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It Will Get Better
Finding Your Way Through Teen Issues
By Melinda Hutchings
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2010 Melinda Hutchings
All rights reserved.
SOMETIMES BAD STUFF HAPPENS ... BUT YOU'RE GOING TO BE OKAY
Many of the people who call Kids Helpline complain that no-one is listening to them.
You may also feel that you are not being listened to by the people in your life who count.
The aim of this book is to give you a 'crystal ball' so you know that although sometimes bad things happen, it doesn't mean you're a bad person, and there is always a way forward. Between these pages you will find stories from people just like you, who have suffered through terrible situations, felt lost and alone, been knocked sideways by something unexpected, done crazy things — and have managed to find their way through despite difficulty and hardship.
It is normal to feel stressed out, misunderstood, left out and confused sometimes. Over the weeks and months as I wrote this book, every time I turned around I discovered another heartbreaking story; someone left for dead by drug-addicted parents; others plucked from the familiarity of home and sent to an unknown place with strangers, or bullied and made to feel like crap for no good reason. But the common thread was the feeling that no-one cared enough to really listen.
It can be tough to make friends and find your place on the popularity scale; plan a future and wonder if it's the right path; resist drugs, alcohol and harmful behaviours. There is also the anxiety we all feel when we want to fit in and be accepted. In the background, our family and the way we are brought up play a role in who we become and the choices we make for ourselves and our future.
This book has been a process of evolution, during which I have been inspired by the courage and determination of the people I have interviewed. Their unrelenting will to keep going, to do their best even in the toughest of circumstances, to never give in no matter how painful life becomes, at times moved me to tears.
Many of the people I interviewed felt worthless. They didn't care about the future or were angry at the world. But more than that, they felt unloved.
You deserve to be loved and nurtured, to be given every chance of blossoming into someone with a strong sense of self-esteem and enthusiasm for life and the future.
It doesn't matter if you have one parent or two, a blended family, grandparents or other carers, as long as you have a sense of belonging and wellbeing you have every chance of thriving.
In a world where there is conflict, confusion and a lack of emotional security, it is my personal belief that we need to be true to what is in our hearts and believe in who we are.
As well as including personal stories that explore destructive behaviours and difficult circumstances, this book also profiles organisations filled with wonderful people who have chosen to work in this area because they care. They have the knowledge and experience to know what you need to get back on track, and are there because they are passionate about making life better for you.
On a personal note, although I suffered hardship as a teen, I have chosen to turn that into something positive by using that experience to empower and inspire others. So I wrote this book to show you how you can create a wonderful life, no matter what your circumstances.
My message is this: Always do your best, never make assumptions and live the life that is true to your heart. The key to happiness and inner peace is knowing who you are and never compromising that.
And when you feel alone and confused, or that no-one is listening, pick up this book and read these words again — and know that you are holding it in your hands because you are not alone.
From my heart to yours,
Melinda HutchingsCHAPTER 2
DEALING WITH FAMILY BREAK-UPS
When parents fight and split
It's scary when your parents fight. And even more terrifying if they decide to break up. Suddenly everything changes and there's nothing you can do except go along with it all. Feeling scared is okay because everything will feel so unreal and for a time you may even wonder if your parents will get back together and everything will go back to normal. But what if they don't get back together? What are you supposed to do, and how do you decide whether to live with your mum or dad? Sometimes the decision is made for you by the courts, or your parents will have already decided.
Either way, your world is about to change and it's not going to be easy. As with any massive life-change there will be a period of adjustment where you will feel unsettled and overwhelmed. Your emotions will probably go up, down, sideways and in between as you cope with what happens after your parents split up. You may even get caught in the crossfire.
Through the tears and heartache, remember that you don't have to bear this by yourself. What you experience will be different to what someone else experiences because no two families are the same. Support from your closest friends and an impartial person such as the school counsellor can help as you vent your feelings. There is no right or wrong way to feel — how you feel is how you feel so don't be afraid if your emotions become intense and you feel completely devastated.
Give yourself time to adjust and let your parents know how you are feeling. Ask questions so you understand what's going on and that it's not your fault. And remember that you will get through this and when you do, a sense of 'normal' will return.
My parents divorced when I was four. I still have vivid memories of them fighting all the time. My father was ill; his heart stopped three times. My mother couldn't handle it and so she left him while he was still in hospital.
I MISS FAMILY NIGHTS
When I was younger, the thing I loved the most was Saturday nights at home, because it was family night. We'd all sit together and play Monopoly or watch videos. I really looked forward to Saturday nights. But then my parents started to argue and Dad left when I was five. I felt really sad and, growing up, Saturday nights were never the same again.
