“Normals”

I feel a new type of insecurity in my relationship that I have never experienced before. It is not due to jealousy, rather it is because of fear. I never worried about getting my heart broken before. I knew it was a possibility, but I did not think about it much. In my last relationship, I sort of felt like I always had the upper hand because he dealt with a lot of issues, including alcoholism. That sounds REALLY terrible now that I wrote it down, but it is true, and I promised myself I would always tell the truth on my blog- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Both M. and I dealt with mental illness, but mine was much more controlled. I had my shit together and he didn’t and that gave me a false sense of security in our relationship. I knew that he loved me, but I also knew that he depended on me, too.

I recently was with two friends of mine who are a married couple. She had a lovely, happy childhood and he did not. His parents were both abusive and were very hard on him. My friends also are friendly with my current boyfriend and I was trying to explain to them how I feel about my relationship with him. I said something, more directed to my male friend, like, “he (my boyfriend) is just SO normal. He had a normal childhood and a normal life and even his divorce was really amicable and normal. I don’t mean he has never had problems or faced challenges, but his family and his life are just really functional. He must listen to the stories of my family and my previous relationships and my problems with anxiety and secretly think ‘man, she is really fucked up.’ and it makes me wonder why he wants to be with me.” My girlfriend immediately jumped in to reassure me that my boyfriend loves me and what happened to me in my childhood was not my fault. But my male friend…he got it. He said he feels the same way sometimes, which made me feel better. And listen, I know that the word “normal” is incredibly difficult to define and super subjective. In my mind, normal equates to a lack of trauma and dysfunction. Being normal might seem like an insult to some people who interpret it to be synonymous with boring and ordinary. But to me, normal has a positive connotation and means safe and secure and healthy and functional.

A good example of this just happened recently. I had to get a CT scan of my sinuses. When my ENT called to give me the results he mentioned that I have a deviated septum. When I told my boyfriend this, he asked me if I had ever had a nose injury. I know he was thinking about whether I got smacked with a basketball in high school gym class. I thought about it for a minute and was like, “no, I don’t think so….oh wait! When I was 18 my dad got arrested because he head-butted me in the face and I thought he broke my nose.” I said it so casually because honestly I don’t really think about that event much and it was over 20 years ago, but my boyfriend looked taken aback. It was sort of a funny conversation, but also incredibly sad. It almost made me feel lonely and for a second, I missed my ex-boyfriend, M., because I knew he could relate and understand to having a screwed up family and childhood.

My friend and my boyfriend- they are “normals”. I, for sure, am not. I try to have the appearance of having it all together and I am very successful in a lot of different ways, but deep down I feel broken and dysfunctional and different and less than. I know a lot of this is my own self-perception and I am working on that. My boyfriend is the most amazing man I have ever known and I pinch myself every single day that we are together. I feel so lucky to have him in my life, but the problem is that I don’t always think he is lucky to have me in his (I am certain he would beg to differ). And that is what creates insecurity for me…because if I don’t think I am good enough for him, when is he going to realize that?


What is love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The more things change, the more they are the same

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I got a notification from WordPress that it was my seven year anniversary of when I began this blog.  I decided to go back to my very first post, which was on January 17, 2013.

I am not really sure where to begin, so I will just start writing and see where it takes me…

I am in my 30s and have read pretty much everything ever published about being the child of an alcoholic.  I know all about the roles (I am a hero), the shame, the dysfunction, the warnings…

 

Well, not much, yet EVERYTHING has changed…I am now in my 40s, my dad is still a drunk and I can now add a very long, very dysfunctional relationship with an alcoholic to my resume.  I became the dreaded cliche- the daughter of an alcoholic who ends up dating an alcoholic.  The only silver lining to that was that I did not marry him.

My father has been in the hospital or a rehabilitation/nursing home since Christmas Eve.  He suffered through a coma and once he was well enough to be moved physically, he went through a mental psychosis, caused by withdrawal or the sedatives.  He was irate, hateful, violent, and confused.  He thought he was at McDonald’s, he flicked off my two year old niece and said “fuck you” to her when she said goodbye to him, he thought another patient was my mother and yelled at her all day for ignoring him, he believed everything was a conspiracy against him, he blamed my mother, sister and me for “doing this to him”, he asked what plane I took to get there when I live ten miles away, he refused to eat..I could go on and on- his behavior was incredibly disturbing and upsetting.

