When Father’s Day hurts

The first Father’s Day after I went no contact with my dad (the first time), someone at work asked me what my plans were. When I told him my husband and I would be celebrating our second anniversary, he was shocked.

“What? So, you’re just going to leave your dad alone of Father’s Day?” he asked, slightly joking, but mostly serious. “You’re not going to do anything for him at all?”

The last time I’d talked to my dad he’d told me, among many, many other things, that I was self-righteous and a bully. He’d told me God wouldn’t forgive me unless I started acting more “forgiving” toward him. The conversation had left me shaking, nauseated, lightheaded, and crying in the bathroom. Meanwhile, my dad had ended the conversation by saying he it was too painful for him to talk to me any longer right then.

But I couldn’t tell my coworker all that. Instead, I tried to laugh it off and provide some kind of explanation for why I wasn’t celebrating my dad without lying. I felt like I might puke right there into the tiny waste basket under my desk.

That weekend, Josh brought me to a tearoom. We got scones with jam, lemon curd, and Devonshire cream, and several pots of tea, as well as three types of loose-leaf tea from the gift shop to bring home. That man definitely knows the way to my heart.

While we were sitting there, I noticed a father having high tea with his daughter a couple tables over. They had those little tea sandwiches, and she had on a pretty dress. I squealed under my breath to Josh about how cute they were, because if I didn’t, I’d start crying right there in public.

If you’re like me, and Father’s Day can be triggering, remember you’re not alone. And please, do something meaningful for yourself today.

  1. Talk to someone you trust about the feelings today brings up for you.
  2. Stay off social media. I know for me it can be really hard to see people celebrating their dads, even though I am happy for them.
  3. Write a letter to your dad, telling him what you wish you could say to him. Then put the letter away somewhere (or burn it if you’re feeling super symbolic).
  4. Get out in nature. Take a walk and focus on what you can hear, see, smell, and feel. Be mindful of the heat though! Bring a water bottle and lather on that sunblock!
  5. Journal. Writing about your thoughts, feelings, and memories helps integrate the different parts of your brain.
  6. Do something that has good memories associated with it. Rewatch your favorite movie, go to your favorite place, or do your favorite hobby.
  7. Most of all, be compassionate with yourself and make room for your grief/anger/regrets. Don’t just ignore them. It won’t make them go away.

Or you could write a blog post about how Father’s Day is hard and things people can do to help themselves cope!

The stranger in my eyes

“I hate myself,” she said matter-of-factly. It was righteous self-hatred she explained. She was a sinner, and so she scorned and hated her flesh. After all, the Bible says that even the good things we do are as dirty rags.

My pastor and his wife had invited me over after church to eat with two of their friends. I now sat across the table from them, emersed in an intense theological discussion. Usually a fairly quiet and passive person, such a debate was far from ordinary for me. But this felt too important to be silent.

I don’t remember exactly how we got to this point in the conversation, only that I’d mentioned self-hatred as something to be avoided. I had not expected the woman to respond with an argument in its favor.

I told her I couldn’t agree. “I don’t God ever wants us to hate ourselves,” I said. “Because I know where it leads.” And I told them this story.

When I was a child, I was taught that it is impossible to hate yourself. If you think you hate yourself, that only shows how much you actually love yourself.

The first time I heard this, I was thirteen and already deeply depressed. For a moment, I felt a flash of anger. I wanted to yell at someone, to lash out against the weight of yet more condemnation. But then the flash was over. In less than a second, I’d sunk into resignation. There was no point in fighting.

There was no way out.

And so, my self-hatred grew. My mind churned criticism until I felt beaten up from the inside out and then despised myself for feeling that way. Sometimes, in the isolation of my basement bedroom, the hateful words would come spewing out of me.

That’s what happened one night when I was sixteen.

I remember sitting on my hands on the edge of my bed, enumerating my many failures. I was a coward. I was selfish. I was a disappointment to God.

