Breaking the cycle

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My soul and my heart have been CRAVING to write a blog entry…my brain on the other hand, has been getting in the way.  Every time I sit down to begin writing, I just feel so overwhelmed.

Ironically, leading up to the one year “anniversary” (can’t there be a different word for acknowledging a date that is bad???!!) of my ex-boyfriend being put into a coma, I was doing pretty okay.  March 15th loomed, but I felt like I was in a good place.  I decided rather than allowing myself to wallow in nostalgia, that I instead would try remind myself of how far I had come during the past 365 days.  And I really have come so far.  I currently have virtually no contact with him.  Even better, since my father has been released from the hospital, he has maintained sobriety.  It is crazy to think that I have no active alcoholics in my day to day life, and although I know that can change when it comes to my dad, I am enjoying it while I can.

I am also so in love.  It is still really hard for me to write about him…I don’t feel ready to share him with the “virtual world”, especially since our relationship is pretty private in “real life”.  I know as time goes on, I will write about him more and more, but for now all I can say is he is absolutely wonderful and treats me so amazingly well.  I am so happy with him being a part of my life.  I was fully prepared to be single for a very, very long time after going through what I did with my ex, but I guess it is true what people say about finding love when you are not looking for it and least expect it.

What did make March 15th a sad day for me was knowing how much my ex is still suffering and struggling.  After everything he went through, he is still not doing well.  I last heard from him a couple of months ago via text and he is dealing with a lot of mental health issues, as well as continuing to drink.  I honestly can say I do not feel any responsibility for him at all, but that does not mean I do not want him to be okay.  I will always worry about him and I truly want the best for him.  Looking back, his hospitalization, infidelity and alcoholism was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through, but the fact of the matter is that I did get through it.  I did and finally broke the cycle of codependency in my life.  I won’t turn out like my mother and although it took me eight years to do it, I am proud of myself that I did.

So, things were pretty calm…and then this virus and quarantine happened.  Luckily, everyone I know is healthy, which I am so thankful for considering my sister is twelve weeks pregnant and my father’s health is very compromised.  The high school school where I work has shut down for two weeks (and I assume it will end up being longer), and I am doing distance teaching with my 11th grade English students.  It has only been a couple of days, but so far so good.  I am trying to be very optimistic for them, because this is such a scary time for all of us.  I worry that being quarantined and not really being able to go anywhere is going to trigger an agoraphobic episode for me, especially living alone.  I am trying to be proactive by staying busy around the house, walking, and doing schoolwork.  The only place I go is my sister’s house, which is two miles away.  This makes me feel like kind of a bad person in a way, but I am so relieved not to be stuck in the house with my ex-boyfriend during this time.  It is hard at times being alone, but I cannot imagine how stressful it would have been still living with him, confined to the house, with him drinking and behaving the way he was.

This is just so unprecedented and frightening, I keep thinking I am going to wake up tomorrow and will be able to go back to school and teach like normal. I am just going to do what everyone else is doing and take things as they come.  It is not easy to live that way when you struggle with an anxiety disorder, but this is a good lesson for me about not being able to control everything.  In fact, I think that is what this year taught me the most…that no matter how hard I try, most things are out of my control.

‘Til death do us part

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I recently read an article online and came across a quote that struck me.  It was written by a recovering alcoholic who stated, “All of us stop drinking at some point. It’s just that for some people, that point is death.”

I kept going back and reading those two sentences over and over.  It is such a simple statement, but it is really powerful and concise.  I never really thought about alcoholism in that way.  My father has never attempted to stop drinking and I have accepted the fact that he will most likely die an alcoholic (he may even be drunk when he dies).  My father’s alcoholism will not end until his life does.

