Wishing my #alcoholic father well and moving on with my life #addiction #alcoholism #mentalhealth #mentalillness
October 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
I don’t know how long it will take me to process and release my anger at my father. There is no point in saying, “I forgive you.” When I don’t feel it in my heart. Now that I have taken down the barrier and ‘reconnected’, I sense the familiar pattern of behaviour from my father. There has been no contact. Nothing. The last I heard from him he was busy dealing with making arrangements to sell the family cabin. There has been no follow up to the things his wife said to me on the phone, and there has been no follow up to my invitation to re-connect. I predict ‘re-connection- in my father’s mind is a Christmas card saying, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” with a signature. As personal as if it had been sent by a busy real estate agent sent to his client list.
I know I should count my blessings that he is not a bother to me. He doesn’t call me, he doesn’t talk to me, he doesn’t communicate with me at all. It could be worse. He could be calling me drunk, or criticizing me, or demanding my time and attention. But really, aren’t both of these constellations of behaviour expressions of the same thing? Emotional deprival, abandonment, neglect. Now, yes, I am a grown woman, and I should not need my father’s attention at this age. But, is that true? Are our needs for familial bonds limited to childhood? Or do our needs for familial bonds continue throughout our lives? At what age do we no longer feel lonely?
I have learned to cope with an absent, emotionally withholding father who can’t be trusted. That coping has led me to insulate myself from others, to be wary of trusting anyone, and to comfort myself as best I can without resorting to self-destructive behaviours. The patterns of relational survival were set early and have continued to be reinforced over a lifetime. So, I actually don’t think it it fair for me to put myself down for still feeling the pain of neglect, deprival and abandonment. My age does not remove the faint hope that someday I will know what it feels like to have a loving father.
The period of ‘disconnect’ gave me comfort because I did not have any expectations of connection. I felt I had some control over how much pain I exposed myself to, how much I opened up my heart to the painful reality that my father is mentally ill with alcoholism as the most visible symptom.
I hear of people who forgive their alcoholic parents, even as their parents continue their patterns of abuse, neglect, and emotional deprival. Perhaps someday I will reach that point. For the present, I must set aside this age old yearning for familial comfort and turn to my immediate family, my home, my neighbourhood, my work, and my creative expression.
I process the pain of living with a condition of father hunger by channeling it into productive work – my scholarship, my drawing, painting, writing, fixing old houses, training reactive aggressive dogs, singing, and playing any stringed instrument I can get my hands on.
My father may never stumble out of his alcoholic lifestyle long enough to actually make eye contact with me and an authentic emotional connection. In the meantime, I can have empathy for the tortured soul that he has to live with, and hope for his healing body, mind and spirit. It gives me comfort to do that, and to strengthen myself despite the loss of his caring attention.
This morning I am going to write my dissertation, walk my dogs and do training exercises, I am going to putter around the house and make headway on laundry, dishes and floors. I am going to talk to my children and find out how they are doing, show interest in their lives, and demonstrate I care by paying attention to them.
I love my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I do hope my father can find some peace in his own heart. He doesn’t have to worry about me.
My alcoholic family is a social ecology of learning – a system of self-referential relationships that reinforce the very qualities and characteristics that are destructive to #mentalhealth and contribute to #mentalillness #alcoholism and #addiction
October 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
I continue to work through the morass of memory, emotion, and bafflement of growing up your daughter. Every day is a struggle for me to learn to practice healthy self-care. In my late fifties I am working on completing achievements that would normally be part of an adult in their thirties or forties. I see the wreckage of your influence in the mental health of my siblings, my own children, and my nephews and grandchildren. The influence of your selfishness and cowardice show traces across generations. I know that you will never face up to your own deficiencies. You will continue to act as if your actions and words are above reproach. But I know differently, and I think you know that I know. The emperor has no clothes.
Wasn’t that a strange sequence of emails between you and your sisters last month?
You know that I don’t care that the family vacation cabin has to be sold because you have been financially irresponsible with your third wife and unable to live within your (once) considerable means. I had argued that cabin needed to be dealt with by you and your sisters before one of you passed or it was going to cause a legal headache for the next generation to untangle secession or sale of the property. I appreciate that you took the bold step of initiating that process. I’m sorry that what forced you into that situation was not an altruistic concern for your legacy to your offspring but rather a financial panic that you would not have enough to live on or take care of your wife if you had to be institutionalized due to a medical crisis. However, I am not surprised that you put your own selfish needs before your children. After all, have you ever done differently?
