by Ashley Richardson
Typical cold morning in January, I just got out of the shower and started to get dressed when I heard the garage door open and my mom come home. I was supposed to be at school, not sleeping in and skipping my first couple classes, going to school as I please. Worried, thinking to myself what my mom’s reaction would be had she wanted to come in my room for some reason and find me in there. I decide to keep quiet hoping and praying that my mom isn’t home for the day, maybe she just came home for her lunch break. I start hearing noises coming from my parent’s room, and look out my window to notice my mom’s friends van our driveway. I continue to keep quiet, my ear pressed against my cold door to try and make out what’s going on down the hall in my parents room. Oh my gosh, the noise starts turning into a screaming, frightening noise. What in the world is going on in there? Is someone getting hurt? I hear our dog Emmitt barking and barking. I’m getting paranoid, do I need to open my door and go down the hall to see if my mom is okay and make sure nobody is getting hurt? I’ll wait it out just a minute longer to see if I can hear any more clues as to what is going on. Weird, the noise is now starting to turn into a sexual moan and I’m hearing my mom’s name being moaned by a woman. Is this really happening? My mom is happily married to my dad, they never fight, is she gay, am I still dreaming? The last thing on my mind this morning is how this day will have such an impact on every aspect of my life, as it crumbles right in front of me.
The Beginning-Mom’s Side
Near the end of my junior year of high school is when my grades started to dramatically decrease, when I started to experiment with alcohol and hang out with Nikki and her crowd. I am thankful that I was brought up in a family that was against smoking or any sort of drug, other than alcohol. I have a lot of respect for my dad in that he has never been drunk once in his life, I think that is something to really be proud of.
When I started drinking, I drank about twice every weekend, and maybe occasionally during the week starting my senior year of high school. I was still a virgin before I started drinking as well, and once I started experimenting with alcohol and going to parties and such, it seemed like all my values slowly started to be thrown out the window. I lost my virginity to some guy I barely even know, while I was intoxicated, and after that I would just go out to parties and have sex with random guys, and never talk or hear from them again. It was like I lost all of my self respect, dignity, and self confidence all at once time when I was drinking. I would get behind the wheel of a car very intoxicated on numerous occasions, and I thank God every day that I never got in a serious accident, or involved with the police when I was driving drunk.
During my high school drinking years, my parents started to get concerned and always accused me of having a drinking problem because when I got older people to buy me alcohol I would have them buy me handles of vodka at a time, so it would last me a couple weekends, and I would store the vodka in plastic water bottles (so it just looked like water.) My mom found my hidden stash one time, a bunch of water bottles hidden in a stuffed animal and dumped all of my alcohol out. My mom had always warned me that depression runs in our family and to be careful because alcohol can cause or make depression even worse.
Perhaps the root of many of these problems is what happened in the middle of senior year (January 2006,) an event which cracked the foundations of my family. I was skipping a couple of my morning classes one day to sleep in, so I stayed at home in my room, as my mom was substitute teaching at the high school that day. I got out of bed and started getting ready for school to go to my last period class when I heard the garage door open, someone was home. I peeked out of my window and saw one of my mom’s friends van in the driveway and thought to myself “What in the world is she doing at our house when my mom is at work?”
I kept quiet in my room because I didn’t want to get in trouble for skipping school, my plan was to stay in my room until I heard whoever was home leave, and then I would go to school. As I laid quietly in my room I started to hear screaming noises and I couldn’t quite make out what was going on just yet. The dog started barking and the “screaming” noises turned into more sexual sounds (two women) coming from my parents room. I sat through the noises for about fifteen minutes as a million thoughts were racing through my mind. When the noises finally ceased, I heard my mom and her lady friend walk downstairs and leave.
After what I heard I was so utterly confused and shocked I didn’t know what to do, or what to think of what just happened. I sent a text to my sister and told her what had just happened and asked her what I should do (both of my sisters were away at college at this time). She asked me if I was sure that’s what I heard, or if I’m just imagining or exaggerating anything. I told her I was pretty sure I just heard our mother cheating on our father with another woman. My sister told me the only way to get to the bottom of this would be to ask my mom to her face and I agreed. It was hard enough and very uncomfortable for me to ask my mom what happened and what I heard, but I figured it’d be best for me to know the truth. When my mom got home from school that day I told her what I had heard and asked what she was doing.
