Remembering

Edit: I opened it because Tuesday was too long to wait! It was actually a really warm and K-like message inside, with love and kisses and a sense of actually knowing who I am! She also said she hopes I am okay – it must be so weird for her not knowing. I would find it weird to be her.

A birthday card from K arrived this morning. “What happens if K doesn’t send a card?” I asked R on Wednesday. He said she wouldn’t send one, because she wouldn’t want to muddy the boundaries. I thought she would though, because to not would be really weird after all the years of cards and gifts for my birthday. And I sent her a card back in March even after the weird/unsettling/cold/abrupt email thing. We have a whole shoe box full of cards she’s given us and that we have made together for spring and winter solstice and things. Last year she posted a book she had got for us. It was a copy of her favourite ever book that we had read together lots of times, about a kitten who is abandoned and then taken in by a new family. It would have been very sad if she had forgotten or decided not to send a card this year. As it is, it feels like the light is still on for us.

Likely it won’t be the warmest of messages (I’ll find out on Tuesday!) but it is comforting that she remembered and that she didn’t decide not to send a card because I’m not in therapy right now. And in some ways it is easier this year that I am not in therapy with her but unable to get to her because of the pandemic. My birthday last year was awful for numerous reasons. I was meant to have a double therapy session on the day, which we were all really looking forward to because therapy was nice then and nice times didn’t trigger us anymore (therapy on my birthday the first year I worked with K was so painfully triggering and awful and I ended up self-harming in the bath in the evening). We were looking forward to two hours in nature together. As it was, it was therapy on a screen and she brought the dogs to see us and tried so hard to be there, but we just couldn’t feel any of it. So I guess this year will be better?

There is something huge I need to write about – I saw a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder (ADHD) a couple of weeks ago. It is huge and things have been quite a rollercoaster since then, learning more about the condition and seeing how pervasively it affects my life (and interestingly has got worse since healing more complex trauma and dissocation). I have started writing about it, but haven’t had chance to finish. It doesn’t feel urgent and I am just settling into it and getting my head round it.

Anyway, I do miss K a lot this past few days. I felt like I was drifting further and further away from her earlier this week but then after acupuncture on Wednesday I got hit by huge waves of grief again, just needing her to help me work out what to do about Nina’s ADHD assessment and treatment (the NHS waiting times are frankly ridiculous, but taking her privately is stupidly expensive) and to help me hold all I am discovering about myself. R said the treatment likely unblocked all the grief I was holding. I felt loads better yesterday though, so I’m glad it came. Maybe I just need a mum right now, with all that is going on!

Overwhelm

I feel like I am about to totally lose my mind. I don’t want to live like this anymore, constantly trying to find and keep my balance while lurching dangerously close to the precipice. I crave structure and routine and stability and yet I can’t seem to find any even when I have the opportunity to give it to myself.

Inside me is such emptiness, such darkness. I long for K to steady me again, help me get back on my feet. There is an ache in me that only she can soothe, a chaos in me that only she can settle. I am longing for something I cannot name and I don’t feel as though I will ever be full. I am empty.

I am also trying desperately to stave off overwhelm. Life feels so crowded. There is no space for me inside my head. Time off work so often feels more overwhelming than being at work, because there are a million things I put off doing while the weeks disappear in a blur and then here is the time to do them and it is all too much. We need to sort out adopting a bunny for Rainbow, Nina needs new clothes as nothing fits which requires hours of trawling through Depop with her, jobs need doing at home, stuff needs sorting out, a broken trampoline needs dismantling, the washer dryer isn’t working, there are people I need to see. I cannot get on top of things. Everything feels chaotic. There is always too much to do. Just daily life takes everything out of me. I need so much time between things so as not to become overwhelmed and overstimulated and that really reduces the time available to get things done and do nice things I enjoy. There is no time for anything extra.

I spent yesterday stripping wallpaper with a friend because I am paying someone next week to do some tiling in my kitchen/living area where there was revolting wallpaper since we moved in. Tomorrow I have to go to two different hardware stores as well as get passport photos to renew my driving licence and then drive 35 minutes to a colleague’s house because he is kindly replacing the smashed screen on Nina’s iPhone for the cost of the screen (£45) instead of the £150 apple would charge. That’s another day of my leave gone. It feels like I never get enough time to do nice things but when I do have time I don’t do the nice things anyway because my brain is full and I just need to lie in a dark and quiet room.

