My Ruminations: Emotions Childhood To College
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As a precursor to another Principles of Purpose: A Guide to Living Wisely post, titled Regulate Emotions, I thought I would do a two-part series on my own struggles with emotions. This is part I.
One of the biggest problems I have had in life is regulating my emotions. It is surely caused my abusive childhood, and the fact that I was an exceptionally sensitive and intuitive child. However, all throughout my childhood I was not allowed to express any of my emotions.
Life in my household was essentially avoiding anything that would raise the ire of either of my parents. Ironically, I guess as an attention seeking behavior, I stole a lot of little things from my parents: my mother’s jewelry to give to girls I liked at school, change from my father’s dresser.
I never thought I would be caught. And I often wasn’t. But they knew. Fearing for my safety nearly every day, I exhibited early on those instances of impulsivity that would litter the landscape of my entire life. I do not have very many recollections of my childhood before the age of 12. It’s something that bothers me to this day.
However, I recall the feelings of sorrow, isolation, depression, angst, anger, and hostility towards my parents, and schoolmates as well (for they often ignored me on the playground), and I am certain towards the family member who sexually abused me at a very young age.
On Christmas day 1975, when I was just 11, my 8 year old brother John was hit by a car while we were sledding and he died the next day. That tragedy would propel me into an entirely new world of severe living and abuse at the hands of my mother. My father did not hit me but just his hostile presence and angry demeanor was abuse in and of itself.
I despised coming home every moment of my life in 1976-1977. My mother beat me viciously for every little thing. It was usually with a belt. Many times I had huge welts along my ass, back, and legs. I was locked in my room for countless weeks. My only respite coming from the library of books that was in my room.
Reading was not only a form of escapism, it became the foundation of my skewed view of the world in terms of fantasies versus realities. I created an idealized world that would be the basis of much of my emotional dysregulation in my life.
Also, the abuse by the family member seemed to increase as well. Clearly the escalation of the abuse, and the death of my brother, caused my emotions to be expressed in many negative ways.
By the time I was midway through age 12, I was exhibiting juvenile delinquent tendencies that landed me with a probation officer and counseling. Sometime in the summer of 1977 I was removed from the home and placed in a halfway house for youth. It was the first time I experienced freedom in my short life.
I am pretty certain that I was the youngest kid in that program. The other teens accepted me with open arms. They treated me like a brother. I vaguely remember being somewhat stable in this new environment of acceptance and freedom. Then I transferred to a much larger Group Home called the Webster House.
Webster House is a group home for troubled girls and boys. I remember it as a wonderful place where we did wonderful things. The staff were loving and attentive. I attached myself vigorously to anyone who showed me affection. Starved for attention, I craved their acceptance and, when things did not go my way, I had serious emotional outbursts and meltdowns.
So much so the staff would use various restraining methods to bring me to my room and, believe it or not, would usually end up sitting on me while I raged and cried inconsolably. All the rage that was pressed into my soul was releasing itself dramatically and frequently.
Being very immature for my age, and fought every effort to control me, if I perceived it to be overly punitive. There is no doubt in my mind that emotionally I was just a child.
And there were behavioral problems in school as well. Although, I do not recall but one instance of it. I remember spewing out a string of obscenities at an English Teacher, who of course promptly kicked me out of class.
I recall running out of the building and then hurling snowballs at her window stories up. Raging against an authority figure was a behavior that slowly began expressing itself by this time, and it would become pervasive throughout my lifetime.
Back To Turmoil
I don’t recall when it was exactly, but sometime in 1978 or early in 1979, I went back into court and was ordered to leave the Webster House and return home. It was devastating. My mother was so livid about that, she simply left the court without me. My probation officer had to give me a ride home.
I remember standing at the top of the stairs and listening to my mother tell my father that I was home again. He was very angry. It ended up being the worst time of my young life.
First of all, I was enrolled in a different Junior High School and experienced severe bullying as a new student. There were many occasions when I had to avoid the bus and walk quite a ways home; particularly in the winter time. I often came home to a locked house.
I would have to wander the neighborhood for hours until my parents came home and let me in. They made it crystal clear that they did not want me there. They made me do all of the chores while my older brother, who also treated me poorly and with disdain, got to do whatever whenever he wanted.
