My Troubled Teen Years

I don’t write about this very often, seldom quite so honestly, although I allude to my checkered teen past every now and then

But I have a reason for the following reflections on my troubled teen years.

Be warned: The following reads like a bad Linda Blair 1970’s TV special.

My dad was an exceptional person. Handsome, charming, really quite brilliant. My mother worshiped him (her words) and never married after he died because – in her eyes – no one could live up to him.

But, as with many gifted souls, he had a dark side that was terrifying.

My dad had a temper that was legendary. He’d been the victim of child abuse.

In his family they called it ‘good parenting.’ The family stories of what his own father did to his kids would curl your hair.

I guess in light of that, his own parenting style was an improvement on what he had grown up with. Every generation strives in their own way.

Unfortunately, he would unleash his temper on my brother and me – mostly at me. Now I can see that my poor brother, yearning for the male bonding and positive reinforcement of his dad, had no choice but to act as a sort of ‘assistant’ (henchman, in my young mind) to dad’s cruelty. But at the time I grew to hate them both.

Later, when we were in our 20’s, Jimmy fell in love with a woman who’d also suffered physical abuse from her father, he began to sincerely regret his role in my pain. He called one night and after a very, very long phone call we began to put the poison of our raising behind us and move into a new place as siblings. I will always be grateful to his wife for that enlightment.

Dad’s abuse was both physical and mental/emotional. During this time his own health was failing (heart disease, diabetes, etc.) and his business failed (he had the first US patent on a single-person hovercraft in the US, but was NOT a businessman.)

This made him angry, resentful, dangerous – and on the prowl for a target.

My own snappy, surly-teen personality was a bullseye. I was constantly in his sights, and he fired often. I had more spine than sense, but in retrospect I believe it was my ability to fight – my instinct for survival – back that kept me sane, and kept me alive.

I won’t go into the list of physical abuses, worst among them a broken wrist and broken tooth (both with the assistance of my brother) The worst emotional abuse was a constant, water-on-a-stone recitation of my faults as a female member of the human race.

I was told many times a day that I was” ugly”, “stupid”, “fat”, “mean”, “a terrible daughter” and a “slut”.

I still can’t figure out that last one, except this really had NOTHING to do with me, and everything to do with my father’s twisted, pained brain.

Unfortunately, the stereo back beat to my father’s sad tune were the taunts of school bullies, “Big Red”, “Moose”
But that’s a different story for a different day.

I escaped into school. I joined the orchestra that practiced at 7:00 am, and I worked on plays so I could stay at the school painting sets until dinner. The less time at home, the safer I felt.

When I was 14 an opportunity to get out of this painful situation presented itself.

My friend, Heidi, was running away – so I left with her. We fell in with some Jesus-freaks-in-a-van where my Free Methodist childhood of bible verse drills paid off big time. I was lucky – being part of a group who fed and respected me was light years better than most run-aways have it. I was gone a little over a month.

I returned home when I learned that a favorite uncle had died of cancer, and I missed my mom. But I retained that sense of freedom I’d developed on the road. It sustained me when life as the child of a tortured bully became too much.

My father died on January 6, 1978 – my last year in high school. I’d like to be able to say I was sad when he died, but it was one of the greatest reliefs of my young life.

At the end of her life my mother and I were finally able to come to terms about the rift my father had caused in our relationship. Her apology for not defending me was long in coming, and ultimately not really necessary. She was torn between her kids, who were growing up fast, and her husband, who was declining even faster.

WHY am I going into this in such detail today? Because there are a lot of kids in similar situations to my own, who are not willing or able to return home. Runaways, who become victims of gangs and thugs and pimps, inhabit every city.

A local organization here in the Twin Cities specializes in caring for these forgotten teens. It’s called “The Bridge” and they could use support. A good friend told me about the work they do, and it’s impressive.

If you are looking for a worthwhile, very deserving charity to fund this holiday (pre-tax) season, please consider the Bridge. Or look for a similar organization in your own town. Those of us who suffered abuse, who were runaways, we may not be very vocal about our pasts – perhaps because not many of us fought our way out of our situations.

