Lastly

Dear M,

I spend a lot of time thinking not only about all of the things you are going to miss out on in the future, but also about the “lasts” of things you did before you died. Many of them are unimportant, like what was the last thing you ate, what was the last song you heard, what was the last show you watched on TV, etc. Yet, others feel significant, like who was the last person you spoke with, what were the last words you said aloud, who was the last person you hugged…

I know that I was the last person you loved. I know that sounds assuming and kind of obnoxious. When we saw each other in December, I kept hoping you wouldn’t ask me if I was dating someone. I feel a sense of guilt for loving another man now. I think you and I both knew that we were never going to be together again, but I think there was a part of you that hoped for that. If not because of still loving me, at least knowing that being back together with me would have provided you with comfort and care and stability. I didn’t want to tell you that I had moved on because I was afraid it would create a downward spiral, that it might cause you to relapse in the event that you were maintaining sobriety. Even up until the end, I truly never wanted to hurt you.

But you hurt me. Sometimes I feel frustrated that I was never able to express anger towards you. When I found out about you being unfaithful and hiding how much you were drinking, I couldn’t be mad at you because you were in a coma. When we broke up afterwards, I didn’t want to show anger towards you because I wanted to be supportive of you trying to get sober and you were still so sick.

Even now, I don’t feel a lot of anger towards you. I feel angry that you are gone, but not directed at you. But I also feel guilty that I have moved on. It is really hard to mourn you and love someone else. I feel like my heart is split, like I can’t devote it fully either way. I am happy now with him and I hope that you would want that for me. I can hear your voice saying, “fuck that guy” (lol), but I think deep down you knew you could not give me what I needed or deserved.

He was with me when I found out you were gone and has been unwavering in his support ever since. He lets me cry, gives me space when I need it, listens to me talk about you. I can’t imagine how hard it is for him, but he is so patient and kind.

I feel guilty that I was the last person you loved, but I love someone else. I did love you- I truly did and I tried SO hard. I learned the hard way that it is just impossible to love someone who does not love themselves. It makes me sound conceited to say that, but I know it is true and I am grateful that you knew what it felt like to be truly loved, even if you couldn’t always accept it. You told me many times that no one ever really cared for you the way I did. I am glad I was able to give you that gift, that I was able to love you when you felt unworthy and you couldn’t love yourself.

Unanswered Prayers

I used to be a huge Garth Brooks fan and I just heard a song that I haven’t listened to in many, many years. It is called “Unanswered Prayers” and the lyrics include the following lines:

“Sometimes I thank God
For unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’
To the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
‘Cause some of God’s greatest gifts
Are unanswered prayers”

I am not religious at all, but I can appreciate the meaning of this song. Sometimes the thing we want the most is not what is best for us. I don’t really believe that “everything happens for a reason”, but I do think that there is a reason for everything.

When my exboyfriend was sick and his alcoholism was at its worst, I hoped and wished for him to get better so that we could have a future together. I do not really pray to god, but I do talk to my Mama (my deceased grandmother with whom I was very, very close). I remember pleading with her to save his life, to help him survive the coma, to help him get better.

The most important thing at the time was his health and our relationship- and my feelings- took a backseat for a long time. But that was going on long before he got so sick. His problems, his addiction, his depression was always at the forefront. I would ask my Mama to help him, to help us as a couple. But that never happened. He never got help and the consequences were devastating.

I know now that my Mama was not ignoring my requests. She was simply giving me what I needed, which was to NOT give me what I wanted. If I had stayed with my ex, I would have been stuck in his sober/relapse cycle for my whole life. And even if he did get sober, I would have just been waiting with baited breath for him to drink. I would have been suspicious every time he stumbled over a word. That is no way to live- for me or for him. My Mama gave me the opposite of what I thought I wanted and I ended up with failure, but freedom. I realize now that is what I needed more than saving my relationship.

And after the pain and suffering and excruciating loss came something unexpected…a new relationship. One that is light and healthy and equal and secure. I never thought I would be with someone who took care of me. I have never been in a relationship that didn’t include drama and arguing and codependency.

If my “prayers” had been answered by me asking for the wrong things, I know that I would not be happy right now. I believe that it was a gift to NOT get what I thought I wanted, because I know, without a doubt, that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and with who I am meant to be with.

Nice.

As an English teacher, I often stress to my students the importance of using creative words. Instead of the word “bad”, use “terrible”. Instead of the word “pretty”, use “gorgeous”. One of the biggest offenders when it comes to nondescript words is “nice”. The dictionary defines it as fine and satisfactory…not exactly the most flattering or sophisticated adjective.

