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.

Call in case of emergency

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

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

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

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?

Comfortably Numb

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I was showing my 11th grade students samples of a project in class today.  One of the samples was one that I made years ago, which included photographs of my ex-husband.  I have not assigned this project in years and I had forgotten that the sample included pictures from my “former life”.  My one female student, who is lovely and very inquisitive, asked me innocently if seeing the photo from my wedding “bothered me”.  I always try to be appropriately honest with my teenage students, so I answered her truthfully that seeing the photo did not really affect me anymore…that at one time it would have made me sad, but now that years have passed since my divorce, it feels like a lifetime ago.

It made me realize how far I have come since that time.  I got divorced in 2010 and during the process I was a complete mess.  That is no exaggeration.  I cried every single day…for like a year.  It did not help that I also lost both of my grandparents, my two favorite people, at the same time.  I thought I hid it reasonably well at school during that time, but when I run into students I had that year, they always tell me how worried they were about me (I remember getting quite a few really thoughtful cards that year from kids).  I remember people telling me then that I would get through it and that someday I wouldn’t care anymore or even get upset.  I thought that was literally impossible.  I really felt like I would NEVER get over my divorce.  But those people were right and now it is such an afterthought in my life.  I never think about it- or my ex-husband- at all, unless it is in a very specific context.  It is funny how your life can be SO affected by something or someone and then one day you realize that it has been hours…days…weeks…months since you cried or even thought about it or them.

I kind of feel the same way about my father.  He is still a big part of my life and he had such a negative impact on my childhood and teenage years, yet I really try not to think about the things that happened that much or what is going on now.  I think over the years, I found a way to compartmentalize everything that happened with my family.  I mean, at some point, I just had to find a way to not obsess about it or it would have literally drove me crazy.  I haven’t seen my father since Christmas- for over six months.  Part of me finds that really weird and part of me doesn’t care.  I am so disappointed in him for starting to drink again that I had to find a way to separate myself from him.  Whenever I start to think about it, I try to just *snapping my fingers* STOP.  I do go to therapy, so it is not like I am naively ignoring my problems; I just simply know that I cannot let it affect my everyday life, which is often easier said than done.  I know in AA, one of the mantras is to “let go and let God”.  I am not religious, but I think that is sort of my mentality when it comes to my dad right now.  I tried for so long to control him, my family, my life, everything…and ironically, the more I tried to control, the more out of control I felt. There’s just no point in worrying about things I cannot do anything about.  If worrying and caring and crying could have saved my marriage, I wouldn’t be divorced.  If worrying and caring and crying could make my dad stop drinking, he would be sober.  I have wasted a lot of tears on people who didn’t deserve them.

(un)happy birthday

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

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

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

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.

The more things change,

the more they stay the same.

My suspicions were right…my dad is drinking again.  It was a nice two years while it lasted.  I am so disappointed and even though I should have been prepared for this, I am still a little surprised.  I have had so many conflicting emotions about it.  I saw my therapist and through talking about it, she made me realize that I am really angry.  You might be saying “no, duh” (or maybe not lol), but it was a revelation to me.  You see, I get upset.  Being sad or upset is a more comfortable emotion for me.  I don’t really do angry.  Growing up, angry was not really something that was accepted and unfortunately, that carried over into my marriage.  I was never the one who was angry- that role was reserved for my father and for my ex-husband.  Through a good amount of therapy, I learned how to get in touch with my anger.  My current boyfriend would tell you that I have gotten much better at expressing anger, I’m sure.  But that says more about our relationship than anything else. Because I can am able to really be myself with him, I do not get anxious about being angry at him.  That’s also why the one person I was always able to get really mad at and fight with is my sister.

So…back to my dad.  I am really mad.  I am mad that he never apologized for anything that he did.  He never paid any consequences for his actions.  And yet, my sister and mom and I gave him a second chance when he stopped drinking. He did not earn it.  He did not deserve it.  We just gave it to him.  We made it so easy for him.  We were all so desperate for a “normal” family and were so happy and relieved to have him be sober that we just were grateful that he wasn’t drinking.  He should have spent the rest of his life making it up to us.  He should have begged for our forgiveness for what he put us through.  But, we never asked for that.  We just acted like 25 years of abuse and insanity never happened.  But that wasn’t enough, I guess.

