Stories of Recovery and Hope: “My Life Began at 36”
“My Life Began at 36”
by Tammi Way
I was never a favorite daughter. Cold disdain and anger were what I was raised with. No matter the feat, there were never the congratulations. So at a tender age and began to build walls. Walls choked with anger and deceit. I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. I tried everything I could to defeat the demon. I tried to sleep my way through it. That didn’t work. I tried to live my way through it. That didn’t work. I tried to spend my way through it, and the only thing that did was leave me in debt. I even tried to work my way through it, but I just could not see the reason for endless labor. So I became dependent on those who bore me. It wasn’t like I wanted to, but everything outside of my little world seemed to be a threat, so I became immobile.
I can’t ever remember not hearing the malevolent voice in the back of my head. Its sinister words have molded me as much as my parents rules did. I have always heard it. Its voice would guide my every move. So I grew to be a scared kid. I was afraid of anything new, but the adventurer in me at times won out. So I always knew that I had potential, but my demon was never a friend.
I remember when I was about 10 years old and I was in the fifth grade. I was the odd girl out, no one, literally no one, liked me. I remember being punched and kicked daily by my contemporaries. I remember that teachers would just “there, there” to the other kid and then tell me to try to get on better with them. I would look at these giant people and wonder just how I was supposed to do that. I spent a good amount of time in the guidance counselor, and I would find in very short spaces time where I felt safe. But then I would go to face my tormentors and no matter what, I would get punched or kicked by someone every single solitary day.
My torment reached its pinnacle when I was 12. I was walking down at our local carnival grounds, two of my tormentors “captured me.” They dragged me down to our local river that had just thawed from the winter. I was plunged face first into the water almost drowning. Then I got punched and kicked until I couldn’t move. I was finally left alone and when I got home there was no one to comfort me. My mother didn’t come home for hours and when she did, I just knew that if I said anything that my mother either wouldn’t believe me or she would just wonder why I didn’t fight back. Knowing my mother at that time, she would have found a way to blame all of this on me. That was just the way that it was, and whenever I cried out, no one really cared. I was just overly dramatic, my wounds usually didn’t show so, they didn’t exist. So I stopped talking about what really hurt me and started to make things up so I didn’t have to go to school.
Now my parents were not monsters. They were alcoholics who both came from uncaring and mean people. So they drank and let their demons control them. But in my childhood there was no dialog for what was wrong with me. I was just dramatic and malingering. I couldn’t say what really hurt. How I would see things that other people didn’t see, how I would hear words that no one else could here. It was my own personal hell and I couldn’t figure out the formula to make it go away.
When I finally moved and got out of the hell of Hilton Central School’s, I was beyond damaged. I feared everything. Even though I now had friends, a few at least, I felt so incomplete as a person that I made up people in my life to try to say that I was at least normal. I couldn’t stop lying, pretending that I was normal. I tried so hard to make myself important to others. But I wasn’t normal. The walls talked to me. I had invisible people talking to me and without hesitation I talked to them, because I really felt that they were real. They were able to carry me away from the pain and anguish. In these worlds I would create I was rich, I was pretty, and I had no problems. So for the most part I thrived inside my head and when life came back to me it was a brutal interruption.
For me real life was nothing but pain and loneliness, I felt like no one cared, my sister would spend her time in purgatory downstairs rocking and waiting for my mother to come home usually drunk and mostly not in a good mood. I would spend my days in bed dreaming up whole worlds that I could enfold myself into. Meanwhile my mother as well as my father were fighting demons of their own. They were abused as children and they drank and carried on trying to get through the pain. But still for me it seemed like there was no way out. I didn’t understand that then. I do now and quite frankly it still hurts a great deal. Both for them and for me.
As I grew older it seemed that I was never looked upon with favor. I felt crushed by the weight of rejection, and I felt I had nowhere to turn. I was a pretty good computer student, was even President of my technical student class but to everyone that was no big deal. I even got small awards from school because my obsessions made me valuable to some of the teachers in school. But that never, ever mattered.
Men and women of skills tried to relieve my phobias and sadness, but I resisted their words. I just wanted to avoid talking about what was really going on because I didn’t want to face the rejection of people who were for a short time paying all of their attention to me. Every sense in my being asked to be loved and understood, but finding no solace, I grew to be arrogant. Then no one could hurt me. But in reality every negative comment hurt deeply. My soul began to bleed invisibly and the more I tried and the harder I fought, the more the demon inside took its toll on me. I became a font of useless knowledge, which only served to give me ridicule. So to others I had done many things, but in reality I was paralyzed to my small room, my mind obsessing over useless things. Still in my own way I was trying to best the demon.
