When I was 15, I accidentally fell in love with a 20-year old, Jeff*.
I know, that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I didn’t know how old he was, I just knew he had saved me once, and then he stuck around.
I spent the next six years of my life bouncing back and forth between loving him and hating him. I gave him more of my energy than was responsible by any stretch of the imagination.
When I was 17, he cheated on me… kind of.
We were fighting and said we were over, but we both knew it wasn’t going to last. I forgave him. We found out later that the girl he’d slept with was pregnant. She also got hooked on drugs.
By some miracle, she carried that baby to term and delivered a healthy baby girl. That baby girl came home with us. Her mother’s rights were terminated by the court, and Jeff was all she had. I was Mommy to that baby girl. Jeff proposed shortly after we brought her home, when I turned 18.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out so well once I left for college. Despite promises from Jeff that he’d move closer to my university and we’d stay together, it never happened. We went from living together to a long-distance relationship. Then, we went from a long-distance relationship to nothing.
Despite the end of our romantic relationship, he still allowed me to be a part of baby girl’s life – I was the only “mom” she even knew. When he realized the toll our separation was taking on her, he started bringing her to visit every week. She’d stay the night with me, and he’d have nights to be the 23-year old guy he wanted to be.
This arrangement has been working out pretty well for the last three years. We’ve toyed with the idea of getting back together, but we know we shouldn’t. The idea of being married to him is great; the reality is scary. He has a long and scary history of breaking my heart. He broke my heart again four weeks ago.
See, Jeff is from Washington state and it’s been his dream to go back. A month ago, he was offered a great job in his hometown. When he called to tell me about it, he sounded like a little kid on Christmas. I couldn’t have been happier for him. It struck us at the same time what moving meant, though. He’d be taking his daughter all the way across the country – away from me.
We had until May 7th to find a solution. That was his deadline to accept or decline the offer. On the 2nd, we were still fighting for an answer. I was laying in bed when I realized that the answer was simple: he needed to go. He needed to worry about himself and his daughter, and not me. I knew from his voice during that first phone call that nothing other than going to Seattle was going to make him happy. He needed to go for it and let the pieces fall together. He will not be without support, family, money, or love. Neither will our girl.
When I told him this, he cried. He felt like he was making a mistake for not finding a solution that included me. I told him that if this life move was meant to include me, it would find some way to, but right now, I’m staying put.
They started their road trip on Wednesday. Jeff planned a crazy six day adventure with all kinds of fun cities in the middle. Every couple hours, my phone rings, and I get a travel update from the best three-year old travel reporter in the world. I spend some time crying after each call. They’re in Portland tonight and will be at their new home tomorrow morning. It’s taking everything I have not to get on the next plane and meet them there. I don’t really know why I wrote this here, The Band.
Am I wrong for feeling this way about a little girl who isn’t even mine? Am I being ridiculous?
*Names changed to protect privacy.
Welcome to Father’s Day 2019, here at The Band Back Together. Today, we celebrate fathers-to-be, fathers whose treasures who are in heaven, fathers who don’t deserve the title, fathers who have shaped who we are for good, for bad, for life.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, Happy Father’s Day.
To The Man Who “Raised” Me-
You married my mother when I was barely three-years-old.
I don’t have any memories of that day, but the pictures show a happy little girl. I don’t know what was going on in your mind as you allowed me to grow up believing you were my father.
I’ve seen all the pictures. I know they portray the quintessential American family.
I have memories that tell me those pictures were lies.
On the surface, I never wanted for anything. I had clothes that fit me, food in my belly and most of the coolest toys. What I didn’t have, was you.
Even at a young age, I remember feeling that I was somehow less than my sisters, somehow different in your eyes. As I got older, I picked up that it had something to do with having a different last name.
But I never got any explanation as to why.
I was only nine when you brought your daughter from a previous marriage to live with us. I was NINE YEARS OLD when you and Mom sat us down and explained that you weren’t really my father.
You asked for my permission to adopt me.