He has started writing his nasty emails again.  That’s why I started this blog to begin with.  I joked that now I will have more to write about, but sadly, that is true.  As I have weighed the pros and cons and deliberated whether to confront him in person, my sister snapped and wrote him an email detailing ALL of the horrible things he has done to her and to my mother and me.  His response was that he thinks she is lying and that he doesn’t remember any of it.  He said that if it is true, he is sorry, but that it was a dark time in his life and he has been emotionally hurt, too.  I have mixed feelings about his response.  It definitely doesn’t feel like an apology and he was pretty dismissive about all the things she told him.  It was like “I don’t believe these things happened, but if you think they did, then I am sorry”.  Not even close to good enough. I’m also angry that he acts like he is the victim.  That “dark time” lasted two decades and spanned throughout my childhood.  He created that “dark time” himself when he chose alcohol over his family.

So now after two years of really nice, relaxing Thanksgivings, I am back to being anxious about what is going to happen on Thursday.  Will he come to my house for dinner? Will there be a scene? Will he insult me in front of my boyfriend? Will he stay home? Will he be horrible to my mom when she gets home? Will he hurt himself?  I honestly and truly did appreciate every minute of him being sober and I will never take those two years for granted.  But now that he’s drinking again, it is really bringing back a lot of feelings and memories and I find myself regressing a little bit.  But, as sad as that is to experience, I am trying to protect my heart by just staying mad.

Fall Back

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I think my dad is drinking again.  A few weeks ago, I talked to him on the phone in the morning and then again in the afternoon and when I hung up the second time, I literally said out loud to my boyfriend, “I think he sounded drunk”.  I pretty much dismissed the idea because he had a stroke two years ago (which led to his miraculous and unexpected sobriety) and so he does slur a little bit still.  But I also dismissed it because- to be honest- after two years of him not drinking, I got used to him being sober.  For the first year of his sobriety, I answered each call from him with that slight feeling of anticipated dread that it would be the time he would be drunk.  By the end of two years of sobriety, it shocked me how quickly I took for granted that he would be sober.  I guess what made it easier to acclimate was his complete and very abrupt stopping.  He was a horrible alcoholic one day…had a stroke…and from that day forward did not drink.  It was like a light switch was turned off.  Just like that…sober.

Now a little over two years later, that phone call that I stopped dreading finally happened.  There wasn’t anything obvious…just a slight difference in tone.  Really just something I can’t put my finger on that only the child of an alcoholic would even notice or know to listen for.  What was more worrisome was a couple of days later, my sister sent me a text with a screenshot of one of my dad’s emails.  She wrote, “do you think he’s drinking again?!?!?”  I immediately called her and told her my suspicion from the previous phone conversation with him.  We saw my mother that weekend and questioned her.  She just retired and is home all day with him and would certainly be the first to see the red flags.  She right away denied it and said she “would know” if he was drinking.  I decided to let it go- it was only a brief suspicion- and I wasn’t ready to confront the possibility that he could have fallen off the wagon.

Today, I got an email early this morning from my father.  In it, he included that my mother was mad at him because she found “a bottle of vodka under a cabinet” and that it was “several years old”.  My heart sunk.  Memories flooded back of being 13 years old and frantically searching for bottles of vodka in my dad’s various hiding spots.  I remember pouring part of one down the sink, the liquid burning my nostrils, and replacing the vodka with water…hoping it was diluted enough to prevent him from getting drunk.  My sister and I both called my mom and both told her the same thing- if he is drinking and she stays, she is on her own this time.

I can’t go through this again.  I can’t relive the horrible events from my childhood. I can’t stand by and watch and listen to him abuse us and my mother.  When I was 12 and he became an alcoholic, I had no choice.  I do now.  I just can’t do it.  Even just thinking about how he used to act- the horrible screaming on voicemails, the nasty, degrading emails, the ruined (and often frightening) family holidays- causes me to feel anxious.  I have made such an effort to become closer to him over these past two years.  But if he chooses alcohol over his family for a second time, it is going to undo all of that and I will cut him out of my life.  I just can’t do it.

