I still have nightmares. I sometimes wake up feeling like I could turn into the Incredible Hulk. Other times I may wake up wanting to sob. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, and this often happens when I think I’m doing much better. Surprise! says my sub-conscience. You’re not as healthy as you thought.
I am 52 years old. I’ve struggled with depression from as far back as I can remember. I was in therapy for many years; some good, some terrible. I’ve attended Al-Anon for 11 years. All of this has has helped my spirit heal. But there is a stopping point, it seems. I give it to God. I pray. I know of at least one long-time friend who prays for me daily. And yet there’s still that spiritual tumor that won’t shrink or go away.
Learning about Narcissist Personality Disorder a few years ago was a breakthrough. I learned that my father was no so unique after all, but fit a pattern. A very damaging pattern of behavior. I already knew that he alienated all four of his children and his grandchildren. I already knew that I wasn’t the only offspring who needed to take a long walk after spending the day with my father. The good news is that my recovery time after visits has shortened. I know it’s not my fault. I know cognitively that I’m not a a worthless human being that doesn’t deserve to take up oxygen that other worthier human beings might need. In my head I know that. But the damage seems permanent on my soul.
I still feel invisible in a room full of people. I believe that if I stay quiet in a room, no one will know I’m there. I’m astonished when people talk to me, and even more astonished when what I say elicits a positive reaction. Even now, writing a blog, I wonder, who am I to write a blog? Who am I to assume anyone wants to read what I have to say? Hell, I’m even surprised when people “like” my posts on Facebook! I have a binder full of particular good letters and notes (remember those?) from people across the years, telling me they appreciate me for this or that reason. I have to keep them, because it’s still a surprise to me that someone would remember me.
I remember my childhood friends whom I haven’t seen in 40 years. I have very specific memories of the things we did, even what we said. Reconnecting with them on Facebook, I can hardly believe they remember who I am. Or they might say they drove through our old hometown, past my old house, and thought of me. Really? You remember me?
It sounds pathetic when I say it out loud, but it’s my reality. I think a lot of my anxiety during my church ministry years came from being up front, exposed. Open to criticism, and I assure you, in the church there’s plenty of that! Leaving the ministry decreased my anxiety ten-fold. Besides, my father made it a competition. And I was never going to be as successful as he was. He said.
He is 89 years old this week. He has Parkinson’s and has to use a walker. He’s having trouble with his swallowing. Give him a break, someone might say. But he hasn’t lost his capacity to inflict pain. He still wields words that cut through the skin. He speaks them with no expression on his face, and then wonders why one is offended.
My father never understood how powerful words are. He believed himself to be the greatest preacher there ever was, and assured us children that we ought to be in awe of him. He would tell us how much people loved him and how much he changed people’s lives. Whenever I accomplished something, he was silent. Or he’d tell me of his own accomplishments. When I got married, he made sure he officiated and that the spotlight was on him, not me. When I had a baby, he invited a cousin we hadn’t seen in forever to stop by and visit. They visited while I recovered quietly in my hospital bed. It wasn’t about me. Nothing ever was. It was always about him.
And so, it seems, permanent damage was done. I don’t like to call people because I feel like I’m imposing on their very valuable time. I even feel guilty about the long letters I write to long term friends. Reading my letter will take up so much time for them. When I visit someone I haven’t seen in years because of geographical distance, I assume I’m imposing, and I feel apologetic.
I can’t imagine that anyone would want to spend time with me or hear from me.
I’m not trying to garner sympathy. I’m just telling my story. There are groups on Facebook for people like us. And I’ve discovered that when I tell them these things they respond with “Yes! Me Too!”
When I watch TV shows, I am drawn to male characters who are nurturing, gentle, kind and loving. I love the image of older men who adore their daughters. Who joke with them, go out of their way to be there for them, and to celebrate their victories and accomplishments. Who can tell their daughters, “I’m so proud of you.” I ache. I know these are fictitious characters, but I also know such men do exist. I am heartened when someone like Tom Hanks and Hugh Jackman appear to be who they say they are. I am disappointed when someone plays a good, kind man and turns out to be a jerk in real life.
My father said I’d marry someone just like him, because dead psychologists said that that’s what daughters do. I proved him wrong. I married a Good Guy. Who is a Great Father. The kind I wish I’d had. The kind that doesn’t leave permanent damage on their children’s souls.
I believe in God and the very present, active spirit of Christ. I look back and I realize that God has helped me heal a lot. I give thanks for the many, many people God brought across my path to love me and nurture me. To give me what my father couldn’t.
It’s exhausting to live with this damage. It seems that there’s a part of me that can never truly heal. A chronic pain you just learn to live with, work around. Like asthma or legs that don’t work.
I have no illusions that the pain will cease when my father dies. I don’t see him as much as I did when I lived under his roof. I don’t talk to him much because he hands the phone over to my mother. But he is there. In the scars. The words etched in my heart that keep me from feeling visible. That make me feel like my image won’t show up in a photograph or my presence won’t make an impression in a room.
I can forgive. I can understand. But my soul won’t let me forget. It’ll always function with a bit of a limp.