Sixty seconds

Recently, I saw a post on Reddit that asked the question: if you could go back in time and had ONE MINUTE to give advice to your past self, what would you say?

I have to admit that I have spent way, way more than a minute thinking about this question. Part of me rejects doing this because I know everything I have gone through made me who I am today. But then I think, fuck that cliche…why not tell myself all the things that will help “past me” be able to avoid pain, heartbreak, rejection, loss, and negative experiences???

So, here is what I would tell my younger self in sixty seconds:

“Listen to your gut. When your gut is telling you to run, run. When it tells you, don’t marry him: DON’T. MARRY. HIM. Don’t lie to cover other people’s mistakes or behavior. You think that you are protecting them, but you are really just hiding the truth, from the world and yourself.

Don’t settle. EVER. Forget having to kiss frogs and all that dumb shit. Kiss the frogs for fun, but when it comes to relationships, don’t settle for less than you deserve. Please, please do not be with someone who drinks. Promise yourself this and then DO NOT BREAK that promise. You cannot save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where you put someone else’s needs above your own. Don’t lose yourself in someone else. And always, always have an exit strategy.

Be nice to everyone. It isn’t a weakness. You never know what someone else is going through. When you think to yourself that you should call or text someone to check on them or see if they are okay, don’t assume you will always have the time or chance to do it.

No one has a perfect family or perfect life. Make the best of what you have. If you focus all your energy on the bad things, you will miss out on enjoying the good things. Forgive people, especially your dad, who don’t deserve it, even if they never apologized. Try to be the bigger person as often as possible.” *

*Okay, I literally timed myself reading that aloud. And I did not go back and edit it because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. At first, this seemed really easy to do, but it much more difficult than I thought it would be, because how do you sum up twenty years of advice and lessons learned into one little minute? It is an impossible task. And really, how much do young people really listen to anyway? Lol! I teach 11th grade (so mostly kids that are 16 and 17 years old) and as much as I would like to think they hang on my pearls of wisdom, I know that they will have go out into the world and learn life lessons the hard way, just like all of us did- I guess that is a rite of passage. But really, why didn’t anyone stress to 16 year old me the importance of not settling…that would have been REALLY helpful ūüėČ

The tooth (and truth) hurts

My father has been having some dental issues lately and had to have a tooth pulled. We were talking about it the last time I saw him and I was empathizing with him, as I have had dental woes of my own. He then casually asked me if I had my wisdom teeth removed. I told him that I did have all four removed when I was a teenager, to which he responded, ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt remember that at all.‚ÄĚ I was SHOCKED because although I do jot remember a lot from my childhood, it is one of my most vivid memories.

Let me take you back and set the scene…I was probably around 16 and it was over the summer. My dentist recommended I get all four wisdom teeth removed, as they were all impacted. When an oral surgeon performs that surgery, you have to be put under anesthesia. I was very nervous. I had never had any kind of surgery or anesthesia before. I don‚Äôt remember anything from the actual surgery (although my mom tells a funny story about how in a panic I thought the surgeon removed my tongue when I woke up and kept touching it to see if it was still there).

What I do remember was how uncomfortable I was afterwards. I had stitches in four parts of my mouth, which was also packed with cotton. I had to take both antibiotics and codeine. When I got home, all I wanted to do was go to bed. My father, however, had different plans. He was incredibly drunk and a few hours later he began arguing with my mother. He told her, my sister, and me that we had to leave the house and forced us out of the front door, along with our dog. At that point the combination of anesthesia, painkillers and anxiety kicked in and I spent the next half hour vomiting into our front bushes. In case you ever wondered (although I doubt you have), throwing up with a mouth full of bloody cotton is absolutely disgusting.

Eventually, he must have allowed us to come back into the house, because I don’t really remember much else from that day or night. The bushes part is my most vivid memory.

Back to present day…I spent the whole rest of the night thinking about what my father said. I truly do believe that he honestly did not remember that night. It made me wonder how many other incidents that I remember, many of which scarred my childhood, he simply does not even remember.