Some Emotional Respite
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Some of my best memories from that year were of going to the Boy’s Club. For part of my 8th Grade school year, I hung out at the Boy’s Club. It was a wonderful place. You could play bumper pool and regular pool. There was an arts and crafts room. And they had a wonderful library, which is where I spent the majority of my time. They also had monthly dances.
The few times I was allowed to go to these dances were the most profound times. Of course, they never gave me rides to or from them, I always had to walk. But oh! How I remember the anticipation of dancing with girls. It was during those dances that I learned about girls and their wiles.
I used to build up my courage for just dancing the slow dances. And during those dances I would become intoxicated with how they smelled, how they felt in my arms. In their arms, I was a million miles away from my troubles.
I kissed more than a few girls there. I actually posted about those experiences here on this blog. There was a development of a courage of emotion I had never had before. I felt passions stir in me that I had never felt. After leaving one of those dances I would be sweating in the cold Fall air. In their arms I felt vibrant and alive.
I believe it was the combination of those moments, and the escapism I felt reading all the wonderful literature I had availed myself of, that would become the foundation of my unrealistic expectations of relationships; of my propensity to love too quickly and too deeply.
It was a cycle I repeated through my life. I could not marry the realities of life with the fantasy life I created as a result of finally feeling true and genuine emotions.
A Brief Freedom
Sometime in November of 1979 I was once again happily removed from my home and returned to the Webster House. However, the place had changed. It seemed more intimidating to me. The residents all seemed older. I was older, it was not the same wonderful place it had been for me just two years prior.
It was around this time that I began smoking pot. I hung out with a kid from the neighborhood who always had a supply. I developed into a brooding, angry kid who was constantly getting into arguments with the staff and the other house members.
My emotional dysregulation reared its head on a daily basis. I wouldn’t follow directions. I challenged authority at every opportunity. I rejected everyone around me before they could reject me.
You can still see the black marks I made on the side of the building, after I climbed out my window to go smoke pot with my friend. Whenever I visit my hometown of Manchester, N.H., I always take a drive by there and chuckle when I see those marks.
I think my time there was probably some of the happiest moments of my pre-teen years. And, because I couldn’t control my emotions, I would be ripped out of there and thrown into a place where my emotions once again receded into the darkness.
One day, my roommate ratted me out for having two joints hidden in his speaker. I was incredibly stoned when I was confronted by one of my favorite staff members (Bev was her name). I felt badly that she was the one who had to deal with the fallout.
But, rather than admit my guilt, I flew off into a vehement angry indignant rage. I refused to relent. I left them no choice: they had the police come and take me away to the Youth Development Center (Y.D.C.). I was locked up in the Juvenile Detention Center! It was there that I discovered the true meaning of depression in its most vicious state.
Emotions On Lockdown
I spent the first few months at the main facility on River Road. It was a depressing place. I think the original buildings, one of which I stayed in, were originally built in the late 1800’s. They are all brick, large and imposing. The dread I felt as I was brought there in the police cruiser grew more intense as we turned onto the property.
The entrance road was long and was surrounded on both sides by uniform rows of trees. I was scared and didn’t know what was going to happen to me. They stripped me of my clothes, forced me to shower with some kind of nasty soap, and locked me away for the first 5 days. I was only contacted when food was brought to me.
I spent locked in a room that could be described as half room half cell. The hallways were large and intimidating. The room itself had a huge window with a metal screen on it.
I distinctly remember the horrible depression that overcame me; I was locked up and no longer free. But, this isn’t a story about being locked away at Y.D.C., it’s a story about emotions.
Thankfully, I removed from the more restrictive campus on River Road after a few miserable months there. I was accepted into a pilot program of Y.D.C. called Friendship House. It was based in the community. This was an old Victorian style home where I lived for nearly a year with about 15-20 other troubled teens aged 14-17. Unlike the main campus, we were allowed to go to public school. We were allowed to sign out for weekend furloughs–for those who had somewhere to go.
