I’ve been struggling for a week now about writing this post. In the past, I’ve kept my problems and my anxieties mostly off this space, kept them to myself. But one of the things I’m learning is that bottling these experiences up leads to shame and recrimination and self-loathing, and I’ve got plenty of all of that, thanks, so I’ve been trying to be more open, and so far I’ve been met almost unanimously with support, and with a heartbreaking yet also extraordinarily validating number of people saying, “Yes, me too, I’ve had the same experiences.”
I’ve talked before about my dad’s declining health, and I’ve touched upon the fact that he and I have never had a relationship that could be considered either good or uncomplicated. On Tuesday morning, my mom and I met with the hospice people to talk about transitioning my dad off dialysis so that he can (hopefully) die relatively peacefully at home. It’s something that I think is the best scenario for everyone involved, my dad included, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been easy.
The hospice people say they’ll do everything they can to make the transition a smooth and painless one, and I believe them. I hope they’re right, and that “everything they can” turns out to be a lot. Unfortunately, there’s no clear time frame for something like this. It could take days, or it could take months, and in the meantime it’s fraught with landmines of painful minutiae. As just an example, after meeting with the hospice people, my brother and I went back to my parents’ house and painstakingly unloaded and hid every gun that my dad owned, boxed up the ammo and sent it home with my brother. This at the urging of the nurses, who tell us that, in his state, there’s a very real danger that, if my dad got hold of a loaded gun, he might hurt my mom or himself or someone else, possibly without even knowing what he was doing.
And yet, that’s still just the easy-to-explain tip of the vast, complicated, messy, confusing, and very difficult-to-explain iceberg of what I’ve been dealing with for the past few weeks. I’ve said before that my relationship with my dad was never good, and that’s true. As a child, he made me feel worthless, as though nothing I ever did or liked or wanted or cared about mattered at all. He never showed me any affection in any way that I could understand. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to accept how much of the anxieties and the feelings of depression and shame that I struggle with can be traced back to him, and more recently yet that I’ve come to understand the extent to which he did the same things to my mom and my older brothers.
Dealing with all of this has led to panic attacks, at least one of which was severe enough that it probably qualifies as some sort of dissociative state. I’ve never slept well, and the last few weeks it’s been worse. It doesn’t help that the sleeping pills that were helping have recently become prohibitively expensive, so I’ve been trying to switch medications, searching for a reasonable substitute that will do the job adequately.
And even that isn’t anything like the whole story. I’ve also been recovering memories of sexual trauma that I experienced as a very young child, memories that I had very carefully repressed, boxed up, and dutifully ignored for pretty much my entire life, until they became blind spots in my mind, ones that I couldn’t look directly at and that I never told a single person about until a few days ago. I don’t want to go into any details, and I don’t think that doing so would do any good, but suffice it to say that I was sexualized at a much too early age, and not given the tools or support that I needed to cope with those experiences, which led to repeated inappropriate encounters and my being taken advantage of, seldom, if ever, by adults, at least that I can remember now, but usually by older kids.
Recovering these memories has been painful and confusing and terrifying. When I think about them, though they happened decades ago, they are so visceral and immediate that I have the same physical reaction as if they were happening to me again right now, regardless of my actual physical surroundings. And yet, at the same time, remembering them has already begun to help me. They’re the missing piece of a puzzle—really, a lot of puzzles—that have never made much sense to me until now.
While the memories have nothing overtly to do with my father, thematically, they resonate very strongly. Like him, they made me feel worthless, like I deserved to have bad things happen to me, like affection was a commodity that I had to trade something for. They made me feel like anything I wanted was bad, that it would ultimately hurt someone else, or be used by someone else to hurt me. They made me feel alone, and ashamed, and like it was my fault.
This time has been very difficult, and I imagine that the difficult times are not yet behind me, by any means. But I’m seeing a very good therapist, and trying some new anxiety meds that are already doing wonders. I’m learning coping strategies, and little things I can do to take care of myself. I have a supportive and loving wife, and a vast network of incredibly generous friends. I believe that I will come out of the other side of this better able to care for myself than when I went in.
As I’ve said, this is all normally the kind of thing that I would keep to myself, and putting it out here is a very frightening experience, but I’m doing so for a number of reasons. Partly, because trying to explain it again and again is very painful, so I’m hoping to explain it once, and then point any future explanations back here. Mostly, because I think that a lot of us tend to hide these things, keep them secret, and that doing so only contributes to our feelings of shame and worthlessness. I want anyone else who might read this who has ever gone through anything similar, or anything else that made them feel these sorts of ways, to know that they’re not alone, and that they can reach out for help. I want to convince everyone—myself included—that you’re not worthless, and that you don’t deserve to be hurt, and that in spite of what’s happened to you, you can still have the chance at a rich and full and joyous life complete, in my case, with comic books and monster movies and whatever other “silly” things make you happy, even though it may not feel like it right now.