Please help me welcome guest blogger Pam Witzemann as she shares about Self Abuse and how she realized that it was in fact, learned behavior. Pam is a frequent guest blogger here at Emerging from Broken and contributes her voice to the comments in almost every post here on Emerging from Broken. Darlene Ouimet
How I learned to Self Abuse by Pam Witzemann
I was a self-abusive person. I wasn’t born as a self-abuser. I was taught to abuse myself by the way I was devalued as a child and the behavior that was modeled for me.
As a child, I was medically, emotionally, and spiritually neglected. I was psychologically and emotionally abused. I was given alcohol as medicine on a regular basis from the age of six months and also allowed sips of beer and other adult drinks. On holidays, I was allowed to drink hard eggnog and wine. As a toddler, I was allowed to eat only candy and drink coffee with the adults. I use the term toddler as an age descriptive term but I was never actually a toddler. I was what is now called a schoocher. Because I was born premature, my brain didn’t know where my arms were and I used my legs instead. I sat on my bottom and scooted. I tried to walk at about one year but fell like an egg, unable to catch myself, and didn’t begin walking until I was three. I never had any medical help with this disability. I don’t know if there was any help available but I do know that my parents never investigated any further than the family doctor. My mother worked with me and taught me to pull myself up on a broom handle. I was very uncoordinated and my childhood drawings were of heads with arms and legs coming directly out of the head in various places. I had poor control over my body and I never could physically keep up with other children my age. I felt that I was very different from others and I was never free from a pervading loneliness.
At four years old, I became sick with a high fever. I developed a rash and my parents decided that I had the measles. They put me in a darkened room and gave me the usual hot toddies, a mixture of bourbon, honey, and lemon juice. My grandmother came to visit and was alarmed at my condition. She told my parents that she thought I had Scarlet Fever and she insisted they take me to the emergency room. My grandmother was right and I spent the next year taking Penicillin. I learned how to read that year as I spent so much time alone in bed. My great aunt and my grandmother were both teachers and they gave me books on phonics and primary readers. I taught myself how to read. I also had to learn how to walk all over again. I couldn’t start school until I was seven but people thought I was about four. I don’t know how tall I was but I do know that I weighed 20 pounds. I didn’t know how to relate to other children as I had been around very few children. Because I was so small, the bigger girls played with me as if I were a doll. I was miserable and I always felt that I was alone. I was sick often. Partly because my immunity was low,it was an escape from the children at school, and it was the only sure way I could get any attention from my mother. My parents continued to give me hot toddies when I was sick and I developed a taste for bourbon. I wanted those hot toddies and I don’t remember not knowing the taste of alcohol. In my house, booze was god and I took part in the regular sacraments when offered or when no one was looking.
I don’t remember being held by my mother. I remember being held by my dad when he came home after a long drunk. Most of the time he was gone working or drinking. My mom began drinking when I was about six, in what I now believe was an effort to keep him at home. My dad was a dramatic drunk who frightened me and I was terrified when I saw my mom also, begin to drink. I hid in my room or in the closet when they were drunk and arguing. The most predominant memory I have of my parents is of them sitting at the dining room table drinking. If it moved from the table it would spin out of control and those were the times that I and my siblings were terrorized by my dad’s out of control, violent behavior. To me it seems that my entire childhood revolved around that table where they sat and drank every day. I dreaded being called to that table for a drunken lecture; but if they directed anger toward my siblings, I would willingly insert myself and take their place at that table. At twelve, those lectures were an every Friday night event. This is how my parents spent time with me. My first memory of contemplating self-abuse was also, at twelve. I hid in the closet during one of m dad’s out of control terror sessions, with a hack saw in my hand, sliding it back and forth across my skin as I thought about cutting my wrists. My deep feelings of loneliness overwhelmed me and became an almost constant state of mind that year. It seemed that if I no longer existed that it wouldn’t matter to anyone and I wouldn’t have to hurt anymore. By the age of twelve, death seemed to hold more promise for me than life. I was sure that I wouldn’t live past the age of 15.
My dad treated my mother as a possession. He called her his “mommy doll”. This was supposed to be a term of endearment but he truly, treated her as a toy. He was 28 and she was 18 when they married. When my mom became pregnant with me they moved onto the ranch owned by my father’s parents. My dad took my mom’s driver’s license and when her glasses broke, she didn’t get new ones. The ranch was fifty miles from the nearest town and our closet neighbor was three miles away. We had five neighbors. My mom was not only my dad’s toy but a prisoner. She never had a friend of her own but was expected to cater to the people my dad wanted admiration from. These relationships never lasted long and ended when my dad’s true self would become known and he was confronted with his own failings. My mom never fought for herself but always submitted to my dad’s ill treatment of her. He demeaned her looks and made fun of her intelligence. The more he mistreated her, the worse she became, and he would denigrate her even further. He included my siblings and I in that denigration of our own mother. When we displeased him, we were told that we were just like our mother. My mother’s development froze at 18 and she never grew up. To this day, she willingly submits to my father’s mistreatment. She is content to do his bidding and never having to take responsibility for anything. She never fought for her children either even though she could see that we were being destroyed from the inside out just as he destroyed her.
