Starting Over From Scratch After Fifty

I started life with very little stability. My family was dirt poor, my parents were very damaged human beings that should have never taken on the job of parenting. Our alcoholic father left when I was five and we never saw him again. He was a loser, but I can’t say I blame him for making a break from our insane mother. At times, it’s very painful to think about the neglect and abuse that my four sisters and I endured. I can’t wrap my head around how anyone can treat children so poorly.

I went from an unstable loveless childhood straight into addiction. I started smoking cigarettes full time when I was twelve and after forty years of sucking those awful chemicals into my lungs, I quit at last year at age fifty-two. I was a full blown alcoholic by the time I was thirteen. I moved out of my mother’s house when I was fourteen and in with my twenty-two year old boyfriend which set the stage for my dependency on men. My addiction progressed into other drugs which came to a dramatic halt when I was twenty-nine and I got sober for the last time. By that time I had suffered from very intense episodes of depression and was plagued with suicidal thoughts. I had attempted suicide three times and nearly died quite a few more times after accidental overdoses from street drugs.  I was put on a boatload of psych-meds, which was standard treatment for addicts and I never had the chance to figure out who I was without the influence of one chemical or another.

I bought into the story that I was genetically predisposed to addiction and mental illness. That I was imbalanced and sick. With my history of unpredictable madness it seemed like a logical explanation. And it seems like the story fits for so many of us from the same broken circumstances. It is assumed that if you have a painful childhood you are destined for a life of addiction and mental illness, which these days translates to a life on psychiatric medication. So, with the encouragement of the medical establishment, I obediently was on meds for decades. I thought if I stopped taking them that I would fall into the abyss of depression that would ultimately lead me back to addiction and possibly death.

I never had any idea of who I was or what I wanted. Except for a few years in my life, I had only experienced life through a filter of chemicals. When I decided to go off the meds, I really had no idea what was in store. And it wasn’t until after I got through the acute part of discontinuing medication that I was able to begin building myself from nothing. Up until this time, I thought taking those pills was taking care of myself.

Here I am, three years later and just now starting to recover from some of the brain injury caused by decades of medication. It is the first time in my life that I am not bogged down by an outside stressor or chemical. It’s kind of shameful and embarrassing that it took so long to set myself free. At the same time it’s no surprise considering I could never really trust my impulses. I learned that taking pills was the only way to control my wild self…and save myself from me.

When I say I’m starting my life from scratch, I mean it. My life became very small while I was on medication. I mostly worked odd jobs when I had to make ends meet and I never had a particular career path. I couldn’t finish anything I started including friendships. I didn’t have kids for fear of passing down my mental illness and addiction infested genes. Beside for my sisters and boyfriends, I’ve had a very limited social life since going on medication. And to top it off, my health was in terrible shape. It’s like I’ve been hanging on to a piece of driftwood out at sea for about twenty years.

It’s really hard to get things up and running after mostly being sick and dysfunctional throughout my life. The good news is that I’m doing it. One of the biggest realizations I have had so far is finding out that I am much more trustworthy than I ever gave myself credit for. I can trust that I’m not going to do anything stupid. I can stick to a plan and be present in my life. Most importantly I’ve learned that my emotions are not some runaway train that I can’t stop. I am learning that I have control over how I respond to my emotional life, that the ebb and flow of my feelings do not dictate a diagnoses. With that in mind I’ve been able to be a witness to my inner life without going off the psychological deep end. I didn’t have to go to a doctor to figure out how to just be with myself and take care of myself through through my transformation from a sick patient to a healthy thriving adult woman. I found all the strength I needed right here inside of me.

Writing is one of the things that I feel like I have to relearn. I used to write with ease but  medication damage affected my language skills so it’s very difficult for me to put my thoughts into words. This blog is a place for me to practice some of these cognitive difficulties and a place to share what it’s like to start from ground zero.

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