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.

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.

Curious

Today I’m keenly aware of the conversations bringing awareness of mental health to social media. I see my fellow therapists on Tik Tok noting their ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, OCD, eating disorder recovery. Many of them doing an amazing job talking about management of said conditions.

I’ve only seen one other therapist talk about Bipolar Disorder. And none talking about addiction. Kay Redfield Jamison is a psychologist diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and she was so brave to write her book An Unquiet Mind about her journey. I have reread it many times – she inspires me.

I don’t know if it’s that I haven’t seen therapists with more chronic mental illness or if they’re just not talking about it. And if they’re not talking about it, is it because they have fear of transparency as well?

Experience Strength and Hope

I didn’t come up with the title but it’s funny how all my friends of Dr. Bob and Bill W will know exactly where it came from. I could list a bunch more but my fellows know what I’m referring to.

And if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. For it is but one way to say “I have struggled and have found a better way.” We can all relate to that sentiment. Unless you haven’t found your way yet. If this is you, I encourage you to keep searching.

It took me a long time to catch hold of that previously elusive anchor. I peered into the bottle for it. I thought June Cleaver could show me it. I clung to toxic people in hopes they might have it. I starved to achieve it. I thought when I made the Dean’s List, it would be next to it.

I finally learned “it” is the journey. It is tolerating ambiguity and distress, being my own cheerleader, and opening myself to healthy relationships with people who champion my personal development. It is removing internal and external destruction of myself. And using skills to manage the inevitable waves that come with human experience.

I’m not free from struggle, not even free from hopelessness. I am armed with knowledge and experience reminding me to take everything one day – sometimes one breath – at a time.