I wrote not too long ago about going to see my dad (my abuser) again. I couldn’t truly articulate why I felt the need to do it. No one else really thought it was a good idea. My husband and I even had some heated arguments about it. I’m pretty sure my therapist didn’t understand why I needed to do it either, but she respected that it was something I felt that I needed to do. They both feared it would send me into another dark spiral. Truthfully, I feared the same, but something in me told me I needed to do it.
I emailed my dad and told him that I wanted to see him and my stepmom, but I set a lot of ground rules up before going. I told him that just because I was meeting with him, didn’t mean that I was ready to see him regularly. I may meet with him this once and want to see him again the next week or I may not want to see him for a couple more years. I was playing it by ear. I also stated that I wasn’t looking to debate and rehash my memories of who did what and when. I learned from the last confrontation that that type of interaction will only lead me to second guess myself, and send me into a dark spiral of self-hatred. I knew I wasn’t strong enough for that level of confrontation again. I told him that I just wanted to see him and hear how things were going in his life, how the rest of the family was doing, and to just let him know where I was with everything.
Ever since my memories started to surface and come to head, turning my entire life upside down and questioning everything, I clung to the hope of validation. Someone to tell me the horrors in my mind had actually happened. I felt that I couldn’t move forward with healing until I figured out what was real and what was my imagination. Since there is no replay button for my childhood, I was looking to my family for that validation. Unfortunately, they are the last ones that would be willing to admit anything because it is too risky for them. Their safety lies in maintaining that facade that I was raised in. I began to realize that if I was relying on their help to heal, I would spin in this never ending darkness forever. I needed to detach my healing from being contingent on my family speaking their own truth. I can’t control them and their healing, so I should stop letting them control mine. This sounds simple and obvious as I write it out now, but I had do some serious soul searching to reach this realization. And realizing it and actually following through with it are two very different things.
Despite realizing this, I know that I can’t quite remove them from my life completely. Well, I can but only with the consequence of removing myself from all family functions and gatherings as well and struggling with my own self-inflected guilt. That is a sacrifice I am not willing to make. I have a large, great family and I miss them terribly. So I needed to find a way to be true to myself and my feelings and be present with the people who have hurt me at my core all without getting sent into the darkness of self-hatred. That, my friends, is not an easy feat. But meeting with my dad was going to be the first step.
So after setting the ground rules, we found a day to meet. I had planned it a week in advance which left me with plenty of time to get anxious and have a million possible scenarios play through my head. But each time some horrible scenario came to mind, I just kept telling myself that it can’t be worse than the last time I saw him and I shockingly survived that (the darkness that followed nearly killed me, but I got through it). That week had lots of deep breaths, running, stretching and dancing to try to stay in my body and grounded in the present moment. It took serious effort to not let myself go down the panic route. But as that week progressed and the meeting came closer, I realized that the mere fact that I was trying to stay in my body and grounded proved to myself that I was in a much better place than I was a year ago at the initial confrontation.
The day came and started off like any other morning. Getting the kids ready for school, drinking some coffee (although my nerves had me wired enough and I couldn’t manage to get myself to eat), hugging my babes goodbye in front of their classrooms, and then I was off driving down the highway. It was so much like other days that it was easy for me to pretend that this was no big deal, but as I approached his driveway, my heart sank. My body broke out in a cold sweat and I thought I was going to hurl right there in front of his house. I tried to take a moment to gather my composure, but as I took a deep breath, I looked out the window and saw my dad walking towards my car. There goes my idea of my entrance being on my terms and there goes any time I had to gather my sanity. Here goes nothing.
It was amazing how much we went through the motions like things were as they always had been. We hugged each other and he began to ask questions about the kids. For the first half hour we talked about my daughter losing her first tooth, learning to ride a bike and her reading ability. We joked of my son’s sense of humor, fearlessness, and second set of stitches. I heard about what is going on with some of my cousins and my step siblings. He told me of his upcoming trips and what is going on with his health.
We settled so quickly back into our old groove. But I needed to break that. Things can never be as they were. I started to tell him how I am still struggling with depression and anxiety, but that I feel like I am starting to make progress with my therapist. I told him that I have symptoms of PTSD which often means that seemingly mundane things can trigger a panic attack, that I can often feel like I am reliving scenes from my childhood. I let him know that because of these things it has made it difficult to work sometimes and it has put a huge strain on my marriage. I also shared that, in addition to these symptoms, I also have a dissociative disorder that has made me lose chunks of time, lose control of my body, and has crippled me in many ways. He just looked at me while I spoke, sometimes turning to look at the floor. He would occasionally nod to acknowledge that he was listening. It was an awkward conversation with lots of moments of uncomfortable silence, but he didn’t challenge me.
The whole conversation was bizarre. I felt numb as I described myself. I’m not sure how much he understood what I said. And if he did understand the depths of what I was explaining, I have no idea how much he attributed my struggles to his actions when I was a kid. Part of me was screaming inside to have him say he was sorry, to acknowledge something of my past. But I know that will never be. But what did happen was me speaking my truth to him about where I am and what I struggle with. I wasn’t placing blame. I wasn’t pointing fingers. His ability to face his own truth is on him and I can’t force him to do that. That is his healing, not mine. I write this as if it is something that I truly feel and grasp wholeheartedly. And part of me does. But it something that I have to chant to myself over and over again. Consciously telling myself to let go of that need for validation from my family. I need to remind myself of this again and again. I say this to myself every day now. EVERY. DAY. I am coming to terms with my truth. Everyone else will do that on their own terms. And my healing is NOT dependent on their healing. I repeat: my healing is NOT dependent on their healing.
My dad didn’t say much in response to my sharing of my symptoms. He asked some questions to clarify what I meant by losing chunks of time, if i was taking medication, and about how my husband was responding to everything. He then asked when he would see my kids again and all I could tell him was I don’t know. I told him I am playing everything by ear. I left him with some pictures of my kids and their gorgeous smiles and got up to go. We hugged again before leaving. As we embraced there was part of me that wanted to run so fast, part of me felt like I was going to collapse, and part of me wanted to cling to my dad so hard because I miss him so much. Such contradicting emotions that spiraled into one. But my body continued on as if I was fine as usual. I got in the car, buckled my seat belt, and pulled out of the driveway.
As I pulled away from his house, I also left my feelings. Somewhere on that drive that numb switch went all the way on. My body went through the motions of the day like any other day. But I was numb inside. I struggled to find words to anything that had happened. For a week or so I felt like an empty body just going through the motions. I am slowly starting to get some feelings back, but that numb feeling comes in waves. It makes me slightly fearful as to what my body is numbing myself from. What is lurking in the corners of my mind? What emotional tsunami is about to hit after this numbness wears off?
So, although I think I still have a lot to process from this interaction and my mind clearly is still somewhat in shock that I just went through with it, so far I have not completely spiraled into darkness. I’m numb, but I’m not dark. And, for now, I’m thinking that is ok. The gravity of this will probably hit me in doses (hopefully small ones instead of that tsunami) But my dad saw me. He saw me and heard my symptoms. I’m still here. I’m still standing.