In many ways, my story is one of privilege. I’m a white man who grew up in white suburbs. I was educated well. I’ve thrived as a lawyer.
Trauma, however, respects no privilege.
My mother’s father looked like a small-town Southern gentleman. At home, he was an alcoholic racist who sexually abused my mother and later disowned her for marrying a Black man and having a daughter with him after divorcing my father.
My mother became an alcoholic herself. She lied like she breathed. She stole from me. She used her history of abuse to manipulate me. She attempted suicide once that I know of. She drank herself to death at 51.
My father’s mother looked like a churchgoing Southern lady. At home, she had a raging anxiety disorder that made her morbid, manipulative, and dependent on Valium.
My father was a toxic and volatile abuser of alcohol and Valium, the latter supplied by his mother. He chronically berated me and flew into towering rages. He attempted suicide once that I know of. He died alone and miserable because he alienated everyone who cared about him.
My parents fought like rats. They each blamed me because I cared for the other. The happiest day of my childhood was the day their divorce was final, but that didn’t stop them fighting over and through me.
They left me stunted and disassociated. They gave me a chronic case of impostor syndrome and bone-deep belief in my worthlessness. I inherited a legacy of depression and anxiety that I kept at bay until I couldn’t and crashed and burned into a three-month catatonic suicidal depression.
I had the privilege of insurance to pay for years of treatment and therapy. But privilege didn’t stop the consuming shame that made me think it was not only rational but charitable to kill myself.
Privilege isn’t much consolation when your mother is so disoriented she doesn’t know who you are or your father rages that he would kill himself if only he had the guts.
Privilege didn’t stop my parents from committing slow-motion suicide in front of me. I’m glad the police didn’t kill them, but they’re just as dead.
Yes, I have privilege, and I know others lack my privilege and resources. I also know some people have a privilege I don’t—parents who didn’t make them want to kill themselves. I don’t ask any pity. I ask only candor that privilege, like trauma, is complex.