A chance to finally be YOURS?! Who could turn that down? Did you realize that I didn’t have the cognitive ability to understand what was happening? Did you know how desperately I wanted to have your last name? To be a part of the family, to no longer be different?
Why you and Mom went through with the adoption, I’ll never know. You were already fighting so much. A mere six months later, you were divorced.
Do you know what it cost me to tell my mother that I wanted to live with you instead of her? Do you realize that my desire to please you, to matter to you, caused a chasm between Mom and me that can never be repaired?
And what did I gain? A step-mother who made sure I continued to feel like less, separate from her family. The privilege of being your built-in-baby-sitter and maid. And constantly being bullied by my step-sisters every day of my teenage years. All while you turned a blind eye.
Somewhere along the line, I stopped trying to win your love and started to seek what I was missing from boys.
Even the negative attention I received when I acted out was better than feeling invisible.
For years I called you “Dad.” I bought you cards on Father’s Day every year, signing them, “with all my love.” For most of my life, I’ve tried to please you. I stood by you when others wouldn’t, and made excuses for you when you hurt others. Or me.
I can’t do it anymore.
I have a son now and while I may not get along with his father, I see what a strong relationship they have. I have removed the blinders – I see that we’ve never had a relationship. It’s not really a relationship if one person doesn’t even acknowledge the other.
So this Father’s Day, there won’t be a card from me in the mailbox. You won’t get a phone call or a text.
For once, I’ll be just as invisible as you always made me feel.
I come from a large blended family.
I have six siblings- four brothers and two sisters. I’m especially close to two brothers.
November 19, 2017 will always be the hardest day of my entire life. You see, early that morning, I got a text from my mom asking me to call her; it was very important. I called her immediately, expecting that my grandfather, who is already in terrible shape, had fallen again or had another stroke.
When I called, the first words out of my mouth were, “Is it Pappaw?”
It wasn’t. It was Eli, my youngest brother, just 25.
He had committed suicide in the middle of the night.
I screamed for hours it seemed. I couldn’t stop screaming.
My baby brother, and one of my biggest supporters, had chosen to end his life with no signs of depression or struggle beforehand. I cried myself into one of the worst migraines of my life.
I was in the ER that evening seeking treatment.
As if that earth-shattering day wasn’t enough, the next day was just as bad.
My dad, 66 years old, had gone to the ER complaining of back pain and unable to walk. I mean, his legs wouldn’t support him or move, not that it hurt to walk. After scans and exams, we found out that he had stage four cancer. His bones were riddled with cancer.
He went straight from the ER to radiation.
Now, this is a double whammy. Not only am I reeling and numb from Eli’s loss, but now I have to hold myself together to support Dad. He’d always been my greatest supporter, it was my turn to help him.
I immediately began packing bags to go to his side. After a cluster of idiotic errors and misjudgments by the doctors, he was finally given an accurate diagnosis regarding the type of cancer and I stayed with him as much as I could during the next two months.
Dad died January 30, 2018.
Since losing these men that helped shape who I am, I’m barely breathing some days.
There are times when it all seems like a nightmare. There are times when I’m drowning in tears. I’ll never be the same. I don’t know how to live in a world without them. As crazy as it sounds, I’m reluctant to seek grief counseling. I’m worried I’ll hurt more if I’m forced to talk about it. I am on an antidepressant that takes the edge off this utter depression.
I distract myself with movies and books to get through the day.
I am now 45 years old and I nearly lost my marriage to PTSD.
It was my first year of marriage, and I’d gotten a nice degree, so I got a great job at an investment bank.
It all started to unravel after the birth of my first child, a boy.
Every time I changed his nappy and saw his penis, it triggered repressed memories of my evil stepfather who exposed himself to me and masturbated in front of me for most of the 25 years he was married to my mother.
The flashbacks played in my mind at work and interrupted my ability to concentrate. I lasted through work with strained relationships with my colleagues.
After the birth of my second child, a daughter, I had post traumatic stress disorder and could not go back to work.