I was too young to understand what had happened and naturally, as children do, I started to form my own conclusions. It was such an emotionally intense experience, that I needed to make sense of it. I took on the blame and wondered, What's going to happen to my world now?
I WET THE BED UNTIL I WAS ELEVEN
I couldn't control it, no matter how I tried. From a young age Dad put me to bed and I'd fall asleep with my hand on his leg. The second I felt him move I'd wake up. When he was away on business I wet the bed and after he left Mum, it went on. I felt embarrassed about it, and upset because it meant I couldn't sleep over at a friend's house.
It finally stopped when I learned that I had to take care of myself.
Still to this day, I can't sleep next to someone without waking up when they move.
RUNNING AWAY WAS MY ONLY ESCAPE
When I was young my parents moved us around a lot so I was always somewhere different, having to make new friends. We finally settled in one place, but then Mum and Dad started to fight. When the arguments grew worse I couldn't take it anymore and started running away from home.
My mum and dad eventually split up and my mother remarried not long after. But my stepfather verbally and physically abused me. He abused Mum too, which made me angry. Sometimes it got so bad that I'd have to call the police.
Mum had an apprehended violence order put out on him, but ended up taking him back.
I didn't want to be at home so I kept away and stayed with friends. I lost contact with Mum for a while but at the time I didn't care. I used alcohol as a way to forget about it all.
WHEN DAD LEFT HOME
My parents split up when I was three, only a few months after my little brother was born.
A nasty custody battled followed and there was one incident when Dad tried to kidnap my brother, which was awful. I was frightened of my dad. He had a mean streak and often snapped for no reason.
After they split up, Mum forced me to see Dad because I had to see him a certain amount of days a year in order for her to receive maintenance payments.
I could tell that Dad hated me because he only ever ignored me, yelled at me or hit me. He wanted three sons and ended up with two sons and a daughter. He tried to make me like a boy by dressing me in similar clothing to my brothers, and then he'd chastise me and say, 'Why do you look like a boy when you're a girl?' A few times he became physically violent with me and this made me feel degraded, like I wasn't worth the attention and love my brothers received.
Dad remarried a year after he and Mum broke up. I didn't get along with my stepmother. She was physically violent with my older brother, and picked fights with me. My older brother became violent with me and my younger brother, and I had no choice but to learn how to defend myself. Sometimes we'd have horrific fights when we'd end up in a brawl, punching and hitting each other, and I'd retreat to my room, bruised and in tears.
When I turned fourteen I had the legal choice whether to see my dad or not, and I chose not to.
At home, Mum sits outside most of the time, drinking, smoking and talking on the phone. I don't talk to her all that often. I really only come home to sleep.
From when I was three until I was about fifteen, it was a very traumatic time. I suffered verbal and physical abuse and didn't feel as though I was truly loved by either of my parents.
I felt so alone, as though I wasn't worth talking to. I also became increasingly violent at school and was picked on for having such a bad temper.
Work with what you've already got. There is no point sitting around wishing you had a perfect family. There is no such thing. The best option is to try to sort out what is going on inside your family to the best of your ability.
MY PARENTS SHOULD HAVE SPLIT UP BEFOREI WAS BORN
When I was two Dad actually left, then my parents got back together for me. Fifteen years of hell followed. There was constant arguing and it became so bad that Dad spent all his time working to avoid Mum, so I never saw him.
It hurt that Dad wasn't there for me. I was painfully aware that he wasn't around when I was growing up, and when I was eight I internalised my frustration and anger and withdrew.
As I got older, things got worse. I reached the stage where I didn't want anything for myself and quit everything, including my beloved sports and dance. I wasn't motivated to do anything at all. All I did was watch television.
This went on from Year 3 to Year 10. I struggled to make friends. I was brought up left to my own devices. I went to a Christian school where I was told I wasn't 'Christian' enough, and therefore not good enough. I only made one friend the whole time I was there. I started to believe that everybody hated me. Looking back I think this was a form of not coping, because I felt panicked and compelled to get out of there. I left in Year 8 and went to another school.
When I was in Year 10 I came across lewd text messages on my dad's phone from another woman. I was shocked and disillusioned. I had no idea what to do, so I kept it secret for three months. It all came out when Dad left emails between him and this woman on the home computer for Mum to see.
After that, everything went downhill. I didn't have a chance to feel anything because Mum had no-one and clung to me. I became her emotional crutch. She spent her days crying hysterically. I felt I couldn't say anything about Dad and I wasn't sure if I could even have a relationship with him.
My grief and sadness were overwhelming and the only way I could cope was to shut myself in my room and have no personal contact with anyone.