Today, my dad wrote one of his obnoxious, embarrassing emails and copied various people on it- my sister and my mother, my aunt and uncle (his own brother from whom he is pretty much estranged), my other aunt (my mom’s sister who is an alcoholic herself), my cousin and about seven friends of our family (two couples and a few guys who have loyally remained friends with my parents from when they were first married).  Even though I am accustomed to the lunacy of his emails and can usually ignore them completely, sometimes I have to look at it from the perspective of one of these unsuspecting recipients.  They must literally think he is insane.  It is hard not to feel that it is a reflection on our family (or that at the very least there are several people who probably open his email and can’t help but pity us).  Most of what he writes is utter nonsense and this email was very tame compared to the majority that he sends, but it still makes me feel weird.  The other day when my sister and I were with my mom we were talking about hobbies and one of us mentioned that it was unfortunate that my dad doesn’t have any interests to keep himself busy.  My mom quickly replied, “he does have a hobby- writing his emails.”  It’s darkly funny and ironic…my paternal grandfather used to write in a journal every day when he was alive.  He had an easy chair in the corner of their living room, right next to a small bookshelf filled with little leather bound journals.  His journals seemed sacred when I was growing up and during my visits to their house, I was never tempted to read one of them.  After he died, my grandmother packed them all up in a big box and put them in the attic.  Many years later when she passed away, my sister was helping to clean out their house and found them.  She brought one to me as a keepsake (she and I are both VERY sentimental, especially regarding our grandparents).  I was shocked to discover that his journals were not filled with philosophical ideas and deep reflections, but rather the minutiae of everyday life.  He noted the weather, how he was feeling, what he did that day (“went to the dump”), etc.  If my sister and I were visiting, he would write about how much we had grown and about what we did at the beach that day.  I have to admit I was almost disappointed when I read it, because I was hoping for…more.  Now that I know he was an alcoholic, too, I wonder if this was his pre-technological way of doing exactly what my father does.  My dad treats his emails as a daily journal, although instead of keeping his inner most thoughts private, he copies various people on them.

When my dad does die, I wonder who will care.  I mean, I know people will care, but will they really care?  He has burned so many bridges with so many people.  During his brief two year sabbatical from drinking, he changed in so many positive ways.  If he had passed away during that time, it would have seemed more tragic…like he had so much to live for…that my sister and I had lost our dear father.  Now, he just seems pathetic.  His death will be a big deal for my mother, sister and me, but will be a tragic blip on most other people’s radars.  They will feel sorry for us, they will feel sad for losing the man they remember- the brother he was growing up, the friend he was in his 20s.  But when people think about him, he will always be thought of first and foremost as an alcoholic- a sad label that defined him for the past 25 years.

 

20 years later

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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.

New name, same me

Hi all- the reason I started this blog four years ago was to have a place to openly, anonymously be able to write about my life, my childhood, my feelings, etc.  Recently, someone I am very close to “found out” the name and has access to it, which makes me feel like I have to censure everything I write.  The only option I could think of was to change the name and URL, which I hope keeps my privacy moving forward.

I sometimes forget how important this blog has become to me until it is threatened and then I remember how much it has truly helped me throughout the years…

The doctor will see you now…

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I am a high school teacher and adjunct college professor and have worked over the summer for my entire 17 year career.  This is the first summer that I have had entirely off.  It wasn’t my choice…coincidentally all the classes I normally teach did not run.  I was nervous at first, not so much about the money anymore, but more about all the idle time. The saving grace is that my sister and my newborn niece live 2 miles away and I have been with them- and my mother- almost every day.  This is also one of the rare summers where I don’t have any trips planned.  I assumed that my anxiety level would be on the lower side because of not having to travel.  I guess that isn’t how anxiety works, because I feel like I have regressed a little over the summer.  When I first started having anxiety in my early 20s, it was really linked to my health.  I was very much a hypochondriac.  In fact, it was my gynecologist who strongly recommended me seeing a psychologist.  Over the years, that type of anxiety subsided and was replaced with the travel anxiety and agoraphobia tendencies.  This summer, though, I have gone to a doctor a half dozen times.  I joke that I am like a retired 85 year old woman…like my grandmother who went to the doctor at least once a week (*I am not even 40 yet).  To be fair, one of those visits was due to having really bad poison ivy, so that one shouldn’t really count 😉

I can tell my anxiety is bad because some of the physical symptoms that bother me have been exacerbated in the past few weeks.  My boyfriend has been really overwhelmed at work and he doesn’t have the best stress management skills.  He tends to bring his work home with him and when he is stressed at work he also drinks way too much.  His behavior- and drinking- has been affecting me more than I have acknowledged- to him or to myself.  My cat has been sick, which has also been stressing me out…I know that sounds kind of silly, but I do not have children and my cats and dog are extremely important to me.

