Behind the Scenes of 180 Degrees - Part II

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Chapter 2 from "180 Degrees"

AGE 6 – 8

My family lived in Orange County, California, the WASP capital of the world. I was the older of two boys and a part of what seemed to be the perfect family. My mother was an attractive blonde and my father, an attorney, was a strapping and handsome ex-USC football player. From the outside, my family looked like “The American Dream.” The inside was a different story all together. There was a lack of love in my family, and I grew up fearing my father. Consequently, as a child, I felt a deep sadness. My sadness was so deep that by the age of six I was writing suicide letters to my parents. I would cut myself and drip blood all over the pages for added drama. The letters were not empty threats. I made several child-like attempts to kill myself before I was seven. My parents sent me to see many different psychologists, each of whom, I’m told, determined that I was too “too serious” a child. My brother, Brett, and I were absolutely terrified of our father. We had reason to be. My dad brutally beat us by hand, brush, or belt most nights when he got home—with or without “good reason.” Our mother often provoked our father’s rage by giving reports of our “bad” behavior. The most troubling memories I have surrounding the abuse deal with the times when we hid in a
closet or under our beds, tearfully pleading with our mother to not tell our father of our misbehavior. Although she knew the consequences of her reports, she never granted us mercy. The lashings we received were so severe we often had difficulty walking afterwards. The oppression and trauma in our home continued until
the law intervened. Child Protective Services finally came to our aid.

I clearly remember the events that led up to the intervention of Child Protective Services and to my father’s subsequent departure. Brett, my brother, had locked me out of the house. He was teasing me from behind a sliding glass door, laughing and joking that he was not going to let me in. I was yelling back at him when my father raced up behind Brett and threw him violently aside. He flung the door open and grabbed me by the throat. The fury I saw in his eyes and the force with which he choked me was horrifying. I can still feel the terror that gripped me in that instant. My father heaved me headfirst through the air and my face collided with the leg of the chair my grandmother was sitting in. I lost consciousness upon impact.

“You bastard!” My grandmother’s hysterical scream woke me.

I felt the sting from a gash on my forehead as I lifted my head to see what was happening. My grandmother was on the phone. She’d called the authorities and was reporting my father’s abuse. His reign of terror was over. My father packed up quickly and walked out of our lives. I wouldn’t see him again for seven years.
* * *
My father was not the only predator I had the misfortune of knowing during my childhood. During Dad’s last year with us, a babysitter, a seventeen-year-old boy who lived next door, also made his mark on my childhood.

My brother and I looked up to him, and naturally, we were eager to gain his approval. We had a fort in our backyard. He suggested we all “hang out” in the fort together. We thought nothing of it until he literally let it all “hang out”—exposing his penis to us. He masturbated in front of us until he ejaculated. We never told anyone about it because he told us it was a secret that he could make his penis do that. One night when he was babysitting us, he made us get naked and jump up and down on the bed while he watched us. Although both incidents made me very uncomfortable, I didn’t say anything to my parents. I sought his approval, and I did not want to be considered a tattle-tale. Brett, however, told our parents, and Dad stormed over to the  neighbors’ house to talk with the boy’s parents. He threatened to kill their son if he so much as looked in our direction again. We never saw the kid again.

I was deeply distressed about these incidents for years. I felt responsible for allowing this abuse to happen. I was upset with myself for not stopping the boy. Also, I regretted that it was my younger brother who had informed my parents of the incidents. It should have been me.

While these traumatic events may have contributed to my destructive and addictive behavior later on, I know of many others with drug problems who came from “normal” families. Their relationships with their parents and loved ones were healthy. Family and upbringing does not necessarily determine the path to addiction.