Shame From My Boyhood Poverty

From the age of seven  until the age of fifteen, I lived in Coronado, Ca. which means we lived there from 1945-1953. Coronado is called an island but it is actually connected to the San Diego area  by a narrow strip of sand called The Silver Strand. Coronado, which is across the bay from San Diego’s downtown business district, is a wealthy city.


We lived in a government housing project that was built during the  World War ll to house workers in the aircraft industry. If you are familiar with the San Diego area, the project was right where the Coronado bridge now comes down in Coronado. The area is a country club these days.

The original intention of the government was for the project to be torn down immediately after the war. The buildings were plywood, nailed up with double headed nails so the project could be easily dismantled. Not only were they poorly constructed, they were also not kept up. Once we went months without hot water, which illustrates the low quality of the maintenance we lived with.


My dad was a sheet metal worker at North Island Naval Air Station which occupies more than half of the of Coronado Island. He never made enough money to care for whichever of his six kids were living at home at the time.


We were frequently hungry. I passed out from hunger on at least one occasion. Our diet was protein poor. Things were especially desperate the week we had to pay the rent. Rent week, we pretty well ran out of food about Tuesday and stayed out of food until Friday when my dad got his next check. On Fridays, we always had homemade hamburgers. I doubt if anything I will ever taste will surpass how good those hamburgers tasted.


On the occasions when we ran out of food, we lived on the kindness of a man named Mel who drove our neighborhood’s route for The Conklin Bakery Company. At that time, bakery companies delivered baked goods to neighborhoods much like dairy companies delivered milk. Mel was willing to give us credit. That meant we lived on bread, brownies and pies for days at a time. Once I got six brownies and ate them all within  ten minutes. Mel at least insured that we had enough calories in our diet to keep us going. I remain powerfully grateful to him.

I have heard that in a sense dogs have never been fully domesticated. In the wild dogs ate ravenously at every chanc


Finally, my dad shot himself with my gun. To get away from the scene of his death, we moved to a  project that was in another part of San Diego called Linda Vista.

My mother’s shame and rage was multiplied by my dad’s suicide. She needed a new target. Her rage was in large part, aimed at me. It was devastating. Sometimes when the rage seemed unbearable, my sister Judi and I would call one or both of our older married sisters to come over to calm her down. I was deeply wounded by Mom’s behavior and as a result I felt like I was very low class. Here is an example of what I mean.


La Jolla is a uber wealthy beach city just north of San Diego. When I got old enough to buy myself a car, I would not drive through La Jolla. Instead, I circumnavigated clear around all the city. I didn’t feel worthy of being near such wealth.


That is all background for the story I really want to tell you. I attend a 12-Step meeting in Orange County. All the years I have attended the meeting I never quite felt like I belonged. The reason I  have felt that way, was that there is lots of money in area of Orange County. I felt separated form the group because I live in far more modest circumstances than most of the people that attend the meeting.


In all fairness, the people in  the group never gave me the slightest indication that the level of my income mattered to them in the least. However, in my emotions, my boyhood poverty shame was  a wedge between me and the other truly lovely people in the group. I tried many ways to rid myself of this feeling  but nothing seemed to help. The boyhood shame was still there after the passage of all those decades.


At a recent meeting, a woman I will call Jane shared that she sometimes felt like she did not really belong in the group. She also shared how she overcame her sense of not belonging.


As she shared, I heard that reliable voice within me that I have learned to trust over the years, telling me that I could defeat the sense of distance I had at the meeting if I would share the whole story with Jane. Jane is a fine, experienced and wise member of our group. All of that is positive. My problem was that she is also very pretty.


When I am feeling a deep anxiety, as I was that morning, I tie up like a painfully self conscious fifteen year old boy around a really pretty girl. I really wish I get outgrow my shyness. Maybe someday.

However,  I did promise my Higher Power that if she was available to talk after the meeting, I would get her phone number so I could talk to her about the sense of shame I sometimes experienced at that particular meeting.


Immediately after the meeting ended, she was standing  by her chair all alone. She was gathering up her things, preparing to mingle with other members of the group. It also happened that no one was right there wanting to talk to me as sometimes happens immediately after a meeting. This was my chance. I nervously walked over to her and told her I wanted to phone her to talk over what she had shared. She was of course very gracious. Still, I could hear my voice trembling.


Later that afternoon I phoned Jane and left her a message asking her to call me. For the next few hours I tried to figure out something I could say to her when she called, so I would not have to reveal my my painful feelings. However, by  the time she called, I knew I would tell her the truth and I did. It was a dear and sweet conversation.


Mostly Jane reinforced the idea that no one in the group cared at all about the level of my income. She also said, “I certainly don’t care how much money you have. I do care about and respect the honesty of your sharing.” The love and respect her  and her manner conveyed to me gave me a powerful sense of relief.


Since that talk with Jane, I have not felt the old sense of separation. What an example of my Higher Power helping me overcome a Character defect. The experience gives me a fine sense of satisfaction and a pride in myself, that I did my part. I also feel deeply grateful to Jane and to my recovery group.


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