I pushed Mum away
I no longer have a relationship with my mother. After the divorce payout, she became obsessed with money. When I had trouble making ends meet, I needed her to help me sort out what to do, and she assumed I wanted money. My mum is a hard person to connect with on an emotional level, mostly because she believes she cannot hurt anyone and she is the only one who can be hurt. She tells me stories about Dad and tries to make me believe everything was his fault. Mum is a victim and blames everyone else for her predicament.
I have a stable relationship with my boyfriend and Mum can't handle that. She makes condescending remarks about it. I'm better at standing up to her now though. I told her I didn't want to have any contact with her until I get my feet on the ground. I miss her but I've got to get myself back on track. I took control of my life and set a boundary with Mum: 'This is what I need to do for myself right now and you need to respect that.'
It took a while for my self-esteem to build to the point where I could stand up to people, especially my mother. It's easier to be a victim but it feels horrible.
I think the one question to ask a child is, 'How does that make you feel?' If I was asked that when I was little, Dad might have better understood that what he did was harmful.
I MISS MY MUM
My mum and I would spend the weekends together. I remember when I was really young running up to her whenever I heard her car. I missed her so much when I was growing up. I hated the fact I didn't live with her, hated the fact I didn't have a stable family.
I hid a lot of my pain from Mum. I was in a nutshell and whoever tried to crack me open would get a big hard smack across the face. Little things that usually wouldn't make me upset reduced me to tears. I started to get really violent and aggressive when I argued with anyone and back then I argued with anyone I could because I needed to vent. As much as I felt I was in control, it was obvious I was losing control.
My mother suffered issues which meant, by their nature, I couldn't live with her, so after my father died I lived with my grandparents. My mother cared so much for me; I was an angel in her eyes. I loved the fact she never held a grudge against me, no matter how loud I screamed, or what I said.
But I found it really hard to open up to her because I didn't want her to be disappointed in me. I felt a sense of belonging that I'd been longing for, for such a long time, with Mum. It hurt that I couldn't be with her.
I FELT LIKE NO-ONE CARED
I grew up knowing that Mum and Dad were doing drugs, and I was exposed to it on occasion. I felt abandoned from an early age, as though no-one really cared about me, and the drugs were more important than I was.
I remember, when I was five, running away from home and hiding in the local video store with my 3-year-old sister. Mum and Dad must have called the police because we could see police running around outside, but didn't know they were looking for us. Eventually we were found and taken home.
Another memory that haunts me from when I was five was my dad swinging a lounge chair around, yelling at me to stay back because he could see people at the front of our gate who were coming after us. But no-one was there. He was imagining it.
When I was seven, Mum decided to leave Dad and took me and my sister to another town. She said she did it for us and made a huge effort to get off the drugs. Eventually she succeeded.
Dad stayed in the city and continued to smoke pot. I only see him rarely, and on the occasions that I do, all he does is smoke pot in his room. I don't really have a relationship with him.
Mum works all the time so I've always been home alone and haven't had anyone to talk to or to be there for me after school.
I thought I was worthless
As a teenager I would cry all night and couldn't sleep until 3 a.m. I didn't know why at the time, but think it was because Mum was never there, and I convinced myself that nobody cared about me, that I was worthless.
Carrying all this pain and heartache around was like a brick in my stomach. It was always there and grew bigger and bigger until I couldn't take it anymore and broke down. I knew I wanted things to change but didn't know how to make it happen because I didn't trust many people and wouldn't speak to a counsellor.
Excerpted from It Will Get Better by Melinda Hutchings. Copyright © 2010 Melinda Hutchings. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Sometimes bad stuff happens ... but you're going to be okay,
Chapter 2 Dealing with family break-ups,
Chapter 3 You're not alone,
Chapter 4 Abuse — It's not okay,
Chapter 5 Living with an alcoholic parent,
Chapter 6 Let's talk about suicide,
Chapter 7 Struggling with eating issues,
Chapter 8 Staring into the depths of depression,
Chapter 9 Drugs — A mask for heartache,
Chapter 10 When drinking gets out of control,
Chapter 11 What if you think you're gay?,
Chapter 12 Self-harming — The pain behind the scars,
Chapter 13 Pregnant and scared,
Chapter 14 Coping with bullying,
Chapter 15 Cyberbullying — Harassment at a new level,
Chapter 16 When death snatches a friend,
Chapter 17 Grieving the death of a parent,
Chapter 18 There is always a turning point,
Chapter 19 Yes, you can change perspective,
Chapter 20 Coping strategies for everyday life,
Chapter 21 Helping someone you love — For friends, parents and carers,
Chapter 22 If you knew then what you know now,
Chapter 23 Moving forward,
Chapter 24 Steering the path to your future,
Chapter 25 You are enough,