Day and night the demon pestered me. Like a fog horn on a dreary night, I would hear its call.
“You know you can’t do that. Why do you even bother? Haven’t I already told you that you are nothing but a failure?” would come its cursed words.
“But maybe if I try?” I would beg it for understanding.
“You know I know what is best for you, so stay home and keep silent. Your words don’t matter. No one is listening to you.”
It took forever, but I finally resembled the form of an adult. I was a large shell with almost nothing to fill my soul. I didn’t communicate unless it was a lie. I was always having some sort of medical crisis because the years of tension was draining my body of physical resources. There are even pictures that are taken of me where the truth of my sadness were revealed. I sometimes look at that picture and I couldn’t believe the weight of the world that was sitting on that youngsters shoulders. I graduated high-school and then tried to be productive but I just couldn’t find my place in the world. I did try to do as my parents commanded and work a job but I was just so frustrated. Looking at piles of dirty dishes and worn laundry knowing that I could do much better than that. So I tried college, thinking that I would be good at the law. But again the demon had to have his say.
“What are you doing? There is no possible way that anyone would look at you and think that you belong with another’s life in your hands. You don’t understand anything, I have told you time and time again, you are worthless, and you will only humiliate yourself. Go back to your room and keep vigil there. You know that your parents’ house will be destroyed if you insist on going your own way.” The demon shouted day and night at me until it was so loud that I couldn’t hear anything else. So I did what it bade me to do and I sat in my room, in the darkness hoping that nothing would happen. Nothing did happen but I heard most of it. I listened as my parents struggled against demons of their own.
I did honestly try to work. I had no experience in anything other than sleep and TV trivia but sometimes I would find the strength to find a position outside of my house. So I would apply and then I tried to bullshit my way into jobs. Strangely my false bravado worked a lot of the time. But then the dark voices would grow loud. So loud that I could hear nothing else, and I would just quit. Oh I always had an excuse but my true reason was my damaged soul. So for me, there was no way out.
After years alone, moving from one loveless relationship to another, I found myself working and being successful for a small time. Then as I turned thirty a small ray of hope came into my dreary existence. For a time it was a true obsession. It came in the form of a man. His name became gospel to me. His mortal form became my religion. I vied constantly for his attention and for a short time I still felt good. We took the vows even though I knew I couldn’t be what he wanted. I was too tough, too bruised, too ready to take offense. We were almost never peaceful we were too busy trying to win, but there was no prize. I looked outside my sacred bonds. And now forever he is the Prince, while I am always going to be known as the slut. As always, the demon was there. Killing me internally with no care for my physical form.
“You can spend what you want, he will make more money.” It would say, so I would spend recklessly.
“Have sex with him. You don’t need to know his name. It’s all about you getting yourself off. He won’t find out.
He and I started out the best of friends and when we became lovers, it was a revelation to me. He kissed me, he caressed me, it felt good to be wanted but by the time he and I were talking marriage I was plunging into a new dreadful hole of depression. I tried to keep it at bay, but I couldn’t stop the voices. Once we were physically together the curtain came down around me, strangling my love and how I really wanted to be someone who he could respect and be proud of. For the first two years I was in bed, I don’t know how he didn’t throw me out, and then I found an activity that I could obsess over and his money made it possible for me to join in and for the first time enjoy adult activities. The strange thing was that this new club’s sole purpose was to give me a good clear voice, yet I couldn’t say the words that plagued me. So I tried to be funny and useful, and surprisingly my work made the club popular and we won awards. I wanted my whole family to see all that I had accomplished, but no one came. It crushed me in ways that I still hurt from.
Finally all of my transgressions came to a head and I was found to be the lying, cheating woman that I was. He didn’t want me anymore and even though it still hurts, I understand why he left me. He didn’t want to be a sucker, and finally no words would get me out of this situation. I couldn’t bully my way out. It was then that it became really desperate. It was when everything was gone. When I couldn’t go home again that the veneer of my world collapsed. It was then that it all went to hell. I found myself in bed with no memory of the last 7 days. I found myself with a knife that had dried blood all over it. I hadn’t showered or eaten in a week and I had taken almost 300 Gabapentin. That night I called for help because I knew that I would die if I didn’t get help. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to live, but the pain was so overwhelming to me that I could only cry. My soul is shattered. Everywhere there was destruction and I was a trapped little rat in a cage with sharp edges. Everything hurt, but I could not leave myself. My soul was heavy. Finally I cried out and asked for help.
