“It’s no longer that I bitterly wish them ill for all they’ve done (or not done). Time, distance and therapy have resolved those feelings. It’s more that the longer they exist and go about their daily lives in unrepentant silence, the more impossible it is for me to absolve them with ‘Well, they did the best they could.’ Or, ‘They would have made amends if only they’d had more time.’”
This is a self-quote from my latest Skype therapy session with Dr. T., the brilliant, patient and empathetic expert with whom I’ve been working on and off for five years. I was 30 years old and in the midst of a full-blown, third-life crisis the first time I darkened Dr. T’s doorway. Emotionally stunted by a traumatic childhood and a series of toxic relationships that I later came to recognize as replicas of the dysfunctional, yet familiar rapport I experienced with my parents, Dr. T has long provided a safe forum for working out patterns and reaching alternate conclusions. This professional has helped me access and leverage the internal resources I didn’t know I had to chase (and in some cases, even capture) career dreams, eliminate pernicious influences (people) without guilt and begin to build a life that feels healthier and instills me with a pride that lay dormant beneath decades of shame.
Dr. T has also metaphorically (and patiently) held my hand as I learned that it’s far better in the long run to articulate and own feelings that might scare me, rather than tamp them down in favor of a faux moral high road. An observed correlation between a long history of emotional siloing, and the autoimmune diseases that have ravaged my body in recent years (chronic migraines, alopecia, pompholyx eczema) cannot be easily dismissed.
And so with baby steps I’ve learned to cut the bullshit and armor against the judgment of society, in order to set myself free. I’ve reached the point in my rehabilitation, however, where it’s no longer enough to come clean with one person staring back at me through a computer monitor. The holidays are barreling down upon us and they bring accessories with them:family get togethers and celebrations, gift/wish lists and hoards of cheesy, yet delightful decorations. Yesterday, I shared my annual holiday desire with Dr. T. Now I’m ready to share it with the world.
I want to be free of my parents and their long run of disregard for the messes they made. I haven’t seen my mother in nearly 13 years. My father and I have been estranged for five, a decision self-imposed for a number of protective reasons. Yet physical distance from these two architects of misery, humiliation and pain has not been quite enough to allow for proper resolution and context. The number of medications I take to combat the perpetual fight or flight response my body doesn’t comprehend as contemporarily unnecessary, tells the story. As does the frequency with which I see them in my dreams, waking up in a cold sweat while I breathe deeply and remind myself that the threat has been neutralized. And the renewed sense of loss and sadness I experience upon recollecting that they don’t expend nearly the same energy and resources thinking about the children they brought into the world, as those grown kids do in attempting to heal from their mismanagement.
My mother fled from the two young adults she raised without ever a second’s glance backward, leaving in her wake a trail of stolen identity, police reports and a mountain of debt. Occasional online searches (the power and tyranny of Google) turn up that she is alive and well in another distant down, living off the proceeds of a legal settlement that reeks of the fraud she perpetuated throughout our acquaintance.
My father is a slightly different case, less sociopath than a truly mentally ill person, incapable of viewing situations as a normally functioning person might. And thus unable to stick to a treatment plan. Thereby unable to make solid decisions about marriage and parenthood, making his choice of mate the more unfortunate for the helpless babies left to go it alone. Underfed, underloved and raised in the most physically and psychologically dangerous conditions, those little girls deserved better. Yet by clinging to each other with a shared tunnel vision of escape, the frightened youngsters that my sister and I once were grew into responsible, successful adults determined to break the cycle.
I’m ready for that story to be over. But can the book really close while my mother and father still breathe, still avoid responsibility for themselves and the lives they created? And what does it say about me that my annual holiday wish is to bid them a final adieu, to exhale the breath I’ve been holding for three decades? To be able to say “Well, they did the best they could.” Or, “They would have made amends if only they’d had more time?”