Metamorphosis (part 1)

Part 1: The Caterpillar

Covid was one of the best things to happen to me as far as my agoraphobia goes. Nowhere to go, nothing to do…everyone HAD to stay home. For two years, I had the perfect excuse to not go anywhere. There were no vacations, no trips to the city, no concerts at the beach, no day trips, no overnight visits…nowhere to go, nothing to do. For two years, my comfort zone steadily shrank and my anxiety was practically nonexistent. That aspect of quarantine was wonderful. I was stuck at home, newly in love, and so content to just snuggle on the couch with him binging Netflix and Hulu. I still did weekly therapy, focusing on remote teaching, my new relationship, and the death of my exboyfriend. But, inevitably, life has started to go back to “normal” and I am left feeling very not normal. I knew Covid was a causing a huge step back when it came to my agoraphobia, but I don’t think I really grasped how much it negatively affected me. Before Covid, my “comfort zone” was an hour and a half or so. I still got anxious going somewhere new, but it was pretty manageable. I struggled with bigger trips and flying was still a huge obstacle, but I was doing ok. Over the past two years, my comfort zone significantly shrank to being about 25 minutes or so and I don’t like being in the car with other people. I especially am anxious about driving with my boyfriend and his two children. I have spent a lot of time in therapy talking about the need to expand my horizons and widen my comfort zone, but I haven’t actually acted on it. A couple of weeks ago, my friends went on an overnight girls trip to a place about two hours away. Even before Covid this trip was not one I usually went on, but this time I didn’t say no right away. I really did think a lot about going, but the length of the drive, coupled with a night at a bar and sleeping in a hotel was just overwhelming and I did not go. I obsessed over the decision, cried a lot, and was incredibly hard on myself for not being ready to do it. I realized that I had to stop just saying I was going to take drives and push myself and I needed to start just doing it. A couple of days ago, I drove (with my boyfriend) to my parent’s house, which is about 45 minutes away. Even though it is a route I had done hundreds of times in my life, I have only been to my hometown two times in the past two years and I had not driven that distance with my boyfriend before. It was the tiniest of accomplishments, but still was a step in the right direction and it was better than nothing. I decided that I am going to try to drive to the beach tomorrow morning by myself. It is about an hour and fifteen minutes away. I know the only way I am going to get better is to keep pushing myself to drive more often and go a little further each time. I am going to bed tonight telling myself that there is no pressure. If I start driving and can’t make it, I can go home and try another time. So…until tomorrow…

Stairway to (not) heaven

My parent’s house is beautiful. It is very large- around 4,000+ square feet. I was very lucky to grow up in such a nice house. I had my own bedroom with a huge walk in closet. My younger sister and I shared a big bathroom and had our own separate living room, furnished with couches, a computer desk, a closet full of games, and a TV for us to watch MTV and play Nintendo. I had a very privileged upbringing and am grateful for that.

However, as my ex-husband used to sarcastically say about my family: “big house, no problems”. I have often jokingly referred to my childhood home as The House of Horrors (The Simpsons reference!). Hidden behind the three car garage and perfect landscaping were secrets. My dad was successful at a very well-paying job. My mom was able to stay home with us and was a volunteer at our school. Our McMansion gave the world the appearance of a perfect family. This was far from the truth.

My sister and I were talking about our childhood memories last night, which we seldom do. I wonder why we don’t talk about it more. My sister said something about just how truly traumatic it was for us. We talked about our nightly family dinners, without a doubt the worst part of every day. Our mother would make dinner and call my sister and me to to the kitchen. Then she would either get my dad or ask/force one of us to call him to the table. He always was drunk and he always was nasty. I feel like I have blocked a lot of this out, but my sister remembers it all so clearly. She said that I would eat as fast as possible, like I barely chewed my food. I did this so I could be excused from the table. I still eat so fast to this day. My parents would inevitably end up screaming at each other (mostly my dad yelling at my mom) and my father would throw things and leave the kitchen and before long my sister would be sitting alone at the table. She is admittedly an emotional overeater and she thinks it stemmed from this.