“I’m disgusted with you.” I hissed the words into the night.

I couldn’t keep still anymore. I began to pace the floor, spitting accusations at myself until the angry part of me, the part that hated, consumed the sad part of me. It was strong. Stronger than anything I’d ever felt before.

I turned, stomped toward my dresser, and hit my right wrist against its edge. Hard, harder, relishing the sting of it. The hatred was a force. It was alive, snapping like white-hot fire. I was no longer me. I was something “other,” something that needed to be punished.

I imagined myself hurt, killed even, and felt a strange kind of justice in that thought, as if only then would I have gotten what I truly deserved.

It was then that I looked up into the mirror. My reflection stared back at me, and it was as if I was looking at a stranger.

It was not me looking out of my eyes.

I let out a whimper and fell cowering to the floor. “God! Help me!” My voice was hoarse. All the self-hatred was gone. In its place was terror of what I’d seen, what I’d felt. I knew, suddenly, that all hatred was wrong, even if it was directed at oneself. And it wasn’t because it was secretly “self-love” as that teacher had claimed.

The hatred I had just experienced could not in any way, shape, or form ever be from God. God is love.

How had I forgotten that?

I cried, sitting with my knees pulled tightly to my chest. I promised God, promised myself, that I would never allow this to happen again.

“Take the hate away. Fill me with your love instead,” I repeated over and over. I decided that every time I felt anger at myself, I would repeat this prayer.

Outside, the light from my bedroom windows made rectangles that stretched across the lawn, banishing everything outside their edges into blackness. I flipped my light switch off, and immediately moonlight flooded everything.

I knelt at my window. I could see the feathery branches of the tree that marked where the lawn gave way to untamed grass. Beyond that, the wind rolled over the woods, swaying the trees so they looked as if they were one being. Above, stars softly ribboned the sky. And it seemed to me as if all of it was alive and singing.

That was the night I realized that it was good—and necessary—to fight the angry voice inside my head. For so long, I had internalized a false god who stared down in judgement and disgust. And always, when I pictured this god, I also pictured my ultra-spiritual father sleeping at the other end of the house. Undoubtedly, this god was pleased with him. But not with me.

The more I tried to satiate this god, the more self-loathing I felt. Even my pain was an affront to him.

So no, I don’t think God wants us to have some kind of “righteous self-hatred.” And I don’t think he condemns us for feeling that way either. I think he says, “Look in the mirror. This isn’t who I meant you to be.”

That time my dad poisoned me

What happens when you find out that the “medicine” your dad gave you when you were 14 was poison? You start going into shock. At least, that’s what I did.

My limbs grew cold and weak, my face became ashen, and my pupils dilated. All I wanted to do was curl under a blanket and not open my eyes for a long, long time. Thankfully, by the time my husband got our baby ready to get in the car and take me to the ER, the color had started coming back to my face.

Instead, we went on a walk—a very slow and shuffling walk. My limbs were still too heavy to lift all the way. Josh held my hand firmly and warmly, and I sucked in the new spring air. This is reality now. I am safe now.

Here’s what happened: When I was fourteen, my dad took me aside to tell me of a miracle cure for everything from cancer to autism to the common cold. Apparently, some guy had discovered it while prospecting for gold in South America. He used water purification drops to cure first his guides, then whole villages, of malaria.

“The pharmaceutical companies hated him!” My dad said it like a badge of honor. “They couldn’t monetize it, so they bribed local doctors to silence him. They wouldn’t let him in the country.”

There was that familiar gleam in his eyes—the power of secret knowledge. He explained to me that I was going to start taking MMS (Miracle Mineral Supplement). I’d start with one drop a day. When my body got used to it, then I’d up the dose until I reached six drops every day.

He ordered the stuff online. I don’t know where it came from, but I remember the green and blue labels on the bottles. There were two: one was the MMS and one was the “activator” that was supposed to unleash its amazing oxidating qualities.

