I remember love. I remember laughter. But I also recall resentment and tears. I will say that growing up, I never went without. In fact, I always had too much. And I think that’s how my addiction ultimately began.
My family was loving. My mom —selfless. My dad —the provider. And, my sister, a role model. We were small but close-knit. I’d like to say fierce. They always had my back. They were (and still are) a bit overprotective but you’ll never hear me say they didn’t care.
I lived the first 16 years of my life in the same house.
Country Club Drive —my childhood address and the only true home I’ve ever known. I was born and raised in Cherry Hill and I’m a Jersey girl through and through. It was 1989, and the elevator was taking way to long. Impatient. I guess that’s where I get it from. Prior to being born, I was ready, irritably waiting to enter this world.
Before the elevator even reached its destination, I was crowning. My mom loves telling this story and I love hearing it. I will say, it was hard to get a word in considering my older sister so easily stole the spotlight. Not on purpose, that was just her captivating personality. When she talked, people listened. And when I did, I simply was ignored.
So when someone wanted to talk about me or to me, I felt special.
I mean, I sometimes was treated second best. I don’t think anyone did it on purpose, it was just how I perceived it. In hindsight, I think it was my own insecurities. It’s like 10 people could say how pretty I am and if one person said something bad, I’d focus only on that one negative comment.
At the time, it felt like my sister was the swan and I was the ugly duckling. I definitely grew into myself because I can firmly say I wasn’t always pretty. Or at least, I didn’t think I was. Eventually, though, I became the black sheep of my family —to no fault but my own.
The kicker —my dad apologized years later for favoring my sister growing up. So maybe it was true? Anyway, almost born in an elevator, my mom and dad, finally reach their floor. Doctors were waiting with a wheelchair as they rush my parents into the delivery room.
“Easiest birth ever,” my mom thought.
The ironic part is —I’m deathly afraid of elevators. Funny how I was almost born in one. Minutes later, Madeline and Maurice were now parents for the second time. Michaela was now a big sister (she was four and a half years old). At this point, my mom and dad were living in Philadelphia. But they wanted us to grow up in the suburbs.
And so, we moved to Cherry Thrill where my story began
I remember having a great childhood. I don’t remember too many details —I mean who does anyway? I was young (literally a newborn), but like I said, I do remember love.
I remember family. I remember good times —the best, in fact.
I remember annual trips to St. Thomas (courtesy of my dad’s attorney status and the law firm he worked at). I remember Florida as well as limitless shopping sprees (I probably owe the same courtesy here too). Oh, and apple juice.
I remember my dad always saying, “Look before you cross the street, chew your food good and don’t talk to strangers.” —this was literally his famous line anytime my sister and I would leave the house without him.
Clearly, he cared.
He would even take the skin off our grapes and hotdogs, afraid that we’d choke. I actually never learned how to dive or do a forward roll because we weren’t allowed too. Like I said, they were all a bit overprotective, but at the time, I merely thought this was normal (it’s not abnormal either though). The thing is, I could do no more or no less and each of my parents would still love me.
This remains true to this day, despite all the shit I put them through.
My father, Maurice, senior partner at a prestigious law firm in downtown Philadelphia, worked hard to provide for his family. Being the main breadwinner, there was a lot of pressure to live up to these expectations he ultimately set for us. He was just trying to give us the life he always wanted. We never specifically asked for things either, we just got them. I was by no means a snob, just privileged (at first). I didn’t know any different.
This was my normal.
Growing up, my mom stayed at home with my sister and me. I remember always struggling to fall asleep at night and my mom went above and beyond for my comfort. I remember my dad getting angry that she’d spend most nights in bed with me. I couldn’t go to sleep without a back scratch and even then, it was hard.
And so, she’d put me to bed. Like clockwork, I’d army crawl into the master bedroom where my dad laid passed out with the TV on. My mom sat beside him half asleep, waiting for me to come in because I always did; as a result, she had come to expect it. After my army crawl, I’d creep on over to her side of the bed.
I’d tap, more like a light slap —her arm and whisper something so she’d follow.
And she always did.
I’d army crawl back to my room and wait. Well, actually, I never slept in my own freaking bed. Partly because I didn’t want to make it the next morning and also because I couldn’t sleep alone.
So, you could expect to find me in the guest bedroom a.k.a. the orange room (when we moved in, the walls were bright orange —we painted over them but we kept the name), which had a queen bed (my room had a twin) and a shit ton of pillows. Most evenings, my mom was on duty, but some nights, my sister would sleep in there too, which gave my sweet momma the night off.
We lived in a town where everyone is Jewish. They were (and still are) synagogues at every corner. Oh, and about a million diners too. It was a great place to grow up. It really was.
But it wasn’t always positive.
Suburbia is Just Another Word For Deception
Cherry Hill was notorious for showing off —the bigger the better. Too much was never enough. And my dad loved it, therefore, we loved it too.