My dad is a huge liar. He lives in a world created by his lies and no longer knows what it true about his life. My mother goes along with him and supports the lies. I grew up inside that world formed by my father’s lies. I believed those lies as a child and accepted many of them into adulthood because they were so seemingly, inconsequential. I know now that even small details of my father’s life are fabrications. Lies told at one time to impress someone and then made permanent in an attempt to remember them and maintain a preferred false image of himself. Now I believe nothing except what I witnessed myself. As a liar, my dad was also a manipulator. He manipulates for attention and he will do anything to anyone to get attention. He loved to manipulate me and I think he practiced his technique on me while also getting an emotional fix from being able to control me. He teased me mercilessly and when I would cry, he would chastise me for not being able to take teasing. He loved to hold me and prevent me from moving. Sometimes, I thought he would crush the air out of me. When I got older, he manipulated me by pretending to be my friend and side with me against my mom. He would purposely get between me and my mom to try and get all the attention and admiration for himself. He let me start smoking at fourteen so that I wouldn’t burn his barn down and so I would think he was cool. When I got caught smoking pot at the same age, I was given beer to drink and cigarettes to eat, and then told that if I wanted to get loaded, I could drink at home. If I ever brought up any of his short-comings, he would turn them around and blame them on me. My mother also blamed me for everything that went wrong in our family. She resented me most when I began to want to make decisions about how to dress and I wanted to be with my friends instead of her. In her mind, she expected me to become the girl friend that my dad never allowed her to have and she was angry with me for failing her. They also taught my sister and brother to see me as the problem source when my parents drank too much and did something they were ashamed of. I was the one who caused them to drink because I was so hard to deal with. I was marked and isolated within my own family. I was told I couldn’t sing (a lie) when the rest of the family was musical. My father was a musician and since he saw all of us as part of himself, a child with no musical ability was of no good use. At sixteen, when a pedophile (I didn’t know what a pedophile was) enticed me to leave home and I saw it as an exit from the misery I lived in, they let me go. I wasn’t allowed to drive because my dad said I was too immature and would wreck his car. However, when it came to going to live with a 28 year old man in the porn industry, who was divorced with a child, that I barely knew, and they didn’t know at all, they stepped aside and allowed me to make that decision. They turned me loose in much the same way as people in the Old Testament of the Bible sent their scape-goat out into the wilderness after they placed all of their sins upon it. In me my parents saw everything they hated about themselves, each other, and the misery of daily life in our family. They left me on my own to get what they deemed I deserved or more aptly put, to take in their place, what they deserved. This was my value to them, that I be held responsible and sent away so they never had to face or take responsibility for their own behavior.
I first started using drugs at twelve when I began stealing my mother’s allergy medicine to sleep. I was depressed and anxious most of the time. My family teased me for moping and pouting and I was called a scrooge because the holidays sent me into depression as they were days for my dad to drink to excess and spoil whatever childish expectation I had for culturally important days. I was afraid of holidays. No one ever tried to find out what was wrong. I was different and I was alone. It was my fault that I felt so sad, scared, and isolated. Soon after I stole those first pills from my mom, I began swiping pills from my grandparents. When school started, I found kids who were using pot and by fifteen, I was smoking pot nearly every day. I seldom went to class and my parents were angry that I was bringing home F’s but they never delved into the problem or made an effort to find out what was wrong or help me. My drug use took over my life and I put myself in risky situations to obtain more and stronger drugs. I endured sexual abuse as a teenager because they kept me high and when they were done with me, I became the worst abuser of me. I became like my aggressors but instead of abusing others, I also targeted myself for abuse. I blamed everything on myself and I punished my body with needles, pills, and whatever I could get my hands on to feed my head as I continued where the sexual abuse ended in promiscuous and dangerous relationships. I often combined drugs with opposing affects such as Heroin and Cocaine, called speed balling. I was a joy-popper and would inject anything into my veins. My life became a death dance by the age of eighteen and eventually, I committed the ultimate abuse. I intentionally overdosed on a mixture of Morphine, Heroin, and sedatives. I murdered me. A friend found me out cold, not breathing, naked, and wrapped in a sheet. She called 911 and I was rushed to the hospital where they used paddles and brought me back to life. When I came to I cried because I was still alive. I saw no solution to the problem, which I viewed as myself, but death.
Just as my decent into self-abuse was incremental and slow, my climb upward was long and arduous. It began with my belief in Jesus and my receiving the gift of eternal life. I wasn’t instantly changed into a person with no problems with a healthy psychology but I no longer celebrated death. Instead, I began to celebrate life. It was as if a light bulb switched on and I became aware of the life and beauty around me and I wanted to be a part of it. I began to try and make changes in the way I lived my life and I conquered my drug abuse over twenty years ago. Confronting the abuse in my past began with stopping the behavior that threatened my life. The journey continues today as I continue to learn how to value myself and others by placing blame where it belongs and ceasing to abuse myself in my thinking. I am learning why I developed certain patterns of behavior rather than believing that I am somehow, corrupt.
There have been many people who have helped along the way and I believe that God has placed each one in my path at just the time I needed them. My husband is the person who has given me the most help toward healing by simply loving me and showing me what unconditional love is. There have also been friends, pastors, doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. My children have taught me more about myself than anyone. None of it would have mattered though if I had never believed and had my idea of a solution changed from death to life. I needed a healthy spiritual outlook to strengthen me in overcoming the negative psychology that I was programmed with from birth. Emerging from Broken is also important to me as I continue to confront myself and my past as I continue to reprogram and search for greater healing. I believe God also directed me here at the moment I needed it most as through what Darlene writes and what commenters share, I’ve found that I’m not alone and there are many on this same journey with me.
Pam Witzemann was born in Santa Fe, NM and is now 54 years old. She has been married for 33 years, raised two boys and has two grandsons. Pam and her husband have had their own business for about twenty years. Pam is a painter and a writer and hopes to make these pursuits more than a hobby in her later years. Pam authors the blog Boomer Back Beat; a place where baby boomers find inspiration in the process of aging.