In the beginning, help was slow to come. I was given fat woman medicine. I was told that it was all in my head. That if I looked at the world with rose colored glasses, I would be okay. It felt like no one understood me. I didn’t have the words to tell those educated in my condition where it hurt. I just felt like I was on fire with numbness over it. Three times my freedom was taken from me. I was put into small spaces where I couldn’t hurt myself. Words that were violating my sacred soul. I wanted the walls to come down but had no means to collapse the barriers that kept me prisoner. The demon was shouting then. The demon knew that I was coming for it and that when the final battle was won I would come through scarred but alive.
“Just die bitch, no one will care if you die. You were wrong and you cannot be forgiven. Just die. Make it quick and then you won’t hurt anymore,” it would tell me.
Finally finding no answers I ended my life in the north and came down to the state of perpetual sunshine. But the scenery did nothing for my mind. Within a year I was hurting myself. Trying to keep my mind and body together with almost nothing. Begging my parents to believe that I was ok. But reality again crashed down on me and I told the world I couldn’t handle it anymore. Again my freedom was taken from me.
For the next several years, I was in the middle of a scary carnival midway. Everywhere I looked I saw nothing but danger, I felt if I made my environment clean that no one could hurt me. I bought a dog, but there were times that walking her was terrifying. I couldn’t sit in a car without thinking that we were going to crash. I would lay awake praying that it would just stop. Buddha please make it stop.
The last time it was a little different. There was a gregarious soul who came to my rescue. He remembered my pain and told me that I could do better, but with a great deal of work I could bathe in the light. I still felt helpless. I couldn’t handle anything. My father spent his days fixing things that I broke because I was lonely, and I was still actively trying to hurt myself. Seventy-five Risperdals… Okay. Cutting a 10-inch incision on my arm and continuing to cut until I almost passed out from blood loss… Fine. Stabbing myself over and over to dull the anguish… Good. I was my own worst enemy. I wanted just to stop and find rest, but in my carefully controlled world, I felt more and more out of control. It was like a sick merry-go-round and I just wanted to get off.
The last time my freedom was taken was total bullshit, I told everyone that I was fine and there was a new doctor who listened and made the pills work for me. He also asked me a question.
He said “Let me ask you this and I want you to think about this. Are you a victim, a survivor or a person with mental illness?” To be honest I was gob smacked. I had never looked at it that way.
I knew that I wasn’t a victim. No one actually did this to me. It was the way that I was born. I hate the word survivor, because I wasn’t planning to survive. I wanted to live. So I decided to be a person with mental illness. That being said, I had responsibilities. I was just as accountable as everyone else in my healing process. So I went with more help for myself and little by little I began to stand on my own two feet. It didn’t happen overnight, and I can’t say that I did everything right, but I would take small chances, like getting on a bus alone and making it to my appointments on time. I would sit and listen in classes where I was taught the skills to calm the demon’s voice. I learned to read and became patient enough to understand that when someone gave me a suggestion that they weren’t trying to be hurtful, they were trying to make me better. Soon I could listen to anyone and not take things personally. I could talk and I would make sense and I didn’t have to lie or make up a story to get people to like me.
It was five years before the demon began to soften its hateful expression. I decided to fight. It was NOT going to kill me, I was worth something and I knew it.
It was when I named the demon, and then I stopped giving it power. Daily I grew stronger and though the demon was still there, its voice began to grow softer. Now the walls I put in place blocked the savage voice that was trying to kill me. I gained the vernacular to tell those around me what was really hurting. Now there was no more bullshit. It was wonderfully liberating. I could change a light bulb, I could go to the store, I could have friends, and I didn’t need to be a hermit.
I relearned how to enjoy art and to create it, though in an abstract way I could bleed my soul of the poison that was killing me and it would spill across the pages as I drew. I again took up writing and developed a fairly disciplined writing routine. I finally got myself into school and worked at it. I don’t at times have the best of grades, but I am now legitimately trying. I now don’t have to rely on my parents for company and conversation. I have friends who I cherish and who cherish me. I am striving to be well, every day, all day.
Now hope comes as a warm balm to soothe even my deepest wounds. It was by no means easy and I still have bad days, but they are fewer and farther between. I am slowly becoming a whole, a “form” with rights and responsibilities. I am finding solace in small things. Now I am beginning to know who and what I am. I believe I am worthy of love. I am still not completely formed, but I am NOT invisible any longer. I am no longer the kicking post in the room. My aura says kick me at your peril, because I am not going to give into your petty bullshit. I am Tammi and I am a sacred soul.