I must sound terribly sour! And I know that my siblings, at least some of them, would argue vehemently that I am wrong. But I have my interpretation of your behaviour, and at least it is consistent with all the evidence. Yes, you have done things for the family, but it was always in your own interest. I’m not sorry. That is just how I see it now and it makes sense to me. Any other interpretation, such as, you were thinking of the well-being of the family when you made your choices, cannot be reconciled with the facts, and leads to a very confounding string of logic that ultimately is belied by your very actions around this family vacation cabin.
There is no doubt that you took care of the cabin for many years to make sure it was in working order for family members to enjoy. And those family members who were favoured with that enjoyment are suitably grateful to you. You will have to forgive me if I don’t share that gratitude, because I was never among the favoured members of the family who spent summer vacations at the cabin every year as their children grew up. My children never formed the bonds of family belonging and family history that my other siblings and their children share. We were not invited.
Anyway, that is not the point of this letter. Today I wanted to discuss the sequence of emails that came out of your announcement that the cabin would be sold and there would be no option for any family members to mount an effort to purchase it, or to purchase your shares. You wanted to make sure that, if you had to sell your shares, that no other family member could own the cabin. At first, your two sisters had signed off on this agreement with you, that was what authorized you to make the announcement. But the next day, my cousin1.2 wrote pleading for an opportunity to make an attempt to buy the shares or the property with the blessing of her mother and aunt. So that rose a question in my mind, what did Aunt1 and Aunt2 want to do with the property? Were they in agreement with you that it should not stay in the family or did they wish to keep it in the family if they could?
These two emails set off a flurry of emails and phone calls as different family members voiced their opinions and interests. The upshot was that there didn’t seem any good reason that you should dictate the sale of your shares of the property, although no one begrudged you for needing to take your money out of the property. No one appeared to hold a negative opinion of the circumstances that have led you to this action. There is general agreement in the family that secession of the property is a priority, no matter what circumstances finally rouse the family into action.
About a week after these deliberations were set in motion you wrote another email acknowledging that you could not prevent family members from attempting to purchase your shares or purchasing the property. At the same time, you made a statement that continues to bring up questions in my own mind, “It was never my intention to enrich myself at our families’ expense, an idea I find repugnant.” I had to ask, who had said this was your intention? Did I miss something? Where did this statement come from? What was it addressing? I have my own theories, but I am not part of these circles of conversation. What were the circumstances that prompted you to put this idea in writing?
In very short order, another flurry of emails were circulating. This time, Aunt1 and Aunt2 wrote long emails extolling your virtues and arguing that you have been a pillar of goodness in the family and appreciative of all your efforts, not only to keep the cabin going over all these years, but as a brother, over the course of a lifetime. I observed this sequence of communications and just wondered, what is going on?
And, I also asked myself, does anyone else in the family see how incongruent these communications are with the circumstances of their emergence? Do you, Dad? Just wondering.
So ends my meditations on making sense of the cunning, baffling experience of being a member in an alcoholic family that is in denial of its own spiritual, mental, and emotional suffering. I realize it is probably too late for you, Dad, to do anything to rectify the deep patterns of self-centredness, narcissism, care taking, toxic co-dependence, enabling, alcohol abuse, undiagnosed depression, undiagnosed anxiety, ungrieved loss, loneliness, boundary violations, emotional immaturity that have marked my relationship with you. I hope you find peace in your endeavours today, and that there might be some place for real love to fill your heart. I will do the same for myself, even as I am,
Making sense of a lifetime of deprival, abandonment and betrayal #alcoholism #mentalhealth #familysystems #socialecologiesoflearning
October 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
I gather from your silence that you do not intend to acknowledge the hurtful words your wife hurled at me when I called to re-connect and wish you happy birthday. I also gather from your silence that you do not intend to put any effort into building a relationship with me. I get that. I am familiar with it. It doesn’t change how much it hurts, even at this stage of my life.
