I sat in the chair at my therapist’s office, reviewing my TICES Log with her.
“I notice that you have been triggered multiple times by your dad,” she said matter-of-factly, “Want to elaborate on that?”
I swallowed, feeling a bit nervous. “Well, whenever I’m around him, I have to pop ativan,” I admitted reluctantly, “but it’s fine.”
“How is that ‘fine’?” she asked frankly and I was at a loss.
Slowly, I found myself trying to justify it, but none of it made sense. My TICES score (a score that EMDR therapists use to keep track of your triggered episodes and panic attacks) was always very high when it came to him. You’re supposed to write down on a scale of 1-10 how distressed you are when you’re triggered. Ten is “unbearable/suicidal” and one is “a little uncomfortable.”
Looking at my scores, when it came to my dad–whether it was a text, a thought, a conversation with him, or a conversation regarding him–I was putting down 7, 8, or 9. This meant immediate ativan and a few days of being triggered and anxiety ridden, plus the distinct possibility of panic attacks.
I realized through that conversation that it wasn’t “fine,” that just because he’s my father, that I “must” talk to him, or be around him. I reviewed my score with my psychiatrist later that week and she and my therapist were in agreement: stop talking to him. This came as something of a shock. I always knew that my dad was bad for me, but it took some outside help to realize just how bad.
“But as I have learned through many years of therapy, reconciling doesn’t equal everything becoming “normal” and having your relationship being perfect. Reconciling means coming to grips with dysfunction, examining it, talking about it, and forgiving someone of their wrongs.”Piper Ashford
You shouldn’t have to take anti-anxiety meds every time you communicate with or think about someone. It’s just unhealthy and there’s no way around that. If I really wanted to assert myself, to set boundaries, it was time to get serious about not communicating with him.
So I sent him an email, telling him that I was requesting no contact for a specific period of time while I evaluated my relationship with him and worked on healing myself. As I had requested, he didn’t respond and I haven’t heard or seen him since.
It’s been months now and my overall stress level is much improved. I don’t dread using my phone or being on social media and my ativan usage is cut down significantly. My therapist and my psychiatrist are very pleased with my progress and overall, I’m healthier.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s been easy. My siblings still talk to my father, so I hear about him on occasion. I feel guilty over not talking to him–going through stages of denial over and over again that maybe I’m “being too harsh” or he “isn’t that bad.” I feel angry about the things he did when I was younger that contributed to my C-PTSD. I feel grieved that I probably won’t ever have a normal relationship with him, even if I do go back to talking to him. I feel relief that I don’t have to worry about him anymore and I feel like I’m freer to be myself, without fear of his criticism or anger.
It’s liberating, terrifying, and humbling.
But all of these feelings are only amplified by Father’s Day, especially the denial stage of grief. As I see ads upon ads about the father/child relationship, I feel guilt and wonder if maybe I’m simply bitter and harsh. Maybe he didn’t do those things. Maybe because he’s family, I’m somehow obligated to “put aside differences” and “reconcile.”
But as I have learned through many years of therapy, reconciling doesn’t equal everything becoming “normal” and having your relationship being perfect. Reconciling means coming to grips with dysfunction, examining it, talking about it, and forgiving someone of their wrongs. However, just because you’ve forgiven someone, that doesn’t mean that you must speak with them. It doesn’t mean you forget past wrongs and continue an unhealthy relationship with them. It means that you are at peace and forgive for the sake of yourself so that your anger doesn’t eat away at you and you become bitter.
I’m working on forgiving my dad for his abuse. I really, really am. But it’s hard work that’s best done when I’m not speaking to him or trying to maintain a relationship with him. Maybe I will contact him once I’ve worked through the years of abuse. Maybe I won’t. There’s no telling. For now, I know that while I don’t speak to him, I’m happier, less stressed, and working towards a healthy place. I may be Fatherless on Father’s Day, but I’m at peace with that, even if it’s hard. -PA