The worst part might have been the smell: overpowering chlorine. Or it might have been the involuntary gag that always came as I forced the stuff down my throat.

All I remember about the following week was the sickness. Nausea so overwhelming it weakened my limbs. The effort it took to hold up my head. How all I could think about was taking my next breath, then the next. Trying to focus on anything else but my roiling insides (essentially trying to dissociate).

I never actually threw up, but I did ask Dad to pull the car over so I could dry heave on the side of the road several times. Finally, Mom convinced him that it wasn’t doing any good, only making me sick.

“If it smelled like chlorine, it probably was chlorine,” Josh said when I told him about it.

“No,” I said. “It couldn’t have been. Dad wouldn’t have done anything that crazy.”

I don’t know why it took so long for me to look up what MMS actually was. It was last week—over ten years later—that I finally googled the strange medicine.

As I read, I felt the blood draining from behind my eyes.

The second hit was a warning issued by the FDA: when activated, “the mixture becomes chlorine dioxide, a powerful bleaching agent.”

Warnings from medical sites and government agencies around the world told the same story. MMS (or WPS or CD, as it is also called) can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, life-threatened drop in blood pressure, and liver failure. At least seven people have died from it.

I could have died.

I could have died. I could have died. I could have died.

I was shaking by the time I dropped my phone on our kitchen table and went to the nursery where Josh was playing on the floor with our son. I held my elbows and pressed my arms protectively into my ribcage.

“Josh,” I whispered. “You were right. It smelled like chlorine because it was chlorine.” And I started crying.

This was far more than the apricot seeds he’d wanted us to eat (he said the cyanide would kill cancer). It was more than him leaving me in his truck alone for hours when I was three years old. Somehow, this felt more invasive and harmful than any of it.

My dad sacrificed me on the altar of his conspiracy theories. He took away my bodily autonomy and forced me to ingest poison. I knew I had no choice. I could not ask for the misery to stop. Even though the gold prospector story sounded suspicious to me, I could not question.

It is no wonder to me now that I began restricting my calorie intake not long after. If my body had to suffer, at least I would be the one making it suffer.

Photo by miki takahashi on behance

I still don’t know how to process this new revelation. (Why, after all this time, does anything surprise me?) But I expect it will look like everything else: work on staying grounded, hold my boundaries, remind myself I am safe, enjoy the good things I have in my life now, and feel the grief so I can move past it.

I don’t want to feel the grief. I don’t think anybody does. But I know it is the best thing for me. It’s the best thing for all of us.

Oh, and before you ingest any miracle cures, google them.

FDA MMS articel: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/danger-dont-drink-miracle-mineral-solution-or-similar-products

Signs of emotional abuse: 1 they never take responsibility

The abusive person doesn’t take responsibility for their behavior.

It’s not just a once in a while thing. It’s an all the time thing. He (I’m going to use a male pronoun for simplicity’s sake) NEVER takes responsibility for his behavior.

It might be obvious: It’s your fault, you’re the one who wanted to come here/do this/had to open your big mouth, if you hadn’t (fill in the blank) then I wouldn’t be yelling at you

He might accuse you of always assuming the worst in people, not giving him the benefit of the doubt, being unforgiving, unloving, untrusting, etc.

Or, it could be far more subtle. He might deny that the event you’re referring to ever happened: “I don’t remember that.” Or he might use a diversion tactic. For instance, he might point out something you did wrong, to deflect the conversation in a new direction. (That one can be especially tricky to spot.)

He might even apologize sometimes for messing up. But when you think about it later, he never said specifically what he did wrong. Instead, the apology was laced with phrases like “I’m sorry for offending you,” or “if you were a boy it wouldn’t have mattered,” or “I just don’t know how to communicate to you how much I love you.” Now, maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, but look at the implications. All those phrases turn it back on you. It’s your fault you feel this way. You’re too easily offended, girls are just overly sensitive, or you are difficult to communicate with. That’s why you feel hurt and unloved.