I remember when I was in my 20s, I met a guy through a mutual friend. Afterwards, she asked him what he thought of me and his response was that he thought I was “nice”. I remember being offended by this and over analyzing it- “What does that MEAN…nice?!??” I thought it indicated that he wasn’t really interested in me. It felt like an insult.

I didn’t realize the significance of this simplistic, four letter word until I was 30. To put it bluntly, my ex husband was mean. After getting divorced, I remember saying to my sister that all I cared about when it came to meeting someone new was that they were nice. After experiencing my dad not being nice and my husband not being nice, that word took on a new, deeper meaning. I am very happy to say that my new boyfriend is truly nice. It took being with some unkind men for me to appreciate someone who is genuinely a good, kindhearted person.

I can honestly say that I am a nice person. I strive to be. I try to do things to make other people happy. I am thoughtful. It is kind of weird to write this because I feel like I am bragging (and trust me that I have many flaws). During the time my coworkers were teaching from home during quarantine, I mailed out 70 cards, just to say hi and keep in touch. I also sent congratulatory letters to the 120 graduating seniors who were my students from last year. This is one of the ways I know how to show love and appreciation.

Today, I gave my mailman a card and a $10 Dunkin Donuts gift card because tomorrow is National Postal Workers Day and clearly I love mail (who knew?!?!) My boyfriend was saw me do this and said, “you are SO nice. You’re the nicest person I have ever known.” I just smiled and accepted it for the lovely compliment it was. There are far more creative and glamorous synonyms that can be used, but I now understand the simple beauty of being nice.

Oh Deer

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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.

What is love?

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I have always believed that people show love in different ways.  I love mailing greeting cards for every occasion possible…it is one way I let the people I care about know that I am thinking of them.

During the 41 days my father was in the hospital and nursing home and ever since he got home a week ago, my mother has been glued to his side.  Without knowing it, both my sister and I spoke to our respective therapists about my mother’s weird devotion to him.  He has treated her so badly for so many years, it is hard to understand why she even cares about what happens to him.

However, my sister and I were at the hospital and nursing home all the time, too- even when he had psychosis and was acting so horribly.  We brought him milkshakes and food he liked.  My sister brought her toddler to visit “Papa”.  We basically all put our lives on hold to take care of him.  Clearly this is learned behavior because I did the same thing when my exboyfriend was in the hospital for 28 days…I sat by his side, putting my life on hold.

I have never doubted that my father loved me (and my mother or sister).  I never doubted my exboyfriend loved me either.  They both just had such a hard time showing it because of their addictions to alcohol.

My dad showed me love by providing for our family, for making sure my sister and I had every opportunity possible, including going to college.  He showed love by making sure we had a beautiful home.  He showed love by buying my mother, sister and me matching bracelets for Christmas one year.  He showed love by building me a dollhouse that I can pass down to my niece. He showed love by crying when I told him I was miserable and getting divorced. He showed love by helping me with my mortgage for the summer so I wouldn’t have to worry about money after my boyfriend moved out abruptly.

My exboyfriend showed me love by supporting me working through my anxiety.  He showed me love by convincing me to give up a summer job that made me unhappy.  He showed me love by getting me “just because” flowers.  He showed me love by sending me cards, because he knows I love getting mail.  He showed me love by embracing my sister and loving our niece.  He showed me love by caring about my mother.

Neither of these two men loved me in the ways that I necessarily wanted or needed, but they showed me love in the way THEY knew how and I try to be appreciate of that.  I am very happy right now to be with someone who is able to show me love in the way that I need (physical affection, open communication, security) and who accepts my love in the way I give it.

Thankful

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It is SO easy to dwell on negative feelings and problems.  I have had a very difficult couple of weeks lately .  My dad’s drinking has been out of control, my boyfriend is severely depressed and I just found out my ex-husband is having a baby.  I really want to try to stay positive, so I decided to make a list of some of the things I am thankful for to remind myself of how lucky I am.  So in no particular order:

