Surviving even when the floor falls out from under me

I have a new anthem. Survivor, by Destiny’s Child. I’m sure this is a bit cliche, really, but upon searching around for various songs about surviving, it’s my favorite. (Though I do like “Eye of the Tiger” in an ironic sort of way that’s another story for another day.) I’ve always liked it.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been waiting for the floor to fall out from under me, because it always did. My father, who was bipolar type 1 and a raging alcoholic, was constantly spending the money intended for rent or utilities on alcohol or one of his projects, and we would leave in the night to another place, always racing the rent. Things would be calm for a while, I’m get comfortable in school and my new neighborhood and then WHAM we left in a whirlwind over a weekend, and I would be at my grandma’s for a few days while my parents moved what few possessions we had to another apartment. I changed schools yearly in early elementary school, and in second grade, twice. The house we lived in when my mother finally kicked my dad out and divorced him was the first place I’d lived longer than a year, in my entire life- we were there three years or so, because it was a rental owned by my mom’s boss. We stayed in several of his houses over the course of my early childhood and dad would just make us move because of his own psychotic reasons. I never was given an explanation, this is all things I’ve extrapolated since. It’s too painful a subject to ask my mother about.

Once dad was gone, we had peace for about a year. It was the calmest, happiest days of my life. No nightly screaming matches, no walking on eggshells to see if dad was in a good mood or not, no random mind games. We started to go to church, I made friends in school. We actually had a little extra money, because we weren’t supporting dad’s alcohol and cigarettes. Mom met my stepdad that year, and they got married fairly quickly. My siblings and I rather liked my stepdad, and we bought a beautiful house that we renovated. I suddenly had four stepsisters, but they were only there on the weekends, so during the week it was calm and quiet. I had to start over yet again in a new school in the seventh grade, which is a horrible time for transition for any kid, but a bipolar one? Now that I wasn’t hiding my symptoms to protect my mom, they started to get worse and I was eventually medicated and put into therapy, where I started to work through the anger and fear around my dad.

I was twelve when my mom married my stepdad, who had been sober for years before mom met him. When I was sixteen and working at my after-school job, my mom showed up with a bag of my belongings and told me to go to my grandmother’s. My stepdad had started to drink again, and mom had sent all of us kids to my grandmother’s, our refuge.

In that moment, I felt the floor fell out from under me again.

The floor would continue to do so, as my stepdad struggled to bring his addiction under control again, and he would come home drunk and scare the living crap right out of me. My siblings and I had started to trust him to the point of calling him dad, but all three of us went right back to calling him by his first name. To this day he falls off the wagon from time to time. Mom started to go to Al-Anon, and my siblings and I went to Alateen, which are the support groups for family of alcoholics under the AA umbrella. Mom has kicked my stepdad out for a 90 day period at least once when he was drinking, with the ultimatum that he attend 90 AA meetings and get cleaned up. He’s been on the medication that makes you violently ill if you drink alcohol, and several other medications intended to help people quit. I’ve not been quite comfortable around him since, though not living in the same state now helps tremendously.

Alcohol terrifies me, because I have always been surrounded by alcoholics or people with alcoholic personalities. Just the smell makes me sick. I’m scared I’ll become an alcoholic if I so much as touch the stuff. I panic and cry in situations involving alcohol and it’s a struggle to go out with friends or coworkers when someone is drinking. I flat out cannot date someone who drinks, and if they do so on special occasions I have to opt out of that event. My therapist is pretty sure I have Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and my response to alcohol or people drinking it is pretty much a by-the-book response for someone suffering from PTSD. My response to people arguing is the same. I can’t deal with arguments and I freeze and start to panic. My roommate describes it as “a deer in headlights.”

My therapist and I were talking about my fear of the floor falling out from under me, and how I go out of my way to avoid things to protect myself, and when I do something that I anticipate will fail, I’m a nervous wreck until it’s over and I can go back to business as usual. She pointed out how I have survived whenever the floor has fallen out from under me, and I will make it work, even if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient in the short term. I have successfully accomplished my endeavors. I’m a survivor.

And hence, my new anthem. I’m a survivor.

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