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

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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.

Remembering…

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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.

The *Dad* Who Cried Wolf

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On Wednesday night, my mother called my cell. “I just called 911! An ambulance is coming to get your father.  He said he can’t breathe.  I think he’s having a heart attack!” Luckily, my sister was already at my house for dinner.  It wasn’t even a second thought…we left our uneaten food on the table and jumped in my car.  Even though it took us nearly an hour to get there, we actually got to the hospital before the ambulance did.

Long story short, my father had a tear in his intestines, which lead to a major loss of blood, which caused the shortness of breath.  They gave him a blood transfusion and ran a ton of tests and he was in the hospital until yesterday.  My sister and I stayed at the hospital that first night until almost 11 pm, waiting until he was stable and was admitted.

I called my father in the hospital on Friday during my lunch break to check on him.  There were a couple of my coworkers in the teacher’s room when I called and he got so frustrated because he could “hear people talking in the background” that he yelled at me and then hung up on me.

He wrote his first nasty email within hours of being released on Saturday.  He wrote that my mother is a “terrorist” because she threw away his cigarettes…that no one cares about anyone but themselves…that all we do is take…and that it’s “time for (my sister and me) to do something for him and PAY HIM BACK for everything he has done.”

I had not seen my father since Christmas before seeing him in the hospital.  I sometimes felt guilty about that until I reminded myself that it was because of his actions that I chose not to be around him.  He was nice to us when he was in the hospital and I thought to myself, “he must appreciate that we drop everything and run to be by his side when there is a medical emergency”…nope.

I do not mean to make light of a medical condition at all and I am not implying my dad is lying about that.  Rather, what I mean by comparing my father to the story of the boy who cried wolf is that every time the little boy cried “wolf”, the townspeople reacted.  They ran to him to see how they could help…and they were disappointed each time to find that nothing was wrong.  Yet, they did not learn.  They fell for the boy’s story every time.

That’s me with my dad.  No matter how upset I am with him, no matter how much he has hurt me, if something happens and he needs his family, I am there. And afterwards, when instead of being grateful for us, he is mean instead, I retreat like the townspeople.  I am disappointed with him and with myself and question why I fell for it again. I wonder why I still care so much.  I use the excuse, “but he’s my father” to justify worrying about him.

So, like the townspeople, I am naive and caring and gullible.  But, eventually, my father is going to end up like the boy.  A day might come when he once again needs his family, and none of us will come. I am not really at that point yet, but honestly a person can only care for so long. Each time this happens, I think my dad will realize how lucky he is that after everything he has done to hurt his wife and daughters, that we are still there for him and he will change*.

*Isn’t that the definition of “insanity”…doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

Is ignorance really bliss?

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Sometimes I wonder if it would be better- or easier- if my father did not get sober for two years.  He has been an alcoholic since 1990, with the exception of the 24 months after he had a stroke in 2013.  He stopped drinking virtually overnight and stayed sober for a full two years. In 2015, almost to the day of his stroke, he started drinking again.   It was a great two years and during that time I felt like I had a “normal” family and I made a lot of effort to reestablish a relationship with him.  I enjoyed talking to him and even began to look forward to previously dreaded holidays.  Just as suddenly as he stopped, he started drinking again and my psychotic, belligerent dad returned with a vengeance.

I’m not sure what is worse…having my old, sober dad I remembered from when I was ten years old back and then losing him again or having him have never stopped drinking at all.  I am grateful to have had that time when he was sober.  I’m glad that my boyfriend got to see the good qualities in my dad that I still remembered from when I was little.  I’m relieved that my mother had a break from his craziness during that time.

On the other hand, it feels like I was given a gift and then it was snatched away from me.  I was so numb to him and his behavior before his stroke…I could so easily ignore his insults and nasty emails and screaming voicemails.  I developed a pretty thick skin over the years of him being drunk.  Or perhaps it was more that I just got used to it (sadly).  Now, when I talk to him on the phone, I feel so much more affected by it.  It’s not as easy to shrug off as it was a few years ago.