Where my sister vividly remembers these dinners, what I recall the most is the stairs in my parents house. There are actually two sets of stairs- the front and the back. The first is more grand, it starts in the entryway of the house and you see it as you walk in the front door. My sister and I were not allowed to use the front stairs because my parents wanted to keep them clean. We used the back stairs (I know this makes us sound like hired help lol). They were located on the side of the house and led from the garage door up to our playroom (which is the living room that belonged to us). Basically, you could walk in the front door, go up the front stairs, go down the hallways where the bedrooms were, end up at the playroom, go down the back stairs, go down the hallway into the kitchen and then turn down another hallway into the front foyer where the front staircase was. It was a giant loop. I’m explaining this in detail because completing this loop became part of my survival mode. When my father was drunk, he often chased us. That sounds really peculiar to write, but I am not sure how else to explain it. He would literally run after me and I 100% believed that if he caught me, I was going to be hurt. So if I talked back or ignored him or didn’t do exactly what I said I was going to do, he would quickly stand up from his spot on the couch in their living room, which was attached to the kitchen. That was my cue to run. I would take off towards one of the staircases, which provided a nice escape route through the house. He usually gave up very quickly, his point simply being made by the threat itself. He just wanted to instill fear and he was successful.

A lot of other memories involve the stairs. I remember my sister and me sitting at the top of the front stairs, listening to my parents fight. There were times the red and blue lights of a police car would illuminate the front foyer and we would “spy” on my mom answering the front door to convince the officers everything was fine.

One time we were all in the main family room and I told my dad I was going to go upstairs to get something from my bedroom and would be back in five minutes. Like a typical teenager, I must have gotten distracted by something and stayed in my room longer. When I returned, my father was angry and determined to teach me what “five minutes was”. He made me follow him to the back staircase, where I stood on the landing and faced the blank wall. He set a timer for five minutes.

There was the time my mother came home and found him lying on the tile floor at the bottom of the front stairs. He was very drunk and fell. I have always wondered if for one, terrible moment she believed he was dead and if she felt a fleeting sense of overwhelming relief. He was very alive, though.

Sometimes when my sister and I talk about these things or I write about them, I feel guilty. My dad has been sober for over two years and seems like a different person. His role as my niece’s “Papa” could not be more different than my experiences of him as a father. I have been struggling a lot about the past vs now. I am obviously glad that he is not drinking and is not the monster he used to be, but it is still hard to reconcile who he was when he did these terrible things to the gentle-ish giant he is now.

My sister and I talk a lot about my parents selling their house and how it is simply too large for them to live in alone, especially since they are in their 70s now. My sister said they need to find a home that is just one floor and my gut reaction was to think “how will mom get away from him without the staircases?!?!?” It is just so crazy how it has been so long since I lived in my childhood home and yet these memories feel so vivid in my mind.

(Too) Close for Comfort

Living through a pandemic was obviously challenging in many different ways, but there were also some things that having to quarantine for a year and a half made easier…for one, my agoraphobia. It was definitely a nice break from having to constantly worry about going places because there was, quite literally, nowhere to go. Reflecting back on it now, I can definitely see how this caused some major setbacks for me. My “comfort area” has drastically narrowed and I have not had to push myself to leave it for a long time. Before COVID, I was okay with driving about two hours from home in most directions, but now I am probably hovering around an hour. I know that now that things are opening back up, I have to start pushing myself to go places, but it is just so hard. It. Is. So. Hard.

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I were discussing going to his mother’s beach house about an hour and a half away. Naturally all of the logistics pushed their way into my head- “it is the first weekend of the summer”, “everyone and their mother is going to be there”, “it will be SO crowded”, “the traffic is going to be a nightmare”. This is the doozy for me every time, the nail in the coffin…the traffic that I will have no control over. And then all the what-ifs start piling on….”what if I get sick?”, “what if I have to go to the bathroom?”, “what if there is an accident and the road is closed?”, “what if I have to go to the hospital?” (mind you, in my 42 years of life, I have gone to the hospital exactly one time for bronchitis).