For the past 30 years, there’s only been two times when my father was sober. One time was after he had a stroke and did not drink from October of 2013 to October of 2015 and the other time has been since December of 2019. During the first span, I remember having a conversation with him and mentioning a few of the things that he had done while he was drunk. It was clear that he was appalled and did not even believe that he was capable of doing those things. And I really didn’t even tell him any of the truly terrible things he did.

The immature part of me wants to stomp my foot and say that it’s not fair. If I have to live with all of these bad memories, he should be riddled with guilt and tormented by them also. Another part of me feels slightly comforted by the fact that because he does not remember doing these things, it was not really my dad doing them, rather it was this drunk monster that took over his body.

My mouth has long since healed and the memory of that experience has faded. Although I have to admit it did hurt a little to have him admit that he didn’t remember that day- added a little insult to injury.

Oh Deer

19334255279_74466ac18a_b

This might be the hardest month yet to write a blog post for me.¬† I have never missed a month without writing at least one entry.¬† It has been hard to find a topic during this horrible time…with the coronavirus and people being ill and losing family members and being unemployed.¬† I don’t want to complain because I am healthy and getting a paycheck.¬† I have racked my brain to find something to write about that is not negative or offensive or insensitive and I finally thought of a topic…deer skulls.

In the northeast region of our country, it is very common to see deer everywhere.¬† Just on my two mile drive home from my sister’s house last night I think I counted 8 of them.¬† Some people think of deer as a nuisance because they cause car accidents, while others appreciate their beauty.¬† When I think of deer, I think of a specific memory with my father.¬† It was a singular moment so insignificant in my life, I am surprised I even remember it at all.

One day, we were exploring some trails in the woods behind my childhood house.¬† My father and I were walking ahead of my mother and my sister and my dad was pointing out various wildlife and plants.¬† A squirrel would skitter along the path and he would shout “squirrel!”.¬† He warned me not to touch poison ivy and explained how to identify it (a skill I still find useful as I am VERY allergic).

“Whoa! Check that out!” My dad pointed to something round and whitish on the ground a few feet in front of us.¬† As we got closer, I realized that it was a skull of unknown origin.¬† A dead person! was the first thought I had until I realized the shape and size of it could not be a human.¬† My father, in true dad fashion, leaned down and plucked it off the ground with his bare hands.¬† He turned to me with a sly smile and then reached his arm out to try to touch me with it.¬† I jumped a mile and screamed, “groooooosssss!”.

My father carried the skull all the way home and by the time we arrived, he had determined it was from a deer, even though there were no antlers attached.¬† By this point, my initial shock faded and I was pretty interested in the skull, with its gaping eye sockets and teeth still attached to the jaw bone.¬† He soaked the skull in soapy water and cleaned it, while my mother disapprovingly kept asking, “what are you going to DO with that thing?” After the skull was clean, I was so fascinated with it that my father gave it to me.¬† This is most likely the strangest “gift” I have received. I sat for a half hour just wiggling the teeth, until one popped out into my hand.¬† I was able to put it back into place with much satisfaction.

I kept that deer skull on my bookshelf for many years.  Once I got my own apartment, I decided that it did not really fit with my decor scheme and that it was weird to have to explain to people why I had a deer skull in my home.  I gave it to a science teacher at the high school where I teach English and he gladly displayed it in a case in his classroom.  Over the years, once in a while, I would pop into his room to look at the deer skull, the memory of that day running through my mind.

Children remember the strangest and most random things.¬† My niece is only three years old and probably won’t remember anything from this time in her life.¬† Or maybe she will? My sister and brother-in-law are both unemployed and home with her all day now.¬† Maybe she will remember making tents out of all the couch pillows, baking cookies with my sister, or helping her dad rake sticks in the backyard?¬† I have a very poor memory and cannot recall much from my childhood.¬† And unfortunately, by the time I turned twelve years old, my father was a full blown abusive alcoholic, so there were not many happy memories made during my teenage years. Yet, there are these random moments, burned into my memory, that I fondly remember.¬† My dad was fun (and cool!) at one point during my childhood and now that he is sober, I hope that my niece will make memories with him that she can look back on someday to remember her grandfather.