My mom told me what happened with her and her friend was none of my business, and anyway that me she didn’t see it as cheating on my dad because it was with a woman. I strongly disagreed and still thought it was cheating and started to cry, I couldn’t believe my ears, or even that she had the audacity to come and do this in our own home. Even though I was pretty sure that’s what I heard, there was some part of me that wanted to think this was all just a bad dream that I would wake up from and everything would be okay. I couldn’t fathom why my mother would ever do something like that and at the same time couldn’t imagine the pain my dad would go through when he found out. This was the beginning of many secrets that started to unfold and about my parents when I thought I knew these two people my whole life, my mom in particular.
My mom told my dad the same day, what had happened and from that day forward my parents’ relationship slowly began to deteriorate. It was breaking my heart seeing their marriage slowly start to break, day by day, because they were together my whole life and I rarely saw either of them really fight.
My mother and I’s relationship was broken since the day I caught her and I wasn’t sure why we could not communicate the same way we always had, not communicate at all. In February 2007, my parents finally decided that their marriage was no longer going to work out and my dad moved out of the house I grew up in. As my mother and I’s relationship continued to spiral and was a constant fight, she decided she wanted me to move out of her house and attend a community college elsewhere, and my dad had offered to pay for my living expenses wherever I was to move to. From February 2007- November 2008, living with my dad was never an option because he was moving from place to place living with roommates and hadn’t had his own place. At last minute we randomly chose the community college in Lynchburg (Central Virginia Community College) while one of my sister’s was attending Lynchburg College for one more year. The drinking became more excessive after they made me move out and move to Lynchburg in August 2007, as this was my only escape to cope with everything.
About six months after my dad decided he was moving out, my mom staying at the house I grew up in, my mom decided she couldn’t have me living with her anymore and we randomly chose a community college in Lynchburg where I’d be living with roommates, and my dad supporting me financially. When my parents both made me move to Lynchburg, I got a puppy (Zoey) and it was like I was never welcome coming home to stay with my mom, as if she never wanted to see me, and always used me having the dog as a cover up to not be able to come home. During my hardships in Lynchburg, my dad was never in a place to have me stay with him, as he was just renting out rooms at this time and moving from place to place.
I didn’t feel like I had a home anymore, my sisters and I were just trying to deal with everything differently so we didn’t communicate, and whenever I tried to reach out to my mom when I was so depressed in Lynchburg she always rejected me and couldn’t talk. I fell in love with my only friend I had in Lynchburg, Laura, who actually understood me and we got along great, despite our complicated “friendship.” This was an emotionally abusive relationship with this girl, she hid me from everyone, like our friendship was always such a big secret. We only took the same classes together so we could see each other, and that’s the only time I saw her (at school) besides talking on the phone, texting, etc. She never invited me to hang out with her and her friends or anything and I never understood why. I would do absolutely anything for this girl and bend over backwards for her, every time we went out to lunch or something after class I would always pay for her. It was hard to express any feelings because Lynchburg is such a conservative and extremely religious town.
I remember one time I was on the phone with Laura while her mom was around and we always said “I love you” and stuff to each other, and when Laura said this to me her mom freaked out and asked Laura why she was saying that to a girl and asked her if she needed to take her to church. We celebrated Valentine’s Day one year and I got her a huge pink stuffed animal dog she slept with, I’m sure she couldn’t tell her mom it was from me. I got her flowers one random day and she didn’t want them because she couldn’t take them to her house. I thought my mom would be the perfect person to talk to about my issues with this girl because of my mom’s sexuality now, but for some reason she never wanted to talk to me.
I had seen a few therapists in the past, and one right before I moved to Lynchburg to talk about my parent’s divorce. I never really liked therapists all that much because I never thought they really helped. I decided to see a therapist while I was in Lynchburg because I didn’t really know where else to turn for support. Essentially I went into therapy and told my male therapist that I wanted to work on my social anxiety issues, but the more I got into it and the more I felt comfortable to open up I started talking more about my past, my confusion with my sexuality, and how hard this relationship with this girl in Lynchburg was.
