How I got My Life Back

May 17, 2013
These was a time in my life where it stopped being ‘my life’. I don’t know when, exactly. I can’t give you a date or a time period or even an estimate. But I can tell you when the realization finally came that I had become swallowed whole by my father’s addiction.

I admired my dad. He had a strong sense of identity, and he always seemed knowledgeable and kind. I now see everything I overlooked. Recalling painful childhood memories has become worse as I fill in the details and understand the truth.

He had a girlfriend for a while when I was young. It seemed to be from age 4 to age 8, but I can’t be sure. She was angry, violent, and rude. There wasn’t a single night that wasn’t occupied by an argument or a raised voice. Not one memory I have of her is a good one. She scared me endlessly. I remember hiding from her underneath my bed, and being so utterly terrified. I understand now that maybe that time she spilled boiling hot soup on me could have possibly fallen under the category of abuse. I can finally shed light on this, and it makes me angry. I am indescribably angry at my father for letting her do that to me, for keeping her around, for exposing me to that at such an early age.

Possibly the most prominent memory of my father is the one when I first saw a glimpse of “my dad: the addict”. It was friday the 13th, and I was probably 9 or 10 years old. He had dragged me to a concert in San Francisco, and it was late when we got home. I went to bed and tried to fall asleep, but somehow I just couldn’t. After some time, I heard the front door open and shut. I made up a story in my head about why this could be- a certain fill-in-the-blank procedure that I would come to do quite often for the next 5 years. Then, after 10 minutes, I started to get worried, and my groggy, tired, 9 year old brain began to fill in the blanks with horrible things. I got up and went to see where my dad had gone. I opened the door, engulfed in a cloud of cigarette smoke, and standing there amidst it, was my dad- the ultimate deer in the headlights. His hands were clasped behind his back, hiding the cigarette from me, as if to say “if you can’t see it, it isn’t there!”
“What are you doing?” I had asked.
“I... I’m just looking at the moon.” He responded. “Go back inside. I’ll be in in a minute.”
And that was it. Every night for about 2 years after that, I became the little girl who would lay in her bed and pray every night that the front door wouldn’t open.

But of course, it always did.

My father could never keep a relationship. I quickly became aware of a pattern. It would begin with depression, loneliness, and anxiety attacks. Then he would find some girl, less than half his age, and thus began the period of joy. The undeniably short period of joy, I might add. Even though some of the girls were great, and I got some friends out of it, his short joyride was never worth the post-relationship depression. After a breakup, I would dread going to his house, and would make up excuses to stay at my mom’s. On the nights that I had no excuse, I would go home to a silent house, interrupted by periods of cursing, rage, and screams. He would push his problems onto me, and I became his guidance counselor. I am furious with him for this. How could he put his money issues, his relationship issues, social issues, depression, anxiety, and more on his 11 year old daughter? Who, in their right mind, could possibly think that a young child could handle all that? However, it became evident to me that I had to keep up my therapy sessions, for fear of him having another anxiety attack or worse-committing suicide. So I built on to the long list of reasons I shouldn’t tell him it hurt me, and the reasons that I shouldn’t tell my mom it hurt me.

And that’s how it stayed for 3 years.

But then the cigarettes were replaced with empty beer bottles. When I came home the first time, to find a counter littered with bottle openers and bottles, my initial reaction was shock. I remember standing, frozen in the doorway, staring at a bottle. My brain began its usual fill-in-the-blank procedure, but this time it didn’t help. I was much older, into my 14th year, and I simply knew too much to pretend it wasn’t real. I didn’t deny my father was drinking, I just decided that it wasn’t a problem. I chose to ignore the fact that I might have heard something about my dad being “10 years clean and sober”. I just ignored it all.

But it got worse.

It got worse, and I kept making up lies in my head to excuse it. Until... I couldn’t keep it in anymore. I didn’t care what the consequences were, I had to tell my mom. I acted in my best interest, the best choice for my life. And that was when I reclaimed my life. It is mine and not his. I refuse to let him control my feelings, my thoughts, and my life. If he is past hope and past repair, I can only look to act in my favor, and heal myself from the scars and pain that he has inflicted over the last 10 years. My days as caretaker are over, and now the only person I will take care of is myself.

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