Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Deciding We're Worth It

Sometimes life hands us things we don't want to face. Sometimes we never truly get over a choice that someone important to us made that ends up affecting us for the rest of our existence. Sometimes we make choices for ourselves that we instinctively know aren't right, but we do it anyway because we don't feel that it's possible to have what we really want.

My biological father, "M" was abusive to me and my mother. I was told he was sick-schizophrenia paranoia, whatever that meant. At four, five or six years old it doesn't mean anything more than fear and darkness. My mother told me she married him because her high school sweetheart, who was also named "M," left her for her best friend and she never got over it. I was watched like a hawk for most of my life "just in case" I developed the same sickness. It's one of the reasons why I never thought I was ok to have kids. It's one of the reasons why I will probably never have them, at least biologically.

I remember a tall man, serious, sometimes with glasses, sometimes without. Hazel eyes with dark, thick wavy hair like mine. He used to bring home homemade french fries on Fridays. He taught me how to swing, chased a squirrel away when I was scared of it, took me to many movies, fixed our grandfather clock when it wouldn't work right, gave me piggy-back rides on his shoulders and picked me up from school once. The other stuff my mind has either erased or blocked because it knows I can't handle it. Bits and pieces here and there. Enough to know that something went wrong, but not enough to truly move past it.

During the divorce, he surprised my mom and I in the cold, windy parking lot of Jewels. I was scared and trembling and my mom held onto my hand tight, warning me not to go to him. Now I know that he was trying to take me because they were fighting over custody. But back then, all I knew was a mixture of fear and guilt. Fear because I was told he was dangerous, guilt because he was my father-I was supposed to love him and somehow this might be my fault. It's the reason why my mom picked up and moved to Colorado after the divorce went through, she got custody and he still made threats. Perhaps it's the reason why she married my adoptive father also-to have some sense of security and protection. I'll never really know. We don't talk about it.

After the divorce and the move he still sent me letters. I threw them away and never wrote him back. A seemingly cruel thing for a six year old to do, but I didn't know what to say. Somewhere inside I had programmed my heart not to love him and not to think of him as my father. He was known as "M" and nothing more.

I was told that he had looked up our CO address in the Post Office's computer system, where he was working and had disappeared. His apartment was found torn apart, his car parked by Lake Michigan full of random belongings. My Uncle J had to go down to i.d. bodies that they pulled from the lake to see if they were him. But they never were. To this day the case is cold and he hasn't been found. I was told that he probably committed suicide and that it was just another example of how "sick" he was. My undeveloped mind automatically thought that I must be that "sick" too, by association. After all, I was his daughter and he was a part of me.

So I go through life thinking that I'm "untouchable," "unlovable," and incapable of loving back or having a "normal" family. It's the main reason why I turned down many dates, was turned off by any advances and still cringe at the thought of a lasting relationship. It's the reason what my adoptive brother's wife said when I was twelve years old came true. She said "Helen's gonna break a lot of hearts. Girl, love 'em and leave 'em." She meant it as a compliment, of course, but it was eerily predictive.

The only thing we can do is try to accept the choices that someone else made, even if they were somehow harmful and damaging to us. It had nothing to do with us, it was about them. No, it doesn't erase the hurt, the pain or the damage. But, we can try to recognize when we are making choices out of fear or lack of self-validation. We can stop ourselves by saying "I deserve more." Sometimes that means incubating for awhile and sometimes it means forcing ourselves to try something that doesn't fit the same destructive pattern. The new associations will take work and time, but anyone who deserves your attention will be patient, understanding and willing to help.

The past choices can't be erased, but they can be learned from and changed when we stop blaming ourselves. But, first and foremost we must make the decision that we are worth it and that we won't accept anything less than what we truly wish for.


  1. Thanks for sharing. Except for the cold case, I can relate.

  2. Hi,

    Loved your post.

    All the best
    BE Well
    Coach Nupur

  3. Great post-I suffered from a ruthless, abusive father. It mattered not what I did-it was wrong-every time, all the time. He was so volatile and unpredictable that some benign behavior which went unpunished one moment, might suddenly be declared insufferable the next, with certain wrath to follow. Walking in front of the TV on the way from one room to the next was the emotional equivalent of negotiating a field of land mines. I developed a strong survival instinct manifested as the ability to size up a person's intent toward me in nanoseconds, always erring on the side of caution. I could size up my father's mood from hundreds of yards away, just by the way he exited his car or by the slope of his shoulders as he walked toward our house. One particular incident still affects me to this day and I point to this day as the day I shifted from being a relatively happy, trusting child to one whose lifetime MO has been to avoid and survive. I trust only a few-slowly sizing them up over a long period of time, trying to sniff the slightest hint of malevolence. If detected, I'm gone, no matter how long the relationship had famously endured. I have been diagnosed with severe PTSD along with other co-morbid conditions related thereto. My shrink described it best-"where others see birds overhead, you see bomber planes. Exactly-and it's damn painful existence even forty years removed.

  4. Wow...I had no idea. I was lucky to have a good father, even if he was a little distant I knew he loved me.

    I have sometimes questioned my worth. Maybe being sensitive, the tiniest things my parents did (not meaning to hurt me), hurt me and so I questioned myself. Maybe it's has something to do with growing up Catholic. All that original sin stuff. How can you tell a child there is something wrong with them just because they were born?

    Helen you are so worth it. Keep knowing that and thanks for sharing your story.