I haven’t heard from Heidi for many, many years; I think of her often.
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23 thoughts on “My Troubled Teen Years

  1. Paula

    Annie … IF you are interested in a deeper understanding of the cruelty and selfishness your Father exhibited and the passivity of your Mother in the face of his cruelty, I would LOVE to chat. In my family it was my Mother who was uncontrollable in her rages and profoundly cruel in her words but whenever a parent is out of control in that fashion the wounds are deep. It is a tribute to your strength, courage and wisdom that you are not repeating that horrible pattern – either in your marriage or in your parenting. I guess all you need to understand is that he was stunningly cruel and you don’t want to repeat that. For me, freedom has almost arrived by understanding the disorder enough that I finally am freeing myself from believing the raging words were true. My brother, also complicit, remains to this day on their team. I find myself gravitating to others raised in the same disordered place, because we speak the same language. Be strong and of good courage.

  2. Susanne

    Your story is extremely difficult to read but I am glad you are the person you are today and perhaps because of what you went through. Your comment- you had “more spine than sense” was always verbalized as “more balls than brains” in our house. Amazing how we all adapt to our situation and do what we have to do to survive. Hurrah for you Annie!!!

  3. Rows Red

    I’m proud of you for sharing your story. Too often abuse is kept silent, hidden in the closet and swept under the rug. Mustn’t talk about THAT, what would people think of the family? It’s nobody’s business but ours…

    Sharing your story, promoting this charity, both of these things are small ways of shining a light on the ugly underbelly of family dynamics. It’s important that abuse have no where to hide, and that people know they’re not alone when these kinds of painful things happen. I have family who were (L&O: SVU style) terribly abused, and I had far too many classmates and friends who were as well. Thankfully, my parents (while flawed) were loving to the best of their ability when I was young, and it’s only gotten better over time.

    But most of all, I admire your courage and fortitude. You’ve come very far, and you’re not a victim. You’re a survivor.

  4. Emily

    I was a victim, too. The odd thing is that my parents really were only dangerous when they were drunk; otherwise they were kind to people outside the family & kind of remote inside. But they were alcoholics, so the scary stuff dominated.

    To my horror, I found myself repeating some of the verbal abuse with my own kids. I felt possessed! I always tried to apologize to remove some of the sting, but they don’t really remember that part. When I got effective treatment for depression my behavior changed dramatically.

    My kids & I are good together now, but sometimes one will need to dump some rage over some past awfulness, and I have to take it.

    It’s important to remember that parents who do this kind of thing are suffering horribly themselves. I didn’t realize that about my own for a long time. Knowing that allowed me at last to forgive them.

  5. Jenn

    Thanks for sharing and putting the word out about such a group in your area.
    My father was killed before I was born so all I ever knew was my mother who to this day is ‘the most stubborn’ person even her mother has known. I think the only reason I survived the verbal/emotional and sometimes physical abuse is because we lived with my mother’s parents about 7 years when I was little. To this day I am blessed to know my grandmother’s unconditional love(she is a proud 83) and very lucky that my children are getting to know her also. You might as well consider me my grandmother’s 7th child. Even though her hands were tied at points against doing anything but listening and being there, she was there.
    And she is a blessing for my husband…funny that I married someone with a horrendous temper, but he is so loving and compassionate that working with him to help control his bi-polar has been worth the 15 years we have known each other/been together. My husband’s mother would not see her family as disfunctional or that she did anything wrong by favoring her daughter, but the differences in our families are vast and my poor husband feels lost a lot with how loving, giving and accepting the rest of my family is. Hmmm this probably is not coming out as coherent as I would like and I am sorry for that, but in my defense I have a 5 year old, a 21 month old and a 13 day old and am a bit sleep deprived.

  6. Susan

    Thank you for your candor. It is a good reminder for those of us who have it so good to help those who don’t. I will look for a group like the Bridge here in central MA.

    Happy Holidays.

  7. Anonymous

    My dad was a lovely man who would do anything for you…. drive 50 miles out of his way to give you a ride, give you the shirt off his back, or the last penny he had. But he could never ask you for anything, and he could only express anger when he was drunk. it too me a long time to understand how trapped he was.

    He and my mom brought out the very worst in each other, and as a kid I blamed him (and the beer) for all the problems is our lives. As an adult, I finally saw how much happier and calmer and more sober he was after they divorced, although I don’t believe he ever saw that himself. He’s been gone for a long time now, and I can finally see how much he loved me, and feel how much I loved him.