I try to act like it isn’t a big shock that he started drinking again.  It was just a matter of time, right?  But deep in my heart, I did let myself believe that my mother and sister and I had all suffered enough and that we deserved his sobriety (I know that isn’t the way it works, but I desperately wanted it to be true).  The famous saying is: “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”.  Am I suffering more now because I have been reminded about the family and the life I could have had if my father didn’t become an alcoholic when I was twelve years old?

So what’s worse…losing my dad to the bottle a second time or never experiencing those two years of him not drinking?  I honestly don’t know.

November

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I had a difficult time sleeping a few nights ago and as I lay awake in bed (ALL night), I thought about the month of November.  I have a love/hate relationship with the month.  I love it because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and as a teacher, there are a lot of days “off” in November, so it is an easy month.  The air is crisp enough to leave the windows open during the day and yet chilly enough to snuggle under blankets at night.  It is still light out early in the morning when I leave for work and stays bright enough to walk my dog in the evening.

But November has a dark side for me.  Several years ago, I had a HORRIBLE November…it was the month I filed for divorce, that I lost my grandparents, that my sister had a health emergency.  All of these things happening at the same time was completely overwhelming.  In a way, I was so numb…my divorce was incredibly painful and very drawn out.  My beloved grandmother passed away and within about a month, my grandfather followed.  There was just so much trauma that I almost had to separate myself from it.  I feel like I prepare myself at the end of every October to be ready for November…for the flood of emotions and memories to hit me.

Things in my life could not be more different now than they were that November six years ago.  First and foremost, my family has way less drama due to my father becoming sober.  I can truly look forward to the holidays coming up in a way that I was never able to just a couple short years ago.  My parents are getting along and my mom seems more content. My sister is in a relationship and has a challenging, fulfilling job.  I have a wonderful boyfriend who is caring and supportive and successful and my divorce is hardly even a passing thought these days.  I can think about my amazing grandparents and all that they taught me without becoming teary-eyed.  And yet, there is still that dull anxiety that November brings.  I just hope that as years continue to pass that the negative memories associated with this month get replaced by new, happier ones!

Memories…

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Now that my father has been sober for over a year and a half, sometimes I struggle with writing this blog.  I started this in order to deal with the things that my dad currently did…the nasty emails, the horrible voicemails, the dreaded family holidays.  I tapped into memories occasionally, but so much was still happening when I started writing this that I very much lived in (and had to deal with) the present.  I find that now I have a tendency to think about and reflect on the past more often.  Doing so has brought up events that I have not thought about in many years.  There have been times when my sister and I talk about things that my father did when we were growing up and they just feel unreal…like hearing incredible stories from someone else’s life.  It is almost like having to still deal with him protected me from having to remember the past and now that he isn’t actively doing anything all those memories are flooding back.

My dad was such a belligerent drunk.  He was scary and threatening and violent and intimidating.  He bullied and harassed and screamed and threw things.  But when I think back to my childhood and teenage years, what I think about mostly is the psychological abuse he inflicted on us.  He did such bizarre and strange things. He recorded phone conversations…I thought I was so cool to have my own phone number and phone in my bedroom as a teenager, until I realize that he had an extension of it also installed in his office, where he would listen to my calls.  I don’t remember ever getting a piece of mail that was unopened.  I have almost an obsessive need to check my mail now as an adult…like I have to get to it before someone else does.  He followed my mother, sister and me.  I remember coming out of school as a senior in high school and finding a note on my car that I was “parked crooked”.  You know that song…”it always feeeeeels like somebody’s watching meeeee”…yea, that was my life.  I told my boyfriend the other day how I had gotten into an argument with my dad and then stomped away, like a 16 year old girl will do, and locked myself in my bathroom to take a shower only to have my father kick down the door.  There was just never any privacy.  If we slammed our bedroom doors, he would take the doors off the hinges.  If he was especially angry at night, he would remove the spark plugs from my car so I couldn’t leave for school in the morning.  Even when he wasn’t home, it was like I was on constant high alert.  I dreaded the sound of the garage door opening announcing he was home from work- I would get a pit in my stomach knowing he was home.  Any semblance of peace in the house was gone as soon as he walked in.  And on the days he was “normal” and didn’t drink, it was almost even worse, because I never knew what to expect.  At least when he was drunk, I knew what was going to happen.