How to make sense of this lifetime of emotional deprival, abandonment and betrayal? I have to write my way through it. I have been in and out of therapy since 1981 when I had my first full blown emotional breakdown. Over the intervening years I have undergone gestalt therapy, marriage counselling, group therapy, talk therapy, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, art therapy, emdr, trauma counselling, incest survivor therapy, 12 step recovery programs: narcotics anonymous, overeaters anonymous, sex addicts anonymous, sex and love addicts anonymous, and debtors anonymous.
What I have learned from all this work is that my internal condition of mental, emotional, and physical well-being was seriously compromised during childhood and early adulthood and this weakened condition made me vulnerable to forming connections with other people who would deprive me of emotional security, abandon me, and betray my trust. In order to stop re-creating these relational conditions I have had to work hard on two fronts. First, I have had to work on my mental, emotional and physical condition to make them strong and healthy enough to tackle the nasty backlog of conditioning that operates as a sub-routine everyday of my life. Second, I have had to work to investigate, examine, put into words, and problem solve relational conditions in my family system that continue to this day.
When I tackle the enormity of this situation on my own, I feel overwhelmed and unable to make sense of it. When I tackle it with the support of others who are engaged in similar challenges, I feel connected to something larger than myself, something that gives me the energy and confidence to fight on.
I am talking about seeing myself as a component in larger social systems, as a part of many different networks of social relationships: marriage, family, friends, support groups, academia, pets (dogs), and construction. Each of these social systems draw out different qualities and characteristics from within me. I respond to the different environmental conditions of these social systems with different qualities and characteristics depending on the situation I find myself in. For example, on a construction site, I am perfectly comfortable and confident measuring up a two by six and cutting it to length. In academia, I am perfectly comfortable organizing an entire course and teaching a semester worth of courses. In my family, I am perfectly uncomfortable attending family events and even more uncomfortable at the prospect of having to communicate with my alcoholic father.
As part of these diverse social ecological systems, I am able to do something that is new to me. Instead of replaying old patterns of thought and behaviour in the context of habituated relationships with family, I am able to be conscious of how these old patterns of deprival, abandonment and betrayal play out and call on other relationships in my network to inform my response. Thus, the difficulty presented by an inebriated step-mother insulting me on the phone and my father’s tacit approval of this behaviour does not have to send me into a spiral of self-abuse and rumination. Instead, I can draw on the humour, strength and resourcefulness I exhibit in the field of renovations and apply that approach to these difficult, non-functioning relationships. I laugh at the memory. I process the dimensions of dysfunction. I provide space for myself to come to grips with the reality of a father who is incapable of behaving as a responsible, caring parent. I employ my academic skills to analyze the situation and view it from more than one point to see the absurdity of the pattern of relational dynamics. I change my response to the situation by talking to my trusted allies and identify a healthy course of action to move forward. I turn the lemons of sour family discourse into lemonade of creative work, strengthening other bonds with family and friends, and turn my frustrated drive for connectivity into possible sources for writing, painting, and drawing.
I feel good today, in part because I am able to put these experiences into words and make sense of them instead of leaving them as a vague, gnawing feeling of emptiness and desperation.
October 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
I woke up again this morning with everything I wish I could say to you on my mind. I wonder if writing you letters that you will never receive will help purge the frustration and anguish of being your daughter. It doesn’t seem to matter that you are now in your 80s and I am in my 50s. The situation has not improved and I fear it is getting worse.
I wish you could have cared for me. I wish you could have demonstrated that you love me by putting my security and well-being first. I wish you could have shown me that I was worth being loved by actually making me feel loved. I wish you could have shown me that I was worth protecting by actually making me feel protected.
Yes, I know I am an adult and have been an adult for more years than I was a child. But the damage of my childhood with you as my father has plagued me for a lifetime and I want it to stop. I realize that you do not understand how your attitude toward me has been deeply traumatizing. It concerns me that in recent years I have so many examples of your lack of care and consideration for my person.
My attempts to change the quality and character of our relationship have resulted in more hard feelings toward me. It appears that you are not going to talk to me about your view of me, but that you are content to allow your wife to insult me over the phone.
Ugh. It is painful to go down this dark street. But there doesn’t seem to be any other way for me to break this loop of useless rumination that destroys my sense of well-being while doing nothing to address the situation. After a lifetime of a pattern of being treated as the ‘also ran’ of the family, it is very difficult to know where to begin. Or where to end.
