Interview with Kerry Cohen, author of Loose Girl
When a person has an addiction they say they must reach 'rock bottom' before there will be a change. What was your 'bottom'?
I'd say my bottom was when I was with Toby. I believe the people we choose to bring close to us are often a direct reflection of where we're at at the time, and Toby was a mirror of my worst, ugliest desperation. He had no self-respect, no internal resources for change. It was as though I chose him in order to look at myself more honestly, to decide something different for myself. It took me a while to untangle myself from him, but I did, and this is when I started making new choices - very, very slowly.
In your book you are brutally honest about your parents' deficiencies in parenting. Have they read your book and what was their reaction?
Before the book came out, I had talks with both of them. I knew my father would be pretty jovial about the whole issue, which he was. I've almost always been able to be upfront with my father about my feelings without worrying he would go away. He's used to me by now. I was terrified about my mother, though. As might be obvious in the book, I've never been able to have my feelings with her, not if they make her feel bad. I feared the book's arrival would mean the end of our already rocky relationship. But she surprised me. She told me she was proud and that she had always felt guilty about that time in my life. She gave me her blessings.
All that said, I'm pretty sure neither one has read the book, but that's OK with me. I understand. I think they want to be able to feel proud of my accomplishment, without having to know all the gritty details about what I experienced growing up. In the past this would have been upsetting to me. I would have felt like it was just one more way they put their own feelings - the protection of themselves - before mine. But nowadays I get that this is what they're capable of. They know their limitations and are just trying to love me best they can.
What is your relationship like with your parents now?
I have solid relationships with both of them. Once I stopped expecting and needing things from them they were never going to give, life as their daughter got a lot easier. Sometimes I can still feel sad about the fact that I don't have the sort of mother or father I would have wanted, or one of them does something that will feel terrible, but at some point in adulthood it's time to take on the responsibility for those feelings, to stop putting them on my parents, or boys, or friends, or whatever. I try my best to do that.
When we have children we always say that we will do things differently from our parents. What will you do differently?
Um, almost everything! I remember right after my first was born, we had been part of a childbirth education class and there was a reunion. The teacher asked us, "Do you understand your parents better now that you're parents?" Everyone else said, "Yes," while I said, "Hell no!" They all looked at me like I was the crazy one. Maybe I'm the only one who had such crappy parenting?
The main thing I'm doing - the primary thing that I believe might have changed my life - is I'm trying to make sure my kids will feel safe to have their feelings with me, to always put their feelings above mine. And if I fail at this, I try to be accountable for it. That's the biggie. I figure most everything else will fall into place after that one.
I should say, there are a few things my parents did well. My father, for instance, always made me feel safe financially. I never felt in danger of being without. I plan on doing that for my kids too, no matter our financial situation.
You said your husband would read the book once it was released. What was his reaction to your book?
Well, of course he already knew everything in it, and he knew most of the stories too. He didn't love immersing himself in the difficult feelings, though. I mean, they don't permeate my life anymore, like they did during the years of the book. Obviously, there's a part of him that would rather not have to think about that part of my life too much.
What was your biggest regret about that period in your life?
Biggest regret, hands down, is that I didn't simply enjoy my single years. I wasted all that time and all those experiences with guys chasing after something that didn't even exist when I could have been having fun. It was never going to happen, of course. I had to be who I was, and I'm fine with that now. But if I have to regret something, it's the lack of fun.