He seems to be doing a little better with his mental facilities, but physically is very weak and will be moving to a rehab center again tonight.  So, now we are up to two different hospitals, two different rehabilitation centers, at least a dozen different doctors and more nurses than I can count.  It is exhausting.

My therapist AND my sister’s therapist asked why we go visit him so often, especially when he is being so nasty and verbally abusive towards us.  I honestly do not have an answer for that.  We have tolerated his behavior for so long.  I think a lot of it is feeling like we need to be there for my mother, but I cannot and will not ever understand her loyalty or sense of responsibility towards him.  It has just been a very stressful beginning to the new year, after what was arguably the worst year of my life.

Speaking of which, my ex (the above mentioned alcoholic and subject of MANY of my blogs) decided this would be the opportune time to try to reinsert himself back into my life.  After not hearing from him for months (at my request), he texted me asking about my father.  I contemplated for a while how to handle it and then decided maybe he was just being nice.  I gave him some details about my dad and nothing about myself.  He basically took the opportunity to fill me in on his life (which only made me pity him) and then proceeded to keep texting me until I had to kindly ask him to stop.

SO much has happened during the past seven years- it is impossible to sum up. Yet, that famous quote is eerily accurate: “the more things change, the more they are the same.”

Bye 2019…thanks for nothing.

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I hated 2019.  Like DESPISED it.  In March, my boyfriend of nine years went through alcohol withdrawal and was put in a medically induced coma on a breathing tube and ventilator.  It lasted 17 extremely long days.  His 28 day hospital stay resulted in his (sort-of) recovery, but the end of our relationship.  I was with him the whole time and I feel like I will never get over the trauma of seeing the man I love in that condition.  However, I was finally starting to feel a little better this month…I got through Thanksgiving and could see the end of the year finally approaching…a fresh, new start.

And then my father was put into a medically induced coma on a breathing tube and ventilator last Thursday.  What. The. Actual. Hell? How do two people that I am very close with, the two men in my life, BOTH end up in comas within the same year???  Thankfully, my dad was removed from the sedation and the breathing tube was removed last night and he seems do be doing ok.  Yesterday was touch and go and in the morning, his condition was bad enough for a palliative nurse to speak to us about a DNR order and “quality of life” concerns.

I just can’t believe it.  I feel like I keep saying that over and over.  How did this happen to TWO people? In ONE year? Six more hours until this horrible, traumatic, heartbreaking, life-changing year is over and I can’t wait.

Through my eyes

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One of my early childhood memories from before my dad started drinking was standing with my feet on top of his.  I was seven or eight years old, he would hold my hands and I would stand on his feet and hold on as he walked around the room.  We were not really dancing, but it was fun and my sister and I would take turns.  I think a lot of little girls do this with their daddies and it is a sweet memory I have of him.

When I was in college studying literature, I was very drawn to a particular poem:

My Papa’s Waltz 

by Theodore Roethke

 

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

 

There are a lot of different opinions and interpretations about what this poem is describing.  Some readers interpret it as the happy childhood memory of a young boy playfully dancing with his father in their kitchen, while his mother gazes on.  Other readers believe that the dance is a metaphor for physical abuse by a drunk father.  The first time I ever read this poem, I instantly believed it depicted abuse.  However, I wonder if that is because my father became an abusive alcoholic (while my mother helplessly watched on).  I always tell my students that this is the beauty of literature- the reader is able to interpret what they read in their own personal way.  We all (sometimes subconsciously) are influenced by our own life experiences and as a child of an alcoholic, that was the lens I saw the world through.  Yet, I got a feeling that this boy still loved his father, which was another part of the poem I could relate to, because I still love mine.

