“All falsehood is a mask; and however well made the mask may be, with a little attention we may always succeed in distinguishing it from the true face…” ~Alexandre Dumas
When I was a child, I spent a lot of my free time watching television. Unlike today’s youth, we didn’t have internet, video games, or even cable TV. Don’t get me wrong. I lived for Gilligan’s Island and the Brady Bunch, but these shows portrayed characters at a surficial level that I could not really relate to. The show that I had the most difficult time with believing was The Andy Griffith Show because of one character, Otis.
I always thought that most alcoholics were like Otis the Town Drunk: staggering around with slurred speech. My perception was that an alcoholic was unclean, disheveled, and unable to hold a job. My mother, who I clearly believe is an alcoholic, was none of these things. Well, occasionally her speech was slurred and she staggered around, but that was when she was partying with her friends. All other times, she seemed the opposite.
One of the worst things that happened when my mother was drunk was that she would confide in me about her problems with her friends, which was bad enough. But she also decided as I became older to share with me some of the private peculiars of events that occurred between her boyfriends and herself. She told me about things that I did not (and was not ready to) understand. She shared with me intimate details of her sexual escapades that no child should be privy to. Throughout my life, this felt like the only time in my memory that my mother actually liked me. I knew better than complain. It would do no good; I’d still have to endure it. And on top of that, it would make her angry if I balked. What I did not know was that this was extremely inappropriate behavior, and most experts would consider this a form of sexual abuse.
Other than that, my mother generally blamed my brothers and me for all the things that went wrong in her life as well as in our own. Of course, this led to an insecure childhood and a neurotic adulthood. I spent a great deal of time wondering why people in my relationships didn’t love me. So, in order to satisfy my craving for the love and attention I sought and did not receive, I used what my mother had taught me about her sexuality to attract boys.
I realized as a young teen that older boys like to flirt with pretty girls. I became interested in clothes, make-up, and hairstyles. I love the attention that I got from boys at school who called me pretty, asked for my phone number, and would sit next to me in class initially fulfilled my desire for attention. I went to sleep an average, plain girl and woke up a popular and pretty junior high school princess. Life was beginning to look up for me for the first time ever, or so I thought.
But soon after my new-found popularity was unleashed, I discovered that boys had expectations that I was unprepared to execute. I was not ready for sexual relations. My mother made that seem vulgar and obscene. So, because of my unwillingness to give into their requests, I was soon labeled a “tease” by many of the boys at my school. Things changed again for me almost overnight.
I became aware later that God was protecting me by giving me the willpower to stave off teenaged boys who were after only one thing, but it caused me a great deal of anguish due to the fact that I was already so attention-starved. So, I began to feel sorry for myself. I used this self-pity to justify my irrational behavior as I became more and more angry. Deep inside, I thought that if no one liked the pretend me, the one I dreamed up who was popular, pretty, funny, and smart, no one would like the real me who was none of these things. Out of these events, the birth of a biting sense of sarcasm grew.
As my body and brain grew, too, my emotions stayed those of an immature teenager. I vowed that I would never show my true self again. I would continue to hide behind whatever handy mask that I could invent, but this time, I would be more prepared. I would learn the consequences of whatever part I played, but no matter what, I would not let anyone close enough to know the real me.
Today, I am still trying to understand my unhealthy way of life that had plagued me for so long. I am aware of my mother’s drinking problem and its effects on me, both then and now. I have learned how I used the many masks to avoid being close or intimate with anyone, even to the level of friendship because of the confusing manner in which my mother confided in me that I was not prepared to understand.
I have learned that I can trust again, even though my ability to trust during my childhood being raised by an alcoholic mother was tainted. I’ve learned that the Otis’s of the world are the exceptions, and that most alcoholics are highly functioning if judged only by outwardly appearances. Mostly, I’ve learned that I need people to help me heal. God has put them in my path for me to meet along my journey of unveiling the masks and exposing the real me, who is, in my own rights, a pretty princess, if only on the inside.