I am trying so hard to focus on one day at a time but I just don’t want to live like this anymore. I am so tired of holding so much. I feel overwhelmed nearly all the time. I’ve been so excited Nina will be restarting swimming next week as she has missed it so much and it is so good for her body and mind and self-esteem. But when her swimming club confirmed times for training I could feel myself spiralling. It will be till 9.30pm Wed, Thurs and Fri from next week, and then Sundays till 6pm. Before this lockdown it was only Wed, Fri and Sun and that extra night has sent me over the edge. Of course she could not do the Thursday, but also I want her to go because teens need exercise and ADHD-teens more than most.

The situation with my dad feels stressful and never-ending. I am tired of trying to navigate around toxic people. I wrote last autumn about my brother being in a really bad place and my sister asking me if I could see him (see here and here). Nina and him have been in touch on Whatsapp for a few months now but he is talking about meeting up now lockdown has lifted and I just don’t know what to do. It brings my mum so dangerously close again. Without K I don’t know if I have the strength to navigate that as well as my dad and parenting and every other fucking thing.

I just want K. I cannot see how I will find my way through all this without the structure and stability she provides. Talking to R is not the same. It doesn’t feel contained in the same way. And also – how long till he goes away too? Lockdown will ease and he will be able to see more clients again and he will be able to go away and he won’t have time for me. He will leave me like K has but even when he is here it is not enough. Nothing is or ever will be.

I feel as though the ground is swallowing me. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard I try, I cannot feel on top of life. Inside and outside feel totally chaotic and I don’t want to do this anymore. I am tired of having to make such big decisions and having so much in my head all the time.

I am scared I will never stop self-harming. It’s getting worse and my legs hurt all the time and I don’t understand why this behaviour is worse than it’s ever been after I’ve healed so much. I don’t want to stop but I want to want to stop. I am nearly 38.

Losing K this year is enough. I just want everything else to go away.

What now?

I sent the email to my dad at 18.18 this evening. He replied at 19.20. The amount of time that elapsed between me hitting send and him replying says it all really. He just doesn’t get it at all. Not even a little bit.

He was pretty affable in the email. He thanked me, said he’s taken it on board although doesn’t agree with some of what I said and maintains he is not critical of Nina (wtf!). He said he’s been worried about their relationship for a while, but he attributes that to her having ‘outgrown him’ as she is 14 and he is 60 and ‘what teenage girl really wants to spend time with a 60 year old granddad?’ He cannot see how problematic how he is with her is, how every word he says to her is critical and judgemental and belittling and mean. He says he will ‘back off’ about his worries about her but thinks he has been supportive and encouraging of her. Again, wtf! It is scary that he can’t see it at all and so he will not change. I thought he would at least try to be different and then be better for a while, but ultimately be unable to change (like when I vow never to lose my temper again – realistically this is just not possible right now with the place I am in with my healing – and because I am human – but at least I can see it is a problem and it is not okay when I behave like that).

Maybe this is the beginning of a shift. Maybe I have sown some seeds. Maybe he will reflect. I honestly really doubt it though. I think this is the beginning of the end. The beginning of me accepting that he will never be able to look inside himself and see how he is and he will die with this gulf between us because he cannot let down his defences. I don’t mean that he is choosing not to, but that I don’t think he can. I don’t think he is able to. I think they are him. This is the thing with OCPD and NPD (I hate labels, but these two help me understand him, just as NPD/BPD have helped me make sense of my mum), typically the person themselves cannot see they have a problem, it is always everyone else who is problematic. So they don’t want or feel the need to change or heal or grow, because they honestly can’t see there is an issue.

