Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Remembering my father and the gift he gave me in 1982 / An unexpected reunion

This early morning I was moved to tears, suddenly aware as I had never been before, of the thoughtfulness of my father in planning a trip to New York City and Washington, D.C., after I graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in English Literature and Studio Art in 1982. 

In 1984, my father had a massive stroke which resulted in a dramatic personality change.  Previous to that he had never shown or expressed how he felt -- a man of few words.  After his stroke, he cried easily and said things that were honest but insensitive and deeply hurtful.  

After my mother died in 1994, my relationship with my father was extraordinarily painful.  Because I  am the oldest of three sisters, it was determined by his siblings that he would come to live here in Bellingham and that I would be the one responsible for looking out for him.  I had no idea how difficult and emotionally painful the next 9 years would be.  My sense of failure as a daughter and human being was devastating.

It is occurring to me now that it was not easy for him either.

In 1982,  I was still suffering from bulimia and in an unhappy marriage, still 2 years away from leaving that marriage and 5 years away from lasting eating disorder recovery, still like my father prior to his stroke -- unable to show or express myself honestly, feeling like a victim, and suffering in a way that was not clearly visible to most people but which was eating me alive from the inside.

Fortunately, I didn't have to experience a stroke to come to a point where I could begin to show and express my true feelings.  1987 was only a bare beginning.  I cried and cried, beginning in 1987.  I was suddenly in touch with anger toward my parents and pushed them away.  They were surprised and hurt.  I didn't care, anymore than a toddler would care.

It has occurred to me that in some odd way, my emotional development had stopped when I became a toddler and dared to say "NO!" and began to be beaten and shamed.  I remember being a toddler.  In order to try to avoid being beaten and shamed, I learned to never say "No" and to try with all my tiny might to please them so that they wouldn't hit or shame me.  Because my attempts were futile, I began to comfort myself with food.  I learned that my tiny self was unacceptable to them and determined that not being myself was the key to survival.

Now I can see that neither of my parents felt safe being who they were, and I can see the pain that caused them throughout their lives.  It occurs to me that this pattern is intergenerational.  I come from people who did not feel safe in the world, even in their own families.  

This morning I am grateful for whatever it was in 1984 that gave me the courage to leave my marriage and whatever it was in 1987 that turned the tide for me so that I became free of bulimia and binging on food for relief of what I now see as intergenerational trauma.  My parents were never free to be themselves in the way I am today.  This has not been an easy road.  I am not completely free but have come a long way.

When I started writing this post, I thought that I had little to say.  Much has been revealed to me this morning.

Becoming my true self is an ongoing process, possibly never-ending.

I do remember the exhilarating feeling I had in New York City in 1982, of getting in touch with what I saw as a mysterious untapped "wild part of me" that would lead to the healing I took birth for, that would eventually lead to renewed contact with my creative spirit. 

The excruciating years between 1994 and 2003 were a replay of my childhood.  I regressed emotionally to that toddler who didn't dare to be herself but this time I wasn't turning to food for relief.  I  experienced all the painful feelings that were unbearable to a tiny child.

Today I am seeing, for the first time, the positive and crucial part my father played in my healing when he gave me the gift of that journey to New York City and Washington, D.C., in 1982, where I was reunited with the wild and free child within me.


Anonymous said...

This is such a heartbreaking and revelatory post, am. Writing down the words of your memories is good and helps with the ongoing lifelong journey of healing. The past is always with us, but so are our dreams.

Pixie said...

So many people, myself included, seem to get stuck when their first trauma happened. I had no idea you had dealt with all that you had to deal with and I'm so sorry it happened. I think writing it out helps. I know it does for me. I know my parents were not the best parents, nor was I, but they tried and so did I. Families inflict so much pain on each other, or at least a lot of families do. There are families that are loving and supportive and I hope that they grow in number.

I'm glad things changed for you, glad that you learned how to stop hurting yourself. We are all works in progress, aren't we?

Sending hugs.

am said...

Robin -- Healing and dreams. Just woke up from a healing dream that made me smile and gave me an idea for the center of the next mandala. A kite!

Pixie -- Thank you for hearing me in the way you did and for commenting and for the hugs. That is so true about all of us being works in progress.

Sabine said...

Such an honest journey you have told us. I just realised today that my mother died 22 years ago this week and that I am still spending so much time thinking of her, seeing her.

Colette said...

I'm just catching up and see that I missed this extraordinary post. Healing is a life's work. You are a gentle warrior.