In therapy, over the following year, I processed the anger and rage I felt for my mother as she did not protect me from him.
Now 8 years later, my eldest son is 10 and I now have 4 children with my husband. Our marriage has been emotionally difficult and I don’t trust him. Somehow, thank God, we have lasted.
We separated after 11 years and we now live apart, but we’re still married. I cannot cope with the emotional intimacy of living with him, I need to spend long periods quiet and alone in my own thoughts. At the time I didn’t realize the catastrophic abuse happening to me, but now as a 40 something adult I look at homeless alcoholics and drug addicts and think, yes, I know what happened to you.
When someone molested you, hurt you, as a child, you are broken.
This abuse has made me compassionate and deeply religious in a very private personal way. My relationship with God is very strong, but less so with the congregation as I still have trust issues. God has kept me alive and not dying by suicide over the years.
To all of you out there, all I can say is put your life in God’s hands. Whatever has happened to you broke you so that God could shape you more perfectly. Life is teaching you horrific lessons, but you will be stronger and more compassionate about other people’s suffering.
Work hard on your marriage if you are married and don’t give up.
And above all else, work on forgiving the parent that didn’t protect you. The abuser chose your parent so they could abuse you. Abusers are evil, cold, and calculating; anyone who could hurt a child is stupid and evil.
But let that go.
Leave them to God and move on with your life AFTER therapy. I will say that you can’t get rid of these extreme feelings without a therapist; it’s the best investment in your own health.
My mother has cancer now and not long to live.
I cherish these times with her, after I forgave her. She’s now a devout Christian and is doing lots to heal herself after 25 years with her abusive husband. I thank God that I’ve been able to connect with her finally, at the end of her life, to heal.
Now, I work with the poor and addicts, you might consider working in this area if you have overcome childhood sexual abuse yourself. It took me years to be able to tell people that my step-father masturbated in front of me, and my mother often was doing the masturbating.
Now, it’s just such a relief, just letting people know.
I’ve been debating joining Band Back Together since the day it opened. I was leery, because good goodness do I have a lot to say. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. And hard to let yourself. Some things are hard to pull out of the box under the bed. It’s not easy to give them attention or light, even if sometimes that is necessary.
So I’m here. And fuck it all. I’m healing. I’m better. I’m stable and mostly happy. I got shit to say.
My mom once showed me a song by Lucinda Williams called Sweet Side. She said it reminded her of me. Which is sort of bullshit. I’ve been pretty emotionally fucked up but never quite to that extent. In any case, I found it sort of ironic that my mom should point it out to me. She mistakenly believes my internal wounds were created when I was molested.
They were her made by her alone. I’m honestly not affected by the molestation. I have been, but that pain has long since been banished.
The worst damage is the quietest.
It is the person who should love you unconditionally repeatedly telling you, “I love you, but….” It is being thrown out into the streets at the age of thirteen. It is being told you are insane; a bitch, violent, angry, a failure, unstable, and worthless in words and actions for most of your life. It is trying, with EVERY OUNCE OF LOVE in your child’s body, to gain the affection of your mother by any means necessary. Then, when that fails, to gain -attention- by any means necessary.
And when that fails, shutting off to the world.
It’s being sent away, over and over as a child, on the word’s “I can’t deal with you any more, you are going to your (Aunt’s/Dad’s/Grandma’s) house.”
It’s your insane family hosting an intervention.
To tell you to lock yourself in an insane asylum. For the horrific sin of being angry. When the forty-year old virgin who still hides in her mother’s attic, the woman who had seven kids (five outside of her marriage) lied about the whole thing, watched her husband beat and molest her children and ignored it willfully, and the former heroin addict tell you that you need help, something has gone terribly wrong.
Having one of the most insane stick up for you at the least expected moment. Finding shelter in his rage. Seeing the correlation. Black sheep meet black lamb. Those surreal moments that buffer you from the storm.
It’s moving in with your step-dad when your parents separate. Because he’s the better parent.