My deer skull still is on display in the science lab classroom.¬† I am sure over the years, many students have seen it and assumed it came from a school supply magazine or they really do not think much of it at all.¬† Some of them are my students as well and they have NO idea that they are looking at a piece of my childhood…a tangible, albeit very odd, reminder of a happy memory with my father.

un(girl)friended

7ad658b97e4cfeec6c29f4bd96aefe81

So much has happened, it almost seems like a blur…I almost need a calendar or timeline to remember what happened when.

February 28- my boyfriend was fired and started drinking more heavily

March 15- he was admitted to the ER and then transferred to ICU and put into a medically induced coma with a breathing tube and ventilator (on life support) due to withdrawal from alcohol…that same night, I discovered he had been cheating on me

March 16- I moved his belongings out of my house into a storage unit, so he had no alternative besides going to rehab…from this day on I stayed at the hospital every single day (taking FMLA at work)

April 12- he was discharged from the hospital after 28 days (17 of them in the coma) while he was there, he contracted pneumonia and c.Diff and his kidneys were almost shut down

April 13- he left to go south with his parents, rather than rehab

April 25- he returned and rented an apartment a mile and a half from my house and the first night back, our dog died

May 2- I rushed him back to the ER, where he was diagnosed with c.Diff again and was admitted to the hospital for 20 days

June 18- we got into an argument via text and I told him to not contact me anymore

June 27- I found out that he had relapsed badly and was sent to a rehab in CA on June 21…no one told me

July 2- he called me from the rehab center and explained that he had spent the first week at a detox center…he gave me the name and address so I could send him cards…that night I googled the rehab and found out it was a horrible place, with no medical doctors or therapist, and immediately emailed my concerns to his family…his sister wrote me back that I was crazy and to leave their family alone

July 3- his father called me at night to say they were “getting him out of that place”…that he had called and told his parents all of the information I had corroborated in my email

July 4- he returned to his parents house

July 17- he came back to his apartment…I had previously told him that if he did not have a solid sobriety plan, then I was not going to be able to offer my support and that I needed space. He landed at 4 pm and within an hour and a half, a neighbor called to say she saw him driving back and forth on the main road by my house

I have had SUCH a hard time disconnecting from him.  I have not been able to completely let go.  Him not getting real help for his alcoholism and relapsing so quickly makes it easier for me to not talk to him.  I also have had more of a chance to express to him my anger about his communication with the other woman, which I am still rightfully mad about.  My sister and friends were REALLY concerned about him “stalking” me, whereas I think it is harmless and he was feeling nostalgic.  We haven’t spoken at all since he came home.  My best friend’s sister’s best friend was just murdered by her husband and so she was very upset about him being around my house.

I just feel like nothing has changed.  It is a repeat of before…hospital/detox, go to his parents’ house for two weeks and return with no plan.  He has no dog, no best friend (he moved to another state), no me, no job, no other friends.  What is going to stop him from drinking again???  I know I cannot control him, but it is really hard to detach and not worry.  I want to get to a place where I can care about him, but not have it affect my everyday life.  My cousin has struggled with sobriety her whole life and I spoke with her and she made me understand more…she said that NOTHING stopped her from doing drugs- not losing her job or her kids or her money or her marriage.  I truly think I understand now that I cannot save him.  My loving him and supporting him is enabling him and doing more harm than good for both of us.  I took a major step today and defriended him on Facebook, which seems petty, but it was still a way to stay connected.  I am getting the courage to also delete him off of Instagram.  I know I need a clean break, but this whole thing has been so messy and damaging and emotional and heartbreaking.

I think I need to find a way to start forgiving him.  Not even for him, but for myself.

