…And 2 months later…

I reestablished contact with my father 2 months ago for the first time in 3 years.  It was sudden and unexpected, but uneventful.  Or, as uneventful as something like this can be.

I visited my father, per his request, only a couple of weeks after we reestablished contact.  It went fine.  He was simply “showing me off” to his employees and colleagues and wanted to impress me.  I’m not fooled by his attempts, but it’s typical for him.

Life just continued.

Christmas Eve.  My father decided that he wanted to “hash out” some of what happened on the day that I told him I no longer wanted to have contact with him.  I asked him why we needed to go over it, since all is said and done.  He told me that he has a major problem with how I treated him.  He said he couldn’t understand what he did that was so bad.

I didn’t, and don’t, have the courage to tell him.. or ask him… if he did what I think he did…or know he did?  Do I know?  Do I really?

“Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us.” – Oscar Wilde

I just tried to appease him enough by telling him I was sensitive and the things he would say were too much for me to handle growing up.  It was enough to end the conversation.  Apparently it wasn’t enough to satisfy him for good.

“Grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something; forgiveness, however, is for those who are substantial enough to move on.” -Criss Jami

Today, I received a text message from him saying that he wanted to “talk.”  I had a very bad feeling about it, but I called him anyway.

He said we had a lot more to “hash out.”  I asked him, why do we still need to go over the past 3 years?  He said it was because he has such a big problem with the way I treated him.  I explained that I had to do what was right for me at the time, and while I understand it may have been hurtful for him, it also wasn’t easy for me, but it was still the best way for me to figure out who I was, take care of myself, etc.

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” -Malcom X

He didn’t like that answer.  He just kept pestering me, asking me how I couldn’t feel the need to apologize.  I told him that it was the right thing for me to do.  He accused me of never telling him “why” I didn’t want to be in contact with him anymore.  I did, partially, but he doesn’t remember.  However I told him that I was terrified, because any time I say anything that he doesn’t agree with, it turns into an argument that ends in a screaming match.

He switched tactics.  He said that it has become obvious to him that there is a major problem with how I was raised.  A dig at my mother, but also telling me that he sees fault in who I am today.  I told him, immediately, that if he is telling me that he sees a problem with who I am as a person today, I will end the conversation.  He mentioned our old neighbor, who used to spank his children (quite often, quite hard), and how his children turned out so wonderful and that they must have been doing something right.

I told him that I will not continue to have someone in my life who keeps telling me that he finds something wrong with who I am today, because I feel more secure in who I am as a person than ever before, and that it was those 3 years apart that helped me define that.  He told me how selfish that was and how selfish I was being.  I said that I am not being selfish by taking care of myself when necessary, and he insisted I was.  I “threatened” him that if the conversation continues the way it was going, I was going to go right back to not talking to him, because I don’t need a person like him in my life.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde

He wanted to know why I didn’t “worship” him like my cousins worship their father, who is quite a mess.  He wanted to know what he did that was so bad that he didn’t get the same treatment that they give their father.  I asked him if he has any compassion for me, for the journey that I’ve gone through.  He didn’t answer.  He just said I’m unbelievable.  He said I’m selfish.  Several times.

I told him I can’t talk to him anymore.

“One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself.”  ― Shannon L. Alder

No matter how strong I may have gotten, this still rips me to pieces.  It still makes me question everything.  It still makes me question my self worth, my value as a person, my character… all of it.  And even worse, everything that he said, all of his questions, make me question the very basis upon which I’ve built the stronger me.

I feel like my whole self is a game of Jenga, and almost all of the pieces had been put into place.  But now, I’ve suddenly had several key pieces removed, causing the whole structure to wobble and sway and threaten to collapse.  I’ll get over it, of course.  I always do.

And that’s the end of that.  Forever this time.

“As you become your own advocate and your own steward, your life will beautifully transform.” – Miranda Barrett 

 

The Holiday Paradox

It all boils down to the holidays, doesn’t it? The entire year seems to culminate around the holidays, as if this time of year is a test of what you’ve done since last year.

The words, songs, feelings, and traditions that surround us during these times put forth expectations of what we all should be doing and even how we should feel. And it’s the fairy tale, story-book versions of these holiday gatherings that ruin it for the rest of us.

So here’s a hypothetical situation (but probably applies to some families). The picture is of a large family, several young children, maybe even one on the way. The adults have been successful in their lives and are settling down as their children are growing their own family. They are kind to one another, share collective laughs over silly uncle Larry who can’t ever tell between the twins, and reminisce about something funny that someone did when they were a kid.  They sit comfortably and reflect on their lives and life choices. There may be some regret buried in there, some guilt and maybe even a bit of shame, but all in all, this family gathering for the holidays is something to be longed for.

