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Sunday, 20 October 2013

THIS WEEK IN THERAPY: DADDY ISSUES

This week in therapy we began to delve into the world of “Daddy Issues”.  Like most girls/people, I have unresolved issue with my father and my therapist, like the jerk that she is (just kidding, I love her!  She is amazing!!!!), is making me face them and deal with them – the nerve!

As you may know from my profile in The Subject, I had my first contact with my father when I was 11 years old.  Up to that point, he had been a fantasy in my mind.  I thought about him constantly as a child.  He didn’t come up much, but I knew a little about him.  I knew that he had a new family and I had three brothers.  He lived in Ontario, but not close enough to visit easily (especially without a car).  He was born in New Brunswick and met my mother in Oshawa, where they both worked.  We kept in touch with his mother and she always sent very nice letters and Christmas cards.  Though I never met her in person, she never forgot about me and I felt such warmth and love whenever I received something from her.  I was her granddaughter and I was important to her.

In grade 2, I used to write in my journal about the weekends I would spend at my father’s farm.  We would go horseback riding and I would play with the dogs he kept there.  One day, my second grade teacher handed back my journal and asked me if what I wrote about was true.  I responded with an emphatic “yes” and was indignant that she had the gall to question the veracity of my entries.  Now, if you are even remotely good at math, you can probably figure that unless I was left back a number of times, I would not be 11 years old in grade 2.  All the entries were false and looking back now, knowing what I do about teachers, she probably would have known that I didn’t have contact with my father – which was why she asked.  But, she didn’t press me any further and let me continue to write about my weekend adventures with my dad – a kindness on her part.

In grade 3, we had to do a project on a Canadian province.  I picked New Brunswick.  It was a place I was longing to go.  My grandmother lived there and that was where my father grew up.  I can still remember the project vividly.  I wrote to the provincial government (this was long before the internet), asking for as much information as possible.  They sent me the provincial pin and a book filled with pictures and historical information.  I can’t recall ever working so hard on a project again. 

Needless to say, I had a very romanticized image of my father and longed for the day that he would ride in like a knight in shining armour and take me away with him and we would live happily ever after (I have a whole other rant on how fairy tales rot children’s minds, but I’ll save that for another day).  When I finally met him in person, I was 12 years old.  Like most fantasies, he did not live up to expectations.  I was crushed.  My mother didn’t help the matter by filling my head with stories about my father: he was an alcoholic, - be careful about getting in a car with him; he was a drug addict – watch out; he may try to touch you – here is a quarter in case you need to call for help; if anyone tries anything or you feel unsafe – run away!  This would make any kid feel super about going to spend time with a man who was a complete stranger other than the fact that he contributed half of the DNA I carry.  It didn’t help that my father also had a thick accent that kind of made him sound like he was drunk all time.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized that he hadn’t been drinking, that was just the way he talked.  I was 12, what did I know, except what my mother told me and I was still too young to realize the true intentions behind my mother’s words.

I think I only saw my father 5 times in my entire life.  He did struggle with drugs and alcohol, but to a much lesser extent than my mother made out (or used herself) – which is something that age and wisdom has brought to light, much too late to make a difference, as is often the case.  My communication with my dad was sporadic at best.  When I was 16, my mother took my father to court to pay greater child support.  A spiteful gesture, since we were on welfare and any extra money we received from my father was deducted from the monthly cheque my mother received from the government, so the end result was just a greater strain on my father’s finances and our relationship.  My father’s lawyer demanded a paternity test, claiming that there was no proof I was actually his child.  Looking back now, I have to wonder how much adults consider the feelings of the children in cases like this.  I still remember the room where the test took place.  I secretly wished that I might not be his daughter.  I was still very angry at this time and even angrier that he was claiming that I might not be his.  If I wasn’t his, the fantasy of my childhood may still be true.  Perhaps there was a man out there with a farm and horses that would come take me away.  (Any wonder why Les Miserables is my favourite musical of all time?!)  But no, it was definitively proven that I was his offspring.  A disappointing result for us both at that juncture of our relationship.

It wasn’t until I moved away to university that my father and I began to resolve our issues and move past the anger.  My father started making a greater effort to keep in contact (at least for a while) and I was ready to forgive and let him into my life.  In my first year, he called me to tell me how he was reforming his life and making a real effort to be a better man.  I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I have the letter I wrote to him in response which was filled with love, hope and forgiveness.  The day my dad received the letter, he left me a beautiful voicemail message on my machine and I took an MP3 recording of it, for which I am extremely thankful.  It has been a comfort to this day.