There was me worrying I would trigger him into a place of shame and self-loathing, or make him angry or sad. I was scared of what it might force him to confront inside himself. Turns out it didn’t even really land for him. I don’t know what I’d expected given that I know he cannot see his own behaviour; he is so out of touch with himself and his feelings and how he is. The way he speaks to Nina is the way he must speak to himself. The way he was spoken to as a child of course, which he cannot see anything wrong with because he cannot bear to look inside and see how damaging his childhood was. It is also the way he spoke to me, all my life, and still does of course. And so beyond all this and deep inside is a real sense from teen and slightly older parts that he really will never be able to take in what he did to us even if we are ever brave enough to confront him. It is very hard to accept that there will not be a reconciliation or a time when he opens up and says he is sorry for how he’s been. I’ve known he won’t but I don’t think I’ve really taken in that actually it will be like this between us forever. Even if I am totally estranged from him one day, it will still be like this. I will be free perhaps, but it will never be different. We have nothing but lies and falseness between us. What a tragic waste.

I don’t know how to reply to his email. What is there to say? How do you make someone see that their whole way of being in the world, everything about them, their personality and the essence of who they are is problematic and shaming and abusive when they cannot see it at all? It is not my job to make him look at himself and change, even if I could. He has chosen not to take this opportunity to look inside himself and left me feeling so confused and bereft and small and invalidated. So hopeless. And deflated. I don’t think he can change and I don’t know how many times I will have to tell him that his behaviour is a problem before I give up. I cannot keep doing this, living this lie, trying to heal myself while allowing in the same treatment of Nina and I that smashed me into pieces in the first place.

There is a storm inside me. I can feel parts on the brink of total meltdown and collapse. It doesn’t have words yet, just a fucking painful mess taking shape and coalescing inside me. Scribbling inside my head and a mash of emotions I cannot access or name. I just want him to disappear so I don’t have to deal with this. I can’t believe both of my parents are so completely impossible that my life is better without them. It feels so unnatural and such a mess.

Dear Dad

****although this is about my dad, I am trigger warning it for rape and victim-blaming, since this is what my dad chose to engage in during his conversation with Nina while they were cycling on Tuesday***

Trying to find my inner warrior so that I can send this to my dad after Nina had a really horrible time with him on Tuesday. She’d not been on her own with him for 3.5 months and was decimated by 45 minutes cycling with him. R thinks I need to give him the chance to change, for Nina as much as anything, and at this point to warn him that if he doesn’t change he will lose her because in a few years she will be grown up and she will have no reason to see him if he treats her how he does.

I have never stood up to my dad about anything. Ever. It terrifies me. Nina really doesn’t want me to say anything and I can sense her terror of displeasing or upsetting him. Yet I also know this is the next stage of my healing journey and that I cannot let things continue as they are, for Nina’s sake. What messages does it send her that I can see how bad it is and yet I chose not to act and to protect her?

I don’t think he will change. I don’t think he can. I think this is only headed in one direction really, and that is no contact. But at least I will have tried. And if I cut contact in future, it will be Nina’s choice if she sees him or not and I will have done my best to facilitate a continuing relationship between them.

Six years ago I was in this position with my mum and it was R who was supporting me to protect Nina from her abuse and manipulation back then too. I stopped Nina from spending time alone with my mum then, and told her we could only see her once a month together as I needed space to heal too. It was another 2 years until I cut contact completely. I can see things heading a similar way here too, but I am stronger now. I would rather have no family than be living alongside such toxicity, but I will try a while longer to bring things to a more tolerable place for Nina and I. R reminds me of my strength and he reminds me I have no choice but to stand up for Nina and protect her. He tells me to make this all about her for now, and that later on I can address what I need him to know about how he is to me, and whether I want a relationship with him. He is holding my hand as I do this. He text with Phoebe last night when she was harming and there was blood everywhere and she was all alone. For all these things I love him. Somehow he makes me feel stronger than anyone else ever has. Even K.

However he responds cannot be worse than what I’ve already been through. I keep telling myself that.

Hello Dad,

Not an easy email for me to write, but I am very concerned about the way you are to Nina and I don’t think things can be left unspoken any longer if you want to maintain a relationship with her as she grows up. She is obviously scared of me saying anything to you, but I can see you losing her if things continue as they are and that would be a great shame for both of you.

