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

’tis the damn season

Christmas was unexpectedly an absolute shit show. I was feeling completely okay about it this year, it being low-key and all, and somehow it descended into a total nightmare and brought up so much painful stuff for Nina and I. I ended up feeling so physically and mentally unwell on Boxing Day I could barely move off the sofa all day and have been in regular contact with R, who I’ve seen on and off for acupuncture since I was 21 and who has supported me through some of my darkest times, sending crazy texts full of shame and despair. He has been a lifeline and yet also not enough. I hadn’t realised till now that seeing K either side of Christmas has really helped me get through the last 5 Christmases. It’s been really hard not having a session to hold out for because it means there’s no end point where I can put down some of this shit.

My dad is just fucking awful – rigid, cold, cruel, abusive, sadistic, narcissistic. And I am flooded with shame and guilt when I think that about him. I wish I could just hate him. I wish I hadn’t been conditioned to automatically turn myself bad when I think and feel negative things about him, because as an infant and toddler I had to do that in order to preserve the attachment and survive. I’ve spent so much time in therapy unpicking the legacy of my relationship with my mum, and yet my dad is also so incredibly damaging and hurtful and so responsible for how I am, how I struggle, how I feel about myself and others. It breaks my heart that he was the safe one, the stable one, the one I turned to, and yet he broke me too. He isn’t safe at all. He never has been.

He is also horrible to Nina. I know I’ve written about this before but this year his behaviour has become so obviously unacceptable to both of us. He shames and belittles and criticises her constantly. He calls her stupid and lazy and tells her she won’t get a job and will end up homeless if she carries on how she is. He swore at her in TK Maxx after inviting her to go Christmas shopping with him and she spent the whole time she was with him a couple of weekends ago texting me to tell me how mean he was being. I hate how he speaks to her, how he mocks her and invalidates her. She has a huge allergic reaction every time she is at his house, which is ostensibly caused by the huge amounts of dust in his house (he cleans once a year at most) but is really her body just screaming “NO, this place is not good for me!”

When we got home on Christmas Day she was distraught, saying she thinks he hates her and that he doesn’t care about her at all. For Christmas he got her a tin of spaghetti hoops, an avocado, a bag of cheese puffs, some scissors and a set of coathangers. What.the.fuck.??? She is nearly 14 and there are a million things she would have liked. And it’s not even really about the gifts, because if she was met emotionally by him and we had a fun, warm time full of love and care when we were with him she wouldn’t care – it would just be an eccentric set of gifts from him. As things are though, the “gifts” symbolise how shut off and fucked up he is, and how he is totally unable to relate to anyone. They weren’t joke presents. He thought she would like them and she had to swallow her disappointment and pretend to be pleased.

I felt absolutely wrecked when we got home. Smashed into tiny pieces inside and drowning in shame. There is no love there, no warmth or joy or even niceness. It is flat and cold and distant. Any humour is mockery. And he just shows off and competes over everything. It is like being with a 6 year old boy. As Nina said, he didn’t really do anything wrong that day, but he is just not a nice person and he doesn’t know how to be with people, how to care, how to love. We spent 4 hours when we got home talking about him and how awful he is and how shit our family are and I let Nina cry and rage about it, but what a fucked up Christmas. I’d rather have been just the two of us a bit bored then have spent time with someone who makes us both feel so shit and let down and guilty.

It kills me to write bad things about him. We basically have no family without him, apart from my half sister who we are not really close to although we have chatted more this year than in previous years, but is no family better than this? If this was someone else in her life, her dad or my partner, who was nice and funny 10% of the time but abusive and cruel the rest of the time, people would be horrified that she still saw them when they were clearly wrecking her self-esteem and leaving her feeling worthless.

The triggers of Christmas will recede, but the need for action over this will not and so I am left with a sickening dilemma. Do I pull back further and leave myself unsupported and Nina with even less family? How do I pull back?I don’t get anything good from him but he does help practically sometimes, making food and helping when things at home break. But the way he complains and belittles me when he helps out, I just want to be free of needing his help. It’s hard though, as I can’t afford to pay for help with odd jobs and things. And I am still so scared of him that I never stand up to him. I am genuinely terrified of confronting him, disappointing him, enraging him, hurting him. It is clear I would rather Nina get lectured and sworn at and belittled than call him out on his behaviour and that is not something I am proud of. I am sure he is incapable of changing because he doesn’t act intentionally, he is just repeating patterns and behaviours he grew up with, but how do I pull away without telling him what the problem is?