He finally told me about a month later that he could no longer be my therapist, that it was against his “beliefs” for me to talk about this homosexual relationship with this girl and that he’d refer me to a women vs women attraction center. I thought this was very unprofessional for a therapist to tell you this, and didn’t feel comfortable at that point going to this center and being open with a label that I am “gay” so after that I never saw him again and gave up, I didn’t want to try to seek out any professional help ever again.
When I slept all day I never really had any intentions of waking up, I felt like I never had anything to look forward to. The sleeping all the time got progressively worse after I got rid of my dog and was done with my degree in Lynchburg. I felt stuck because I was being forced to move ahead with school and my life when nothing was pulling me out of my depression and I was using alcohol to hide the pain. Once again I felt neglected by my parents (this situation was similar to when they made me move to Lynchburg) without them giving me any option with a place to stay.
I really started to push the “driving drunk” issue up to near starting therapy, I had been driving drunk all the time. Not completely hammered drunk where I couldn’t even see the road but I definitely was over the legal limit to be operating a vehicle. On St. Patty’s day back in March 2010, I got pulled over after leaving the bar around one or two in the morning. The cop had pulled me over because I was in the left lane at the stop light and all of a sudden changed my mind to turn right because I was on the phone with my friend and she changed her mind last minute where I was going to meet her. I popped about three pieces of gum in my mouth real fast after he pulled me over, before he got to my car and he asked me if I had been drinking.
I told him I had a couple drinks but it was about three hours from then and he asked me to step out of my vehicle. I performed the field sobriety tests and then the officer went back to his car and asked me to blow into the breathalizer. I told him I didn’t think I should have to blow in there (I knew if I would have blown in the breathalizer I would have been over the legal limit.) I wasn’t even aware you could try to say no. After I told him I didn’t think I should have to do that he went back to his car and just wrote me up a ticket for a “failure to obey a highway sign” and let me drive home. I was so thankful that I did not get a DUI that night and I think it was a sign that I was really starting to push my luck with this driving drunk thing.
Mother and I’s relationship Before
I think one of the reasons my mother and I’s relationship started to turmoil after I caught her cheating was because I felt like there was a noticeable awkwardness between the two of us. I kept all the anger and hurt inside for three years because every time I would try to talk to my mom about anything we would just end up fighting, and I was scared to confront my mom about the hurt I felt because I didn’t want to hurt her. It was I think a mutual feeling of tension just because I wasn’t sure how my mom felt about what happened or how she thought I felt about it. I constantly blamed her for a lot after that, without ever explaining anything further about what “she had done to me.” I think there was a lot of anger that I had towards my mom that I kept inside for years, and we weren’t able to communicate at all about anything.
A little bit before my dad decided to move out, I used to come home to my mom crying about how she didn’t know what to do about the marriage with my dad. She said she was scared and worried about getting old and being alone but I told her she wouldn’t ever be alone. It broke my heart seeing her cry like that because I hate seeing anyone I love upset about anything, especially being so close to my mom.
I think my anger was a combination of both blaming her for the divorce and more so just not understanding what had happened and why it happened. The hurt that my mom wasn’t there for me anymore was so deep, I was really affected by her not being able to be there for me while I was very depressed living in Lynchburg, not being able to make friends, trying to transition out into the real world without support, and even more hurt that she wasn’t able to talk to me about anything. It was always a hassle when I wanted to come home and stay with my mom for the weekend, which made me feel even more unloved. Every time I would come home, or stop by her house to see my mom, we would just end up getting in an argument, she would always accuse me of being disrespectful towards her and every little thing I didn’t do bothered her. Most of the time the arguments started about me not being able to come home when I wanted and stay with her on weekends, how I didn’t have parents or a home I could come to, and ended with me blaming her for everything I have been through and I would always start crying and leave.
We were both stuck in an awkward phase for three years whether the awkwardness/resentment was coming from me, her, or even both of us. We both continued to fight and the lack of being able to communicate made it even worse, when we tried to communicate things would always end up coming out wrong and we would unintentionally push each other away even further every time, it was a vicious cycle for years. I wasn’t sure how to go about trying mending this tension with my mom, and always wondered if we’d ever be close again. She always used the excuse that I got a puppy (Zoey) and that was the reason I could never come home because she was so poorly trained and uncontrollable. But you know what, even when I got rid of Zoey in August 2009, I still wasn’t welcome coming home and staying with my mom.