Bite The Bullet
I had tremendous difficulty controlling my emotions while I was at Friendship House. I was always arguing with one resident or another. I found myself on restriction more often than not. Restriction was being forced to sit in the pass-through kitchen and “rap” (have meaningful conversations) with other residents.
Boy, do I wish I still had those journals they forced me to write in! We had to document our conversations when we rapped. My biggest problem was that I would speak before thinking. I had no self-control when it came to expressions of frustration or anger.
And so, the House Manager Mr. Bernard, would always hear me bickering with someone and tell me to “Bite the bullet Levasseur!” I was relentless when it came to getting my point across. I wouldn’t let something go. I had to continually make sarcastic comments to my supposed tormentors. I learned very early on that I could get under someone’s skin with my comments; and I used them on a constant basis.
John and Barbara Straight
In the Summer of ’79, I was released from Friendship House and went to live with John and Barbara Straight. It was in a very nice neighborhood and the Straights were very nice people. But they were ill-equipped to handle my immaturity and outbursts.
I was at the Straights for about 6 months or so. When they had finally had enough, they shipped me to a much worse Foster Home. That was precisely on my 16th birthday, January 27th 1980.
That would begin a series of movements between various foster homes, many of which were run by very unpleasant foster parents. My emotions were once again severely stifled by some of the harsh conditions within which I had to live.
Memo To My Probation Officer
I can’t believe I still have this letter from so many years ago! It is perhaps one of the oldest things I have in my possession. When the Straights brought me to my new foster home on my birthday, they gave me a copy of the letter they wrote to my probation officer, Dave Cooley. It’s kinda funny, because it was typed in a typewriter on that old typewriter paper that you could peel away and have a kind of mimeographed copy as well. Here is what the letter says:
We can’t say that there were any huge problems that caused things not to work out with Bob and us. Regis Lemaire, counselor at the Office of Youth Services, suggested that perhaps the main issue was that Bob had not yet accepted the fact of his rejection by his parents, and consequently couldn’t accept us in a parental relationship. We’re inclined to believe this is true; when we were doing things where our role as authority/parental figures was not stressed things went fine, but when situations occurred that emphasized our parental responsibilities the “war” began.
Bob refused to accept our rules; he either ignored them, or, if we really put pressure on for him to comply (through restrictions, loss of allowance, grounding, etc.), his reaction was still to try to get around them, or, if he did comply, somehow to retaliate later. We’re sure our lack of experience in dealing with teenagers did not make matters easier, and Bob, being an extremely bright boy, was quick to take advantage of the situation.
We tried two different approaches, neither of which was terribly successful. One was to try to maintain strict discipline and be really firm. This was probably the better approach, but we were unhappy with it since we didn’t want to strictly wardens to Bob. He was resentful of us, and constantly trying to get away with things.
Our inclination was to try more of a positive reinforcement approach – overlooking some bad things, de-emphasizing others, and trying to encourage him into good behavior by stressing when we were pleased with something he was doing. Although things around the house were much more pleasant for a little while, we soon realized that Bob was taking advantage of this approach to get away with a lot of things. He tested us constantly to see just exactly what he could get away with before we’d take action.
We felt, too, that we really couldn’t trust Bob very much. Going along with the idea that he didn’t want to accept us as parents, and probably was afraid of getting too close to us, we think he continuously did things so we wouldn’t trust him. He sometimes took small things from us, or stole small items from stores, but usually leaving clues so we’d find out.
When confronted on anything, no matter how much proof was on hand, he would invariably deny it, and make up a whole series of lies to explain the situation away. Even if we could disprove the whole story, he’d just make up another one. In general, Bob seems to know just the right things to say and do to keep people on edge, and we never really got to feel completely comfortable with him.
Also, in looking at how he was doing at school, and with us, we decided it probably wasn’t doing either him or us any good to try and go on. Bob is very smart, and can be very stubborn and persistent at times, but he does tend to be a quitter when something requires sustained effort to succeed, such as school work. We found he would approach a situation, such as a school project, with a great deal of enthusiasm and initial effort. But, as soon as a problem was encountered, or he had to make a choice between doing extra work or relaxing, the project always lost out. We weren’t able to find the right way to encourage him to go on to finish anything he started.
