I grew up in a family of addicts — my grandparents on both sides, my siblings, my dad, and almost all my aunts and uncles. Being surrounded by this for all my life, I oscillated between resentment and forgiveness, sadness and happiness, and anger and relief. Everything about my childhood was confusing — Why did my siblings fall into addiction but I didn’t? Why does everyone I love choose drugs over me? If they love me why won’t they stop?
These questions led to an endless cycle of believing that all of this was my fault. Maybe if I was a better little sister my siblings wouldn’t have had to revisit mental wards and rehab facilities so many times, I thought. In my eyes, my sole responsibility was to take care of everyone in home. And to me, that meant shutting up about feeling neglected, hurt and frustrated by my sibling’s actions. It meant keeping boy drama, school anxiety and friend problems bottled up. Everyone else’s problems seemed larger and more important than my own, so I kept to myself. I thought it was the best way I could help.
After long days at school, I would come home with a smile on my face, preparing for the verbal scourges and outbursts that were par for the course at my house. I did all I could to hold the artificial smile on my face, because I wanted to assure my family that I was okay. My parents didn’t need another child to worry about.
This never seemed like a real problem for me. Taking care of those that I love made me feel special and strong. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with that. I didn’t realize the effects that being the household “caretaker” had on me until a few months ago.
Recently, I went through a very difficult break up and lost someone who I loved and cared about very much. The hardest part about this break up was recognizing the fact that I couldn’t handle the pain by myself. I wanted to be okay on my own and I made it my mission to prove to myself and to everyone else that I was strong enough to deal with this alone. The reality was that I needed my friends, my parents and my siblings to help me through this. I needed hugs and I needed someone to tell me that everything would be okay. I didn’t know how to ask for help, and at the time I didn’t know if anyone’s presence or words could ease my sadness and anger.
The first few days of my break up consisted of me uncontrollably crying in the crammed bathroom stalls at school with my head in my palms. Once I accepted the fact that I was allowing myself to drown in an endless puddle of helplessness and self-pity, I finally let my friends in. I talked to them…. A lot. When a sad thought came into my mind about missing my ex, my first instinct was no longer to run to the bathroom stalls to cry, it was to run to my best friends for a hug and a laugh.
It’s important to help those that you love, but it is just as important to look to those same people when you need help. Reaching out can be terrifying, but shoulders to lean on are what got me through what once felt like the end of my world.
Olivia, Teen Line Listener, Age 17