I could tell that Karen wanted desperately to say something about everything I had just mentioned about that time in my life, so I paused for long enough to let her know it was okay for her to interject and express what was on her mind.
"I'm sorry to interrupt you, Sadie, but there are a few things I just want to touch on before we move any further. It seems important that we do considering the traumatic nature of some of those things you just said."
I couldn't help but smile, knowing that this was just the beginning and that it would only go further downhill from here. I wondered what her reaction to everything that came next would be. "Sure, which points exactly?"
"Well, firstly I want to speak to your stepfather and the dynamic in your home, which sounds like an absolute nightmare. Alcohol sounds like a fairly permanent fixture in your house. How often would he drink like that?"
"Every night, without fail; the only exception being when he was working night shift at work, and the rest of my family and I had a few glorious waking hours of freedom, where we didn't have to tip-toe around, constantly on alert, hyper-sensitive and cautious of every little thing we said and did."
"And your mother as well? She was a heavy drinker, too?"
"Oh, she definitely drank more than he did most nights. But where he got outwardly aggressive and violent, she just withdrew into herself and numbed herself to the emotional and physical pain she experienced every day.
"She would pass out most nights on the couch, having drank herself into complete oblivion. Sometimes the glass of wine or whiskey would slip out of her hand and spill onto the floor, and I would need to clean it up before my stepfather saw it and had a go at her for the mess she had made. Sometimes she would even burn a hole in the fabric covering the couch because she'd passed out or fallen asleep with a cigarette still lit in her hand. It's a wonder she never went up in flames with how much flammable liquid had seeped into the fabric by then and how often she dropped her lit smokes," I laughed. Again, I was fully aware that this was not at all funny.
"Most nights before I went to sleep myself I would go check on her in the lounge. Those horrible late night TV shows were always playing loudly in background when I got there, but I'd still have to shake her awake and tell her it was time to go to bed. I'd carry her into her bedroom and into bed, trying not to wake my stepfather in the process if he was there. When I went back to the lounge to turn the TV off, I'd collect all the bottles of wine, beer and whiskey they'd drank that night and put them away, so I never knew if they were actually aware of just how much they would drink each night.
"Emptying all those bottles into the recycling bin in the morning was always a shit time. The chiming and crashing of glass on glass was always a reminder of everything said, done and seen from the night before, even though it was a brand new day, so I never actually felt like I had a clean slate to start fresh."
Karen took a slow, deep breath before going on any further. "And what he said to you when you got inside? That was just his typical way of talking to you?"
"When he was drunk, yes. On the rare occasions he was home and not drunk, or not yet fully drunk, he would rarely speak to me at all. He'd just demand a hello and a kiss on the cheek greeting when I would get home from school or work, or bark instructions about what I should be doing to help my mum, and complain about how much money I owed them for board, which was half of every single pay check.
"When I started working I wasn't earning much because I was so young and only able to work a few hours every week. But as I worked there longer and Hunter picked up on what was happening at home, I got a few pay increases and worked a lot more often, so it ended up being quite a bit of money I was giving them every week. I'd pay it to my mum in cash, and if he wasn't around or home when I did, she would always give me some back.
"I didn't mind giving her the money though because he wouldn't let her get a job and was very restrictive with what money he gave her and what he allowed her to spend it on. I just wanted her to have enough to be able to buy enough food and things for herself and the kids."
Karen took a deep breath, which I was already learning was usually code for her being confronted by what I had said or how I said it, wanting to highlight something I had rushed through, or otherwise preparing for me to deny the challenge she wanted to throw at me. "I'm definitely sensing a theme here, Sadie, in everything you've said until now; which is that you have a habit of prioritising everyone else and their needs ahead of your own, with very little concern for the consequences this would have on you. Would you say that's a fair assessment?"
"Without a doubt," I said. "In my head, I guess I figured that if the people I love and care about are okay, then that would be enough for me to be alright, too. I feel comforted knowing that they are okay, or at least that they feel supported when they're not, in a way I wasn't when I was a kid. I had no one at home. That's probably the first of two reasons why I went on to study social work and work in this field now."
"Which is great, Sadie, and I can tell how passionate you are in it already, so I know how lucky and grateful your students would be to have you supporting them. But I can't help but worry. No one person can maintain that level of constant care for others without burning out and growing unwell themselves."
"I know, Karen; or at least, I know that now. Back then I didn't. I thought I was more than I was and that I could handle all the pressure and responsibility that came along with the role I was born into from a young age. And, for a time, maybe I did. But as you said, it's just not sustainable, and I definitely do know that now.
"When I first started my job at the school, everything that I experienced back in that time of my own life came flooding back, so I unconsciously stepped back into the old overprotective, parentified, hyper-vigilant version of myself, taking on too much until I couldn't cope with it any more. Which I why I'm here talking to you, I guess. I know I need to get on top of it or I'll burn out again and won't be able to continue doing this work that I love," I said.
There's a deep shame in knowing you just aren't well enough to deal with your own shit, and that you actually need help to get better. The irony of this was definitely not lost on me. I expect the kids I work with to come to me if they need help and to ask for that help freely whenever they need it. But I have never once asked for help with anything in my life, up until now.
"And I'm so glad you have, Sadie. There are clearly quite a few things that we need to work through here.
"Before though, you mentioned that wanting others to feel supported was one of two reasons that you went into this line of work. I'm wondering, what was the other reason?" asked Karen.
"Because kids often have unrealistic, crippling expectations of personal relationships, and I know more about them than I ever cared to, and I don't want that happening to anyone else."
YOU ARE READING
Rise and FallChickLit
Life has reinvented the definition of rock bottom so many times for twenty-six-year-old Sadie Blake. With each revised edition, Sadie believes herself skilled enough to bury those rocks a fraction deeper in her memory. . . . but Life is much better...