Move to Richmond
After finishing up my degree at the community college in Lynchburg, I applied to VCU figuring that was the next step I needed to take in my life. I made the most painful decision I have ever had to make: to find my dog a new home. Zoey was my one and only support after getting her and raising her as a puppy a few months after moving to Lynchburg. That dog is my best friend, and has truly been there for me through everything, just being by my side when nobody else was, and kissing my tears away. Zoey went everywhere with me, always at my feet, if I could have brought her into the shower with me I would have. After a lot of hard and painful thinking, I was finally starting to look at what was best for Zoey, being that I was so depressed and wasn’t able to give her the exercise and training she needed. I decided to try and find her a new home, and do what was best for her at the time, leaving out how much I needed her in my life. It was not difficult to find her a home after putting her picture on the Internet, my emails and phone started going off right away. I met with four different families in person and after a few days, the last family I met with I finally felt comfortable with, to take good care of my best friend. I will never forget the day I had to say bye to Zoey, and that was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. My depression was at its absolute lowest when I no longer had Zoey by my side.
I knew I couldn’t stay in Lynchburg and promised my dad if he let me move in with him I would only be staying with him for a semester before I moved to Richmond to go to VCU. He told me over and over again living with him was not an option past January, so once January rolled around, I knew it was time to be serious about moving back to Richmond and get serious about my schoolwork. I was very nervous at this point, as I started looking for places to live on craigs list, because I didn’t feel like I had made any positive changes in my life, and as my depression continues to get worse, in combination with the alcohol to cope and still not being able to work things out with my mom. I still haven’t decided for sure on a major so I just picked a couple classes to take in the Computer Science, Computer Engineering field thinking that was what I want to major in.
I found a place to live and got my financial aid all squared away, and my dad helped me move all my stuff mid-January. Well, I’m back in Richmond, as I am still having problems making friends because of my deep abandonment issues, and find it even harder to get motivation to get out of bed. I thought I was at least somewhat capable of getting out of bed sometimes to go to class and stuff, so I signed up for a Computer Science class, a Programming class, and Calculus. As this semester progressed and I was getting very behind in my Programming and Computer Science class, not keeping up with the work because I wasn’t doing any studying outside of the classroom. I started questioning my capabilities, as I was miserably failing every Computer Science test, and starting to wonder whether Computer Science is really what I’m interested in.
I became discouraged when I found out I was failing two classes, and I started to question how smart I really was because I had always got good grades and been successful in school in the past. Since I withdrew the three classes I had signed up for the semester prior, I knew that if I failed any of these classes that might be the end of being able to take classes at VCU, and the end of any future of being successful of getting a degree in college.
I became concerned about dropping my classes because then I would have even less responsibilities and allow me to drink and sleep even more. I told myself that if I dropped these two of my classes out of the three, and only stayed in one, I would find a job for the couple more months that I’d be living in Richmond (I was going to move back with my dad in May for the summer.) Calculus was the only class I was barely passing in and the drop deadline had already passed so I decided to withdraw from my two other classes and try to find a job. I thought about dropping all three classes, but my Calculus teacher was helping me and she knew I was smarter than the efforts I was putting in so she convinced me keep working, come see her for help and that I’d be fine.
After I dropped the classes and was only taking Calculus, I found it even harder to get out of bed and even go to my Calculus class, I honestly never really got up and looked for a job like I had planned. I was literally sleeping my life away at this point, I would take Tylenol pm, Nyquil or anything to make me fall asleep, would sleep until at least noon every day, get up shower, be awake for an hour or two and lay back in bed, the only thing I did that was effective was go to the gym.
With so much free time on my hands, some nights I would just get drunk by myself, that was the first time in my life I had ever done that. I didn’t particularly enjoy not being around people but I felt like most of it was out of my control, my depression caused me to isolate myself and not try building friendships, every time I do try to make new friends I’m so clingy at first for someone to just care about me, I have forgotten all my sense of “normal” boundaries and how to make friends. I have been having problems making new friends and building friendships ever since everything with my mom happened.
