There was no resolution, about what to do with Dad, during that visit with the psychiatrist, or at the little ‘family huddle’ that followed. A few of us had said our piece. We were all polite and respectful, if not a little forthright. But that’s us. We’re not given to beating around the bush.
There isn’t a lot of animosity, if any, between most siblings, though it crops up from time to time where one family member won’t talk to another for a while. I’ve been the recipient of such rejection a time or two, but it leaves me feeling sorry for the person trying to punish me. I really haven’t the time or energy for such disputes. Fortunately it usually passes quickly enough and then all is well again. I can never decide if it’s forgiveness or denial. I’m inclined to lean towards denial…
So life went on, after Dad’s arrest, almost as if nothing had happened. Other factors, besides denial, play into this way of doing life, and some of them are the ‘side effects’ of abuse, that victims have no control over, especially before they know they exist.
One of these side effects of abuse, violence, and neglect, is that we lose our ability to bond. I have not studied psychology, nor have I talked with many people who experienced this, but I know it happens, because I am one of them. And I don’t profess to fully understand it, even in myself, but I feel and see the impact, and can identify the source of it.
Somewhere in early childhood, I disconnected myself from my family and all the pain and abuse I felt there. My heart disconnected in the sense that it does not feel part of them, even though I know the truth. No doubt it was a childhood survival skill, but as an adult it has a price tag, a cost. It is not a choice to be disconnected, nor is it really a feeling. It is a lack of feeling.
Yesterday afternoon Tim and I watched the movie, The Man Who Lost Himself (The Stranger I married) 2005, based on a true story. The main character, Terry Evanshen, has a terrible accident, goes into a coma, and doesn’t know who he really is when he emerges. This triggers anger, outbursts and confusion, and causes him to almost lose his family.
As I watched him, I thought to myself, I get you! I understand that! While my outbursts and anger are a thing of the past, the loss of familial identity remains, and the inability to bond, remains.
I have found ways to work through this. Ways to bond with those closest to me–with my husband and children–but on the larger scale that ability does not exist. And it never comes naturally. Even with my children I had to learn to bond, and train myself to nurture that bond.
Outside of my home, with friends, I love deeply, and feel deeply that which is in the present, but, with most things, the instant it is past, it has no conscious impact. No power. For some things this is good, for others, not so much. But if a memory returns, it returns with incredible detail and I again feel it, as if I am there, reliving it. For the good memories that freshness is wonderful, for the bad memories, not so much. For the bad memories I have trained myself to focus on the good that God has brought out of it, so that the dark power is lost.
I love my friends and have many of them. But, like the man in yesterday’s movie, I have to be intentional about thinking of them and connecting. I pause sometimes, and consciously, deliberately think about my friends, wonder how they are, call them, or write a note. But it is intentional, not the result of feeling I miss them. It is more of knowing I miss them. And when I am with them after being apart a while, I realize that I have indeed missed them. But I don’t miss people in that sense of feeling and longing. And there isn’t a thing I can do about it. In some ways I feel robbed.
The exception, having learned to bond with them, is my husband and children. When I visited Ethiopia for two weeks in 2006, I missed my family. It didn’t consume me, or make me feel sick, or weepy, for the most part, but I missed them. As the time neared for me to return home, as I found myself thinking more about seeing them, my heart almost burst with love and anticipation. And then the tears started.
And that is one of few times I experienced it, to even know what it feels like to truly, deeply miss someone. To wish never to be separated from them again.
So when the meeting with family, about Dad, was over, and I left. It didn’t consume me, or dwell much in my mind at all. Life at home had always been about getting through crises, and then moving on. That is how it remained.
But the memory of my conversation with Dad stayed with me.
When Tim and I married several years later, after a ten month courtship, I gave Dad a hug for the second time in my life. He still had no idea how to accept it. That day he was strong. In control again. Not the weak man I had seen in Goderich. And the hug felt awkward, but I couldn’t not do it. Sometimes awkward is necessary.
The memory of seeing him vulnerable, lost and alone, and seeing the little boy in him, influenced me profoundly. Little by little, I was determined I would break the man down and get inside his heart. The real person living in that shell, not the angry, explosive man who had fathered me in my early years.
To Be Continued…
© Trudy Metzger
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