One of my most vivid memories was my mother, sister and I going to Costco on a weekend when I was about 17.  My dad seemed fine when we left.  When we came out of the store a couple hours later, my father was parked in his carnext to my mom’s car in the parking lot.  At that time, Costco was almost an hour away.  It was like he couldn’t stand to not be involved in whatever we were doing, or he didn’t believe that we were where we said we were.  Obviously he was drunk, so he could not drive his car home.  My mother initially asked me to drive him home.  I had my license but there was no way I was driving alone with him for an hour.  Eventually, she agreed to drive him home in his car and I would drive myself and my sister home in her car.  I started to drive away and came to a red light to exit the parking lot.  Unbeknownst to me, my father ran after the car and completely scared the hell out of my by opening the driver’s side door and pulling me out of the car.  I screamed for my sister, who was 13 at the time, to get out of the car and quickly tried to open the back door to get my purse.  My dad jumped in the driver’s seat and gunned the engine with me still leaning into the car.  He then proceeded to pull out of the parking lot with the back door open and my frightened sister still in the passenger seat.  I screamed and yelled and my mom tried to chase them on foot.  Luckily, for some reason, my dad stopped after driving just a few feet and I was able to get back in the driver’s seat.  I remember just leaving and not even caring what happened with my parents; I just wanted to protect my sister and get us out of there.  I drove directly to my boyfriend’s house so we didn’t have to go home for a few hours.  The weirdest part about this memory is I vividly remember seeing a police officer’s car in the parking lot and kept wondering why he didn’t help us.  I even called my sister to ask her about this and she remembered it exactly the same (and mentioned it was one of her most vivid memories).

That is a more extreme depiction of what we dealt with growing up, but I have so many stories like that.  It’s weird how the mind works- I had not thought about that in years, but memories like that keep coming back to me at random times.  It is like now that my mind isn’t being violated by a constant barrage of daily crap from my dad it finally has a chance to recollect these old events.  I’m not entirely certain that this is a good thing at all, but sometimes when I tell someone a story like this and they are incredulous about it, it makes me proud that my sister and I survived all that craziness and became the people we are today.

Father Flashback

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I have been having a really hard time lately.  My father had a hip replacement two weeks ago.  After the operation, he was very confused for several days.  The doctors assured us that it was an effect of the anesthesia.  My mom insisted my sister and I should not come because the hospital was an hour away.  For the first week, he had no idea where he was most of the time (he thought he was at Taco Bell, the airport, home, etc).  What was even worse was that he was mean.  He yelled and screamed at my mother when she would visit daily.  He was a very difficult patient- he kept trying to get up and fell once and pulled all of his various tubes out.  Towards the end of the week, he was hostile and tried to hit a female nurse.  The hospital had to call security and sedate him.  Throughout the week, I was very concerned about his behavior because he has not really acted like that since his drinking days.  I was worried about the stress it was taking on my mom.  Finally by the first weekend, he seemed to be more “normal” (we loosely use that word in my family).  He knew where he was and seemed to have calmed down a bit, although he was giving her a hard time about wanting to get cigarettes (he was on a nebulizer in the hospital and has sleep apnea so she refused to bring him any).

My sister and I decided to go visit him after he was moved to a physical rehabilitation center closer to where we live.  My mom had been there earlier in the day and said he was still cranky and difficult, but she felt it might do him good to see us.  My sister and I walked into his room and he instantly started screaming at us.  He told us if we didn’t have cigarettes that we should just leave.  He looked like a madman- he was screaming through gritted teeth and his eyes looked crazy.  He yelled that we are “fucking liars” and said not to come back until we had cigarettes.  I was literally shaking, but I asked him calmly whether he would rather have his daughters there visiting him or cigarettes…let’s just say he really wanted cigarettes.

