Smile.

Read time: 9-10 minutes. Warning! Potential triggers: contains details of child neglect, injury, trauma and child abuse.

I took both these selfies two years ago, after doing a short photoshoot for someone’s else’s sponsored ad (that I really should have charged for but didn’t). I only posted the one with my mouth closed online. I’ve never had hang-ups about my smile, but my teeth were a different story. Back in 2020 and a long time before then, I was surrounded by friends that were obsessed with looks and would criticise people’s facial features including mouths that were suspiciously like mine. I was terrified of the perceived judgement my smile would have, so I never posted the second photo of me smiling. Isn’t that ridiculous?! It felt so shallow to be so embarrassed about my teeth, but I know there’s a lot of history and reasons why I haven’t been able to accept how they look.

My mouth has been picked on by school kids, ex friends, ex clients, ex co-workers and ex partners. My mouth is capable of some amazing things(!) but what lingers is the shame and guilt about how different it is, and the reasons why.

Although I do come from a gifted and privileged background, child neglect and abuse are a big part of my story. I was born to two full-time working parents and spent my first 10 years of life inside a beautiful home, with lots of fun holidays and plenty of Christmas and birthday presents. I should say that my both my parents were “functioning alcoholics”, but a lot of their parenting was far from functional.

Growing up with Llandaff Fields just a short walk away was pretty amazing, especially for an undiagnosed Autistic/ADHD and chronically ill kid. Complex PTSD is a killer, and your best way to survive is to hold the most beautiful parts of the most horrible experiences close to you, and hope neural plasticity kicks in to help you navigate your mind and your nervous system out of certain doom.

When we were a family, we had the largest house on a lovely street in a lovely area of Pontcanna in Cardiff. Nothing outside the realms of standard late 80’s/early 90’s middle-class (which was a 3-bedroom house with a big garden) but it had beautiful features: Victorian bay windows, original wood front door, 9ft ceilings throughout, a log burning fireplace in one living room and original parquet wood flooring in the second. The garden was big enough for a greenhouse and patio in the front, the middle was covered in grass with a climbing frame, and then an allotment and shed at the back. The not so beautiful features of that house were the adults inside when they were drunk, angry or upset. As a kid, I believed my parents were half human and half monster. Children of alcoholics lead terribly isolated and miserable lives, amongst the Christmas presents, holidays to Greece and Spain, and trips to Longleat safari park. My first memory I have of being alive, is as a baby at bath time. I was sat on the floor and had just been hit by my mother, and warm red blood was streaming out my tiny nose, running down my chubby cheeks and onto the bathroom rug. I vividly remember matching the colour of the blood with my bright red seahorse bath toy: it was the exact same colour! My first memory of that blood red bath toy told me everything I needed to know: I could bleed, I loved colour, I could disassociate and find joy amongst despair, and both my mother and father needed emotional help and support which was not my responsibility. 

Children do not exist to manage and soothe the emotional states of their parents or caregivers. They can’t and shouldn’t have to. Childhood is a sacred space; it cannot hold the weight of adult immorality. Children are not emotional support animals; they are developing human beings that need you to go to therapy! My cat truly does not care how many times I break down and cry on him (and wipe my tears in his fur, the absorbent little bastard 🤍) but young children cannot process the crushing anger or sadness coming from the person they rely on for their own emotional regulation and literal survival. Unfortunately, my childhood was more scary than sacred.

I landed face-first into the side of a coffee table when I was a toddler. It was my mother who dropped me, whilst she was drunk and distracted. My front teeth were impacted and knocked out – this affected the way my new teeth came through and how my mouth developed. It’s the only physical reminder of the neglect I suffered that I am reminded of every day; each time I brush my teeth, pronounce certain words or smile in photos.

Did you know you could be arrested for being drunk while in charge of your own children? It’s been illegal since 1902, but not all parents know the law when it comes to alcohol and childcare. Parents who are intoxicated while they have a child in their care could be arrested and even face a prison sentence. Parents of young children needed to be fully alert to protect them from physical harm.”

By Sophie Doughty, Crime Reporter at ChronicleLive.co.uk

It is illegal to be drunk and in charge of a child in a public place under the Licensing Act 1902. Rules also state it is forbidden to drink on a highway, public place or any licensed premises while in charge of a child aged seven or under. Obviously this isn’t enforced often due to UK drinking culture and how alcohol is seen as a parenting aid. “Mummy needs wine” is not cute, it’s concerning.

