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Whānau and connection

“I did not like myself then unless I was drunk.”

Whānau and connection

“I did not like myself then unless I was drunk.”

A Māori man reflects on his past filled with strained family relationships and how alcohol became his coping mechanism. His healing process involved finding treatments that resonated with him and rebuilding the bonds with his loved ones, illustrating a path of self-acceptance and renewed connections.

Ah realistically, I left a community that was an entire family and moved to a city that I was not prepared for at all.

I didn’t know what being a fag was. It was like all the name calling started, some slight racism at the park from this old lady where Nan use to stay at.

I was an effeminate child. There was this silk, silk skirt and I loved it, but anyway my Mum was going to make me wear it to school one day because that was a horrific thing.

Because I was being challenged by the um, you know, my Dad who was a man’s man and he’s a farmer and builder and all of those things, um, and then there’s this very effeminate son of his, and so, yeah that was a challenge. Um so our relationship wasn't really that bad. The um – I resented him when he was saying that he loved us, he was always drunk – so as I grew up, I resented it because, to me it wasn’t sincere and if that was the only way he could do that then that is just bullshit really. Even after I came out, you know, he didn’t really have an issue with it. Mum did though but was … it was quite odd, but you know.

So there are two families. There is a sister and a brother from a previous relationship and then there is, I’m the eldest of the second family. I have a good relationship with my older sister now, but she reminds me of Dad.

Lived in a little village, that was cool. That was the only … you know, after we left and as I grew into the adult, I realised what that little village – as much as sometimes, we were like, ah, um, you know, like ah why do I need to be here? – but it protected us, you know, it didn’t matter whose child you were, all the adults would look out for you. So off and on it was good, because like, you know, the town itself is amazing. I love the place.

My relationship with my mum wasn’t amazing. It was, I call it war now. It was like, because it’s kind of what it was. She um changed and we were at war for a very, very long time, for her own reasons, but a lot of time wasted.

I said now I have to work on myself. But then she wanted a, a relationship, she wanted her son back and I said you can’t have that. I said you can’t have your son back but I can offer you friendship and we’d start there and see what happens.

So sometimes it fell into our own routines again. Our garbage – mine and Mum's – came to Palmerston North with us. And that was not fun. It was a time that parents were absolute in their children's lives so no one ever questioned.

So one time I stole $10. I got caught because I didn’t buy my mate a pie, he went home and told his Mum and her in a little town, why does a kid have $10? So I got in trouble for that, and so after that, any money that went missing, I did it – even if I didn’t. Um and then I eventually just became an outright liar, and so I would then just admit to things that I never did because I was going to be blamed for it anyway.

I was just angry because our relationship was so confrontational um and the physical abuse was just, sometimes it just came out of nowhere.

But, so I thought I got away from that. Um and then, so because Nan wasn’t very well at that time, so I went between her house and their house, um so when I was there I was unhappy about having to go there – one, and two, I was starting to rebel openly towards my Mum. Raised my fists, got knocked out a couple times but still did it. I just ended up I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t like her.

I can’t, I can’t say anything – she’s gone now. She can’t answer so it is what it is. You know, we had mended bridges by the time she left.

So my older brother, he was adopted out, so I am the replacement child. But I think because Nan's heart was always, with all of us as grandchildren, very, very gentle and warm, I always see her in a really good light and, you know, Nanny will, would need to come travelling – that was fun. Felt much safer with them around. Um, she, when she left then I really didn’t know what I was doing.

So, when Mum left, that was even greater pain. It was like gut wrenching. Um but yeah, and I didn’t think that when she would, only because of our relationship, um but I suppose you know, as mother and child, you know, those bonds still do exist. But it was just as hard as Nan's passing was.

I realise that passing is the easiest part. You know, once they’ve passed, that's the easiest part to deal with that. And the greed of others, and Mum was not a wealthy person, my sister said ah, “No wonder your Mum hated you”. And, I was like, well you know what? She’s not here to answer that, so whatever you think is going to hurt me right now isn’t because she can’t answer that and I believe that we’ve made some big strides as far as our relationship went. It wasn’t perfect but it was better than her leaving this planet and not having done anything about it.