Here’s a different family. As in many, this family’s holiday involves a great deal of traveling and preparation, both mental and physical, and everyone gears up for getting together with brothers, sisters, and cousins that haven’t been mentioned in ages. There are old tensions that arise during these gatherings, petty fights over how to cook the turkey and maybe one or two blow up fights about some long-standing issue between family members. A few compare each other’s life successes to the other. Everyone quiets down for dinner, and the matriarch of the family asks everyone to say something they’re thankful for and, perhaps, take a moment to remember those who couldn’t be there.

As with that family, every family has issues at the holidays. History and stories and movies all tell us that our holiday gatherings are supposed to be like the first family. But it’s just not realistic for the vast majority.

Let’s delve into another situation. Troubles with the family started long ago, so the mother and daughter left the family to get away from its toxicity. The daughter nearly had to drag the mother out because she was being weighed down so heavily from all of her baggage. The daughter’s baggage was heavy as well, but she had learned how to function with it.

So the mother and daughter get ready for Thanksgiving, cooking dinner from instant mashed potatoes, steamed corn, and a pre-cooked turkey. Can’t forgot the canned cranberry sauce. They sit and eat in silence, both quietly thinking about how they’re grateful to not have to deal with a toxic family, but they also hate that it leaves them with no one but themselves.

But at least they have each other.

Except, when the only other person, the only other family in the room is a near constant trigger of all that toxicity that they tried to escape, the daughter wonders if she has done the right thing. It’s exhausting for her to simply be around her mother, even though she loves her. She tries to convince herself that this is better for her, which it is, but she senses that her mother partially blames her for the isolation they are experiencing today, and that no matter how hard it was to get out of that toxic family, her mother would prefer that over no family at all.

So is it better to be healthier and alone or unhealthy but surrounded by family? I think many of us, if not most of us, would prefer the first family, but let’s be realistic, right? Would I prefer to be part of the second family, with seemingly tangible tensions, but yet still surrounded by loved ones? I do not know.

Regardless, the holidays are tough. Let the month of triggers commence. Happy Holidays, everyone… I hope we can all find some sense of peace this season, even just for a moment, amidst all the chaos.

I quit therapy today

Yes, I did. I might just be taking a break, but I’m not sure. I’m wracked with guilt for doing this to my T. But I feel completely defeated. There was maybe about 10 or 15 minutes left in the session when I told her. It was somewhat out of the blue, although I have mentioned it a couple of times before in recent months. But she still said it was sudden.

I have an intensely pervasive sense of loneliness right now. And I’m being reminded of how empty my life is.

I think I’m an awful person, but I also think I’m beyond help. I don’t want to burden T any longer. Besides, nothing has been the same since she said she was retiring, and I can’t hang on anymore with that knowledge. I don’t know how, and apparently, I wasn’t willing to stick it out long enough to figure it out. And then group last week reminded me of how messed up I am, even after all of this time. We were talking about rights – like the right to feel, the right to set boundaries – and it nearly sent me into a full-on panic, because some part of me couldn’t even entertain the idea of having those sorts of rights. And it left me with this feeling like, you know..I’m never going to have those rights. It’s been a long time now, with me trying to change those ingrained thoughts and feelings, and I don’t think I can take it anymore. It’s easier to just accept that I am fundamentally flawed.

We hugged, and she said she’d miss me. I originally said that I wanted to have one more session, but then I changed my mind. I think because I thought I’d chicken out if I didn’t make today the last session. I feel like I’m trying to prove to myself that I can make it on my own.

But I give up. T said it was okay to give up, but I feel like a failure for it.

The first thing T asked me when I said I needed to take a break from therapy was if I am going to kill myself. I get why she’d ask that, especially because it’s the contract that we’ve had that’s kept me from doing it a couple of times before.

I feel…supremely awful about myself for this decision I’ve made. And I’m not quite sure how to come to grips with it.

Stressed

Yeah, bottom line is that I’m stressed.

I moved last weekend in the middle of a snowstorm. Slid backward down the icy driveway into a ditch, carried a couch up said half mile driveway, yeah. Getting yelled at by parents and students at work for things I didn’t even do doesn’t help. Next month I have to take a mandatory month off from work with no pay. I may have gotten my mother fired from her job with my father. My father is trying to turn “his” family against me. Not to mention, because of the holidays and my poor planning skills, I was essentially off of my meds for nearly two weeks, so things look pretty bleak right now.

I do love my new place, but things are so stressful right now that I just can’t enjoy it. I wish I could talk to T. Even for just a few minutes. 15 days down, 12 to go.

Work tomorrow is going to be insane. Just one more day until I can take a deep breath, at least for a couple days.