We do think that Bob has a lot of good qualities that can really help him make it, if he gives himself a chance. He tries very hard not to face up to problems, but when he does, he seems to handle them pretty well. He can be very charming, and very affectionate. We’ve seen him grow a great deal in the last six months in handling his anger. He is still very “pent up” with a lot of unresolved issues; but, he seems to have developed a trusting relationship with Mr. Lemaire, and we’ve encouraged Bob to continue to see him to help work through these issues. Bob does have a good sense of humor, which helps at times in working things out.
A final note is that once we told Bob of the plans to move him to another home, after the initial upset, he has opened up a lot more than he ever has since coming to live here. It seems as though since we are no longer in a parent role he is able to relate to us much more freely, and the “war” is over. We hope to be able to continue a friendly relationship with BOb, and to be here for him should he want any help or moral support in working out his problems, or just to lend an ear would he want one.
That, my dear readers, pretty much sums up what I was like as a young teen. For the most part.
From the moment I was dropped off at my new, and disgusting, foster home, until I met my friend Troy in 1983, my life was one of anger and angst. My emotions were suppressed in the numerous foster homes I was bounced around in, until I was returned to Friendship House during my Junior year of High School.
High school was full of angst and loneliness. It was a huge high school. There were over 1,000 kids just in my Senior class. I was beginning to feel my depression seep in. I was envious of all the various couples and friends that seemed to be enjoying their lives.
Meanwhile, I would be bullied because of my long hair and appearance as a “Head.” Jocks were Jocks. Slummers were kids who looked dirty. Geeks were band Members. Heads were the stoners who wore concert shirts. Man, did high school suck. Interestingly, Adam Sandler graduated from Central High in 1984, two years after I left.
I frequently engaged in self-destructive behaviors. I walked away-literally-from two abusive foster homes. Between stints at foster homes and Friendship House I lived on the streets. And, although my father did start to take me home for a few furloughs in ’81, I established no true relationships with anyone.
I was a brooding teen when I voluntarily requested to be placed in Friendship House at the beginning of my Senior year in High School; I had no place to turn. Unfortunately, I started selling pot to the residents there and I was sentenced to live on the main Y.D.C. campus at East Cottage; a mini-jail for juveniles.
Angst and Anger
I was released from Y.D.C. on my 18th birthday, January 27th 1982. They gave me a $50 hotel voucher and I had to walk to the bus stop in blizzard conditions, with just a garbage bag of belongings. No longer a ward of the state, I endured a harsh 6 months of couch surfing, sleeping in hallways, and doing lots of drugs.
Although I stayed in school, I frequently skipped classes to smoke weed, hash, and to pop acid. I slept in hallways and occasionally with the family member who abused me as a child. I was taken in for about a month or so by a woman who required frequent sexual favors.
She took my virginity, then threw me out when she found someone else to service her. I began to get into trouble with the law through various ventures and ultimately failed my Senior year by .5 credit.
During that time I was severely depressed, isolated and lonely. Because of my instability during my High School years, I never made any friends. However, I did hang around with one of the former residents of Friendship House, who I did alot of drugs with. I was often bullied my Senior year because I was unkempt due to homelessness. Finally, I was arrested for stealing money from the gas station I worked at and forced to go to jail on the weekends.
Time To Move On
After the stint of weekend jail, I realized that I was slowly building a bad reputation with the police. One day, early in the summer of ’82, I decided to hitchhike out of Manchester. I had no idea where I was going. I ended up in Laconia, about an hour north of Manchester.
The man who picked me up allowed me to stay in his home for a few weeks. I eventually got a job at a Howard Johnson’s Inn, but eventually I was fired. Most of the time I was lonely and depressed. I was also kicked out of the man’s house after I stole his mother’s diamond ring.
Once again homeless, I slept on the beach at Weirs Beach in Laconia for most of the summer. I spent my idle time breaking into unlocked cars at night, and taking and losing several jobs. I also discovered a new way of not regulating my emotions: my propensity for falling in love the minute a girl showed me any affection.
Too Fast, Too Far, Too Deep
Weirs Beach is a popular tourist destination in New Hampshire. It straddles Lake Winnipesaukee-the largest lake in the state-and had an old-fashioned boardwalk, complete with arcades, water slides, souvenir shops and mini-golf.