It’s being kicked out of your bedroom and moved into the corner of the living room, so your mother’s boyfriend can have an office. Or moving into the spider-infested, insulation-free shed outside. Because they are tired of you inside. Or a 3AM, walk outside to get to the restroom, because you aren’t welcome to live IN the house with the good people.
And finding the front door locked.
It’s a birthday party alone, while your family went on vacation (again) to New Orleans without you. During Mardi Gras. It’s a sweet sixteen where they haul in a musty old pull-behind trailer and tell you, “Happy Birthday, now GTFO” and you find yourself with a ‘birthday’ basket of cleaning supplies and a rank, disgusting trailer parked in the back yard. Your new home. Have a paper umbrella, it’ll make it right.
It’s making the (sane) decision to not speak to your mother, ever again, at seventeen. And being talked out of it. Stupidly.
It’s having the power cord leading to that same trailer be pulled repeatedly in the middle of the night by your mother’s boyfriend. Leading to HOLY FUCK IT’S COLD IN HERE. Leading to ‘Stop lying! He didn’t do it!’
It’s trusting, against your better judgment, to go home when your life collapses and you are sick and losing your mind. And finding yourself taken advantage of, and then thrown out. Again.
Of trying to get your life back together, only to have your money depleted entirely. Of going back to school only to discover that every day seems to result in another, “I TOLD you I couldn’t watch the kids, I have an appointment”
Of visiting a friend in California to get away from the building stress and anxiety, to find yourself homeless and stranded and papers being filed in your absence claiming you abandoned your children. Of having to explain to your children that you didn’t. And that you meant it when you said you’d be gone a week.
Of living in a shitty motel in the middle of the Mojave desert, subsisting on ten dollars a week in food to make it back to get your kids. In waiting a year to see them again because of your mother’s treachery.
Of gearing up for an epic court battle only to have her mysteriously drop them off with ‘a secret, don’t tell your mother’ and have your beautiful, sensitive daughter burst into tears because the pressure is too much. In hearing her, through her sobbing, explain that she’s afraid Grandma would be back to take them again in a month, because that’s what she said.
Holidays are bullshit. They remind me of the family I don’t have.
They remind me of going to Thanksgiving to drop off my kids to spend time with their Uncle, and be entirely ignored by my family. They remind me of being asked how much a vacuum was at Home Depot without a ‘hello’ or a ‘Merry Christmas’ preceding it and without even so much as a ‘have a nice day’ on leaving.
I spent the last two years with just my partner during the holidays. It’s been years since I so much as got a birthday card or a Christmas card. I don’t expect them, and I don’t need them. But I kind of wish I got them. It felt odd. It still feels odd.
This year, I’m going to cook a turkey, we will all will sit down to it and be thankful for what we have. And I will continue to love my children fiercely every day, no matter how angry and hurt they are inside. No matter how long their own healing process takes. No matter what silly, childish things they do. Even if they break something I love, or snark at each other in a hormonal rage, no matter if they make horrible decisions or great ones. I’m going to be there and love them.
The fact is, that no matter how much she’s done to me, no matter how much she has injured my heart, no matter how many times she’s screwed my life through her manipulations, I love her. She’s my mother; I can’t help it. I miss the love a mother is supposed to provide. I miss the safe haven. I miss the support system.
I miss the person you call when you are at your wit’s end and need advice. I have nothing like that. I’m it. I’m my own self-contained support. If a kid does something baffling, I’m on my own. If I’m drying out the turkey, I’m on my own.
I haven’t spoken to my extended family in years. I haven’t spent more than five minutes in conversation with my mother for two. My life has NEVER been better. It’s stable, I’m back in school. My kids are healing, slowly and painfully, but they are healing. We have our finances in order and our life is generally upwardly mobile. But still…
I want a mother so desperately it hurts.
And I can’t make that feeling go away, no matter how much I want to.
The only thing I’d wanted was another baby.
