does not come in the form of aggressiveness, anger, and judgment. Strength comes in the form of love. Love is the hardest thing for us to do, especially after trauma. Forgiveness, understanding and love is strength. That’s what I saw. I saw it change the world.
I tell this story and many say how can I be so sure…….
I know so because I was there the whole time…
The drunk lady is my grandmother.
The eldest daughter is my mother.
When I was nine-years-old and visiting my grandma with my mom to clean her feces and bring her to the liquor store. We went to the same store red owl. There was a pharmacy Snyder’s, on the way, and in the window, I saw a green nerf football. I sat and cried and begged for the football. My mom said no, don’t have the money. Maybe next time.
I was begging for this football. It’s all that mattered to me. I had to have it, I was impulsive, I needed it.
Now, remember, my grandmother is this same, nasty old drunk I’ve been talking about for the past few pages, but she saw that I truly needed to have this football.
My grandma watched my fit.
We walked towards the liquor store. Got the cart as always. Then as we were walking down the aisle my grandma stopped. Said something to my mom, and we left.
We walked back to the car, but before we got there, my grandma went into Snyder’s and came out with the 7-dollar football.
That’s all the money she had. Nickels dimes, she emptied out her wallet.
She didn’t get a drink or drunk that day. Only time in 45 years she didn’t get drunk she went sober.
She spent her last dollars on my football.
I still have that football today.
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