We were literally there for like six minutes.  I started shaking and crying as soon as we walked back into the hall.  I was so shocked and startled.  I knew he wasn’t in a great place, but I was not expecting that.  I honestly think that while I was standing at the end of his hospital bed, I had a flashback to my childhood and teenage years.  My dad used to yell and scream at us like that every, single day while he was drinking (he drank every day from the time I was 12 until he had a stroke a year and a half ago).  For days after seeing him, I was so upset and angry that he treated us like that, but was also disgusted about how much it negatively affected me.  Looking back on it now, I don’t know how I lived through being treated like that all the time.  It was so horrible back then and this was a rude awakening I wasn’t expecting.  Over the past year, I have been very leery of getting used to my new “normal” dad and I guess I let my guard down.

Another week passed and my mom continued to visit him, but my sister and I never went back.  My mom said that he didn’t really mention it and I am not even sure if he remembers we were there.  We finally just saw him again for the first time over this past weekend.  My mom picked him up at the physical rehabilitation center and we met them for lunch.  He seemed a lot better, but definitely was still off and was not exactly nice.  Nothing was mentioned about our visit, which isn’t surprising- that is how we have always dealt with problems in our family (ignoring them) and there is never an apology.

But I feel differently now.  I felt so much closer to my dad right before his surgery than I had in 25 years.  I made time to call him a few times a week and I really put a lot of effort into our relationship.  I feel so let down and disappointed.  Even if he wasn’t of complete sound mind when he acted like that it still really hurts.  I felt uncomfortable around him when I saw him and afterwards I was in a bad mood for the rest of the day.   Growing up, we got so used to how he acted that it was so easy to shrug off how he acted or pretend like it didn’t affect us.  I don’t know how to do that anymore and I’m not sure I want to.

Which leaves me…?

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Lately I have been having a hard time with labels.  I know theoretically, people are not “supposed” to have labels, but when I was in 8th grade I was slapped with the label: “Child of an Alcoholic”.  This label became a part of who I was, how others saw me…it became a part of my identity.  However, in my case, this label was not a bad thing.  After I was given this label, I knew I wasn’t alone.  I was a part of a bigger group.  I could check out books in the library that could help me understand myself and my father better.  Once I got older, there were online groups I could join.  That label lead me to write this blog.  Over the years, I accepted and even embraced having the label “Child of an Alcoholic” or a COA (now a ACOA).  That label made me feel like a victim, but also gave me strength.  It made me feel like a survivor.  I never used being a COA as an excuse for my behavior or treatment of others, but it helped me analyze myself, my relationships, my family.

I have a lot of roles in my life that can be labeled: sister, friend, teacher.  Up until a year and a half or so ago, I would have added child of an alcoholic to that list.  I never really saw it as a bad thing, rather just a fundamental part of who I was.  It was one of those things that if I met another COA, we had an immediate bond.

Almost a year and a half ago, my father had a stroke.  After drinking every day for over 20 years, he stopped.  Just like that.  One day he was a drunk and the next day he wasn’t.  It sounds ridiculous and impossible.  It seems too easy.  He is not a perfect father now, but he is no longer belligerent or unpredictable.  He does not verbally abuse me through email, voice mail or in person.  I’m not afraid of him anymore.  Trust me, it is so much better, but it is also confusing.  If my father isn’t an alcoholic anymore, am I still a COA?  I talked to my therapist about it, knowing what her answer would be…of course I am.  Him changing now does not erase the two decades of abuse that I suffered through.  It doesn’t just magically repair all of the damage he did to me and to my family.  I guess I am just having a hard time reconciling the before and after of who I am if he’s no longer an alcoholic.  I know fundamentally I did not change, but things do feel different.  I suppose that is the dangerous part about having labels- what happens when they change?  I mean, at one point in my life I was a wife.  Then I got divorced and the next day I wasn’t one anymore.   But that situation seems different to me.  I guess the breakdown of my marriage happened over time and I knew it was coming.  My father becoming sober was so unexpected, it happened so fast.  And although I was a wife for several years, I was (am?) a COA for the majority of my life.

There has been a part of me throughout this past year and a half that has just been waiting…waiting for my dad to drink again, to have another stroke, or even to die.  And now that some time has passed, I’m beginning to trust that this is the new image of my family.  I guess that I am still figuring out with what to do with the old one…

I understand.

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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.