Unintended Consequences
by Janet Kay Swain

"Mommy didn’t want me. I came into the world alone, afraid, and abandoned."

Swain chronicles the dreadful, sorrowful, dangerous, and frightening experiences of her life and her eventual slow recovery. When she was born, her mother refused to touch her. She lived with her emotionally cold Grandmother, who whipped her, and her Grandfather, who sexually abused her. Her mother’s many boyfriends also abused the author. By age thirteen, Swain was an alcoholic who used street drugs and had sex with multiple partners. Though she had almost no self-confidence, her academic test scores revealed her high intelligence. As an adult working in accounting, she was detail-oriented and diligent but still alcoholic. She had two sons who were also addicted and—like their mother—acted out their pain in desperate ways. But as she shielded them, they often came to her rescue. She finally found help in A.A. and counseling, and after many years of misery, with a diagnosis of and treatment for schizophrenia, she now enjoys a calm sense of self-esteem.

Swain is a competent wordsmith, able to offer a clear, fair version of her misdeeds with few excuses for the choices she made. She cites those people who were kind and who made her feel like a worthwhile person, but she is also candid in recalling those who made her feel worthless and who took physical and sexual advantage of her. She clearly conveys her hard-won reconciliation with her mother—whose upbringing was not so different from her own—and her loving relationship with her sons. She recounts her binges, criminal behavior, and suicide attempts with dramatic intensity. Having been helped unconditionally by those in A.A. with similarly distressing stories to tell, she believes that “there is a place for all of us to heal.” Swain’s harrowing memoir can serve as a beacon of hope to others who feel worthless, desperate, and alone.

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