Trigger warning for reflections on mental health and parental abandonment.
I have so few memories of my biological father, I can count them on one hand.
I remember going to a circus with him once. I was probably about three years old. And I remember so vividly how special I felt. My dad wanted to spend time with me. It was so unexpected and precious to me, even at that early age, because I knew it didn’t happen often. Already, I had a concept of needing to prove myself to my father. I made sure I behaved perfectly, because I thought the reason he didn’t come to see me, the reason he didn’t live with us, was because I wasn’t good enough. And if I was good enough, he would come see me more often.
I think the next time I saw him, I was four. He took me to a pet store to buy goldfish to feed his piranhas. Then he took me back to his house, where he and a friend drank beer and smoked weed and fell asleep. I wandered around the house. I didn’t know where the bathroom was. Eventually, I wet my pants, and it eventually dried. My dad’s wife came home from work and found me in the dark house- I didn’t know how to turn on the lights or where the switches were-, my dad and his friend still passed out.
I never went to his house again. I saw him only occasionally. He never paid child support. He never came to another birthday party. He came to my high school graduation. I was a ball of tears and anxiety, looking out the window, wondering if he was there. Asking my mother, who had sacrificed her life and her dreams to have me and raise me, if my dad was there, because that’s all I cared about in that moment, and just having her there wasn’t enough. I feel so incredibly guilty about that now. But at the time, when I walked down that aisle with my classmates, praying, “Please. Please be here. Please,” and I saw my father sitting there, I felt validated. I felt like, “This is it. This is proof that he loves me.”
Now that I’m older, I can look back on all of those times and I realize that I was never getting proof that he loved me. Because he doesn’t, and that’s something I accept. What I was looking for, in all of those horrible moments, was proof that I was worthy of love at all.
When a parent rejects you, you don’t see the problem as being with them. You see the problem as being with you. This is something that haunts you for the rest of your life. You carry it around like an open wound, and you try to patch it with little scraps of what appear to be affection. And they never work. It’s like putting a band-aid on an amputated limb.
To give you an idea of how pervasive and insidious this is, let me give you an example of the crazy shit that goes through my head: if I go to a store, doesn’t matter what store. Doesn’t matter for what reason. If I go to the grocery store, and the cashier is a little snippy with me or hell, even if she’s tired and her feet her and she doesn’t want to be there and I get a sense of that, I decide that it’s me. That I am unlikeable. That there is some mark on me, something invisible but that everyone can sense or see, that tells them how broken I am. And I get a paranoid fear that the reason this stranger that I am interacting with knows that my own father rejected me.
That is fucked up, but I know I’m not alone. I know a lot of people, probably even a lot of people who read this blog, feel the same way. Or they don’t know they feel that way, while feeling that way. Because it takes a little while to make that connection. And when you do, you’re like, “Wow. I am way messed up.”
I feel as though there is something broken inside of me, and I should be ashamed of it. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know how to fix it, and the more I think about it, the more angry I get. And I get angry at myself for continuing to exhibit behavior motivated by this need to prove that there’s nothing wrong with me, to prove to everyone that I am worth something, even though I know that if I had never written this blog post, none of you guys would have ever known that my father abandoned me.
I wrote this because today, I had a really bad episode. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but hospitalization was considered. Calls to friends were made to talk me down. And this breakdown was triggered by something I would have thought was completely unrelated to my issues over my father. But in the course of talking to a friend, she said, “Jen, you have a really hard time feeling like a victim.”
Nobody likes feeling like a victim. Nobody likes being a victim. But hearing that sentence, hearing someone say, “Yes, you have been victimized, and it’s okay to acknowledge that,” moved me beyond what I thought was bothering me, to the very root of what was actually causing the problem. And I thought, “if I can’t share that with Troutnation and all my wonderful Troutlandians, then who can I share this with?” Because you guys have always been cool with my sharing my mental health issues, and I’m always down to hear yours, and we can be all sorts of fucked up together.
If Troutnation were an actual place, when you crossed the border there would probably be a sign put up by the tourism commission that says, “Welcome to Troutnation. Come be fucked up together!”
But I digress. I learned a couple really important things today that are going to help me, and I think will be helpful to some of you:
- If someone does something shitty to you? It’s okay to feel like they did something shitty to you. You don’t have to rationalize all the ways you probably deserved it and will continue to deserve it the future.
- Living “in the moment” is only a good thing if the moment is good. If you “live in the moment” and you hit a low time, that’s where those stupid suicide thoughts come in, and nobody wants that. Appreciate the moment, but don’t live in it. Live to see what’s next.
- (I realize three is more than a couple, but this is important) You don’t ever have to forgive anybody. No matter what Oprah says. If forgiving someone is going to be detrimental to your mental health at the moment, you don’t have to do it. Because faking forgiveness and being okay with shit just means everyone else moves on, and you’re still stuck back in the angry spot.
That’s all I’ve got for today.