    Barbara M.

  8. RevL

    Thank you for having the courage to share part of your story. You are a survivor! May God continue to bless you with grace and peace as you parent your children.

  9. Leslie

    I sometimes think how much worse my childhood would have been if our family physician hadn’t seen enough to mandate I check in at her office every week so she could look for bruising. Even with that safeguard my “dear mother” managed to do enough emotionally that I entered psychiatric care at 19.

  10. twinsetellen

    Your story, my story – so many similarities. Including support of The Bridge, which I’ve been donating to for quite a few years now.

  11. Anonymous

    It takes a lot of courage to share that-I admire you for it. I had similar experiences and still can’t share much. Thank heavens my sister and brother were not complicit. I still have anger with my mother for many reasons. Would be nice to have tea with you and vent.

  12. dawn s

    What’s the deal with the ‘Jesus freak’ comment? I understand you suffered a lot of pain but why do you feel the need to insult and mock other people’s religious beliefs?

  13. Elizabeth Rosenberg

    Annie, I admire your courage in sharing your experience. I hope that writing about it was cathartic for you, and helps you to embrace the good things in your life today.

  14. MissFifi

    Thank so for sharing such a difficult story. You’ve come a long way baby and should be very proud. Best to you and yours for the holidays

  15. Maureen

    Hey Dawn S, I’m about the same age as Annie(teenager in the 70s) and “Jesus freaks” were a subcategory of “Hippies” back in the day. That’s what they were called and it isn’t considered a slur on Christians.

    Annie, thank you for sharing your story and for your support of the Bridge.

  16. Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing. In my personal experience of sharing, it has opened up doors of communication with others who were unable to share, or event admit that childhood was painful. The world is full of “us” and anything to help anyone else grow and move on is a special blessing.

  17. Sam

    Thanks for sharing your story. You are not alone in growing up that way. I’m still having a hard time getting past a lot of things that happened to me as a kid and I’m almost 38 yeas old! I am working on it though and most days I do just fine. I feel fortunate that I survived. I try to be a good, decent person and not the monster I endured growing up.

  18. Kathy

    Somehow I missed this post until today. Thank you for sharing, I know it takes courage and strength to revisit old wounds even though revealing the damage helps it heal.

    I just deleted 2 paragraphs, because I discovered I am not ready to go public in this open a forum. Suffice it to say I know a lot of those feelings, and I feel great empathy for you and those served by the Bridge. I do what I can locally to support similar work.

    I hope 2010 will be a kinder year to you and yours.

  19. linda

    The hardest thing is that those of us in this spot whether it be physical or emotional can fall right back in again. I don’t know about you, but even though intellectually I get it, I still fall back in to being sure that it was something about me that was the problem. It seems that if more than one person in the family sees you that way then they might be right. So even though people can be critical of our “spice” thank goodness – its the only thing that made us survive thus being a good thing. I try to remember that some days its ok to just say it plain sucked and that I would have been a good person without it. I also try to remind myself that i don’t have to be perfect to be a good parent. That some mistakes happen and that your children will still love you.

    I spent years taking care of children with cancer and parents almost always breathed a sigh of relief when instead of finding the bright side you just admit it sucks and then move on.

    You’re a good person, Annie. Don’t forget it.

    from an old student

  20. Bluebird49

    Thanks for posting this. I won’t go intomy own childhood, except to say that I was raised by 2 alcoholics that thought more of alcohol than they did their own children. At the times they were drinking anyway. It’sblunt, I know. But, how can it be any other way? If they had loved me more than that, and my 2 borthers, we would not have been subjected to what we were.

    What they didn’t do for us, was more hurtful than what they did to us.

    It’s very hard to get beyond some of those memories, I know. I wish you the best.

  21. Sometimes Unwilling Guru

    Thank you for sharing,there are too many out there who have yet to speak out and in doing so start the cleansing
    I was a target for both my parents,it seemed to start as I reached pubity,called horrible names, not allowed to use the phone,put down and never allowed any self worth,their focus was the son and heir.
    I have my own family now and love them like no other.
    Look after yourself!

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