Thinking in black and white, about gray issues.

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I’ve written about my father many, many times. Maybe not in this blog, but certainly in the two I kept before transferring over here. We’re talking thirteen years of blogging that has involved him every now and then – a lucky number?

I am not close to him. I don’t think judging people by labels is a good way to go through life, but sometimes a label can be shorthand for a lot of things.  With regards to my father, for instance, ‘borderline personality disorder’ could mean: inability to commit to my mother, yet a desperate fear of her leaving him. It could also mean: lack of empathy, related alcoholism, self-destructive behaviour.

Other labels my father wore? Abuser, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression. And thanks to what I learned this past week, I can safely add an educated guess that psychotic breaks might also be in the mix.

Of course, there are lots of other labels I can add to his description – many positive, but many more negative.

I knew my dad cheated on my mom. Extensively. At one point when I was a child, he moved in with another woman. Years later, I caught him cheating, and it was this episode that led my mother to kick him out.  I also knew he pushed/hit my mom on occasion. I knew he yelled at her a lot. In the years since, my mother has oddly told TMD a few things I didn’t know. These include reactions to stress that people without knowledge of PTSD would consider bizarre. And, well, they are bizarre – but not without reason.

I do not judge people with these or other disorders (I do not count domestic violence as a disorder, just to clarify. I’m talking about the mental health stuff); as a counsellor, I have always been the one who gets the high end mental health referrals. In part this is because of my extensive experience in this area – but I have to wonder, what made me unafraid to accept the first referrals and roles that would lead me to become well qualified beyond my years in various mental health issues? I think it is because my ‘antenna’ are defined by how I grew up. Stories of abuse – from either perspective – tend to not shock me because of what I have been through. I’m not sure if this makes me a better or worse counsellor, but it does make me unafraid to work with people who are dealing with some pretty serious shit.

I’ve worked with people who have tried to kill themselves, with people who were actively considering suicide, with people who had a wide variety of pervasive and life-controlling illnesses. I’ve worked with people who self-harm, with victims of severe abuse, with people full of self-hate.

I learn more every year about how my experiences as a person shape me as a therapist, but this past week has made me question how my experiences as a therapist shape me as a person. This has always been something I’ve thought about, but now it seems to be a focused question around issues of domestic violence, abuse, etc.

If I worked with a woman who was married for over twenty years to someone who was manipulative, unfaithful, controlling, cruel, violent, alcoholic – why, if that woman managed to find the strength to leave that man, I would give her a million hoorahs. And if she also happened to raise two strong, independent girls, to find a new love and secure marriage with someone else, all the better.

This week I found out that my father hit my mother in the stomach when she was pregnant. She doesn’t remember if she was pregnant with my sister or with me.

I don’t know if this entry is about him, her, or me.

I do know that during pregnancy, my father began to email me. He wanted to be kept up to date with the babies, with scans, with everything. This is after a spell of virtually not talking for a fair few number of years, though about five years ago I decided I had to radically lower my expectations if I was to have a life where he could ‘participate’ (read: two phone calls a year) without hurting me deeply. It seemed the sanest and safest way to protect myself.

My father was not invited to our wedding. My father has never come to visit me since I moved to this country. I have felt vindicated, guilty, worried, and pissed off about these things.

Now that I have learned a bit more about their marriage, I am horrified yet again.

As a therapist and as a human, I do believe people can change. I’m not saying everyone does, but sure, it’s there. Potential. I’ve noticed with a clinical eye the lessening of my father’s symptoms as he ages (typical of BPD), but also aware that I can’t accurately assess anything because a) I don’t see him ever and b) I am his daughter.

But he hit her. While she was pregnant. In the stomach.

And she didn’t go to the hospital to get checked out because she was embarassed. I am appalled at my reaction towards her when she said that, ten percent of it voiced, the other ninety echoing in my mind. Embarassed?!?

I feel an especial horror at the idea that abuse, for me or for my sister, began while we were in the womb. I am all wrapped up in judgements and feelings and confusion, like I sometimes might be as a therapist, but the difference is that I cannot step out of this quite so neatly at the end of fifty minute sessions. But like I do when I am troubled – or delighted, or anything else – by a client session, I turn to writing as a way to figure it out.

This time I have not come to any neat, tidy conclusions, nor do I have an experienced and thoughtful supervisor to pepper me with questions and knowledge.

I know that all of these things revolve around one simple question: Do I want to maintain contant with a man who did that to my mother? Hitting someone is never okay, though as a child I didn’t realise that because it was my norm. People hit people they loved. Now that I have Coconut and Snort, and they are so innocent, I wonder how anyone could behave that way.

In the stomach.

When she was pregnant.

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5 Responses to “Thinking in black and white, about gray issues.”

  1. CJ Says:

    MOST days it’s easy to not have parents. I like my life much better without them.

  2. Tatiana Says:

    Horrifying. I can’t understand what would possess someone to hit a pregnant woman in the stomach — and his wife? carrying his baby? HOW?

    I’m going through some serious father shit right now too, because after years of no contact, he’s been tweeting & emailing me, and leaving comments on my blog, but it’s all the same bullshit as ever — attacking me and my mother.

    I think that you’re incredibly strong to work with patients who have “high end mental disorders”. But reading that, paired with the fact that you’ve mentioned in the past that you were working with children, breaks my heart. The world can be such a fucked up place. It’s so hard to be a mother and know that such cruelty exists out there.

  3. timbrel Says:

    (i just randomly found you a couple of days ago, as i am having twins in the next couple of months! with that being said, i have read several of your entries and wanted to acknowledge this one, though i know you do not know me so the basis of my opinion is pretty unstable for you to trust, though, i am highly objective, so at least there’s that.)

    naturally what this man did is completely disgusting–whether or not he’s your father shouldn’t/doesn’t change that. i guess the real question is, do you think he’d do that TODAY to a pregnant woman, and if so, would you want to be in contact with someone who’s like that?

    or, you can decide that your relationship with your father has nothing to do with your relationship with your mother, since they are, in fact, two separate things. if you don’t have respect for him as a human and you don’t want to forgive him for behaving badly, you certainly don’t have to. ever.

    i like to live my life in the here and now, since the past seems to shackle us down; if you think you can let this go, i encourage you to do so. spending time debating whether or not he’s worth your time is still a waste of time. move on with him, or move on without him.

    i know that since i’m a stranger this is either hard to hear or especially easy. i guess what i’m trying to say is, you have your happy snort and happy coconut and no matter what YOU KNOW what matters in life–with or without him you know; so worrying about his existence only puts a strain on your own existence. just forgive and forget, or let go and forget. either way, you’re better off not worrying about it. ❤ best of luck.

  4. Darlene Says:

    Guess it depends on what the purpose of not staying in contact with him really is. Is it to punish him? Or is to protect yourself from something that hasn’t as yet happened. I’m not a therapist at all. I’ve been reading you for a while and this was what jumped out at me…

  5. Jinxy Says:

    I am just so sad for you right now.

    As a woman who survived years and years of mental and verbal (and one time physical) abuse I understand how people stay with an abuser and so admire women who are strong enough to leave. Good for your Mom. It was hard for me to leave I can’t imagine how hard it would have been if I had children, but maybe that would make it easier in a way. All I know is I’m so glad my body was smart enough to reject all of my ex-husband’s little swimmers.

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