Years ago, my therapist asked me what the worst part of thinking about flying was for me. Easy…”I can’t get off the plane if I want or need to”. She replied, “WHY would you NEED to get off the plane?” I still have never really had a good answer to that question.

The problem with anxiety and agoraphobia is that I can sit here and have a perfectly logical conversation about it. I am intelligent and well-educated. I have read articles, editorials, self-help books, etc. about these disorders. I can even be my own devil’s advocate (well, really, why WOULD you need to get off?). But, the problem is that once you start feeling those feelings, all logic goes out the window. I can’t control the wave of panic or the sensation that I can’t breathe or my body feeling on fire or any of the other multiple physical reactions that come along with these thoughts. I know it is all about lack of control. I know that. But when it is happening, it is really hard to remember that I don’t need to be in control.

I started dating my boyfriend a few months before quarantining began. It has been a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because we had so much time alone together to be a couple, to learn about each other, to enjoy each other’s company. Also, we work together and he is my boss, so although it is something that was disclosed to HR, it caused a lot of gossip. It was nice to be able to take a step back from that. Now that things are “normal”, he and I are old news and no one really cares

It has been a curse because he wasn’t exposed to this side of me. Obviously, I told him I have these problems from the beginning. I would never hide that from anyone. But it has been very easy for him to say that it is no big deal, he can handle it, it wouldn’t change anything about how he feels, etc. I believe him that he believes himself when he says these things, but I also know that dealing with this can get old quickly. It is easy to say it is not a big deal until the time he wants me to go somewhere and I can’t do it.

And therein lies the other problem. My boyfriend is the most amazing, patient, understanding, caring man I have ever been with. I am so lucky to be with him. Even through the death of my ex-boyfriend and my grieving process, he has been unwavering in his support. Okay, that is not the problem. The problem is that I feel like I don’t deserve him. It isn’t like I have super low self-esteem, it is more like I feel like I am not worthy of him. He is so normal and I feel like I am so…flawed. He had a pretty normal upbringing and I had an extremely dysfunctional family and an abusive alcoholic father. In some ways, being with my ex was easier because he was more messed up than I was. That sounds mean in light of his recent passing, but it is true. I took care of him, I had my shit together, and even though I had these issues, his issues with addiction and depression dominated our relationship. Now, I feel insecure that when my new boyfriend sees the REAL me, he is going to end things or not love me anymore. I have never really felt like this before (not liking it). I have shared a little bit of this with him and he is so reassuring and sweet and always asks me, “why do you think that?”

I don’t know…why do I need to get off the plane?

Renovations

Dear M,

I am making some renovations to my house. I finally had the front steps and walkway redone. I think about how you used to drive by the house after we broke up and I can’t help but think about how seeing these changes would have affected you. Would you have liked them or would you feel despondent, like I was moving on without you?

More so than the front of the house, I have been preparing the back deck in order to repaint it. I remember years ago when you painted it for the first time. I can’t even remember if it was before or after you moved in…I think it was after? Some of my fondest memories of you were just cool summer nights where we sat out on the deck together, listening to a baseball game, grilling, etc. I know that I was still teaching summer school at the time, because I would get home and change and help you with the deck. The freaking spindles took 1 million hours to painstakingly paint. It was not the most enjoyable job, but it looked great afterwards.

Over the past couple of years, the paint has been peeling and chipping off and I decided it was time to do some touch-ups (which naturally turned into a huge project where I am now repainting much of the deck). I feel guilty and sad. I don’t like having to re-do something you did because it makes me feel like I am replacing something that you worked hard on and took pride in. Since we broke up and you moved out and now especially since you passed away, each new thing I do without you feels like I am moving further away from you, but unfortunately that is inevitable as time moves on. I hope you know that me scraping away your old paint is not an attempt to erase you or your memory.