I know that you will not see this, and if you did, you would not read it with an empathetic heart. I am tired of always being seen as someone I am not. I am tired of fighting for a healthy relationship with you and then blamed when I have to take a break because the effort is wasting me.
One thing is for sure. Whatever I have achieved in my life: graduating with a PhD, raising three children, owning a home, marriage, artistic expression, craftsmanship, etc. None of these were a result of your support. What I have achieved, and will achieve, is a result despite your lack of support.
All my life I have looked at other women who are self-confident, make wise life choices, have close relationships with their fathers, and I wondered what was wrong with me. I saw myself as profoundly inadequate, damaged in an all encompassing way, fatally flawed and destined to never find love, support, caring, security, worthiness, and power. What I have learned is these are the typical symptoms of a girl who is unfathered. These are the symptoms of a woman who has never known what it felt like to have a father who has ‘got her back’.
It has only come to my attention recently that the issue of who has got my back is a very simple test to determine the value I place on any relationship, family or otherwise. I have struggled all my life trying to build my life on relationships with people who demonstrated, over and over again, that they did not have my back. I thought that was normal. It is only lately that I have realized that horrible feeling of utter loneliness, of feeling unprotected in the world, of always having to stand alone and watch all sides, is a symptom of a condition of being abandoned and betrayed by you.
By a miracle of hard work and growth, I have managed to build relationships with people who do have my back, and care about my well-being. I have also managed to learn how to have their back, not care taking, not neglecting, not depriving, or invading, but to be respectfully behind them as they attempt difficult endeavours. It feels amazing!
So Dad, for now I must tell you that I never felt like you had my back. I never felt protected by your presence in my life. I never felt loved for who I was, I never felt that I was important to you. I am learning to live with that reality and it sucks. But that is the way it is.
I extended an olive branch, I offered to re-connect. You have put off talking to me because, as usual, you have more important things to attend to than build a healthy relationship with me. Well. I will continue to process what that feels like. I often ask myself if you died tomorrow would I attend your funeral. At this point I really don’t see why it would be important. Also, I’m not sure I would be welcome anyway, after the rant your wife subjected me to when I called on your birthday. If she feels it is necessary to screen your calls so I can’t talk to you and accuse me of wanting money from you, I really don’t see that bodes well for me attending your funeral when the time comes, do you? I know you don’t care about these things, or you would actually do something about them.
Be that as it may, I just have to begin the arduous process of getting all this off my chest. Because, let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger and the load is just too heavy to carry around anymore.
The conundrum of being the scapegoat in an alcoholic family system #alcoholism #familysystems #familyculture #blindspots
October 10, 2014 § Leave a comment
I think I finally understand why I find these tributes to Father and fond memories of childhood at the cabin so disturbing. I shared those childhood memories and I loved the island. I loved belonging to my family.
But then, for some reason, there was a gap of 20 years where I was out of touch with it. My children did not grow up spending summers on the island. Why is that?
It is because I was so traumatized by growing up in my family that I left and tried very hard not to come back. When I look at the reasons for that, I can see it was not my fault that I was traumatized, and it has not been my fault that I have had to work so hard to put my life together. The fact is that the journey I have taken did not follow the same path as my siblings and my cousins. I was not able to maintain a sturdy emotional connection to my family because I was so emotionally and psychological injured by my childhood and youth. Later, when I tried to make connections, I found that my experience was dismissed, invalidated, and denied. It has been very difficult to process that reality of family culture.
I have lived a long time with a deeply felt sense of not belonging in this family and it is because the real harm I endured, and have continued to endure, is not recognized. It is invisible to the family culture. I deal with the reality of that harm on a day to day basis, as do my children, but it is as if this harm does not exist to the rest of the family. I am left feeling deficient, singularly inadequate to meet the standards of family membership, and by my deficiency, I cause problems to the family. I need to ‘get with it’, ‘suck it up’, ‘get over it’.
But the casual cruelty of the family system continues to put pressure on me. It doesn’t matter if I try to belong and make connections, or if I try to avoid and not make connections. The entire exercise is moot. My presence in the family is not accepted, because I bear the scars, and even the recent injuries, of family encounters. At the same time, I am vilified for not falling in line.
And so I feel this very strange condition of pressure to belong, to attend family events, and pressure to conform, to family culture and myths, while my internal condition is weakened by these demands and make me less able to be part of the family system.