It’s not because he is treating you badly.

If you try to explain this to other people, they might think you’re reading too much into things. That is NOT true. It’s not just that his words subtly imply that everything is your fault, it’s that that belief permeates his whole attitude toward you. He lives his life as if he is never at fault. He firmly believes that if you just understood him better, were tougher, less “type A,” or less “easily offended,” then you would have a great relationship.

In other words, he’s in complete denial. He’s creating his own reality, in which he is the victim of overly sensitive females. Not only that, but he wants you to agree that his version of reality is the only reality.

But you’re not crazy! You’re just dealing with an abusive person.

When Christmas Hurts

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My family had a strange Christmas tradition when I was growing up.  Christmas Day was hectic, my mom’s side in the morning and my dad’s in the afternoon. So, every Christmas Eve we would roast hot dogs over the fire and eat them with baked beans and Caesar salad while the same 1993 Reba Mcentire Christmas album played on repeat in the background. It might be odd, but it was magical to us.

This is the first year that won’t be happening. At least, not in the same way.

You see, it’s been three months since I told my dad I can’t talk to him anymore. And I’ve noticed the difference. I feel healthier emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and even physically without him in my life. But that also means no family gathered around my parents’ fireplace.

Don’t get me wrong; Christmas wasn’t all roses. I remember Dad getting angry if he didn’t get what he considered a “fair portion” of the food, which was especially difficult when times were tight. I remember trying with every fiber of my ten-year-old being to anticipate his every desire, jumping up to fetch ketchup or milk from the kitchen in hopes I would earn his love. Most of all, I remember him sitting off by himself watching something “spiritual” or political on his phone, refusing to participate in Christmas with us.

But still, the fireplace, the music, the elaborate ways my future-engineer brother found to deliver his gifts, the excitement of seeing my sisters finally open the horse or cat stickers I got for them, Mom and siblings huddled around the Christmas puzzle… It was the only time home seemed homey.

This year, I already skipped Thanksgiving. My husband and I spent the day moving into our new house—no turkey or board games or cousins. And now Christmas looms empty on the calendar. There will be no Reba Mcentire Christmas Eve, not when my 15-year-old sister is in Florida to get away from the chaos of home, my mom is leaving my dad, and I can’t have him in my life. There will be no house full of seventeen cousins, aunts, uncles, and lefse on Christmas Day. I won’t even be done unpacking my house, which means no decorations.

Even though the blank space on the calendar makes me sad, I know it’s the right choice.

Sometimes choosing to be healthy hurts. Choosing to not lower your standards, to say, “no, you are not allowed to manipulate and shame me,” will mean giving up how life was, and it might be harder than you think. Because the unhealthy can feel familiar and sometimes it doesn’t feel unhealthy at all. To fight against the lies of shame, fear, and sadness, you can’t just get rid of them. You have to fill the blank spaces with new things, with truth.

And sometimes, you have to make new traditions. I don’t know what mine will be yet, or when I will have the strength to begin them, but I know that—finally—I value myself enough to choose health.

And that is the right choice.

A Good Father

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Recently, my husband and I started the process of buying our first home. It freaked me out. Big time. So much money, so much responsibility, so many things to break and cost even more money… So, I asked God not to just shut the door if it was the wrong move, but to SLAM it in our faces. Instead, he opened the door even wider.

And his goodness stunned me. Again.

You see, like a lot of people, I never expected God to give me good things. Or, if he did, I expected him to snatch them away again the next second. Because that’s how my life has always gone. When I was a teenager I said that life is like drowning in the ocean. You get some breaths between the waves, but only enough to make sure you keep surviving—a cruel punishment.