I know without a doubt that if my father was not an alcoholic, he would have been an awesome dad.  Just like I know that if my exboyfriend did not suffer from the same addiction, he would have been a wonderful life partner.  When I went to an Al-Anon meeting recently, someone used the phrase “detachment with love”.  I realized that I unknowingly started doing this with my father years ago.  I have his nasty emails blocked, his ringtone on my phone is “silent”, I immediately erase his toxic voicemails and I speak to him as minimally as possible, especially if I know he is drunk.  When I see him, if he is sober, I chat with him, but I stopped letting him “in”…I try to no longer let his behavior negatively affect me.  I accepted that I was not going to be able to change him, so I stopped trying to.

I am currently detaching with love from my exboyfriend.  While I never felt responsible for my father, I did feel VERY responsible for my ex.  By protecting him and enabling him, I was actually hurting us both, which I am able to see now that I have some space from the situation.  I cannot protect him from the consequences of his choices and I do not want to continue to suffer because of his actions.  By releasing those feelings of responsibility for him, I was able to start focusing on myself and my needs.

I love my father and I love my exboyfriend, but I hate their alcoholism.  My father, the man who should be the one to protect me, physically hurt me and still verbally abuses me. My exboyfriend, the man I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with, lied to my face and cheated on me, violating my trust.

I think I will always see the world as the child of an alcoholic and as someone who deeply loved and was in an eight year long romantic relationship with an alcoholic.  It is just a part of who I am, woven into the essence of my being.  However, I know that they both made their own choices, but that I also had the ability to make a choice for myself.

And my choice was to detach (with love) from both of them.

Still hurts…

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The majority of the time I say to other people (and to myself) that my father’s emails and voicemails don’t bother me.  In a lot of ways, they have just become the norm and I am sort of used to them.  Every once in a while, though, one stands out that is particularly hurtful.  I feel like my mom, sister and I just give him free passes because we know he is drunk.  Today he sent and email copied to all of us where he singled me out and called me a “loser” and he also left me a voicemail calling me a “scumbag”.  I obviously know these things aren’t true- I am a totally respectable member of society, a teacher, a homeowner, etc. but it still is mind-boggling to me that my own father can say these things about his daughter totally unprovoked.  My sister and I have always used humor to deal with my dad and the way he treats us.  She recently began seeing a therapist (I have gone for years, so I am super proud of her for starting to go!) and the woman said to my sister, “you talk about the things your father has done like it was only in your childhood, like he is deceased…this is still active abuse.”  That really made me think.  I do consider what my father did to us growing up as abuse, no doubt about it, but I guess since I don’t live with him and rarely see him in person, I didn’t really consider it to be current as well.  But it totally is.  His emails and voicemails are verbally and emotionally abusive and total harassment as well.  People always ask my sister and me why we don’t just block his number and his emails (I have a totally separate email address just for him so they don’t go into my regular email inbox) and neither of us have a good answer for that question.  I don’t know why I don’t just block him…I should.  He deserves it.  I honestly don’t even know if he would notice, because no one ever responds to his emails.  It is like the same way I can’t answer why my mom never left him…I kind of write it off as her being a “battered wife” and I guess in a lot of ways I am a “battered daughter”.

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.

“Just like me”

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One thing that my father often says to me is that I am “just like him”.  He will often slip it into emails or phone conversations.  We will be talking about my sister being financially irresponsible and he will say something like “you have always saved money…you’re just like me”.  I usually just roll my eyes when he says it.  I think for him, he knows he has not been the world’s greatest father (huge understatement!) and he likes to think that I inherited some of his better habits and traits.  I can acknowledge that some aspects of my personality definitely did come from him- I like to learn how to fix things myself, I am financially conservative, I like to plan ahead and I tend to be obsessive about certain things. In other words, when he says this, I take it with a grain of salt. I understand when he says it that it is coming from a place of pride (and probably redemption) that he instilled some good traits in me.

What I hate, however, is when OTHER people say this to me.  My boyfriend has a tendency to start criticism with, “You’re like your father…” or my sister will say,”You sound like dad”.  This bothers me because when they are saying it, it is clearly an insult.  I don’t want to be like my father.  In fact, I can’t really think of many things that would be more offensive than being compared to him because he is widely disliked by mostly everyone who knows him.  I don’t know if it bothers me more because it hurts my feelings (it is an easy low blow for them to use against me) or because deep down I know that the comparison is sometimes true.

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.