Alcohol is not a parenting aid. Marketing a carcinogenic central nervous system depressant to mothers as a way to get through the day is dishonest and manipulative. It minimises the catastrophic cost of their drinking. Mothers need f**king help. There is a long history of sedating mothers against the reality of their lives. Valium was marketed as ‘mothers little helper.’ Because if women were numb, they would complain less and won’t have the bandwidth to notice how short-changed they are. Mothers need affordable childcare; mothers need more support, a better work-life balance and community. And they also need some quality sleep which is something they won’t get through alcohol. Stop marketing alcohol as an essential parenting aid. If moms want to get together without their kids and partake in an adult beverage – then go for it! That’s a more appropriate use of alcohol. But cut this crap that mothers need wine to parent. They don’t, and neither do their kids. ‘Mommy needs wine’ is not funny, it’s white privilege. These marketing tactics are steeped in white privilege. More and more mothers groups and wine manufacturers are linking motherhood to alcohol. For white women, ‘mommy needs wine’ is harmless fun; they deserve it; stop being judgy, etc. For black women, they would instantly be labelled bad mothers. That’s the difference. That’s where privilege comes in. And when you look at your marketing through that lens, the dishonesty of the whole thing falls apart.”

Veronica Valli, author of Soberful: Uncover a Sustainable, Fulfilling Life Free of Alcohol.

In an effort to correct the damage done from the accident, I spent years in NHS braces as a teenager. The Autistic sensory nightmare of enduring double train tracks with a quad helix expander was intense! I can still feel those wires and brackets, and the almost constant taste of blood. I also had multiple traumatic tooth extractions when I was younger which I felt all too much due to anaesthesia hitting me slightly differently, which left me with crippling ‘Dentophobia’ and avoidance of anything and everything related to oral hygiene and dental maintenance.

I had so much dental work done in those years that they drifted outside of the retainer quickly, and now have an open/incomplete bite that alters how I speak slightly. I investigated changing it through Invisalign 5 years ago (just before I got sober) but it wasn’t the right time for so many reasons. My dentist at the time told me I could pay the Invisalign price in cash instalments, and later backed out of the agreement – but only after I’d paid for the ClinCheck! He also asked an inappropriate question about my Autism while he stared down at my mouth: “is it just mild then?” – after he had just commented that my lips and inner cheeks were chewed up and scarred and some of my teeth were worn down. I also had requested that it be put in my notes that I was extremely anxious about going to the dentist. I should have started flapping my hands and screaming there and then. I fucking wanted to!

There’s a lot of history in this mouth, and I have spent years trying to process, heal and accept how it is. I didn’t realise that finally accepting it would look like restarting Invisalign this year – this time it’s completely on my own terms. I’m not motivated by shame, guilt or other’s expectations. You know what? I love my mouth now, and I can love it while I change it. I’ve ground some of my teeth down from biting my nails and lip for years as a stim/self-soothing habit, which I can work on after the Invisalign is complete.

Earlier this year I got a follow from a Cardiff dentist on Instagram, and felt like it was the right place to start again. In April this year I attended their Invisalign open day, which meant I have teeth whitening, 2 hygienist appointments and retainers included and 5% off the overall price! They also had cupcakes.

Now that I have almost 5 years of solid sobriety and 4 years of consistent therapy behind me, I feel that I can make this change in the right mental and emotional space. It’s now a positively motivated change, for my own wellbeing and my upcoming wedding, not a negatively motivated change to garner acceptance and approval from people that don’t care about me or people that can’t hold a compassionate space for the story I carry. I deserve to take care of my teeth and tidy them up ready for my wedding photos – they won’t be “perfect”, but absolutely nothing is!

I received my ClinCheck plan with Invisalign at Holmes Dental Care last week and cried with joy at the projected results! This is exactly what I wanted: a slight overbite still, but just without the visible open and uneven space at the front which was caused from the impact. It’ll still look like ‘me’, but without the visible reminder of ‘that’.

I’m starting with my first set of aligners next week, and it should take about 5 months in total.

“I would die for my child.”
I believe you. But, would you live for them?
Would you get yourself healthy?
Would you eliminate distractions?
Would you lead them more intentionally?
You’d only have to die once. You have to live every day.
Do that.

Matt Beaudreau.

I can choose to write new and happier chapters to a story that started long before I could make any choices for myself. It’s been a long journey and I’ve still got a while left to go, but I’m a happy lil goofball and am so excited about this new adventure. 🤓

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s