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized God wasn’t the one sending the waves. It was my dad. God was there, looking at me with compassion and love the whole time. He was waiting for the perfect moment to deliver me and show me all the goodness my dad had been keeping from me. He knew I needed to be ready to face the truth. He knew I needed to have the support of a loving husband. He knew he needed to work in my mom, sister, and brother’s hearts as well.

The whole time I was drowning, he was preparing me for freedom. And now, he is showing me what the Bible means when it calls him Father.

People say that a lot. When you have a toxic dad, they tell you to cling to God as your Father. The problem is, if all you have is a bad example, that’s pretty much impossible. You see God through the lens of the abuser’s manipulation. You try to be perfect so God won’t be disappointed. As many times as you hear he loves you, you still can’t believe it. Not really.

But now, for the first time, I’m starting to be able to see God as a good Father. Naming what happened to me gave me the ability to reject my dad’s lens. God isn’t on the side of the abuser. He doesn’t look like spiritual abuse says he does.

He actually has good in store for me, even though I never believed it.

“You have to forgive me!” And Other Lies

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I was having a conversation with my dad the other day (if someone yelling over you for an hour can be called a conversation), and he said that I need to forgive him. Otherwise, God won’t forgive me.

You see, to my dad, I haven’t forgiven him because I don’t trust him. To him, forgiveness means reconciliation and unconditional relationship. It means giving him license to hurt me over and over and over. And it doesn’t matter that there has been no true repentance (I’ll talk about that in another post). I’m supposed to forget and act like everything is okay when I am being psychologically pounded into the earth.

Literally, I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I could barely move, my limbs were so heavy.

But no, I’m supposed to “forgive and forget.” Which, by the way, isn’t even in the Bible.

 

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And unfortunately, that’s the view that the church has taught.

They say that if he apologizes, you need to trust those words. You need to believe that he is a changed man even if everything in you screams it’s a lie. It doesn’t matter that abusers are master manipulators. It doesn’t matter that there has been no true repentance (I’ll write about that in another post).

They say you need to pray more, be more loving and kind. Then he’ll be convicted to change his abusive ways. I’ve got news for you: that makes abuse worse. Being more loving does not convict him. It tells him he is right—you are the one who needs to change because everything is your fault.

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But here’s the thing, I have forgiven my dad. But my forgiveness looks like acknowledging that his abuse is not okay and trusting God for justice in the situation. I’m not trying to punish him. I don’t wish any harm or pain upon him.

I forgive, but I don’t trust him. I forgive, but I will not condone his sin by allowing him to be cruel to me. I forgive, but there can be no reconciliation. Not while he’s abusive.

And that is okay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Emotional Abuse Feels Like

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Am I crazy? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I ever express myself to him in a way he will understand? Maybe he’s right—I don’t know how to communicate…

These are the thoughts that swirl through your mind. Reality is a shifting surface, and every time you think you’ve grasped a corner of it, it is ripped away. He acts like you are crazy, and sometimes you almost wonder if he’s right. Other times, you feel the burn of injustice, and you get angry, you stand up for yourself. But by the end somehow you are apologizing to him again.

He’s a good guy, a godly man, you remind yourself. So why do I feel so terrible?

You don’t know what’s wrong, but you know that something is, so you wonder if he’s right—it’s you, your mother, your sister. He’s the victim of unreasonable, overly-sensitive, paranoid, controlling females.

You are always on-guard, always braced, waiting for the next mood swing. He is unpredictable, and so you try harder to read him, to anticipate his wants, to not set him off. If you could just be more sympathetic, he wouldn’t feel like you were ungrateful for how hard he works. If you could just be less “Type-A,” he wouldn’t feel like you are trying to control him. If you could just be less needy, he wouldn’t seem to despise you. If you could just be more enthralled with what he has to say, one day his attention tank will be filled up and he’ll have a little left over to give to you.

It doesn’t work.

You are trapped, but as hard as you try, you can’t see the ropes that bind you.

Photo by Mario Azzi on Unsplash