This is 40

s-l1600

I turned 40 yesterday. I had a really nice, relaxing day and my boyfriend and sister are planning a big dinner party for me this weekend with all my family and friends, which is so thoughtful and sweet.¬† My boyfriend is actually away right now visiting his parents in another state.¬† When he left last week, I had a really hard time…which was very unexpected.¬† I actually had a panic attack when he left for the airport.¬† I was so scared that something was going to happen to me when he was far away.¬† It took me a day of feeling really uncomfortable to adjust and work my way through it.¬† I just saw a quote on an ACOA Facebook page that made me think about my experience: “On this day I will help my body recover by acknowledging when I have a physical reaction to a seemingly non-threatening situation. I will then reach out to try to uncover where the reaction is coming from to help myself heal.”¬† This really spoke to me because it is how I got through the last week.¬† I had to identify exactly why I had the reaction I did and then help myself get through it.¬† No one could “fix” it for me or make the feelings go away, but I was able to use the logic based strategies that I have learned in therapy to heal myself.

When I spoke to my boyfriend I didn’t tell him what happened because I didn’t want to worry him or make him feel guilty for leaving.¬† Even though I considered not telling them, I did tell my mom and sister how I felt.¬† I feel guilty being a burden on other people and I know how much they worry about me.¬† My therapist said something really interesting to me this week that I have been thinking about.¬† She said, “You do so much for your sister and everyone in your life.¬† You are always there for them…what makes you think they wouldn’t want to do the same for you?”¬† When I did finally tell my boyfriend, he said he could tell something was wrong.¬† If the roles were reversed, I would absolutely want to know if he was struggling, yet I felt bad telling him that I was having a hard time.¬† I think I internalize and hide things because when I was getting divorced, I was a mess and leaned on my friends and family so much- I know it took an emotional toll on them and I don’t want to do that to them again. I have to remind myself that was a long time ago and things in my life are much different now and that it is not a sign of weakness to depend on other people.¬† In fact, I am so lucky and fortunate to have the people in my life that I can count on and moving into this new decade of my life, I am going to keep reminding myself of that.

 

Lucky

Moving-Checklist-Tips

By the time I was 12 years old, I had lived in four states.¬† The first two moves I do not really remember that much because I was too young.¬† The final move was to a new town 1,500 miles away and I was in middle school, so I do remember it pretty clearly.¬† I can recall a farewell party from my Girl Scout troop where everyone signed a white tshirt for me as a keepsake.¬† I remember saying goodbye to my best friend who lived across the street from me.¬† She walked me home and we hugged and cried in the driveway, but then I wanted to walk her home, where we hugged again, but then she wanted to make sure I got home…we ended up saying goodbye about 40 times.¬† One funny memory from that last move was that my family was upgraded to first class, but they only had three available seats for the four of us.¬† My mom volunteered to sit by herself, while my sister, my father and me enjoyed the luxury of mini travel pillows and ice cream sundaes.¬† At one point my dad gave me some snacks to sneak back to my mom and I found her crying.¬† Naively, I thought she was upset about having to sit by herself (only later did I realize she was mourning the loss of her old life).¬† Strangely, I do not remember being overly upset, I think mostly because my parents explained the move to my sister and me as an exciting, big adventure…brand new house, great bedrooms, new friends, etc.¬† Overall, I have a lot of memories of that move, down to what the moving truck looked like (I remember being so in awe of the fact that they fit all our boxes and furniture AND our minivan inside the truck!)

I actually do have one vivid memory of the previous move.¬† We were moving from Colorado to Texas and I was only about 7 or 8 years old.¬† All I remember is sitting on the front steps of the house with one of the movers.¬† My mom had made sandwiches for all the workers from the moving company and I sat outside eating mine with him.¬† His name was Lucky and while I do not recall what we talked about, I remember him being really, really nice and very encouraging about starting over in a new state.¬† He must have made a lasting impression on me because from that point forward, I named every pet and animal I saw after him…there have been Lucky bunnies, Lucky birds, Lucky hamsters, Lucky goldfish, etc.