I only know I can’t keep going like this. I hate that he thinks he is perfect and that everything mentally and physically wrong with me is caused by my mum. He kept coming up in therapy at the start of lockdown but I couldn’t go there, not properly there, with stupid remote therapy, so that trauma work is on hold till K and I can meet, which might not be till autumn. I need her to help me find a path through this that isn’t sacrificing mine and Nina’s well-being. She has never felt so far away. I feel so alone with this and it is even worse having had 5 Christmases of holding out for December 28th or 29th when I could take all the muddle to K that I am now on my own with it again. I talked to the friend I’m in a bubble with about it yesterday afternoon and she was lovely but she is not K and I couldn’t show just how fucked up this leaves me.

It is December 28th and I am done in despite having had 10 days off work. I think I’m coming down with a cold and I just need a break. A proper break. I have felt suicidal and anxious and in a constant state of dread since we got home on Christmas Day. 5 hours with my dad did this to me. I don’t want this anymore. And I can’t see a way out.

False God

I am feeling a lot of shame over the things I am about to share. I am aware that cognitively I have no reason to feel ashamed but this doesn’t shift the emotional legacy of toxic parenting so… I’m sharing, but feeling uncomfortable about it.

Since my promotion I’ve not been in a good place at all. I spent most of the weekend feeling very unwell – dissociated, heavy, lethargic, quite extreme levels of pain – and whilst I would love to blame it all on the lack of sunlight (which definitely doesn’t help), a busy week, getting my period, and not having anything exciting or joyful planned for the weekend, I am also aware that a lot of big feelings are being held inside and that, as usual, the physical symptoms I have been experiencing are caused by blocked emotional energy. It strikes me as faintly ridiculous that I get triggered by something objectively good, something I should be proud and happy about, but when I unpick the reasons for it I can see that it’s to be expected really, given my narcissistic parents.

There are quite a few strands to unpick to work out how I’ve gone from a place of such excitement and relief to a place where I feel so depleted and small in the face of my success. The first is that I seemed to fall into fight/flight over my promotion – I found it really hard to emotionally regulate in the days that followed, because I am unable to emotionally regulate I guess, and I think being excited and happy and proud of myself are difficult emotional and cognitive states for me. I definitely felt on edge and borderline manic and all my usual routines seemed to go out the window. It is clear that I don’t really know how to deal with any emotions – although my capacity is increasing through therapy of course – and I know growing up I was shamed by my parents for all my emotional states and when I was successful my mum would be proud and happy for me for as long as it reflected on her well, and then she would snap at me that I was boasting and being big-headed. She did this in particular on the night I found out my PhD amendments had been accepted and I was officially Dr B__________. It hurt a lot, because I didn’t know back then all it must have triggered in her, and it felt like I really was showing off and deserving of contempt and humiliation. And it was always so confusing because she was so proud of my successes, especially in writing, but I wasn’t allowed to feel and experience them myself. It was all about her, of course, but it never made sense when I was growing up and I just felt rubbish and not good enough all the time, and that if I felt happy or proud of myself it was because I was a bad person.

So I was having a hard time being with what was happening inside for me last week – I couldn’t take it in or just be with my internal state. I couldn’t even access my internal state. I’m not sure I even had one. I totally disappeared. I said to K earlier it felt like my success was only real when I was talking to other people about it. I think this is linked to the first strand – I needed others to help me emotionally regulate in the face of such a huge event – but goes beyond it also because it stems from growing up with an engulfing narcissistic mother who eclipsed my sense of self. So last week when I tried to feel inside for what my promotion meant TO ME there was nothing there. It’s so hard to explain, but I just had no sense of myself at all, nothing inside. I told K I feel like I don’t exist. And she said how, as we already know, I have a sense of myself not existing unless it’s in relation to others, not having a sense of self, a true sense of foundational self, unless it is reflected by others. And this stings so much because it is true, of course it is, but I feel such enormous shame that I feel so unreal and need other people to validate me and make me real. It feels so shameful because it is like I am always seeking approval from others and trying to make myself visible to them because I want to be better than everyone else. The truth is, as I’ve written before, it is about feeling invisible and unreal unless I am extra visible, leaving me always having to do more than most to exist at all. It feels as though it is my fault that I don’t have a sense of self, that I have been weak and let myself be absorbed and reflected back by others. I know this isn’t how it works, that I didn’t and don’t choose this, but I still feel pathetic for being this way.