She is often upset after seeing you because you are very critical of her and judgmental and lecture her and put her down and dismiss her ideas and experiences. On Tuesday she had a horrible time. You were critical and judgmental about her fitness and effort, her responses to your lectures about safety, implied she was stupid because she couldn’t follow what you were explaining to her, and then had a go at her for not talking to you – of course she wasn’t talking after that. She couldn’t. She feels ashamed when you are like this to her and that is sad because we know you love and care for both of us, but it so often doesn’t come across in how you interact with us. It is confusing for her to be told that you are a nice kind granddad when her experience of you is so often not like that at all.

These are not new concerns, but for me they have intensified since seeing you with her more during the lockdown last year (and also through my own healing showing me that the way I was parented by both you and mum was deeply inadequate and has caused long-term damage, meaning I am much more aware of what children need now). Last summer I was very concerned by how you were speaking to her when I collected her from your house. Belittling her intelligence over Maths and mocking the effort she is putting into school, and also threatening her she’ll end up homeless and jobless if she doesn’t change, are all things that are having an extremely negative impact on her self-esteem. The teenage years are particularly fragile years of self-discovery and your job as a granddad is only to love and support her as she grows up, not threaten her about her future or shame her or make her feel inadequate.

I am also really very concerned by the victim-blaming you engaged in. It is very hard for me to hear that you told her if she gets raped or attacked it will be her fault because of her behaviour and that she is ‘asking for it’. Women and girls are never to blame for what happens to them, it is always the fault of rapists. I would be devastated if something ever did happen to her and she didn’t reach out for support or tell anyone because she had internalised this message that I’ve tried so hard to counter as it is all around in society and the media and stops women coming forward. Pointing at overweight women and saying they won’t get raped is really concerning and just not true – rape isn’t about sexual desirability, it is about power and control. Women who aren’t conventionally attractive or slim get raped all the time, pensioners get raped, disabled women get raped. Women who do all the right things with regards their own safety get raped. Most of the time women are raped and assaulted within an intimate relationship or by someone they know.

Besides all this, Nina’s safety is my responsibility, not yours. I am the parent. You raised your concerns with me, Nina now doesn’t walk on the main road and stays in [our small town]. However the perception that ‘rapes are committed by strangers in a dark alley’ is a myth. She is far more likely to get raped or assaulted in a group of friends where alcohol and drugs are involved. It is this I will be doing everything to protect her from, by checking on her whereabouts and boosting her self-esteem as much as possible so she doesn’t feel the need to engage in risky behaviours in the way I did. So far this is going well and her friends are a safe group who haven’t grown up too fast.

These are separate issues though. You could have spoken of your concerns in a loving, warm, non-blaming way. And so it is the way you speak to her and how critical and judgmental and dismissive you are of her that needs to change. I don’t know if you are able to do this, I suspect it is deeply ingrained, but you do need to try because otherwise she just won’t want to see you anymore. That would be very sad for both of you and so that is why I am being brave and writing this even though I find confronting you on anything very difficult.

It is very important you don’t talk to Nina about this. She will be frightened that I’ve said anything and she doesn’t need a heart to heart talk, she need things to change in how you are when you’re with her. It is not a communication issue and she is not responsible for things changing, only you. You’ll find if you show an interest in her life and build her up instead of making her feel small by belittling and lecturing and shaming her, that she won’t respond in monosyllabic ‘yeahs’ with you. At the moment she doesn’t see the point of talking to you because you don’t seem to care or be interested in what she says a lot of the time.

We often make excuses for your behaviour, but honestly it is every time, even when I’m there. You barely see her as it is and I know that she will want to see you less and less as she grows older if things don’t change. I don’t want that to happen and I’m sure you don’t either. I would think there are people you can talk to about finding different ways of communicating with the people you care about.

I hope you understand why I’m writing and that it reflects my commitment to sustaining a relationship between us both and between you and Nina in future. Please don’t feel pressured to respond – I understand that this email will likely bring up difficult things for you and will, hopefully, lead to a period of self-reflection. There is no rush, but I do need a commitment from you that you will try and change how you speak to and behave towards Nina from now on.

Love CB