I think moving several times and experiencing different states had a big influence on my childhood.¬† I don’t know if I would consider myself “lucky” to have moved around the country, but I do think it makes me more empathetic to my students who are new to our school.

 

20 years later

991f7ce879874417ebcdc4a69bea1f80

Yesterday was my 39th birthday (how is that even possible?!?!). ¬†It made me recollect one of my earlier birthdays…my 19th to be exact. ¬†That was probably one of the worst birthdays- no, actual days- of my life. ¬†Weeks prior, my father assaulted me and was arrested and the police issued a restraining order against him on my behalf to prevent him from coming near me or to the house. ¬†His court date was set afterwards and coincidentally landed on my 19th birthday. ¬†I was pressured by my mother and my father’s lawyer to drop the assault charges, which I did, and after going to court, my father was cleared and the restraining order was dropped. ¬†After staying in a hotel by his job for several weeks, my father was allowed to come home. ¬†I do not remember (or chose not to remember) the exact details of that day. ¬†I remember walking into the courthouse with just my mom. ¬†I can recollect speaking to my dad’s lawyer, but not having to actually speak to the judge. ¬†Most of my memories of that day are fuzzy. ¬†I can’t even really remember what happened when we arrived back home as a “family”. ¬†Did my mom make my favorite vanilla cake with chocolate frosting and M&Ms? ¬†Did my mom, sister and dad stand around the table singing “Happy Birthday” as I blew out the candles? ¬†Did my mom sign my birthday card, “Love, Mom and Dad”? ¬†I really don’t recall. ¬†I just remember it REALLY SUCKING. ¬†That is a juvenile way of describing it, but when I think about that day, that’s how I felt…it just sucked. ¬†It was awkward and forced and I was conflicted and confused. ¬†I loved my dad, but he physically attacked me and most of the time we all just acted like nothing happened.

It is weird to think about that day. ¬†Sometimes it feels like it never actually happened…like it was just a very realistic nightmare, yet it was one of the defining moments of my young adult life. ¬†It is hard to believe that it was twenty years ago. ¬†It is not something I dwell on often, but I do think about it every year on my birthday.

Remembering…

ottawa_funeral_flowers

This is going to sound incredibly weird and very morose and a little disturbing, but I created this blog to be completely honest with myself and with anyone¬†who happens to read it. ¬†Sometimes when I am in bed at night and I am having trouble falling asleep, I imagine writing and delivering my father’s eulogy. ¬†My father is still alive, yet I have been doing this for years. ¬†I just realized that I have never even told my therapist that I do this!

I picture myself looking out among the mourners who have gathered in a funeral home to say goodbye to my dad, with my mother and sister sitting in the front row. ¬†I imagine that I am up at a podium, dressed in all black. ¬†Every single time I picture this scenario, I begin¬†by saying, “My father was not a very good man…” ¬† I envision that the already quiet room goes completely still. ¬†Some people who are there do not know the whole truth about my father. ¬†The rest of the eulogy changes from time to time…different stories, different memories, but for the most part it goes like this:

“My father was not a very good man. ¬†As many of you know, my father struggled with alcoholism for the majority of his adult life. ¬†This impacted and complicated many of the relationships he had with those of you here, but mostly this had a horrible¬†effect on our family. ¬†My father did a lot of terrible, hurtful, unspeakable things to us. ¬†But I can stand here and tell you one thing with 100% certainty. ¬†My father loved me. ¬†He loved my mother and he loved my sister. ¬†He would have done anything in the world for us. ¬†I never have questioned this fact. ¬†And I- we- loved him, too. ¬†I know the irony of this statement, but I also remember the man my father was before he started drinking. ¬†So many of my happy childhood memories included him. ¬†He was the ‘fun’ dad…the one who would pile all the neighborhood kids into the wagon¬†of his tractor and pull¬†us up and down the street. ¬†He was the dad who would do an amazing cannonball into the pool and then would spend countless hours throwing my sister and I up into the air so we would splash into the water. ¬†He was the dad who impulsively bought a Porsche, but got the model with the tiny backseat, so my sister and I could squeeze in and go for rides with him. ¬†I have so many memories of being in that car, him blasting “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer and steering the wheel with his knee…”

This is about how far I normally get before I fall asleep. ¬†I have often wondered why I do this, but maybe it is just to remind myself that for all of the bad, there has been some good. ¬†I have a poor memory and often cannot remember my early childhood memories. ¬†Over the years, I have stopped trying to do so because so many of them are painful. ¬†Perhaps this is my way of recalling that life with my father has not been¬†all bad…and that some of it is worth remembering.