Any time I meet someone or want to seek out new friends, I am be so overwhelming and clingy to people it would always push them away. I never understood why these people didn’t want to be around me or be my friend, which is bringing my self confidence to the lowest it’s ever been. I just needed someone to be there for me, as I had no support system and didn’t feel like anyone cared about me at all. It was a vicious cycle, this past February-the beginning of June that consisted of drinking, sleeping, and feeling worse about myself.
When I first made the decision that I wanted to try neurotherapy my main goal was to get out of my depression, but the further I got into it, a combination of neurotherapy and counseling (with the same therapist for both) I decided I might as well work on everything, because a big part of my depression was that I felt like my mom didn’t love me anymore. I wanted to bring my mom in for a joint therapy session in hopes to finally get everything off of my chest and start the healing process, to rebuild the relationship with my mom that we always had because I really did miss having her in my life. I was scared of the outcome of bringing her into therapy, and it pushing us even further apart or her rejecting me again but I figured I didn’t have much to lose at this point.
Neurofeedback therapy is part of a new frontier in our brain understanding. It uses complex computer software and electrical stimulation (in a non-invasive way) to modify brainwave activity subconsciously. Therapy consists of a series of training sessions used to monitor brain wave patterns through a computer, ideally for the brainwaves to learn new pathways for the brain to function more effectively. Neurotherapy is a fairly new, non-medicinal treatment program used to treat ADHD, Behavior Disorders, Depression, Anxiety, Sleep Disorders, Autism, Seizures, Alcoholism/Drug Abuse, Addictions, Headaches, Etc.
When people consider this therapy, it’s better to work with a biofeedback therapist that has a lot of experience and knows what they are doing. The people he worked with did neurotherapy for their kids with ADD, and one woman did it for her depression issues. I was a little skeptical at first about this therapy because I didn’t know much about it and didn’t quite understand how it really works, but as I did more research on it I decided I might as well try it if my dad is willing to pay for it, and I had nothing to lose. After I told my dad that I really did want to try this therapy he immediately set up an appointment for me to be seen with the biofeedback therapist his coworkers referred him to. It still wasn’t a for sure thing that I could do neurofeedback, I had to set up an initial consultation to discuss my issues with the therapist and she would then make a decision to see if I’d be a good candidate to do this therapy.
The weeks leading up to starting therapy and counseling were absolutely awful, I had so much on my mind, sometimes I couldn’t fall asleep until about four in the morning. I was still sleeping most during the day, and from doing more research about neurotherapy I had high hopes of something finally working out in my life and I could not wait to start feeling better. When I finally got started with my sessions around the end of May I was getting a little discouraged at first due to lack of improvement and no immediate results. I was trying to look for a job in Northern VA so I could start saving money before I went back to school, but that was also unsuccessful. Having little or nothing to do was not helping my depression at all.
In the first couple sessions of therapy I actually almost stopped going because my therapist told me that I couldn’t come into the sessions hung over and I should really try to eliminate the drinking as much as possible. I couldn’t imagine how my life would be without alcohol in the picture back in the beginning of June, it was scary to think about. I was concerned about losing my whole group of friends, because all we would do is drink, and revolve all of our activities around drinking, and was also concerned with how I was going to deal with everything in general since I had been using alcohol to cover everything up for three years. Alcohol was my coping mechanism, that I used to self medicate to try and get through everything. Anytime something else went wrong (which always seemed inevitable), I would just get drunk.
I was worried that it would be even harder for me to make friends, especially trying to move back to Richmond and be in the “college town” and figured everyone around would just be drinking and want to go out all the time. My therapist kept assuring me to have trust and faith in her, and that alcohol was only making everything worse for me, also not everyone drinks and I can find other activities I enjoy doing that don’t involve drinking. Trying to figure out some hobbies and what I enjoy doing that does not involve alcohol was like learning how to walk all over again, not to mention finding a whole new group of friends that have better values about life and don’t need alcohol to have fun.
After I brought my mom into therapy for a joint therapy session with me in June, I think things are very slowly going on the right track to getting more normal with her. My expectations about the outcome of bringing her into therapy may have been a little high, I was hoping the damage she caused me would just go away and we would be back to normal right away but that is very unrealistic. The hurt is always going to be there but I really do forgive her, it’s still going to take me a very long time to gain my trust back in her but it was big step to bring her in and a good start to trying to make things better.