And Mum’s absence was loud last week. There is a deep sadness that because we are estranged, and most likely always will be now, I was not able to share this news with her – it was the first time something big had happened and I hadn’t been able to tell her and even though I know had she been involved she would have spoilt it and made it about her and left me feeling all kinds of yuck, she has been there for everything else and knowing she doesn’t even know (unless she googles me, which I guess she probably does do from time-to-time) is hard. She would be proud. She would have bought me flowers and a card and taken me for a meal and told me she was proud of all my hard work. K said earlier how of course it would bring up huge feelings of loss, when something big happens in my life and there is no one to share it with, and that of course I would want to share it with my family of origin even when it is a really complicated situation. I miss my mum so much. There is just this huge hole where she is supposed to be and it fucking aches so much.

She really did help me get where I am now (even if she was a large part of the reason why getting here was such a fucking struggle) and I am grateful to her for instilling a lifelong love of reading and learning in me and for supporting me in my studies. I am grateful that even though she was a terrible mother in most ways, she left me that gift and it is something that I will always treasure. K said this evening that it’s probably the only good thing Mum has left me with – academic success and a love of learning – and it is sad because she she is right, there is nothing else good from her, but it is also something I am so grateful for and I wish she knew that. I wish she knew that even though I can no longer see her, that gratitude hasn’t changed. I love what I do for work. And it saved me from a life of drugs and binge drinking and overdoses, I am sure of that.

K asked what I needed from my Mum, beyond just being able to share the news with her, and I said I just wanted to hear ‘you’ve done enough’ so I can stop now and just be. I cried a lot when I said these words earlier, because all week I’ve had this sense of ‘now what?’ and I just want this to be enough. I want to feel as though I’ve arrived. Cognitively I do have this sense of things calming for me now, but emotionally I still don’t feel as though I’ve done enough. K said how I just wanted to be recognised by her (Mum) for who I am, what I’ve achieved, the struggle. She said how young it is, the need to share, the excitement. And I can feel that. I can feel young parts in me feeling so sad because it was never enough – fantastic GCSE results, 4 As at A Level, a first class Law degree, Research Council funding to do a PhD, getting a doctorate, proper academic posts, none of it has been enough to stop me feeling like I don’t exist.

All I’ve ever wanted is for my parents to notice me, the me inside my achievements, the person I am inside. The text from my Dad last week just said ‘well done’ (ugh) and when I was trying to talk to my Grandma on Saturday about my work and she was asking questions about what this promotion will mean (which was nice as she can’t really relate to my work and was clearly really trying to show an interest) he kept butting in and turning it back to him and then changed the subject entirely after less than two minutes. I get it is a reflection of him, of how he feels about himself, of his insecurities and limitations, and that it is not about me, but it is still infuriating, especially knowing he has been like that my whole life, at times when it will have had a lasting impact on my development. I remember getting twelve awards in an end of term assembly when I was 13 and when I rang to tell him after school he was like ‘yeah? and…’. It is just such a shit way to raise a child.

It came to me this evening when I got home how bizarre it is that I am seeking approval, still, from two people who I don’t even respect or like very much, one of whom I’ve come to see is so damaged and damaging that I can’t have them in my life at all. I do care though, I care not so much about what they think of me, but that they recognise what I have achieved, who I am, how hard I have worked to be where I now am. I hope that the first step in beginning to really, truly validate myself is that I am beginning to question why so desperately want two people I don’t even want to see to be the ones to validate me. I want to make myself real. I want to be the one who gives myself an internal sense of being real and enough, just because I am here rather than because I have done something noteworthy.

K asked how Nina responded and I said she text me straight back and wrote ‘yeeeeessssssssssssssss!’ and then ‘well done mummy’ (and then told a friend my income has doubled now – if only haha). And K said how lovely it was that Nina gets it. And she said ‘and I get it, I really truly do, and I am immensely proud of you. It is amazing’. And my heart filled a little bit, but not enough because I just can’t take it in and make it mean something for me. She gave me a big hug at the end of the session and said again how proud she is, and that she hopes that I start to feel it within myself soon, but that there is no hurry, no faking. And I really hope I can. I hope one day – soon – I can validate myself, tell myself how well I’ve done, that I’ve done enough now and it is time to soak it all in. I am enough. And I hope I can have a sense of myself, for myself, when something else happens, so I don’t have to go looking to the wrong people to tell me I am okay now. That place feels very far away though and right now I am still left with a sense of not being here at all, not existing in my own life, and that is just so bloody hard to live with.

Reaching

I couldn’t reach K again today and now I’m home and it feels like my insides have been ripped out. How after so many months of feeling so held and safe and connected am I here again for so many weeks now?

I read K what Phoebe wrote last week. She said it’s amazing because it sums up the block between us that is happening right now and that is about something historical that has led to a special shape within me, a pattern that says that most things are not safe (what a fucking sad statement of fact).