I think that when I go back to school in September and get back into a routine, the anxiety will subside (I hope!)  It is just sad that I was really looking forward to this time off and I feel like I have kind of squandered it by focusing so much on negative things and feeling unwell.  I still have four weeks off, so I really am going to try to relax and enjoy them.  When I go back to school and all my colleagues ask me what I did over the summer, I don’t want my only answer to be that I went to the doctor 15 times!!

#aunt

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My sister had her baby in the middle of May and I. am. in. love!  My niece is only 6 weeks old and I think I have taken like 800 pictures and videos of her.  I am clearly biased, but she is the sweetest, most beautiful baby ever.  Luckily, my sister only lives 2 miles from me, so I have seen her almost every day since she was born.

My boyfriend has been very stressed out lately with work and has also been struggling with bad depression.  I am so happy that he is very taken with the baby too and is a great uncle to her.  Last week, after a particularly crazy work day for him, he saw the baby at night and was holding her and made a comment that he felt so much less stressed out just watching her sleep in his arms.  It was such a sweet thing to say, but it made me think about the effect that having her around has had on all of us.  I look at this little baby and I just want her to have the best life possible.  I teach The Great Gatsby to my 11th graders and in one scene Daisy says about her young daughter, “I hope she’ll be a fool- that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”  I always thought this was a cruel wish for a mother to make, but now I sort of understand more what Daisy meant.  I certainly want my niece to be very smart and very well-educated, but what Daisy really meant is that she wanted her daughter’s life to be EASY.  I know things will not always be “easy” for my niece, that is unrealistic, but I want things to be better for her than they were for my sister and me growing up.  We suffered through so much trauma and I want my niece to have a wonderful, happy childhood.

A super embarrassing thing about me is that I still suck my thumb.  I am 38 years old.  It is my one true vice and I have done it all my life.  I saw my baby niece put her thumb in her mouth the other day and I was like, “noooooo!”  I know babies do that when they are hungry or for self-soothing, but I don’t want her to have that- or any- bad habit.

It will be amazing to watch her grow and learn and see the person she becomes and I hope to be a very positive influence in her life.  I don’t want her to be afraid of things the way I am.  I want her to be confident and strong…and maybe someday be a teacher (lol!).

Much Obliged

When I started this, I made a deal with myself that I would write at least one blog entry a month.  Here it is, 9 pm on the 31st and the only reason I am doing this is because I feel obligated due solely to my desire to not miss a month (which I have never done).  I notice when I am feeling more anxious, which I am right now, I do not feel like writing, I do not want to talk to my mom on the phone, I reluctantly go to therapy.  A couple of weeks ago, I decided to go back on an antidepressant/anxiety medication after years of being off it. It was not an easy decision, but I could feel my anxiety spiraling out of control.  So far, it does not really seem to be helping much.  I know I have to be patient and give it some time and then adjust the dose, etc., but I am anxious about being anxious and feel depressed about being depressed and then I get upset about being upset. It is frustrating because I do not really know what exacerbated it, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter because I need to focus on ways to move forward.  I just really feel like no one understands and it is hard not to feel isolated and alone, which makes me feel even worse.

Oh Baby!

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My sister is pregnant and is due in about a month.  It is really exciting, but also sort of hard to believe that in a few weeks, there will be a little baby girl in our family.  I am so happy to become an aunt and I can’t wait to meet my niece, but it has been a difficult pregnancy for her.  She has been very sick throughout almost all of it and it has been hard to see her suffer so much.  She has had a few complications that could result in the baby arriving earlier than expected and I think it is really hitting her- and me- how much things are going to change.