So the aunts would always go, “Come here nephew”, and then they would randomly tell me something. So like Aunty would say to me, “When, if I win Lotto I will pay for your, for your um, for your operation”. I was like, “What operation?” So she thought that me being gay I would then want to then turn myself into a woman. I was like, “Oh, I’ll just have the money though.” But you know they all listened to Mum at the end, so there was no real support. And so it was just Nan who would sit there and argue with them, and those arguments wouldn’t go so well sometimes. But, you know, they would get upset, and she would go, “Oh well then, go home.” So she was my biggest defender, so when she passed, it was what now? Um and still not over that today.

I did not like myself then, it … unless I was drunk. So I found yeah, I found myself acceptable to myself whilst I was drunk. That carried on for, I don’t know, another for 20 years. The drinking. Um and then in 2010, I woke up in a police detox cell after I had got really drunk, but essentially I had drunk half a bottle of Grey Goose, after work, no food. Spent $800 though, but … and then the fine that came. But it was um … and so after that point, I realised that maybe my drinking is an issue.

I dealt with it. I really like my own space. I really like my own company and it is … maybe because I like it so much, it can become dangerous. You know, I do tend to isolate. And so because I like my own space or being by myself, it is very easy for me to then forget that the rest of the world exists.

It’s slightly overwhelming to um check out for so long and then come back in with a tidal wave of information that is important. Um yeah, but I do like my own company.

So I have been taking medication for, since 2017. Um some hits and misses with it, ah but now we are good. The GP would say try this. So you have to take it for a period of time before the medication kicks in itself, um before it becomes helpful. But by that time, you are quite mindless. You can, you know, doing something not really in control of what you are doing, or you know, so if you act out, you’re not really in control of that because it is just part of the body acclimatising to the medication. So I don’t like that. It’s like being drunk, not in control, so I've learnt that I don’t like losing control.

I have to leave it behind because, because of the side-effects of that, of the medication at the time. Yeah, I just didn’t want to have those types of memories that, you know Dad was so whacked out he didn’t know what he was up to and things like that. So I have sleeping pills but they knock me out so hard that if something happened in the middle of the night, he could not wake me. There’s absolutely no way that he’s going to. So I couldn’t take the sleeping pills. So the insomnia then is rampant. Fun times! It doesn’t stop. You just have to find a better way to deal with it.

And what is, what is more important? You know the um, so school is important, so is your mental health. But I didn't think that I was … you know parenthood was going to be in my life. So when he comes along because his birth parents are unwell people and his grandmother on his Mum’s side already has 15 children under her roof, two toddlers and a husband in a wheelchair because he had a stroke 10 years earlier, and she’s like, I can’t have another baby. Could you have him? Easiest, easiest choice ever in my life. I said I can. I will. I’m coming. So he was my best choice ever. It was, you know, absolutely I have enjoyed sharing my life with him.

You know, sometimes we have our moments, but that’s because he gets lonely. Grumpy old Dad, you know. His best friend is Google. Talk to Google – she'll answer you. But um, you know, he does have his moments, but we get beyond that, you know. He knows where home is. He knows who has his back and that's all been thrown into the air.

I have been going to anger management therapy, um, and that’s been good. And so she, um, my therapist is … psychologist is a Samoan woman, so she understands the dynamics of big brown Māori or Pasifika families. She knows how they work so you don’t have to explain those things.

Um and, you know, she … so my biggest problem was that I need … I have this thing that I need to save people and then they bite me, you know, and then they turn around, and they just turn into … turn into these prats. But … and so that’s part of the withdrawal from society is that I don’t, I can’t trust my own choices in human beings because of what happens down the road or, you know, so it’s better to just stay home and stick with the people that I grew up with. Yeah, so I do know that my boy will come home. And then, so I do know that it is the path that, to get there, that is the hardest.

You know yourself better than anyone else. You know, you know your heart, you know what you are doing, what you are fighting for. There um, you know, had he not come into my life, I wouldn’t have to worry about this, I wouldn’t have to worry about therapy, about fixing my childhood to make his better. Um I wouldn’t have to worry about medication. Um but I know my relationship with him is sound. It is solid. Um yes we have had our bumps but love and, love and conversation will always fix it. You know, not lying to him, misleading him. And you know sometimes, we’ve had to have conversations that were really, really tough.

I choose you, my love, every second of every day.

Also, just knowing that, you know, we have our good days and we have our bad days – it's not all Disney – but the memories that he and I have built in this house, they exist here. And so sometimes they are too great. And sometimes I just don’t want to be here. But you can’t ask for your child back if you have no roof over your head.

Yeah? So there are, you know, some psychological things that I personally have to just accept.