A child of marriage

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Next month it will be two years that my dad has been sober. TWO. YEARS.  I still can’t believe it.  It’s probably the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me!  I would have never imagined him not drinking for a weekend, let alone TWO YEARS.  I read an article today about being a child of divorce and the effects it has.  I have never been able to relate to that because my mother stayed with my father throughout my childhood.  They have now been married over 40 years…I guess she took the “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health vows” very seriously.  It has certainly not been a romantic fairy tale at all.  My mother was a battered wife, for lack of a better term.  Why she stayed, I will never understand, because none of us ever expected him to stop drinking.  I don’t think she ever saw the light at the end of the tunnel and I think she stayed for lots of reasons- fear, security, love?, fear, dependency, money, fear.  I used to pray that my mother would leave and take us out of that abusive family structure.  My little sister would tell my mom she wanted her to divorce my dad as her Christmas present (so sad).  But, my mom stayed.  Through good times (rare) and bad (often).  I am many things that define who I am, but I am not a child of divorce.

And now I wonder…if my mom had left my dad, would I have any relationship with him at all?  Would he even be alive?  I think if she had left when I was a teenager, I would have just cut him out of my life entirely.  I know it is a little cheesy to believe “everything happens for a reason”, but in this case, it kind of does.  My mom never left my dad and I have been forced to figure out how to have some kind of a relationship with him for all of my adult life (thanks, therapy!) and now he is sober and “normal” and we do have a relationship- a pretty decent one, too.  I called my dad today, just to say hi and talk.  If you would have told me that I would have done that two years ago, I would have fallen on the floor laughing, because two years ago I would have had an inbox full of nasty voicemails from him on my phone.  Two years ago, I still had a separate email address dedicated for him because he would send multiple daily harassing emails…now I email him pictures of my dog and cat sleeping together on the dog bed, just because it’s cute.  Two years ago, I had him blocked on all social media…just a couple days ago, I considered friending him on Facebook (still a little hesitant on that one lol).  It is just weird how things can change so abruptly and completely.  I still will never understand why my mother didn’t leave when things were at their worst.  Maybe she was weak, maybe she was scared, maybe there were things that happened between my parents that I don’t even know about.  Perhaps being a child of a divorce would have spared me many years of pain and abuse and fear and anxiety, but perhaps it would have also robbed me out of having a second chance with my dad.

And he probably doesn’t deserve this second chance at all…but I do.

The gift of Father’s Day

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So now not only can I count the days, the weeks and even the months that my father has been sober, I can tick off a second Father’s Day!  Last year was the first Father’s Day in over 20 years that my dad was not drunk.  When I think back to last year, I couldn’t really wrap my head around that and I still didn’t trust his sobriety.  A couple of years ago my dad had a stroke and just like that (picture me snapping my fingers!) he stopped drinking and to this day hasn’t resumed.  The many Father’s Days during his years of drinking were synonymous with drama, fights, crying, disappointment, frustration, anger, etc.  He felt even more entitled on “his” day to act like a crazy lunatic.  Even though he isn’t a perfect dad, there is definitely some real normalcy in my life when it comes to my family.  So tomorrow, my boyfriend and I are going to visit my parents and I’m not consumed with worry or fear…my sister and her boyfriend are even bringing his parents there to meet mine for the first time.

On a separate/related/miraculous note: I wrote a blog once before about my father returning every gift my sister and I have gotten him.  This sadly is not an exaggeration.  It got to the point where the only thing we would even bother buying him for his birthday or Christmas was an Amazon.com gift card.  For years it was a source of hurt and disappointment, but then became an inside joke.  Those of you with alcoholic or dysfunctional families know that sometimes you just have to laugh about the ludicrous things that you experience.  But this year, the planets aligned and a curse was lifted and my dad is sober and he LIKED WHAT WE GOT HIM!  He thanked us several times and literally used those words…”I like it”.  My sister and I were together at my house and were on speakerphone with him and just sat in stunned silence, looking at each other in disbelief.  Once we hung up with him, my sister yelled out “hell yeah!!!!” and we high-fived 🙂