Even though this isn’t happening to me, I am very close with my sister, so it is having a big effect on my life.  We live a couple of miles apart and talk several times a day.  My anxiety has been peaked for a few different reasons lately, but I think her having the baby is part of it, because it is such a big change…and I am not a fan of change!  For most of our lives, it has always been the two of us.  Yes, we have had our individual friends and our boyfriends and we are both super close to our mother, but we have a uniquely special relationship.  I think because we really had to stick together when we grew up and lived with our dad, that we survived by having each other.  I cannot imagine going through the experiences of my dysfunctional family as an only child.  She is three and a half years younger than me and I was always very protective of her.  I guess it still a little hard to wrap my head around the fact that my little sister is about to become a mother!!

 

 

The anticipation is killing me…

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My problem with anxiety has always been the lead up to the event, not the actual event itself.  My therapist has always referred to it as “anticipatory anxiety”.  The weeks and days before an event cause me such distress and the majority of the time all of my worry and stress is for nothing.  But, I cannot seem to control it.

For example, every year my mother, sister and I go to the Philadelphia Flower Show.  It is a beautiful and amazing display of fresh flowers, all centered around a common theme.  I really enjoy going…however, I live about an hour and 45 min away from Philly.  I have driven there many times over the years, for both the flower show and other reasons.  Yet, every year, I get myself all worked up over the distance and the drive.  My anxiety has been especially bad lately with my father being in and out of the hospital and my sister expecting a baby (which is SUPER exciting, just a very big change).  So for the week before the show, I was a nervous wreck and the night before I all but decided I could not go.  I took a Xanax before going to sleep (I take them very sparingly) and from 4 am on, I tossed and turned, having anxious thoughts.  The approach that works the best for me is to try to be logical- I tell myself that I have done the drive so many times before, that I am in control and in my own car, that I will be with my family, that if something bad happens I can go to a hospital, etc. etc.  It helps a bit, but it is hard to stop the actual physical reaction of having those panicky feelings.  Once we finally got in the car, I was pretty ok.  Once we got to the convention center, I was fine.  That is what always happens.  I build something up in my head and magnify it so much, it becomes incredibly overwhelming and debilitating.  Yet, when I work through it, I almost always feel like afterwards it wasn’t nearly as horrible as I expected and I get mad at myself for getting SO worked up.  Yet, like clockwork, when it comes time to go somewhere again, the same thing happens.  As much as I have worked through having the problems I have had with agoraphobia and anxiety and I know I have come a long way, it is still extremely frustrating and exhausting and upsetting and always feels like a setback.

I am very glad I went to the flower show.  It was as spectacular as ever and was most likely the last memorable and special thing my mom and sister and I will do just the three of us before my niece arrives in May.  So, I am happy I didn’t let anxiety win…this time.

Call in case of emergency

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Twice in the past couple of months, my father has been in the hospital.  The first time, he was unable to breathe and was rushed in an ambulance and the second time, my mother drove him.  Both times, he was admitted and stayed for several nights.  Each time, it seems they find more things wrong with him, yet there has not been an “official diagnosis”.  During these two visits, doctors found symptoms indicating that he has congestive heart failure and diabetes, in addition to his breathing problems.  My father has not only been an alcoholic for over 20 years, but he has also been a heavy smoker since he was a teenager and this is what is causing the majority of his recent health problems.

My boyfriend said something to me the other day that caught me off guard, but made me think.  He said, “you know, your dad is going to be in and out of the hospital from now until he dies.”  I know that is most likely true and it is a sad reality.  It is obviously difficult to think about losing a parent in any context.  It sounds silly to say this, but it just upsets me that my father is most likely going to die due to his bad habits.  He is not the victim of a genetic disease or a horrible accident…at one point in his life, he chose to smoke and chose to drink and then they became lifelong habits.

Not so coincidentally, my anxiety has been peaked lately.  I talk to my mother every day, sometimes multiple times a day, usually just about everyday life like her gardening club, funny things my students said, our cats, etc.  It is so hard to describe, even to people who know her well, how different her voice sounds on the phone when she calls to tell me that she called 911 for my dad.  There is such a seriousness, yet I can tell that she is trying to stay calm, for both herself and for me.  And now, I worry about her calling me every day and telling me that he is being rushed to the hospital again- or worse.