He Would be 62 Today

With the exception of this blog, I have not mentioned my dad today. Which is unusual because today is his birthday. I always post a memory on Facebook about it but I avoid FB like the plague these days so I didn’t bother. Which means I also didn’t get the few supportive words I get from those anniversary posts. I had therapy today and didn’t bring him up. I chatted with my mom this morning and I did not mention him.

Recently I was confronted with a situation in my neighborhood that called up the painful memories of his life. He was a troubled man and his alcoholism and mood disorder often resulted in physical violence, of which I don’t cognitively remember but somatic memories still trigger trauma response and it’s been a trying few weeks.

So maybe I’m mad at him today. I was never mad that he died by suicide. But I was mad about his addiction. And I am mad today about his addiction, despite intimate personal awareness of living in addiction. I am mad that he never experienced sobriety and stability. That he didn’t “try harder.” I say this knowing the disease process of addiction, knowing what my family has seen me go through, knowing intimately the pain of mental illness and hopelessness. Both things are true. He was sick and fought a hard battle. He was also my dad who was forever inappropriate and unpredictable.

But I knew he loved me. I knew so young that he was limited in his access to expression of love. I “knew” that dads are absent and that any expression of love was always ready to be whisked away on the breeze. Thus I knew better than to place faith in the availability of that love. It was like the sunshine – warm when visible but cold when not. But I always knew that at some point, whenever I was in his presence, I felt loved.

So I think I’m mad because it’s hard to remember what feeling loved by my daddy is like.

September is but one month

As I looked upon her in her final hours, something began nagging at me. This same, strong woman, this same month 11 years ago suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. The same week of that year my then 3 y/o daughter was hospitalized. And not for the first time, I began losing my mind.

Looking back, it’s really not surprising I developed post traumatic grief when my dad killed himself 3 months later. I was already well entrenched in complex post traumatic stress from years of various forms of abuse and his death – no how he left – zapped my rather tenuous remaining grip on reality.

I didn’t actually lose my mind though certain people in my life at the time would say otherwise in attempts to cover up their own antisocial behavior. It is but an act of God I was an assistant in my university’s counseling department at the time of his death. Days after that New Year’s Eve 2009 I made a call to see a counselor. The journey out of abuse and untreated Bipolar Disorder would commence.

As I sit at her bedside, I begin to realize why September has been a source of somatic cues insisting dissociation and depersonalization is required for survival. My body has been trying to protect me from feeling the magnitude of fall 2009. I hold the recognized traumaversary trifecta in the present. I am able for the first time to be fully embodied in the present year of September, no longer held hostage by the past. Over a decade of therapy later, my cognitive self and my physical being are in sync. I am safe. The monster is no longer under the bed.

That, my friends, is the power of psychotherapy within the confines of a well established, structured therapeutic relationship.

For some reason it’s been easier to write poetry here than anything else. Which is quite odd because before this blog, I hadn’t written poetry in 20+ years. Amateur hour right here.

Writing painful and complex experiences through poetry is a way to distance myself from the raw vulnerability to an audience. Oh the vulnerability is there – plain to see. But the vulnerability exists as a work of art rather than I am standing naked in front of you, sharing my heart. Although both are true. Maybe it’s an illusion.

I return to work tomorrow as the therapist. What started as a vacation ended in bereavement so I don’t feel refreshed going back. Indeed, I feel weary. It can be quite helpful, however, to “get out of your own head.” Many people use this as their number one coping skill. That friend who never talks about her life, but is always by your side while you cry – she might be avoiding her own feelings. I’m not that person. I avoid my feelings in other ways 😏 but when I am faced with the raw emotion of another, it does trigger my own particularly if my self care game is not on point. (Which was the reason for the vacation in the first place).

I am confident I will be present for my clients as the warm therapist they are used to. My confidence wanes, however when I imagine how I will feel emotionally at the end of the day. I worry I will feel depleted. It is already a rough time of year for me, now compounded by fresh grief.

Mindfulness is a good tool here and the old adage of not getting ahead of oneself. We’re going to put one foot in front of the other, moment by moment, holding steadfast to years of experience telling me everything is always eventually ok. The world will not collapse. I will be successful as a clinician and I will take extra care of me in the moments I’m not actively a therapist.

