I have a difficult time expressing when I am struggling. Doesn’t everybody, really? I have this deep-seated belief that asking for help, in any form, shows weakness. As someone with mental illness and addiction, the culture, norm, and expectations around getting better involve “asking for help,” either from doctors or therapists, sponsors or friends.
I think for me, part of that belief that I am showing weakness simply by asking for help comes from my childhood. The parts I remember (which are few and far between, honestly) remind me that I was raised and taught to take care of myself at a young age.
I was a latch-key kid, I rode the bus home from school and let myself in. I was the first one home, and depending on the day, my sister and my mother would get home later, usually at different times. So, out of hunger and necessity, I usually prepared my own snack or small meal when I got home. I had a lot of TV dinners or microwaveable things, and also sandwiches. Then when my mom got home, she would make herself something, and the same when my sister got home. So in turn, we hardly ever ate as a family, at the table.
I don’t really remember my mother being involved in my life much at all once I became a teenager. I was pretty self sufficient at that point, did my homework without having to be told, went to bed at an appropriate time and never even had to be given a curfew. I got a driver’s license at 15 years old, a hardship license, because of my mother’s mobility problems. I started running all of the errands without her, the grocery shopping, putting gas in her car for her, driving myself to school, and so on.
As I entered high school, I really had no friends, but I was okay with that. I had never been social, and my mother had never really pushed me to try to be social. My sister always had friends, she was going to friends’ houses, staying at school for extracurricular activities, etc. I never really did. In classes, when I would finish the assigned work, I would take my “fun” book out of my bag, and start reading, while the other students in the class would usually start chitchatting when they finished. The teachers loved me, because I never caused problems. Throughout high school, people knew me, don’t get me wrong, but usually in the way of “hey, what was the book about?” on the day of the English quiz. Explaining Macbeth in 10 minutes is not really that possible, by the way. It is highly likely that there were times that half the football team would have failed English and “no pass, no play” without my assistance, hence the people knew me.
Basically, the entire time I was growing up and coming into my own, I had the mindset and understanding that I could do it on my own. I never really had to ask for help. When I started to struggle, started to get depressed, started to self harm with cutting and addictive substances, I still believed that I could take care of myself. I still believed that I didn’t need help. I first attempted suicide when I was 20 years old, after one of the most important women in my life passed away suddenly.
That was 14 years ago, and even though I now have my therapist and psychiatrist, I still cringe at that thought of asking for help. I want to be able to do it myself, which in turn lands me in the emergency room needing sutures, or back at NA getting a white keytag yet again. When I do end go to the ER for sutures, they usually offer for me to speak with the social worker, and most of the time I answer that it’s not worth it and it won’t change anything.
I know I need help, and even when help is offered to me without having to ask, I cringe. My insides ball up and I have this insane urge to run as fast as I can. When my therapist show care and concern, it is painful. I wasn’t raised being told that I matter, so hearing it now is painful. Asking someone to sponsor me is anxiety inducing and I am almost more comfortable being miserable and continuing to harm myself in various ways than I am asking for help.
The hand I was dealt, the emotional neglect as a child, being taught to take care of myself, is just that, the hand I was dealt. That is my story, up until this point. The author of the story can always end one chapter and begin another at any point in the story.
I need to realize that I am the author. My story up until this point has already been written, and I need to own the fact that the past cannot be changed. I cannot change the way my mother was growing up. I cannot change the ways I learned to manage my emotions. I cannot change the way I learned to never ask for help. I can change, however, what I do from now on, and how I treat myself in that process.