I understand.

comforting-hug-300x199

I teach high school English and I have always felt connected to those students who have difficult family situations. ¬†A 17 year old girl handed in an autobiographical writing project today and it was filled with her hatred for her father. ¬†Although her dad isn’t an alcoholic like mine was, he has damaged her and her family. ¬†She is a very quiet, shy person and I know from her mother that she struggles with depression. ¬†It is so hard to “leave work at school” in these situations…my heart breaks for her. ¬†But, I have learned throughout my career that I have to have boundaries with my students. ¬†I wish more than anything, I could hold this girl in my arms and tell her the following things:

1. It gets better…and easier, but the hurt always lingers. ¬†Bruises heal, life goes on. ¬†You find ways (hopefully healthy ones) to cope with the things that happen- sometimes you simply have to push things to the back of your mind so you can just get through the day. ¬†Eventually, you do forget a lot, but the memories of the pain are always there and can be recalled easily. ¬†This is okay. ¬†The things that happen to you make you who you are. ¬†Someday, you will be in the position where you might want to harshly judge someone else…remember how you feel in this moment and be kind. ¬†You understand firsthand that you never know the problems that someone else is privately struggling with in their life.

2. Don’t be ashamed. ¬†Ever. ¬†You do not own the choices your parents make. ¬†They affect you, yes, but they don’t define you. ¬†I know that a lot of what you are going through right now feels like it has to be a dirty secret. ¬†It won’t always be like that. ¬†You will meet many people in your life who will care enough to encourage you to open up and share what you have been through…do it.

3. Forgive. ¬†This one takes time. ¬†A lot of time. ¬†You hate your dad now…you hate what he has done to you and how he has hurt your family. ¬†Someday you might have an opportunity to learn more about why. ¬†Someday, he might apologize (probably not). ¬†If you are able to separate yourself from the situation and look at it objectively, you will see that your father has had his own failures and hurts that led him on the path he took. ¬†This does not excuse his actions, but understanding him better might help you heal.

4. Be so very grateful for your mother and sister.  They are your constant reminder that your family is not all bad and not completely broken.  You will develop a bond that is unlike those of other families.  They are the only ones who will share these memories with you.  They were there, too.  They KNOW.

When I was in high school, there were teachers who knew about my living situation. ¬†They never really outright said anything to me, but showed me they cared in other ways…little kindnesses here and there. ¬†I wish I could do more- say more- to my students sometimes. ¬†All I can do is be there for them and try to protect them the best I can.

Wait…what?

mr-forgetful

Lately I have have been having difficulty thinking of certain words I want to say. I’m speaking and get halfway through a sentence and I know the word I want to say, but it just won’t come out. It is very frustrating, especially considering the fact that I am a teacher (and currently working as an adjunct at a university during the summer). I do think that I am much more aware of it happening than anyone else. Once I pointed it out to my boyfriend, he does notice it now, but he didn’t really before.

I spoke to my therapist about it because we have talked often throughout the years about my “fuzzy” memory (that is putting it nicely and mildly!!) She thinks that this particular problem could be attributed to stress…story of my life! I have been worrying excessively lately as well (just about dumb, silly things) and I’m hoping that is the cause.

Has this happened to anyone else before? I am hoping it is a passing phase, but I am going to the doctor for a physical anyway and I am going to mention it to him (and I have started taking ginkgo biloba…I figure it can’t hurt!). I wish with all these memory problems I have that I could forget to worry and stress out about stuff!!