I set off the bomb

I’m terrified.  I sent my father an email telling him that I’m severing ties with him, and I am beyond terrified.  It’s short but to the point.  It’s very firm and brimming with confidence that is a complete sham.  I feel like a horrible, horrible person right now.  I knew I’d question my decision, but not this much.  This is supposed to be a healthy decision.  Why does it feel so bad?  I thought some part of me would feel like this was the right choice, but either that part doesn’t exist or it’s being smothered by fear.

Kind of freaking out and trying not to get thrown into the past.  I feel sick.

The inevitable truth

I think I mentioned a while ago that I was thinking about going on a vacation over my birthday.  Well, for various reasons I never did.  But I am now, and I’m excited. Except for a couple of things which I’m just going to set aside for now so that I can enjoy the trip.

In the last post, I explained the growing situation with my parents.  Well, I had taken the situation as an opportunity to break off contact with my father.  I explained to my mother that  I was not going to try to patch things up this time.  She told me that was fine.  I just didn’t think that I would have needed to ask her not to patch things up for me, but apparently I should have.  Because now I’m back at square one.  Maybe even further back.

I got an email from my mother a few days ago saying that she didn’t think my father would be angry with me anymore and that he won’t be asking for an apology from me anymore.  I was suspicious.  So I called her and asked her what she did.  She said that she explained to him that I am simply an immature kid who needs to have a mature adult to show me the appropriate way to act.  Hearing this made me a bit sick to my stomach, and I felt a quick burst of anger flow through me, but I didn’t say anything.  She said that she doesn’t actually think that about me but that she was just telling my father “what he wanted to hear” to get him off my back.  I don’t believe her.  She so easily lies to him, in elaborate ways, that I see absolutely no reason why she wouldn’t be doing the same thing with me.  My therapist agreed with me…unfortunately.

I feel defeated.  My attempt to do something that I thought was healthy for me has now been interpreted as immature – something a kid would do.  Like a defiant teenager acting out against a parent for no legitimate reason.

I didn’t say anything to my mother about what she told him, because nothing good could come of confronting her about it at that time.  So I let it lie.  But when I was in therapy the other day, I started talking through the situation and came to a realization.  I have two options.  Either I stay a part of this contorted, abusive, dysfunctional web that is my family, or I break off from them.  I no longer have the option of breaking off from just my father.  As long as my mother is enmeshed with him, if I want to cut contact with my father, I’ll have to do it with both of my parents.  My mother, despite her faults, does try hard to love me, and it seems unfair to her for me to punish her for his behavior.  And that’s exactly what I’d be doing if I cut contact with them.  My T pointed out to me that my father is essentially using my mother as a weapon against me, because he knows that if she’s angry or upset with me, that it makes me feel guilty.  So even if I stay in contact with her, it’s still like he has a way of getting to me.

As I was explaining this to T, I was speaking somewhat matter-of-factly.  She asked me if I realized what I was saying and kept trying to remind me of the gravity of the situation.  I feel resigned, because some part of me knew that this was always going to be the case, no matter how I tried to get around it.  My T then started talking about the fear I’d felt the last time and that it seems like immediately after I have any contact with my father, in any form, I have serious internal repercussions.  She seemed to talk around what she really wanted to say, which was: no more.  Keep him out.

She’s right, I know she is.  Maybe the timing is right.  T and I had a wonderful conversation last time, one that affirmed my trust in her and reassured me that she’s in this for the long haul.  I know for sure that I have someone to support me if (when?) I take that step with my parents, because it won’t be easy.  I may not do it today, or tomorrow, but I don’t think I’ll make it through another holiday season with them.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy a nice four days off from work and the first vacation I’ve had in 6 years.  Happy Thursday, everyone!

Repercussions

I told her. I told her over and over again that if I did something to upset my father, he would take it out on her. She said that it didn’t matter, that she would let me do what I choose. But lo and behold, here I am, being yelled at by mother for my father’s anger for not calling him (he was affected by Hurricane Isaac). I told her that this is what was always going to happen. She just said that she needed to get off the phone because she couldn’t deal with me yelling at her. I wasn’t even remotely yelling at her. So I said that I wasn’t angry with her at all, but that I had told her a long time ago that if I decided to break off from my father that this is what would happen. That he would take out his anger on her. She had insisted over and over again that it was fine, that I could do whatever I wanted. But I knew better. I knew this would happen. I knew she would be angry with me as soon as he started to take it out on her.

But it still upsets me to my very core. I told my therapist last week that I didn’t like who I was becoming. I said that by standing up for myself, I was hurting others. She said that my dilemma goes down to the most basic existential crisis – by going to work last week, I helped a suicidal student, but I may have killed an ant while I was getting to work. It still doesn’t make me feel any better or any less guilty. I’m having trouble not just doing something destructive to rid the world of myself.

I knew this would happen. I just wasn’t as prepared for it as I thought.