All my life I’ve heard some variation of “you’re strong; you’ll get through it.” And the more I get through, the longer I survive, the stronger I get, the more proof people have that this is true. Somehow it’s also more evidence that they can leave me alone, that I don’t need their help, that I’ll be able to figure things out on my own, that I’ll get to the other side with minimal intervention from anyone else.
It’s the explanation I got when I had a brain tumor removed and some people showed up but others stayed away.
It’s the explanation I got when I went through (and get as I continue to go through) a harrowing parental alienation situation with one of my sons.
It’s the explanation I got when Jack died and at every step during the prolonged grief I’ve experienced.
It’s the explanation I’ve received when I’ve struggled with my sobriety and wanted to drink or skip the drinking part (which I know would lead to my death) and simply kill myself.
And I get it. I’m strong. I present as though I don’t need any help.
But for weeks and months now I’ve been telling people, both in and out of recovery that, no, I really do need help. Not monetary help, which of course always helps, but moral, emotional, physical.
And no one believes me.
Well, one person believes me. She knows who she is. And she’s been the one person who prevents me from feeling as though I’m losing my mind sometimes. If not for her, I’d think I was just a worthless person whom absolutely no one cared for. Which helps with what comes ahead.
When no one believes you when you say you’re hurting, even though you tell them time and time again, it causes the pain to increase almost exponentially. It also adds loneliness into the factors you have to deal with. You begin to isolate if you haven’t already, and it hurts to go outside. It’s excruciating to put on the mask of a normal person. And this is even when you’re getting counseling and psychiatric care and both your therapist and your psychiatrist assure you repeatedly that the way you are handling the excessive stress and repeated trauma in your life is precisely how a “normal” person would be handling those things and that the overloading of your sensory processing systems (your internal hard drive repeatedly crashing, as it were) is exactly what would be expected, even if you were “normal.”
It’s during such a constant manual rebooting process of my internal hard drive (otherwise known as “it’s a constant struggle for me to keep my shit together and not cry every time I step out of the moment I’m in and think what a disaster my life is”) that I have a couple of fruitful money-making days and decide to spend most of the money I have in my bank account to fly to Chicago during the time my dad’s in town for my grandmother’s birthday. My younger son likes seeing them both, and I figure that not many kids his age get to know their great-grandparents. But not everything (read: nothing) goes off as I’d expected.
First, my son is 14 and has taken up hating me as a hobby, if not an Olympic sport. If he won’t earn a silver medal this year, he’ll at least earn a bronze. And by the time he’s a freshman in high school I think he’ll be a five-time gold medal winner in not only hating me but biting sarcasm, twisting things I say, lobbing unfair accusations, and Pot Meet Kettle. The cute little boy he once was has been possessed by someone I hardly recognize. I keep telling him I know that sweet kid is still inside of him, but I’m fairly certain he masticated that kid (with gusto) along with a bowl of multi-grain Cheerios one morning before I’d even thought about getting up for the day.
Needless to say, the actually pleasant times between us were minimal and confined to the equivalent of tandem play among toddlers: the two of us sitting on the couch with shoulders and hips touching while we fiddled around on our respective devices. When I tried to get him to interact with me by playing games on my iPad, he threw temper tantrums when he lost and accused me of throwing the game when he won. He was pleasant to every adult except me. By the time he left, I was both glad to see him go and in mourning that he couldn’t stay longer, as our time together is always so short.
I stayed a day longer than I should have. (A day longer than I was supposed to, but in the end they were the same thing.) The airline had sent me an email saying I should really, really, really (they didn’t use that many “really”s but they did make it seem dire) reschedule my Monday flight to Tuesday due to the snowstorm hitting Chicago. I (mistakenly, as it turns out) thought my dad and grandmother would be happy to spend an extra day with me, so I switched my ticket.
I shouldn’t have.
Because even if my flight had been canceled (it was the last one of the day), spending the night in the airport would have been preferable to the day and night (and morning) I experienced instead.
It wasn’t that obvious until my son left, but my dad almost completely ignored me during my entire visit. And it was patently clear on Monday, when I was ignored when he went out for food, talked over me in conversation, and went to watch the game in the basement at 7:30pm… and just stayed there. No goodnight. No I’ll see you in the morning. Just nothing at all.
It was such a stark change toward how he’d been toward me in all of the other times I’d seen him in the years since I’ve made my amends. And I don’t know what I’d done wrong.
So I spent a couple of hours sitting on my grandma’s couch crying, looking out onto the street, feeling like I was a little girl all over again, waiting for her dad to come home from work but instead he didn’t care about her and was out at a bar drinking and didn’t know how much she really needed him.
(The irony being my dad was drinking in the basement this time around, and the house in which I used to look out of the window, waiting for hours, when I was a little girl, was literally only five blocks down the street.)
Eventually I got up and took a shower, first collapsing on the floor because my legs weren’t strong enough anymore and crying into a towel, remembering when I did that as a little girl and I would tell myself I’d be a grownup when I learned how to cry without making noise. It’s been a long damn time since I’ve cried into a towel, but there I was, doing it again, at the same time I should have been flying home.
Sometime before I actually got sleepy—around 3am, a mere 5 hours before my aunt would show up to take us to the airport—I actually checked the prices of an Uber to see if I could just take off in the middle of the night, leaving an acerbic note behind. But the cost was (predictably) more than I could afford—those fruitful days at work were followed by a day in which I got assaulted by a client and I couldn’t work at all in the four days (and 6 shifts) I was scheduled leading up to my departure)—so I cried myself to sleep.
