Thursday, March 30, 2017
Not knowing whether a parent is going to be sober or drunk. Scoping out the situation and then getting out of the way if it is the latter.
Lots of domestic disturbances, foul language, and yelling and throwing things. (To this day I have no tolerance for foul language or raised voices.)
Being embarrassed to have friends over.
When asked about your family, not being able to give a simple answer because between the steps and halves, it's complicated.
Being one of the first in your family to get a college degree.
Not applying to private colleges because you figure you can't afford it and you don't realize that private schools give lots of money to candidates they deem worthy. So you go into debt for the public institution when you might actually have fared better with the private one.
Having difficulties handling conflict because your history with conflict is so very negative. Early in Vance's relationship with his future wife, she told him, "Whenever something bad happens--even a hint of disagreement--you withdraw completely. It's like you have a shell that you hide in."
Having older siblings and extended family that sometimes provided the normalcy and emotional support that my parents didn't.
Having a high ACE (adverse childhood experience) score. I was not familiar with the concept of adverse childhood experiences as a field of mental health study. If you're interested in learning about it, here's a helpful link. I have an ACE score of 6 (out of 10). My husband also has a high ACE score. Vance writes, in his book, about how difficult it is to break the mold of one's upbringing. If you come from an environment of substance abuse, domestic conflict, broken marriage, unwed pregnancy, etc., you are statistically more likely to continue the pattern than to break it. I am not sure how my husband and I were able to do it. We had so many strikes against us. We still struggle with some of the effects of our upbringing. All I know is that God had mercy on us. I am sure life would have turned out completely different for both of us if the Church had not been a constant presence in our marriage the last 30 years.
Vance writes about the miracle of his being able to break out of the path that so many in his shoes are destined to remain in, crediting a perfect storm of people and circumstances that afforded him the hope and opportunity necessary to chart a different path. He concludes Hillbilly Elegy by considering the ways in which the "system" that is supposed to "help" so often doesn't, but at the same time laying ultimate responsibility at the feet of the individual:
"I believe we hillbillies are the toughest . . . people on this earth. We take an electric saw to the hide of those who insult our mother. We make young men consume cotton underwear to protect a sister's honor. But are we tough enough . . . . to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children?"
As much as Vance's book resonated with me, I had so much more going for me than he did. Yes, I had a father with alcoholism and a mother with depression. I grew up in a combined family with a lot of anger and dysfunction. My parents' personal problems led to their not giving their children and step-children the attention they needed. Yet unlike Vance, I did have two parents who stayed married. We weren't rich, but we weren't poor, and I never had any worries about having my physical needs met. In spite of his alcoholism, my dad always held down a job and paid the bills. Another parallel I share with Vance is the experience of being the child who benefits from parents seeming to figure out, later in life, how to be better parents. (In Vance's case it wasn't his parents, but his grandparents, who did so.) Perhaps it was because as the youngest, for the second half of my childhood I was the only one left at home. I got benefits my older siblings didn't. I was the one who was driven to piano lessons. I was the one, after my mom became Catholic, who got taken to church. As the only "ours" of a "his, hers, and ours" family, I was the one who grew up with both my biological parents.
I won't tell you how Hillbilly Elegy ends other than to say it made me cry, tears of both sadness and hope. J. D. Vance (who is only 32) recently announced he is returning to his roots to try to make a difference. God bless him.