I asked my students to select and write about a quote about life that was meaningful to them. I shared with them the Robert Frost quote that has been in my classroom for years and years: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” I have always liked this quote and I used to interpret it to mean that even when life is difficult and you feel hopeless, you have to persevere.  After losing you, I interpret it differently.  Now when I read it, I think about death and how when someone’s life ends, the world doesn’t stop.  You may want it to because you are grieving for the person you lost, but the world around you keeps spinning, other people keep living their lives, and you just have to accept that even though there is sadness and loss, you cannot just sink down into it…you have to keep going.

It is hard at times to try to “move on”. I hate that phrase- I do not think I will ever, nor do I really want to ever, move on. Moving on sounds like another way of saying “get over it” and that is impossible. I will never move on or get over your death, rather I think it will just become a part of me. A new sidewalk and a fresh coat of paint do not change the structure of the house, just the cosmetic appearance. The tiny cracks in the foundation are still there, deep underneath what the eye can see. That is just what happens to an old home…things are replaced and repaired…it is a never-ending cycle. And that is like life- every loss and traumatic experience adds a little crack to your heart, but that doesn’t mean the whole of the person is damaged. There is a Carley Simon song that has a lyric that really resonates with me…

“So don’t mind if I fall apart, there’s more room in a broken heart.”

My exboyfriend smells…

I emptied my bathroom garbage today and I found my boyfriend’s empty deodorant stick. I plucked it out of the can, uncapped it and took a sniff (this sounds really disturbing, just stay with me…). It really didn’t have a strong scent. It was just clean and fresh and simple and subtle.

My exboyfriend was full of smells. When we lived together and he would shower, my entire house smelled strongly like his body wash. I have 100 scented shower products in the shower and yet, that never happens. He would purchase and wear expensive colognes and reapply them during the day. Sitting next to him, I could always smell him and most of the time, his scent was heady and a combination of cool, musky and very masculine notes.

The scent that dominated his body was always his deodorant. I LOVED it. I can’t even describe it…it just smelled like him. I would cuddle up on his lap and just inhale. He knew how much I was attracted to it and although he would try out new colognes and beard oils and soaps, he always bought the same deodorant.

When he was hospitalized for a month in a coma, I slept every night with a stick of his deodorant uncapped on his pillow next to me. During the night, half-asleep, I would scoot over just so my face was closer to it. It brought such an overwhelming burst of feelings- comfort and love and familiarity, but also loneliness and fear and loss.

I must have known back then and I certainly do now, that much like a stealthy smoker, he used all of those strong scents to cover up the smell of alcohol. Because even though the cologne and soap and deodorant were applied, inevitably I could smell the faint, sharp, bitter scent of vodka that would permeate from his pores when he walked by me.

My new boyfriend is very low maintenance. He does very well financially, yet is content to buy whatever body wash is on sale at the store. The first time I showered at his house, I jokingly made fun of him for his single bottle of V05 Strawberries and Cream shampoo. He rarely wears cologne. He doesn’t have a scent that I can put my finger on or describe. He obviously doesn’t smell bad in any way- he just doesn’t smell like anything really.

But I held that empty deodorant just now and it seemed like a metaphor for my life. The guy who wore all the strong, sexy, artificially created scents…he was not true to me. He was always covering things up and lying. He pretended to be something he was not for a very long time.

But my new boyfriend…what you see is what you get. He doesn’t feel the need to be anything other than who he is. He is authentic, honest, and true. There is nothing he needs to cover up or to hide. He also just smells like himself…and occasionally like strawberry shampoo 🍓♥️

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, “I don’t remember that at all.” 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’t 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.

Hostess with the…leastest

I had a weird epiphany today while on the phone with my best friend. We were talking about when I was going to open my pool and she mentioned how I never invite anyone over to swim…or really ever. To be honest, I do not really like entertaining or hosting gatherings, but I never really thought about why. I said to her (really nonchalantly) that when living with my father and then my exhusband and exboyfriend, I usually felt uncomfortable having people over. She was quiet for a while and then said, “that totally makes sense now, I never thought about it” and I was like, “oh my god, I never made the connection either!”

