By: Milton A. Wilkes
I grew up in Toledo, OH - my mother was a drug addict, or should I say is a drug addict. For at least the last 32 years she’s been on drugs. That’s all that I have ever known her to be, I’ve never known her to be sober. I was raised by my grandmothers’ sister who had four sons of her own before I came along.
Even though I was raised by my family I still had abandonment issues. Although she raised me from an infant, a child naturally desires to be taken care of by its mother. It’s just like an animal – if you take them out of their natural habitat and you put them somewhere else with the same type of animals they are still going to feel like they don’t fit in or belong there because it is not where they are from.
There have been a lot of events that have happened in my life that has served as an incubator for my abandonment issues. When I was three, my sister “who is three years older than me” and I went to spend some time with my mother and she disappeared for the whole weekend. My sister was worried and didn’t know what to do. My clothes were all dirty and messed up so my sister put me in one of her dresses and we walked up and down one of the main streets of Toledo looking for my mother. That right there hurt. Even though I don’t remember that as vividly as my sister does; to hear how that effected both of us... it does something to you.
A big hurdle to get over is being okay with someone that does not want to take responsibility for their actions. You have to be okay without receiving an apology, without getting the closure that you want and need. But you can’t hold on to that and say that you need those things to happen so that you can move on with life because life is going to move on without you if you don’t let go.
When I talked to my mother I’d often find myself drifting into a childlike mentality. Fantasizing like, “okay mommy, things are going to change and you’re going to get your life together.” It took me realizing that drug abuse is actually a disease for me to understand why I couldn’t get closure and why I may never get that “I’m sorry” from her. She was actually looking out for my siblings’ and I best interest by giving us up to other family members to raise. My sister and my brother were raised by my grandmother and our younger brother was adopted outside of the family. Even though I was raised along with other kids I still didn’t have the connectivity I could have had with my own siblings. As a child I could not understand why things were the way they were, in the long run it caused me to fall into some extremely risky circumstances.
I became promiscuous, I had issues with low self-esteem and was suicidal. Trying to find yourself and your identity is hard when you don’t know how to look at yourself in the mirror. The reason that I say that is because my father had a whole other family on the side. For the most part my dad was in my life but I never knew any of my siblings. I did not meet them siblings until I was 21. When I met them they knew nothing about me either - that hurt. My response was “wow! I wasn’t worthy enough for you to tell my siblings that I existed?” That caused me to resent my father. However my father has been great about having dialogue and attempting to get closure. He’s given his point of view on that period of our lives, not trying to defend himself or say that what he did was right but just having those conversations so that we can move forward.
I have two kids of my own, (four and eight years old) and I vowed that I would never put them through any of the things that I have gone through in life because it wasn’t fair and caused me much pain. Therapy helped me with recovering from various events in my life. I don’t think that you ever really get over events as traumatic as what I’ve gone through – you just learn how to deal with them and how to manage them better.
The things that I’ve been through have also empowered me to try to help other people. I’m back in school studying to be a mental therapist and I’m also in the midst of becoming licensed as a chemical dependency counselor. They say most chemical dependency counselors have either been on drugs or have been directly impacted by drug abuse. I’m also becoming certified as a life coach. I believe that it’s very important to have an outlet, someone to talk to “especially as black men” because we don’t feel comfortable enough to show those vulnerable places. We if you don’t have anyone or anywhere to go to; which causes us to have deviant behaviors such as drug abuse, gang activity, depravity and promiscuity. Those things aren’t normal so we have to find what the root cause is in order to figure things out and progress.
I believe I struggled with loving myself because my family was not one of those families that openly exhibited love. We didn’t hear “I love you” or show much affection to one another on a regular basis. So in relationships it’s been hard for me to express love in the traditional sense that most people expect or are used to. I try to show love but there are times where I feel like I didn’t know how to. I didn’t have my mother around to nurture and display that motherly love so there’s no example for me to go by. I try to overcompensate that when it comes to my kids because I want them to feel and know that they are loved.
Having high expectations of people can leave you very disappointed because most of those expectations go unfulfilled. I mentioned earlier that I was raised in a house with four other boys who were my cousins. Being that we were all raised together under the same roof I viewed them as brothers. So to hear them say “you’re not my brother” stung really bad. It’s like “wait a minute, we’ve been through so many things together, you know everything that I’m going through so for you to say that… how dare you”- it hurt really bad.
Coming together with all of my siblings from both my mother’s and my father’s side gives me a sense of wholeness. In my opinion I had a non-ideal childhood but I intentionally forge a bond with my siblings. I have gained a relationship with my siblings where I feel free to talk to them about anything. I feel like that’s what most people want, an opportunity to talk without being ostracized, but feeling unconditional love.
I teach my kids to stand up for one each other. If someone comes after one of you they’re coming after both of you. I want them to have that connection. I want them to have what I didn’t have in my childhood. That’s important to me.
It doesn’t feel good but I think about if I had stayed with my mother, I probably would have lived under far worse conditions with a whole boatload of other issues versus going and staying with my aunt, who sent me great schools, instilled life lessons and showed me how to take care of business. But, growing up with unresolved of issues that I was unaware of until later in life created issues that later were harder to deal with. Which one would I have chosen if it was up to me? That’s a hard question but in my heart I know that staying with my aunt was best for me.
My faith has played a huge part in being able to move forward. As a kid I was in church all of the time. That’s where I’ve always found peace. I’ve also been able to find my inner solace through music. I sing. I write music. Music has been my outlet- my way of gaining freedom from all of my inner feelings.
Music takes me away – it heals me.
Milton A Wilkes