Mini-cottages dotted the hillside. I spent quite a few nights partying with strangers there. It is the summer I learned the effects of alcohol. It was the summer I fell in love with several girls and wailed plaintively when they departed. It was the summer. My emotions went haywire. My sexuality ached to be set free. My alcohol use had begun, and continued in earnest.
I spent most of the summer embroiled in chaos. Between pining away for girls, gaining and losing jobs, and homelessness, I didn’t see it coming. Out of money and unable to enjoy the exploits of the earlier months, I didn’t see my upward trend was about to become a spiral into deep and foreboding depression.
After enduring another girl leaving the vacationland in mid-August, I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided I was going to kill myself. And this is the God’s honest truth: as I was walking to the store to steal some razor blades, Queen’s “Don’t Try Suicide” was blaring from one of the arcades on the boardwalk.
Onward Christian Soldiers
I considered slitting my wrists as a “cry for help,” not a true suicide attempt. I was afraid of the blade as I dragged it slowly across both wrists, in the bathroom on the boardwalk. Well, someone saw the blood dripping onto the floor and soon the police arrived and brought me to the hospital.
When I awoke, I was greeted by a Christian family who were to take me in. The Keysers were a deeply religious family who took me in, got me enrolled in High School, and took good care of me. Though I could have done well enough with less church time.
Because I had a propensity for not following rules, I was once again bounced around different families from the church, and eventually ended up sleeping in a closet of a friend I did make during that year. His name was Troy, and he was my first true friend in life.
Troy and The Good ‘Ole Boys
Attending a new high school as a senior is no fun. Especially if that high school is full of chew spittin’, dirt bike riding, good ‘ole boys. To me they were all hicks. I went from a high school where I could simply fade into the crowd of thousands, to a high school with a total population the size of my former senior class.
I was treated like an outcast and, while I wasn’t bullied per se, I was ostracized as a newcomer and never welcomed into the senior class. My emotions that school year ran the gamut of rage against the “rednecks”, to depression at not being able to get a girlfriend.
If it hadn’t been for Troy, I would have been more depressed and miserable than I already was. Troy was the first person I had ever met that I had a substantive conversation with. We shared the same kind of mind. We spent many days and nights together, talking about any and every topic we could think of. He was my first true friend.
Similarly, I spent many hours listening to his father, Hugh, who was a Psychology professor. Hugh fascinated me with his esoteric ramblings. He and his wife, according to Troy, could “hop” when they meditated. They were of South American descent, and they schooled me in many religions and philosophies.
They expanded my mind and paved the way for much of my mystical poetry years later. It used to aggravate Troy that I would stay up for hours listening to his father talk about his fascinating theories about life, religion, meditation, the spirit, and death. He had heard it all growing up. For me, it was thrilling and exciting stuff.
All throughout that year, I was circulated between “foster” parents. First were the ultra religious parents who were difficult to relate to due to their incessant need to relate everything to the Bible. Next, came parents who were less restrictive, but the father figure was a closeted homosexual who tried to hug me at every opportunity.
He held on a bit too long for my liking. Then there was the antiseptic couple who lived miles from anywhere. That father figure tried to impress upon me the need for hard labor and discipline. I did not last long there.
Eventually I was on my own and was allowed to stay at the “pardoo palace”, in a closet. It was the place where Troy lived, and where everyone went to smoke pot and drink. I did my share of partying.
I had more than a few issues with drinking too much. We smoked a lot of pot. A lot of pot. And, although I had Troy as a close friend, I was unable to form any other friendships through that year.
During the summer of ’83 I found myself taking numerous jobs to support myself. I was having difficulties maintaining my attitude in the face of authority, and was fired from or quit several jobs.
It was also during the summer of ’83 that myself and Troy learned we were accepted to Plymouth State College! I couldn’t believe it. I went from piss poor grades for the prior 4 years of high school, to straight A’s and getting accepted into college!
In Part II Emotions College To Jail, I will be writing something that is more of an overview of how my failure to regulate my emotions affected my life from age 18-52.