He was also the type who stood out front, at the end of our driveway, waiting for the bus to pick me up. He wouldn’t go to work until he knew my sister and I were both safe on our way to school. I remember getting so embarrassed because normally, he didn’t just stand there and wait.
He sang and danced.
He sang and danced loud enough for my bus buddies (directly across the street) to hear and see him. I remember putting my hand in front of my face pretending I didn’t know him. Today it makes me laugh but back then, I was your standard teenage girl embarrassed by her father. The funny thing, I never understood, if he had enough time to wait 30 minutes for the bus, why couldn’t he have just driven us to school?
First world problems, right?
I remember my backyard. I mean when your view is the 10th hole of the Woodcrest Country Club’s golf course, who wouldn’t? I thought I was lucky —privileged like I said, but it was mostly just for show. My dad was an avid golfer so it made sense that we lived on the green.
We were so close that sometimes ordinary golfers would hit their balls and reach the sliding glass doors in our backyard —if they swung too hard and missed. I remember multiple times screaming while hanging out in the family room (which was parallel to those doors) after hearing a bang. On some occasions, the ball shattered the glass and we had to repair it.
I remember taking the back way through the golf course to the country club’s pool. I remember summer, ice cream and thinking I was a mermaid. I could swim in the pool for hours —making up dance routines and having them all judge my handstands.
I remember doing research after my mom and I were forced to leave (more on that here).
The online estimate said it was worth almost half a million dollars. It ended up selling on May 16, 2016, for $400,950. It had been on the market for years; except no one bought it. I was told, it was priced to sell fast, yet it took forever to actually do so. And I can’t lie, I was pretty happy about that. I didn’t want anyone living in the only place I called home.
I will say, after my mom and I left, the banked owned it. And eventually, almost 10 years later, another family did move in. I remember going back to my childhood home after my second stay in rehab. I remember knocking on the door and a young boy answering. I told him I used to live here and I hadn’t been home in years. I said I had to stop by and see what it looked like. I asked if his parents were home and if I could come inside.
He thought I was nuts, for sure.
His parents weren’t home so I walk around the perimeter as this anxious nostalgia flares up throughout my entire body. It felt really weird. All of my old memories were here, invisibly tucked away —no one could see them but I tasted it. I was back but everything else was gone.
I know those family flashes will live on forever in my mind but seeing the place in person made it hurt a little more than I expected. The house itself had four bedrooms, three baths and was 329 square feet, which comes out to about $127 per square foot. I have no idea what that means but you probably do.
I remember staring at it as I waved goodbye to my new friend and walked away.
It was a beautiful home built in 1960. The house’s main feature was, of course, the wonderful views of the golf course. Younger me loved the neighborhood. I loved my house too. It was all I ever knew. Like I said, it was my only true home. And thinking back now, when the house was foreclosed on —when I didn’t want to leave, but we had too, well —I think that affected me more so than I was willing to admit at that moment.
But sometimes, you don’t have another choice
It’s funny because as I sit here typing this trying to psychoanalysis why I am the way I am, I realize that everything that happened, good or bad, impacted who I am today.
Let me give you another example.
I never really understood love or at least in the traditional sense. I had my idea of what love meant to me, what my parents showed me and how they acted. My dad always said to do what he says and not what he does. And yes, my parents gave my sister and me unconditional love but because of all of my insecurities, I guess I didn’t think I deserved it from anyone else.
And those feelings never went away as I got older. In fact, they got worse. I essentially was doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, which we all know is the definition of insanity. And so, I became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I created exactly what I feared most.
Except, it happened slowly —so slow that even I barely noticed it —until it manifested into substance abuse and took over my life.
I think back to little Macey. She was so sweet. She was so innocent —so pure. I didn’t even do drugs until I was 18 years-old. In fact, I remember crying when my high school boyfriend snorted a line of white powder in front of my face.
I remember always feeling left out. Not in the beginning but as I got older, my depression was more than a lingering scent in the background. I just didn’t know what it meant or even what it was at the time.
Almost like when you’re a kid with vision problems, which I too had.
You either can’t see the board or people in front of you at that assembly in the gymnasium. I mean, I thought that was normal. You’re supposed to be able to see those people? Because I never did. And I don’t think anyone saw me for me either.
I kept everything hidden. Well, the bad parts anyway. I’m not sure if I was embarrassed to have these negative feelings at such a young age or what. But I remember always sneaking off into my bedroom to cry. Sometimes, I had no reason and other times, I just couldn’t handle whatever reality was starting in front of me. Yet, if you looked at me, it appeared as if I was this happy-go-lucky girl.
And that’s how I liked it.
I always thought I was fat, even before I knew what fat was. And the funny thing, I’ve never been overweight a day in my life. Even if I was, so what? I remember my doctors wanted me to take this medicine that would make me gain weight because I never could. My mom protested, telling them I’d develop when my body was ready.