Psst. You don’t have to be a therapist to use the above tools to cope during your workday. Or your family gathering. Or your doctor’s appointment. Or your long commute. Take good care of yourself, one moment at a time. Don’t know how? Ask a friend, a mentor, or ya know.. find a therapist. ☺️

Deafening Stillness

My ribs are straining under the weight of breath.

For a full inhale draws awareness to the storm in my belly.

Spouting funnels of agony to the crown of my head.

I am alive.

No, no, no mustn’t be still.

To be still is to acknowledge. To permit. To accept.

Ribs straining.

Awareness of the storm

is agony.

I am alive.

They are dead.

Don’t Suffer in Silence. You’re worth Life – TW

I’m exhausted from the mental battle of the last few days but specifically fatigued over learning of the loss of a friend.

Just days ago I shared my experience when my dad completed suicide on this blog and on social media. September is suicide prevention month and today especially.

In a cruel twist of 2020, the year I actively reduced my time on Facebook in response to increasing division and hate, I visited Facebook today and saw in horror 6 days ago a friend posted her goodbye. Which had prompted a flurry of activity on that Facebook post, culminating with the obituary posted just today.

I am stunned. She was a beautiful soul. We went to high school together and recently physically reconnected through a mutual therapy experience, though we’d always maintained contact via Facebook sharing the love of ballet.

We were born only hours apart. She was my birthday sister. Now she’s gone. As one does I am replaying our last exchange and wishing I’d done more, tried harder.

My beautiful, empathic son, himself planning to study psychology in college next year stated: “Suicide doesn’t really end the pain though does it? It just transfers it.”

Yes. I will never say suicide is selfish because I know the pain of living in mental agony, but it absolutely leaves wreckage in its wake. Wreckage that never heals, only scars.

If you are suffering, reach out to loved ones, get help. You can present at your nearest emergency room and just sit there if you don’t want to talk. Sit and be safe. Or admit you’re worried about your own safety. Or call 1800-273-8255. text 741741 in US and Canada. 85258 in UK. 50808 in Ireland. You don’t have to suffer in silence. You are not alone.

Honest Grief – Trigger warning

I lost my dad to suicide. Oh just jump right on in – that’s a hook. “It’s not a hook, be quiet.”

The thing is I understood. I never got angry with him for choosing to end his life. I have been angry with him while he was alive, but the very reasons I was angry during his life are the reasons I understood his suicide.

Oh you’re a saint – it was easy for you to move on then, huh? “To the contrary. I developed post traumatic grief. But I never questioned his motives.”

He was close to receiving a terminal diagnosis for his alcoholism. The death certificate cited Bipolar Disorder as secondary cause to the suicide. This was before I was a therapist (indeed it would be the catalyst to my becoming a therapist) and knew anything about the disorder. But I knew he was a troubled man. And I knew the relentless cycle of promises and failures that is addiction because I, too had been far too friendly with the bottle.

The most agonizing part of losing my father in that way is knowing he died alone, feeling unloved and hopeless.

I think I cried for three years straight. I couldn’t go to funerals, couldn’t hear the word suicide, couldn’t go to recovery meetings, couldn’t be around men with similar features, couldn’t smell alcohol of any kind, couldn’t hear certain songs, had flashbacks for 8 years (yes they just ended – I think).

Complicated by other trauma . “Yes, shh. That’s another blog.”

Dance proved to be my saving grace, and I was a fairly new dancer then (side note you don’t have to start dancing at age 3 to be a performer). Improvisation and composition helped me express what I couldn’t put language to. Because with grief, language doesn’t make sense. Grief is a deep, guttural emotion – it isn’t logical and can’t be healed using the prefrontal cortex. We must feel it.

So I went to therapy. I think losing him in that manner gave me some sort of permission to go and face my demons. Of course I had no idea I was opening Pandora’s baggage.

Good job, I see what you did there. “Now you’re complimenting me? Hush.”

I would then go on to learn my empathy for his pain came from a real place of understanding as I learned about Bipolar Disorder. If you’ve followed any of my blog you’ll know the apple didn’t fall far for me.

You need to wrap this up, kid. “I’m aware. My story doesn’t end there, so how does one…”

My journey begins there, really. 27 years to find a path out of self destruction. I miss my dad so much it still aches everyday but him dying may have saved my life. And pushed me toward helping others. I hope he is smiling down on me. I sure hope I’ve made him proud.

I love you Daddy. Always be your girl. I know you’re at peace.