I infrequently had friends over to my house when I was a teenager. It was pretty safe to assume my father would be drunk and would either embarrass me or would act horribly. I grew up under the unwritten law of “don’t let people know what is going on inside our house”, which is obeyed diligently by most children of alcoholics. Having an “outsider” at my house was not a comfortable feeling.

Once I got married and bought a house with my exhusband, we did entertain a bit at first. However, as our relationship deteriorated, I became very nervous about having people over. Keeping up the facade of a happy marriage was exhausting. He would sometimes fly off the handle at the slightest comment I made or would ignore my family members. One time we went to the food store to buy appetizers for a party. He loaded up the cart with a literal armful of different cheeses. I made an innocuous comment about whether we needed so many cheese options. He left the cart, and me, at the store and canceled the party. Needless to say, I was never very eager to have company over.

Most recently, my exboyfriend lived with me. We dated for nine years and he lived with me in my house for the last five years. He was not outright rude to anyone, but he was often detached when my family would come over- constantly looking at his phone or disappearing for an hour. Over the years, his depression and alcoholism had a very negative impact on our social life. I never could predict when he was going to stay in bed for an entire weekend or when he would drink to excess or when he would be normal and friendly. I did not realize at the time that I was hiding his issues from people, “covering” for him with excuses about him being tired from work, etc. I never wanted to plan anything at the house because I did not know which version of him would be attending.

Now that I have lived alone for the past year, I relish my quiet, calm house. Often when I am at a party with a lot of people and chaos, I get overwhelmed. When I am at a friend’s house who has children, I feel relieved to come back home to just my two cats. I don’t think that I was comfortable in many of my past living situations, so I am very protective and territorial of my “safe space”.

I am quite social and I do love spending time with my friends, but I prefer to do it at their homes or a restaurant. I have so much appreciation for consistency and predictability and security and tranquility when it comes to my home. I did not have those things for the majority of my life and they have become things I will not ever jeopardize again…not for all the cheese in the world!

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.

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.

Trying to be thankful…

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I can’t wait for 2019 to be over, especially November.  It has never been a particularly good month for me, but I always looked forward to Thanksgiving.  It became even more fun when my boyfriend moved in a few years ago.  We created a new tradition where we would prepare the turkey the night before.  I would make herb butter while he searched around inside the bird for the bag of giblets, which he seemed to always have a hard time locating.  He would then rub the butter on, making corny jokes and pretending to run after me with his disgusting hands.  We would spend the night together and the next morning, I would put the turkey in and start cooking.  My family arrived early.  Once we sat down to dinner, he would take an annual photo biting into a turkey leg.  My mom always sat next to him at the table and would always lean in to be in one of the pictures.  I have a picture of him from each year with a turkey leg.  The first Thanksgiving he ate with my family, my dad was looking all around the table for the oversized meat serving fork, only to realize my boyfriend was eating his meal with it.

When we broke up a few months ago, one of the first things I said to my sister was that I was not hosting Thanksgiving this year.  Luckily, she bought a house and so it seemed like a natural transition to move the holiday to her place.  I am just dreading it.  Everything about Thanksgiving reminds me of him.  And it is especially difficult because I keep imagining him alone.  I know that it is really his own fault that he is, but it still is really hard not to feel sad about it.

Each year, my sister and I attend a local craft show.  There is a woman who will personalize Christmas ornaments with names.  Each year, I bought a different one with his and my names on it.  Last year, it was two little wooden stockings hanging on a mantlepiece that said “and the stockings were hung…”.  The red and white stockings had our names written on them.  This year, I was looking at the ornaments and noticed the same ornament, but with a solitary stocking. “and the stocking was hung…”.  I wanted to get it, but my sister said it would just make me sad to see the ornament on the tree with only my name and a singular stocking.  It was just another reminder of everything I have lost this year and how alone I am now.