I actually didn’t hit puberty until 18 either. I was the girl with no boobs, wishing she had them. I remember going to the movies in another town and stuffing my bra.
Yeah, that happened.
I remember having dreams I had boobs. I remember waking up every morning to stare at myself in the mirror as I’d squeeze my t-shirt firmly against my chest to see if they grew. It never happened, at least not back then. And I think because of that, I learned the definition of jealousy. I’d compare my body to everyone else’s.
I hated mine. In fact, I didn’t even want to see my own naked body. So much so that I’d shower with a bathing suit on.
Yeah, that happened too.
Oddly enough, I only showered in my parent’s room. So I’d walk from my bedroom (which was on the opposite side of the house) to theirs in whatever bathing suit I wanted to wear that day. My dad would always ask what beach I was going too. It was cute and funny at the time.
But I see now that those little signs were indications of my impending eating disorder, which definitely runs in my family. I will say that my mom always told me how beautiful I was. Never did any of my family members ever make me feel bad about myself physically. She said I was perfect just the way I was. And I believed her.
Well, one part of me did. Except, I’d later learn, the other part was far too powerful and way more negative.
And as I got older, as with most teenage girls, everything (even if it actually wasn’t), was my mom’s fault. I feel like such a bitch, thinking back.
If I didn’t have something to wear, her fault. If I stained my clothes, her fault. If I got into a fight with a girlfriend, her fault. And who was there when I got stood up? Who was there when I had no ride home and was stuck at a party with a bunch of drunk bitches who just made me cry? She was. So in that respect, I feel lucky AF. I wouldn’t be here being the girl I am today without her.
I wouldn’t be here without any of them
Especially my sister, Michaela. She was a natural beauty. She didn’t even have to try. She had her awkward years early and it seemed as if mine were never going to end. We were close though. I remember always wanting to hang out with her. She was more than a role model.
She was everything I wasn’t; everything I wanted to be.
She had this ease about her. She was always wise above her years. I called her an old soul. She was 16 going on 30. And I mean that in the best way. A large part of me envied that. Growing up, when we were both in elementary school, I remember her coming home crying a lot. She was picked on by her female classmates. I always said it was out of pure jealousy.
I guess I wasn’t the only one (lol).
Except once she cried and got it out, she was OK. Me? Well, I’m a dweller. It’s hard for me to let things go. And she was so strong, studious, brave and beautiful with this confidence I so lacked. She still is to this day. She always seemed to have it all together, but I suppose you never know what’s happening behind closed doors.
Clearly, I’m a prime example of just that.
We are a little over four years apart. When we were young, we were pretty much inseparable. My mom always dressed us alike. And any excuse to be more like my sister, I definitely wouldn’t argue. We had our moments. I mean, I was the annoying little one. But she loved me.
And I definitely love her. Today, we’re different but the same. She’s pearls and I’m the punk rock queen (not literally but you get it). The same blood runs through both of our veins. Even when I didn’t want to admit it, when I hit rock bottom, this girl was there battling for me when I couldn’t fight for myself.
Hell, each one of my family members did in their own way.
So regardless of these mental health issues that run in my bloodline. Regardless of how I felt back then. Regardless of the fights, we got into. Regardless of the lies, we told one another to soften whatever reality we were trying to warp in order to protect each other, they saved me.
They gave me life and I owe them my own. My mom sometimes will say, you didn’t ask to be born in this world. I brought you in. So, it’s my job to keep you safe and do my best to ensure you’re happy and healthy.
And well, that’s all any of us can do
Except, sometimes along the way, our mission gets distorted. We have this picture when we’re young of who we think we’re supposed to be —like what’s supposed to happen. But maybe, what we once wanted isn’t what we actually need now. Maybe what we want will, in fact, never happen. Or, maybe, we never really wanted it to begin with. I’ve learned that we have to roll with the punches.
We have to go with the flow because we can’t control everything. In fact, the only thing we can control is ourselves.
I had to learn this the hard way. I think our parents try to shield us from negativity. Maybe they do such a good job that when we finally enter the real world, we realize it’s hard AF and nothing like we pictured in our heads as little boys and girls.
And over the years, I’ve realized sometimes the last thing we want comes in first. Sometimes the first thing we want never comes, and more times than not, waiting is all we can do. I just hope you have people in your corner worth waiting for.
And I hope the waiting is worth it.
For me, it certainly was. I’m a different person because of everything. And I love who I am today. I used to be this wet blanket. Someone people could walk all over. Or at least that’s how I felt about myself. To this day, I still struggle. Those mental health issues I tried to numb away years later, they are still here too.
But because I have these amazing people in my corner who have watched me grow, who saw me fail tenfold and then rise like I was never down, I’m able to overcome these challenges and be the real woman I was always supposed to be. You can too.
*names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.