So when, after meeting a good guy, marrying him and buying a house in the suburbs with a yard (like I was Suzie-freaking-Homemaker), I found myself knocked up once again just like I’d wanted, I couldn’t begin to understand why I was so miserable. After living through my first pregnancy — something that can only be described through a particularly bad country song — raising an autistic child, escaping my alcoholic parents and finally having another baby, this time the way I thought it was “supposed to be,” my feelings were beyond bizarre to me.
Certainly, my life was stressful. But my life has always been stressful. I’d had to quit my job and money was tight, something my new husband worried about often and loudly. When we’d moved to the ‘burbs, we’d left behind our friends so my support system of single friends was gone. We’d occasionally talk on the phone but it became more and more obvious that we were no longer on the same page. It stung more than I’d thought it would.
Day after day during this pregnancy I sat alone on the couch, or praying to the porcelain gods, while my husband worked 14-hour days. My distant son, never a source of emotional comfort anyway, was in school all day. These were the days before I’d adopted the internet as Your Aunt Becky, so I was Becky, As Herself. I had no one to confide in, no Band of Merry Pranksters to confess my feelings to, and now neatly severed from all of my support systems, I floundered.
I’d been depressed before, but the feelings I was experiencing were new. I felt like I was mired in quicksand, rooted in one spot, unable to move forward. Always a social beast, I could barely leave my house. A simple phone call became too much to handle. The isolation bred isolation and now a trip to the store exhausted me for days beforehand and afterward.
It was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning.
Sleep was an elusive mistress. Night after night, as my son churned in my belly, I tossed and turned, unable to ever fall into that deep REM sleep that the doctors insist we need to survive. I remembered that sleep deprivation was a technique that soldiers used on POW’s to drive them slowly insane, which was precisely what was happening to me. Each morning, I dragged myself out of bed, unrefreshed and sad, filled with a sense of impending doom.
Finally, untrusting of my OB, I turned to Dr. Google for advice. While I wasn’t yet Your Aunt Becky, I was a blogger and I knew that the beauty (and horror) of the internet is that there’s always one soul that no matter how depraved you’re feeling, can sympathize with you. Setting my search to “antepartum depression,” I was confident that I would find something.
Nothing came up. Well, okay, there were a couple of things, but mostly with “antepartum” and “depression” mentioned in the same article.
Not exactly helpful, Dr. Google.
Fine, I thought. I’m a freak.
Ben, my first, had been born after Andrea Yates had her bout with postpartum psychosis, so I’d had no end of pamphlets shoved at me to help me combat any urges to hurt myself or someone else after he was born. We’d studied the spectrum of postpartum mood disorders in nursing school as well. But antepartum depression was a big question mark.
So what did I do? NOTHING. I wore a groove on the couch where I sat miserable and sad until my second son, Alex, was born squalling and healthy. Almost instantly, my mood improved.
When I got pregnant with my daughter, I expected the antepartum depression to return and it did. By this time, I had become Your Aunt Becky and shared my troubles with my Pranksters. Many stepped up and said that they, too, had experienced the same types of feelings. It was wonderful to feel less alone; less like a circus freak. I went onto an SSRI in my second trimester to try to combat the antepartum depression, but even with that on board I didn’t feel much better. Pregnancy, it seems, doesn’t agree with me.
What shattered me was after I shared my experiences about antepartum depression, the usual search terms that brought people to my blog (boring things, aunt becky sucks, mommy wants a vodka) were replaced by these: “antepartum depression,” “depression during pregnancy,” and “sadness in pregnancy.” Knowing that there were other women sitting on their own couches struggling the way I had broke my tiny black heart into a billion pieces.
The isolation I experienced was devastating and while I ended up walking away from the experience with only a little darkness on my back, I hate to imagine others out there suffering the way that I did. I’m thrilled that postpartum depression has gotten so much support. It should get all that it does and more. Women supporting other women is beautiful. I want antepartum depression, which they now call antenatal depression apparently, to get some of that support, too.
I hope that for the next pregnant woman who sits on her couch, crying and feeling as desperately alone as I did, I hope that she can find the light.
Because there is light. And it is so, so good