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”.

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.

Well, THAT lasted long…

I went home to my parent’s house for the first time in six months for Father’s Day yesterday. As I have mentioned before, this is one of my least favorite days of the year, so naturally I had some trepidation about the visit. I see my mom all the time because she comes down to where my sister and I live (about an hour away from my hometown), but I have not seen my dad since Christmas Day.

I am happy to report that everything went fine. My friend asked me today how things were and I told her there were no issues and so she said, “oh so he didn’t drink?” Nooooo…my father ALWAYS drinks, it is just a matter of how much and how early he starts. On the rare occasions that he does not drink at all, he literally stays in bed all day. But, it was a nice day. We had lunch, my sister helped my dad with some computer stuff, I helped my mom set up her patio furniture. My dad watched golf while we all just caught up. It was laid back and there was no drama. My dad even seemed grateful for the gift we got him (now we just get him Amazon gift cards- can’t go wrong with that!) I left feeling content and made a mental note to perhaps visit more often.

Until today. My father called my cell phone while I was at work and left me a nasty voicemail. It was about three minutes long and he just rambled on and on about nonsense, but at the end he started screaming into the phone. He ended his message by sarcastically saying, “oh happy Father’s Day…what a JOKE!”

So, I erased my mental note about visiting more. Unfortunately, his behavior on Father’s Day is the exception and the voicemail is the norm. It is like a roller coaster ride and reminded me how negatively I have always been affected by his unpredictable behavior and moods. I finally think I have the guy figured out and he throws me for a loop. I should have known better and I should not be surprised or disappointed. But I am.