‘I can’t reach you’ I managed to whisper.

‘Yeah, I know’ and she sounded sad, like she really knew how fucking painful it is to be a metre from her and also a million miles away. And it surprised me that she knew straightaway, she knew I couldn’t reach her, because I was behaving ‘normally’ and pretending all was fine, and she is still the only person who sees through my mask and knows I’m out of reach.

‘Well… I think it’ll come back’ and I started to sob and she said ‘don’t worry, you know what  – this went on for a long time with Mum, years and years and years. So right now there’s a patterning that’s saying don’t trust. We’ll get through it. I’m confident it’ll come back.’

She said how important it is that we don’t pretend it’s normal, like I had to as a child, and that we let it be there and let things be difficult and authentic. She thinks it will settle of it’s own accord over the next few weeks, if we sit in the storm with it and don’t force it.

‘And I’m here, no matter what. And it’ll be alright. I’m convinced it will be okay’.

‘It’s hard without you’ I said quietly. (And it is so hard, to be without her after months of feeling her with me all the time, whenever I looked for her).

‘Yeah, and I’m here, waiting in the wings.’

And we talked about Phoebe again, and how she didn’t used to have any words. About how she was mean all the time because she was scared of K and how much she hated all the other parts for attaching to K. She was the last, shame kept her far away and angry and defended for so many years. And it hurts so much that she wants to connect and can’t. But she knows K hasn’t done anything wrong now and she knows K doesn’t hurt us deliberately and just wants to help. The blocking is automatic and it comes from us, not K.

So things are different but also the same. Or maybe they are the same but also different. I’m not battling K. We’re not falling into horrible relational re-enactments and locking horns. I’m not accusing her of being different or convinced she hates me. I know she’s there and that I can’t reach her. We can talk about what’s happening now, even though we cannot make the connection come back however much we both wish we could. And inside me is a gaping pit of emptiness and I want to die/cut/take drugs to fill it, but I know this hole is not caused by K but by my parents who couldn’t love me, and so whilst I want to die I can also hold on tight to her belief that I will reach her again. I just really hope it’s not much longer because I miss her. I missed her even while I was in the room with her for 2 hours earlier. Everything internally and externally is very hard at the moment and I need her with me and it really fucking hurts when I can’t reach her.

Ripples

We just saw my brother as we were driving back from swimming training. He was walking with his head down, clearly sent on a late-night supermarket errand by my Mum, who he still lives with. My brother is 48, disabled, severely traumatised by our mum’s abuse and mental illness, and still experiencing abuse now, still trapped in that hell I grew up in. At least I am safe now even if I still live with the imprint of what she did to me, he is still stuck there going through what broke me so badly every single day. His life is fucking awful and I know being estranged from me and Nina, who he adored, has made it even worse. It’s now 2 years since we saw him because it’s impossible to see him without involving my Mum, and because she is likely to be so awful to him afterwards and cry so much that it’s not worth it for him. Seeing him breaks my heart. The way he walks hurts, a clear indication of how he feels about himself and his place in the world. I want to see him so much, but I also don’t. I can’t. It all hurts too much.

Today has been really hard. The pain over Zara, my student, rippling through me still and I kept crying at work. Yesterday we did a phone session with K and she validated it all, said what we needed to hear about not being dramatic or selfish or over-reacting. She said we could do a ritual or ceremony together for Zara, so I can tell her the things I wish I had said and find some kind of closure. I plan to go to the inquest as well – I had to write up all my dealings with her for the coroner on Tuesday and that was so hard, reading through her emails and also remembering how triggered and upset I was after her disclosures. I have so many questions about what happened and how she was this past year. And of course her death brings up so much about my own experiences – years of being suicidal, Jess, my maternal grandmother who committed suicide when my mum was 12, sexual abuse and rape and DID and not being believed. I told K how hard it is imagining Zara being in hospital with no one believing her about DID and repressed memories – I’ve experienced that lack of belief in a disorder I so clearly have, had parts yelling that no one thinks they are real but they are, but to be sectioned and experiencing that… I can’t even imagine. We’ve text K today as well and she was so kind and says she is here for us all through this shock, and it does at least feel as though that is true now. I want to text her now about my brother, because it just couldn’t have come at a worse time. I will wait until our Friday email tomorrow to tell her though, even though it is so hard not to reach out.

At bedtime Nina said she doesn’t miss my brother anymore, that it would be too hard to see him because of her grandma. I said I miss him but I don’t want to see him. She said you can’t miss someone and not want to see them. You can – she will learn this one day. You can miss someone every single day and still not want to see them because seeing them would hurt even more than not seeing them.

 

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