  1. My 18 month old niece…the love of my life
  2. My pets, who always make me so happy
  3. My job- I truly love teaching and feel like I make a difference
  4. My close relationships with my mom and sister
  5. My Hyundai Tucson- it’s my favorite car I have ever had
  6. My friends- who are always there for me, no matter what
  7. The Office…best show ever (“that’s what she said”)
  8. My house- I am proud of owning my own house
  9. Being financially stable and having a savings account
  10. My heated blanket- it’s so awesome
  11. Being able to spoil my niece as much as I want
  12. My boyfriend- we have stood by each other through thick and thin
  13. My health and being able to afford a personal trainer
  14. Being in therapy with a psychologist that I really trust
  15. Decorating my house for fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas
  16. Getting a card in the mail (or sending a card to a friend)
  17. Having a good relationship with my boyfriend’s parents
  18. Loving to read and having access to good books
  19. All of my cherished memories with my grandparents
  20. Cardigan sweaters- my wardrobe staple

Happy Thanksgiving 🙂

This is 40

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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.

 

A Christmas Miracle

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For most of my life, I have been envious of other people’s families during Christmas.  Don’t get me wrong…even as dysfunctional as it is, I love my family, but there always felt like there was something missing.  I think it was a combination of having an alcoholic father and an incredibly small family.  Growing up, Christmas was always just my mom and dad, my younger sister and myself.  We had no relatives who lived anywhere near us and I have a grand total of three cousins spread across the country.  Many of my friends had big families, with their aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. all living nearby.  Their holiday family gatherings seemed so lively and festive and I always wished I had that, too.

Now in my 30s, most of my friends have children.  I think for most families, many holidays really revolve around children…Easter bunny egg hunts, Trick or Treating on Halloween, Santa pictures for Christmas, etc.  Even though I was pretty sure I was not going to have kids of my own, I still felt a sadness when I would see all the fun things other families did for the holidays.  My small family of four had our traditions, but they were very low key, quiet and often stressful based on whether or not my dad would be drunk.

My sister had a baby girl this year who turned seven months old right before Christmas.  My niece is the sweetest, most adorable, happiest baby in the world (*slight bias!)  This year, the holidays were ALL about her…her first Halloween, where we all made matching costumes…her first Thanksgiving, when she had her very first bite of “real” food…and of course, her first Christmas.  It was awesome- my favorite Christmas ever!  This is the first year I didn’t look through my Facebook feed feeling that twinge of longing for what other people were doing with their families.  That actually just occurred to me for the first time as I am writing this!

 

The year of firsts…

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Having a baby niece has been amazing for so many reasons.  These past few five months have been some of the best of my life.  I am so lucky to live so close to her and to be such a big part of her growing up.  It has been so fun to see all of her “firsts”, especially holidays.  In an alcoholic family, holidays can be dreadful and stressful.  I have definitely experienced my fair share of ruined holidays.  I jokingly said to someone the other day that I feel like my niece is the reward for having such a dysfunctional family.  She is just so sweet and innocent and happy.  And she makes my sister and my mother and me SO happy.  Tonight was her first Halloween and my mom made her costume.  I know this was such a wonderful experience for my mom- to make something special for her granddaughter.  It may seem silly that we all dressed up and made such a big deal about a baby going trick-or-treating that isn’t even able to eat candy yet, but it was just another of so many sweet memories with her.  I usually do not look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas the same way other people do- I mean I still really like the holidays, but since they involve my family, they are usually stressful.  But this year feels really exciting and special and it is nice to actually be looking forward to the next few months!!

(un)happy birthday

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Today is my dad’s birthday.  Growing up, his birthday was always a day my sister and I dreaded because it seemed like he was extra nasty on “his day”.  During the two years my father was sober, I actually enjoyed celebrating his birthday- we would BBQ or go out to brunch and he was pleasant and grateful for whatever gifts we gave him.

About 8 months ago, I found my dad the most perfect birthday card.  My family has a joke about chihuahuas and I found a card in the shape of that dog.  Even though it was so many months before his birthday, I bought the card anyway and saved it until now.  (Side note: I LOVE cards and have several card boxes full of cards for any occasion!!)

Now that my father is drinking again, I don’t even want to give the card to him.  I know that sounds very silly and petty, but it is not really about the card at all.  It is about the fact that for the past couple of years I enjoyed having a relationship with my father and throughout that time, I enjoyed family holidays again and looked forward to other occasions to celebrate.  I guess when I look back on myself buying that card eight months ago, I feel dumb for how naive I was.  His sobriety (following a stroke) was so abrupt and so absolute (pun intended) that I just blindly believed it was going to last.  I took that card out of the box today and just felt sad.  The dad that I bought that card for is gone…once again replaced by the alcoholic I am all too familiar with.  And that’s really nothing to celebrate.