When I got home from the craft show, I pulled out the box with all of my Christmas ornaments in it and went through them.  I took out all of “our” ornaments, but he also had some ornaments of his own, two in particular that were from his godparents when he was a baby.  I am hoping to be able to enjoy Christmas more than Thanksgiving, so I decided to mail him the ornaments now, rather than letting them just wait for me to discover them again when I decorate the tree.  I packed them up carefully and went to the post office, where I proceeded to cry the entire time.  It was like another piece of him gone, another reminder that our relationship is permanently over.

I was not expecting a response from him.  He had messaged me a few weeks ago saying he missed me and I did not respond.  I found out his grandfather died last week and he did not tell me.  It was difficult, but I decided not to send him a sympathy card.  We truly have had no contact.  However, he did text me and it was not to say thank you.  He demanded that I never mail him anything ever again and if I find something else of his in my house to discard it.  He also accused me of knowing that he was at 90 days of sobriety and that I was purposely trying to upset him.

I talked to my therapist and told her that my intentions were not the way he interpreted them, although I can see now from his perspective how it might have been difficult to open a package from me, not knowing what it was.  I truly thought he would want those childhood mementos and I also really wanted to get it over with as far as returning them.  After thinking about it for a while, I have to admit that maybe a subconscious part of me wanted to hurt him.  I certainly would never, ever do something on purpose to tempt him to drink and I find it unfathomable that he could even consider that.  But I am still hurting SO badly and I feel like I never had the opportunity to really be able to tell him that.  I know he knows he hurt me and I know he is sorry, but I do not think he really understands the degree to which I have been affected.  I doubt he knows that when I close my eyes at night, I picture his limp body on the hospital bed, with tubes and wires all over him.  I feel so traumatized by the experience.  I really don’t think he knows that.  I think he thinks that I am heartbroken by his unfaithfulness and hurt by how his family treated me and angry about his lies and those are all true, but he cannot possibly know what it was like for me to sit in that hospital room day and night for almost a month, not knowing if he would survive, but also knowing that if he did, our lives would never be the same and our relationship was over.

Growing up with a violent alcoholic father made holidays very unpredictable and often very volatile.  I could write ten different stories about ten different horrible things my father did to ruin holidays while I was growing up.  I am sure most children of alcoholics can do that.  When I took over Thanksgiving and started hosting it at my house, it became a holiday that I could control.  It became less about stress and more about the traditions that my ex and I created to prepare the meal.  There were never any issues (my father is usually well behaved when he is a guest in someone else’s home).  My family would arrive early and leave early and he and I would watch a movie or take a nap.  It was just…nice.  I feel like I am going to see the turkey leg this year and just bawl my eyes out.  I miss him so much.  It is so, so hard to not know what or how he is doing.  He lives so close, but I feel so far apart from him now.  Our lives have moved on separately and now there are things we don’t know about each other.  His grandpa died (which I only know because my best friend is his cousin), he started a new job (someone told me he posted on Instagram), I am sure there are things I don’t know about at all.  He doesn’t know about the problem I had with a student at school.  He doesn’t know that my sister had a miscarriage last week.  He is still the first person I want to call when something happens.  I just can’t.  It just all hurts so much still.

I bought a journal on Amazon at the recommendation of my psychiatrist.  It is a gratitude journal where each night you can write three things that happened that day that you are thankful for.  I plan to start using it because it is easy to slide down into the rabbit hole of sadness and self-despair and depression and only think about the bad things.  I know I need to start recognizing the wonderful, beautiful, happy moments that have been overshadowed for so long.

So, to practice…today I am thankful for:

  1. The hysterical “30 Rock”, which I binge watched all day while grading papers
  2. My sister’s house being a five minute drive away, so I can see my niece every day
  3. Nyquil (bc I am sick and I know it will help me sleep tonight lol)