*Note: This post will deal with three separate issues simultaneously that are often overlooked by communities of color.
When I was younger, I knew there was something different about my Mother. Most times, I loved her but there were those times that something in me wanted to just leave or disown her. I never did.
Growing up, there were times that we (my brothers and I) would be “disciplined” by our Mom and there was something seriously wrong with the method that she might employ. One time, I remember telling an Aunt about what happened and her response was simply, “She was just disciplining you.” There was also a time that I remember telling a friend about what had happened and her response was, “Girl, you know Black mommas don’t play. You want to live with a white family or something?”
This bothered me for a few reasons. The first being that Black parents sometimes went overboard with the methods of discipline that they employed and no one thought anything was wrong with it. The second being that other people would offer excuses for what was going on in my home, when I needed to know that there were people that cared about me and my well-being.
I didn’t feel that way until I was almost in my 20s (by this time, I was in college and going to Counseling for issues that I had with my family).
In the times that my Mom would discipline me, she would literally become another person. She became paranoid and would constantly question you. Nothing you said (in defense of yourself) was right to her or made sense. She might also start the punishment at 3:00 in the afternoon and not be done until close to dinnertime. If that happened, we were sometimes left to fend for ourselves (in terms of things to eat if there weren’t leftovers); or we went to sleep with nothing to eat. But even in all of this, I knew deep down inside that something was wrong with my Mom and I just wanted her to get help.
It was also on these nights that I would hear her cry and pray (sometimes while drinking) because she couldn’t control what would come over her. These were the nights that I helped my Mom. I would make her something to eat or make sure she was comfortable for bed. I would check on her to make sure that she was okay if she’d already “fallen asleep” by the time I went to check on her.
In my mind, she was possessed by something that she couldn’t control and the times that these things would happen were not her fault. Too bad we didn’t understand what it was that she was fighting with.
My Mom started to get psychiatric help when I was around 14 years old. I remember reading something in the library about PTSD and thinking about how it fit my Mom, so I brought a pamphlet home to her. That was when she broke down in front of me (y’all don’t know how scared I was because I was afraid that at any moment she would hit me) and cried. She knew that something was wrong…she just didn’t have anyone else in her corner. So, she started going to counseling. This was right around the time that other health issues started to present themselves (and this happens often). In this time, I was there to help her (most folks would characterize this as a “dependent relationship”) and I made up in my mind that I was going to help her get better. What I didn’t know was what went on in her counseling sessions (her first therapist was garbage in my opinion), but I knew that she wasn’t getting any better when one day she decided that we up and move to another state.
I went with it anyway. We moved, we slept on couches or we shared a full-sized bed that wasn’t being used by a relative. During this time, we made plans and I thought that things were going to work. Until my Dad showed up with a court order for temporary custody. In that instance, I saw the paranoia and the fear in my Mom once again. Looking back, I almost wished that I had made the decision to stay with my Mom, but I was so unhappy that I chose to go (at some point, I went back to live with my Mom until the decision was made that I would be best off with Dad).
When I moved to live with my Dad (the final time), that’s when I noticed a change in my Mom. At that time, she went into recovery. She saw that it would be the only way to get her kids back. She started a program for her problem with Alcohol Dependency (which up until that time had been characterized as a “Good Time” by relatives during holiday gatherings). She gave up smoking because it was also considered an addiction and she finally got help for all of her mental issues (which were not just quirks in her personality). By the time she finished her program and was adjusting well, I was already getting ready to enroll as a freshman in college. Sometimes, I still feel like I lost out on a lot, but I realize that I’m more fortunate than a lot of people who have parents that dealt with any kind of addiction, mental disorder, or a combination.
I have so much respect my Mom for seeking help. She’s been in recovery from her Alcoholism since 2003 and she’s been taking anti-depressants and other medications to help control her having been diagnosed as PTSD and bi-polar. I also respect the fact that my Mom recently apologized to me for the things that she’d done to me when I was younger. After having her share her story of growing up, I can understand why she lived the way she did and she raised us the way that she did.
She honestly did the best with what she had. She grew up in a community that was secretive and you couldn’t trust very many people. She grew up in a community that was “ruled” by an iron fist and children just had to take it. She grew up in a place where things were chaotic and after listening to her story, our life was pretty damn stable compared to some of her early years.
My Mom, she is the strongest woman that I know.
I said all of that to say this:
It’s time that our communities stop looking negatively upon people who seek treatment for possible mental disorders. It is not something that anyone should ever have to go along. If you have a loved one who may be suffering from a mental disorder, let them know that you support them. Do not judge them and don’t approach them in a malicious manner. Help them! They need it. They really do.
If you expect someone is abusing their child, then speak up or offer that child a safe place. You can do this in many ways without saying that you think the parent is abusing them. Simply invite them over to spend the night at your house and offer the custodial parent a break. However, be careful should you offer help and there is more than one child in the home. There is nothing more heartbreaking (to a child) than watching one child leave a turbulent life (if even for a few hours) and knowing that you are stuck there. So, help the children and help the parents.
If you expect that a person has an addiction, gently talk to them about it. Don’t be sneaky and ask the kids because whether or not you believe it, kids are going to say that things are “okay” at home, especially if you’ve never given them a reason to believe that you are there to help.
There are hotlines for all of these issues and they aren’t something that just affects “white” people. No! They affect everyone.
Finally, don’t just look at these things as “veteran” issues (my parents are both veterans). If you see these things in veterans, then you definitely need to help. Don’t stand by idly. Help! Lend a hand or just listen without a judging ear. People appreciate it.
We really do.
**If I could acknowledge all of the people that have helped my Mom and me get to where we are today, I would. But I can’t recall everyone. But my thanks could never be expressed enough.