Don’t be afraid to share your life experiences.
My grandmother was an ostrich.
She spent most of her life married to a verbally abusive alcoholic. My grandparents’ house came with its own “drinking room”, which was actually the basement. My grandfather shut himself in there for days at a time drinking into oblivion. Meanwhile, right above him, my grandmother cooked, cleaned, got the kids to school and functioned as if it was perfectly normal for her husband to be holed up downstairs. If you ever asked her if she was okay, she’d smile in her cheery way and wave her hand away as if it was no big deal.
The children, including my mother, thought having a sometimes absent father was something every family did. As they grew older, my mother and her sister drank heavily, not able to break the cycle thrust upon them at a young age. Nobody ever mentioned that my grandfather was an alcoholic. To them, he was Jack, the man who raced boats in his younger days and smoked cigars and always stood taller than the average man. Anything else was blasphemy.
I didn’t know I had grandparents who lived in New York until I was five years old. My mother and father had an affair and, when she became pregnant with me, the two of them ran away to Hawaii together. My mother didn’t have contact with her family, who thought someone kidnapped her or killed her. My grandmother handed out flyers everywhere she went hoping to find her daughter. When my mom finally called her after five years on Mother’s Day, she put me on the phone.
“Hello, who is this?” I squeaked in my little girl voice.
“This is… Mrs. Canfield,” my grandmother responded.
About four years later, my mother and father broke up, and my mother and I moved to New York to live closer to her family. We stayed at my grandparents’ house, and they told me explicitly never to go in the basement.
“Why?” I wasn’t used to being restricted. My parents were pretty laid back people, but suddenly in New York, I had a whole new set of rules.
“It’s your grandfather’s basement and none of your business,” my mom snapped back.
My grandfather and I never got along. I thought he was mean and cranky, and I hated the way he slurped his cereal. It made me mad the way he yelled at my grandmother, who was sweet enough to cause a toothache. I avoided him like the plague, but there were times I had no choice but to be around him. Whenever he yelled, I yelled right back.
“Why are you so mean to Grandmother?” I demanded after he yelled at her one day.
“That’s none of your business,” my grandfather shouted.
Not only was everything none of my business, they expected me to pretend there was nothing questionable going on. I soon figured out what my grandfather did in the basement all the time, but my mother instructed me never to talk about it. Talking to my grandmother didn’t help. She seemed to be in complete denial about everything around her. At an age when kids are still brutally honest, I didn’t feel right not talking about it. Why couldn’t we just say what was going on right in front of our noses?
When I was eleven, my mother found my grandfather dead in the drinking room. His liver finally had enough of the abuse, and he went into failure and died. It left me conflicted about how to feel. My grandfather was never nice, and frankly, I felt relieved he couldn’t yell at me anymore. My mother wept in my arms at the funeral as the Catholic priest talked about how wonderful Jack’s life had been. It seemed like everybody was blind, deaf and dumb. Having lived right there in his house, I knew there was more to Jack than anybody was telling.
I just wasn’t allowed to say anything about it.
When I first got serious about telling my story, it was the hardest thing in the world. I was finally telling the secrets I wasn’t supposed to tell. My goal was to make myself vulnerable in the hopes it would help somebody else. What I didn’t expect was how much I would heal in the process.
I’ve written mostly about my personal life, and sometimes I freak out over that. The part of me that likes to put myself down says I’m telling too much information. Why would anybody care what I had to say? What if I make a loved one mad because of something I’ve written? What if people judge me and dislike me for the mistakes I’ve made in the past?
The thing is, everybody in the world makes mistakes. I’m just more honest about mine. As a result, I am healing and getting stronger all the time. I’ve always been somewhat self-aware, but writing from my heart gives me all the answers I need to see where I went wrong. It’s not like I always live in the past, but I think it’s an important place to visit sometimes. Looking back, I can see the patterns that were self-destructive and hurtful. Writing gives me a more complete picture of myself and those around me.
Imagine if everybody was honest about their secrets. One would think it would cause tons of conflict, but I happen to think it gets those conflicts resolved much faster. It’s better to unburden yourself than walk around with a hundred-pound weight in your chest all the time.
Even though I grew up where people spoke in hushed tones and held everything back, that’s never been my style. To this day, I’m still the black sheep of the family because I tell the truth. If they were more honest about my grandfather’s drinking problem, maybe he would have gotten to a point where he asked for help. Maybe my mother would have known what to look out for before she had her own problems with alcohol. A little vulnerability may have transformed my whole family into a much happier one.
I’m the only one who can speak from my perspective. Everybody has their own version of the truth, but only I can tell you mine. I’m just one voice in a sea of billions, but I am unique in the way I look at the world. I’ve read that connection is what people seek the most for themselves. What better way to connect than sharing your story?
Maybe somebody in a similar situation can learn from what I went through. Some terrible things have happened in my life, but I think today they serve a purpose. If something good can come out of bad times, none of your life is ever wasted.
If it helps another person or even helps me, then honesty is truly the best policy.
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