The morning wasn’t much different. When we stopped at a convenience store for my dad to get a paper, I broke down and confided in my aunt, but I pulled it back together by the time my dad got back in the car. A drive to the airport wasn’t the time to confront him. At the airport he didn’t get out of the car to hug me goodbye, adding insult to injury.
I still don’t know what I’ve done wrong.
I wish I’d never spent that money. I wish I’d gone with the original plan of taking a bus to Chicago for Thanksgiving for half the cost. I’d have seen my son for two additional days, and I’d have had the chance to spend time with friends instead of being isolated in the suburbs. I would have felt uplifted, appreciated, wanted. I wouldn’t have returned to NYC feeling like a child who’d lost her father all over again after she’d just spent nine years repairing her relationship with him.
As a mother, I can’t think of anything my sons could do that would make me treat them the way my father treated me this past weekend. Ok, maybe if they were serial killers or serial rapists. Even then, I’d talk to them. I’d let them know that I was disappointed in their actions and horrified by what they’d done, but that I would always be there for them as their mother—not to agree with them, but to just be there.
I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t raped anyone. I may not be living the most moral of lives, but I’m not even engaging in illegal behavior. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I don’t sleep around. (I’m practically celibate.)
And what else I am: in need of a tremendous amount of love and moral support.
Which he would have known if he would have asked how I was doing, what my life was like, or if I needed anything.
But he didn’t. Because he didn’t talk to me at all.
Over the last several years, I’ve received countless phone calls from relatives begging me to do something about my father’s drinking. I guess as a sober person, I’m the logical one to go to. Other than one time sending him information, I haven’t spoken to him about the subject at all. And I won’t. And I tell people this when they ask me to intervene. Because I’ve accepted him as he is. If he wants to continue drinking, despite the health consequences, that’s what he’s going to do. When he wants to stop drinking—if that ever happens—he’ll stop drinking. I personally don’t have a vested interest one way or another. Of course I hope he chooses to stop drinking, since I see how much pain it causes people who love him. But it doesn’t hurt me. Not anymore. I get why he does it. I don’t blame him. If I could get away with it like he does, I’d probably do it too.
The point is that I’ve accepted him. I don’t interfere. I love him despite his choices.
The only thing I’ve ever wanted from my father is for him to tell me he’s proud of me. He never has. He’s apparently told other people. But he’s never told me.
After this weekend, I think I’m done trying.
All this time, I thought if I could just be successful in NYC, he’d be proud of me.
Well, I’ve failed.
The city’s eaten me up.
As of Monday I’ll be homeless.
And I know that I said that if that happened it would only be the middle of the story.
But it doesn’t feel like it.
It feels like the end.
It feels like I’ve failed someone.
Maybe that someone is my father. Maybe it’s my son. Maybe it’s myself. Maybe it’s an imaginary person I’ve created in my head. Maybe it’s every person I know who’s expected me to fail all along.
I don’t know. But it makes me sick to my stomach.
Which I guess is a good thing, because I don’t have any money for food anyhow. (You see, SNAP benefits require proof of address, and since my roommate skipped out on me, I have no way of proving I live anywhere. I’ve tried explaining my situation to both a case worker and the appeals person, but they don’t understand. Denied!)
So I’m done.
I have a place to stay for a couple of weeks. It’s just a stop-gap measure, though. My life’s a disaster. And I don’t even know what I did to get here.
Back to the beginning.
I have upwards of 750 friends on Facebook. I’m in a group of sober people that includes more than 1,200 members. And another one with more than 1,000. Not one of them has answered my call for help in packing. Or loading a truck.
These people know I have fibromyalgia and suffer from chronic pain.
They know I cannot afford to pay for movers.
So tonight I spent 5 hours packing up boxes for a free “storage taxi” that my storage space offers to bring things there. I’m praying that I don’t owe money when we get there with my 20 bankers boxes and two cabinets and two storage bins and misc. camping equipment because I don’t have it. I have literally $4 in my bank account. Which is going to make moving the rest of my stuff into storage on Monday very interesting, unless work is fruitful on Saturday and Sunday (it better be or I’m going to tear my hair out).
And between tomorrow and Saturday night, I have to pack everything else up.
Because apparently that’s how I do things.
Because I’m strong.
And I don’t need help.
And everyone thinks I’ll be okay.
Until I’m not.
And right now I’m really, really not.
I’m as close to a breaking point as I’ve ever been.
I’m not suicidal. Let’s get that one out of the way.
But certain thoughts do creep in.
I wouldn’t mind if someone pushed me in front of a subway train. Or a bus. It would be a relief.
I wouldn’t mind dying in my sleep from some undiagnosed heart condition or a brain aneurysm. Then I wouldn’t have to fucking struggle so hard.
Except no one knows where I live. And there is no one who cares enough to regularly check up on me. So it would take a very long time for anyone to notice I was missing and even longer to realize I was dead. This is an extremely depressing thought.
In fact, anyone reading this who is unconvinced by my assertion that I’m not suicidal (I’m not; I wouldn’t do that to my son) would be unable to send someone out to do a well being check. Not even my family knows where I live. They only have my mailing address, a PO Box at the main post office near Penn Station.
I’m rambling now, but I think you get.
I’m sad. I feel alone. I’m tired of trying so hard and getting nothing in return. I feel lost and as though I have lost. I feel like a failure. I’m hungry and in pain, both physically and psychically. I need help that never comes. I want it all to stop but I won’t be the one to end it.
And, finally, I cannot see how I wasn’t lying to myself all along, how this isn’t actually the end of the story and not the middle. Because it sure does feel like the end to me.