It has been a little tough since I moved to Richmond to go to school and am further away from her because she doesn’t like talking on the phone, but I’m trying to still work on things and just keep reminding myself to “live in the present.” With my parents situation now since they are getting older and since they were living a lie pretty much their whole marriage, I guess they want to be able to for once be and do what makes them happy, and I do just want them to do what makes them happy.
I haven’t ever been able to tell my mom how I feel about everything because I was always scared to hurt her feelings and I know she is very sensitive, but I think it’s important for me to express these things to her so she knows. I also wanted to get her side of things about the divorce since I recently heard my dad’s. After everything that happened (me catching her cheating and then the divorce) I was trying to deal with all of that and she made me move to Lynchburg, and was no longer present in my life, both emotionally and physically.
You always grow up thinking that your parents are these perfect people but in reality, nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. I’m fearful of ever getting as close to her as I was growing up because I’m scared she’ll leave me again. It took until recently to be able to communicate and express my concerns to my mom about being scared to get too close in fears of her leaving me again. She has told me more than once that although we cannot predict the future, and who knows what will happen- she doesn’t think she will ever go through such a dramatic change in her life that will make her incapable of being there for me.
It’s been hard trying to think back to life before I started drinking and remembering hobbies and things I actually had fun doing, that don’t involve alcohol, it is sort of like learning how to walk all over again. I distanced myself from all of my friends that actually had goals and were doing something with their lives other than drink, so my whole group of friends for three years pretty much revolved around Nikki and people who would go out and get drunk with me.
Now I am learning how to make friends all over again, and seeking out the type of people who really care about me, show that they care about me.It’s hard finding friends in a college town that have hobbies other than going out and partying and the drinking scene, so I’m still trying to figure out where to find “good people” and things I enjoy doing.
My therapist has saved my life and inspired me in many ways, she is the only therapist I’ve had that I know truly cares about me. She’s helped me cope with all of the hurt by supporting me, and offering counseling as much as I need to deal with and face the hurt and anger that was built up instead of trying to cover it all up by using alcohol and she continues to help me grow as a person every day. The combination of biofeedback and also counseling with her have turned my life around. My therapist is like another parent to me and I love her, my mom, and my dad more than words can express. She knows me inside and out and I feel that she really understands what’s going on with me. I can call her whenever something happens and I trust her opinion, even if it’s the harsh truth, I trust that I am in her heart and she gives me advice on what’s best for me. She’s inspired me so much I am considering a career learning a lot more about the brain and how it works and doing something similar to what she does because I think I would get great satisfaction out of a job that really helps people like she helped me.
I’m still not completely on my feet, after being that depressed for three years, but neurotherapy/biofeedback has definitely pulled me out of a lot to where I can now get out of bed and function like a normal person and live my day to day life. The combination of my inspiring, understanding therapist and neurofeedback made me want to get out of bed, want to stop being so sad, and want to try and fix things with my mom and accept the divorce. For the first time in my life I am working 40 hours a week, focusing on improving my relationships with people, and developing a relationship with my dad, and improving the one with my mom. I have a stable support system with both of my parents now, and my therapist as I grow as a person and get back on my feet. For the first time in my life, I’m building a relationship with my father, and we actually say “I love you” to each other, which we never did before.
Just eleven months ago, I never thought I’d say that things in life are absolutely wonderful. Coming from a college student’s point of view who has been through it a lot, makes me want to reach out to people and help them through whatever they may be going through. I can safely say that I am no longer in my major depression (which lasted and kept getting worse for three years). Things happen out of my control to make me depressed about the situation, but with all the counseling and neurotherapy I have done, definitely have learned much better ways to cope and be able to talk myself out of the depressing situation, rather than let myself spiral into my vicious cycle of deep depression again and negative self-talk.
To read more about my journey, and heartbreaking story I encourage you to read my book “Smile, Like You Mean It” that I plan on being published in the near future. I wrote this book in hopes to inspire the lives of others struggling with depression to not give up, and that there is hope out there.
In my book I further discuss my struggles, the normal ups and downs in life, but aside from all of that: the miracles that can also happen in life and save you when you are least expecting it. I reveal at the end of my book, the number of miracles and things that all started to turn around when I had no hope, but one miracle in specific that will finally start to bring the relationship with my mom and I closer again: Zoey is back.