Here is my most cherished portion of the message:

Two years of sporadic contact followed that message.  I was wrapped up in university life, working and becoming an adult, but the contact we did have was happy and filled with love.  I finally had the beginnings of a relationship with my father.

It was January 2004, I was snuggled in my room watching a movie with my roommate when I got the call that my father had died suddenly of a stroke in the middle of the night.

I have never fully dealt with the grief of that loss.  I didn’t think I was allowed to feel as emotionally destroyed as I did.  I barely knew the man.  It had been 4 years since I had seen him in person when he passed and I only had contact with him for ten.  My brothers had known and lived with him their entire lives.  They should be destroyed.  What right did I have?  So I carried on.  I pushed my feelings to the side and kept going.

The real truth is, I had as much right as anyone else to grieve.  He was my father and he was taken away from me before I could even really get to know him.  My brother marks the day of his passing with memories on Facebook each year.  The void left by the loss of our father has never lessened in his life.  My dad wasn’t the man my mother made him out to be; he couldn’t have been.  If he had been, my brother wouldn’t still mourn his passing as he does.  There was good in him - and love.  That was the part I never truly got to know.  When life had finally begun to afford me the chance, he was torn away from me – suddenly, unexpectedly and without apology.

Now, through the guidance of my therapist, these emotions are being summoned to the surface to wash over me in the waves of pain and anguish that have lain dormant since his passing.  He was 54 when he died.  I always expected that there was so much time to grow and develop a relationship with him.  Life, in her cruelty, said different.  My entire life I had been dreaming of a dad who would love me and protect me.  Finally, I was beginning to build that with my own father and let go of the anger I felt before he was taken.  As my therapist puts it, the fight or flight survival mechanism was triggered by this event.  Time was viscerally real.  I could feel it slipping away and I had to beat it.  There were so many things I wanted in life and who knows when death would come calling again.  I’ve been running since that point; never stopping to feel the loss.

In her ever so frustrating fashion, my therapist has made me prominently and ceremoniously display a memory of my father in my apartment (much like the word “entitlement” a couple weeks ago).  I had put a picture of us up last year (I went to visit one of my brothers out west and he had found photos from when we were kids at Niagara Falls).  I said that I had already done that, but she insisted that I make a ceremony out of it and put it next to the images she gave me representing the neglected child within.  The thought of this nearly made me vomit (which is a good thing in therapy evidently) – it meant that we were touching the root of the issue. 

It took me about 3 hours once I got home to actually do it.  After many bouts of the most intense sobbing I have ever experienced, I was finally able to pull myself out of the puddle of snot, drool and tears (terrible band name), dry off and move the picture.  I still have a hard time looking at it.  I can feel its presence next to me as I type and the thought brings tears to my eyes.  The lost little girl inside cries and begs “why, why did you have to go and leave me all alone?  I’m so scared and there is no one to protect me.”  I guess that’s the root of it.  I feel so small just thinking about it. 

Art by Angelina Wiona
The longing to not be alone is probably the most common theme in my life (and I think the lives of many people).  Though, even when I was in a relationship I still felt very alone.  The only thing that keeps me alone are the walls that I’ve built within me that keep the bad feelings from rising to the surface.  But much like real walls, they may cage the bad things on the inside, but they also prevent the good things on the outside from getting in (and the trouble with that is that I’m on the inside).  Since starting my journey with my therapist, I have been fortunate enough that she came with an emotional jackhammer and has been making incredible progress in the demolition of these walls.  It doesn’t come without its price, but like any renovation, once it’s done, I’ll have a shiny new inside to share with the world.  And yes, there are bad things on the outside that are trying to get in as well and my new vulnerability may lead to more hurt, but as long as the walls stay down, the hurt can go out just as easily as it came in (and being open and vulnerable is the only way to let the good in – and who knows, maybe someone will come along and want to stay).

This week’s therapy was definitely a rough one (which usually means we’re making progress).  I am thankful that I am taking this year off.  It is allowing me the emotional freedom to dredge up all these buried emotions and deal with them without the complications of another relationship in the mix. 

For those readers who are also feeling alone and a little lost, I highly recommend seeing a psychotherapist (these are the people who don’t prescribe drugs – medicating is rarely the answer and if necessary, should be done along with the work with a psychotherapist).  Make sure you find someone you have a connection with and who understands you when you speak.  Don’t feel bad about trying a few out before settling on the right one.  It is a very personal relationship and you should feel comfortable in it (you will be sharing your deepest darkest secrets after all).

If you are interested in seeing my therapist, she is taking new patients.  She can be reached at alyssa.psyche@gmail.com - Alyssa Steventon .  She is truly wonderful!!

Until next week…

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