Spending my birthday with my (fake) dad

It was Paul’s fault really. I told him not to tell anyone that it was going to be my birthday, but he did anyway.

We needed to sail our boat back to her home port after some routine maintenance. We made plans to sail the boat back with Harv and Kate. It was meant to be a fun little trip until we heard about the high chance of severe weather. I was almost happy when Kate cancelled coming on the trip because of back problems. I probably mentioned this quite awhile back, but our good friends are in their upper 80’s. I was afraid if we hit stormy weather that Kate would get hurt as she is rather small and frail.

Harv asked if another buddy of his could go instead which was fine. I dragged myself out of bed at 5 AM on my birthday so we could try to make the trip before the storms hit. It was going to be an adventure everyone was up for. Harv and his buddy were probably sailing before I was born. Along with my husband, I thought there was no group of experienced sailors that I would rather risk a storm with. The weather was perfect that morning. It was warm with a brisk breeze. We caught the wind and were able to sail back with an hour and a half to spare before the storms hit.

We made it back to the marina at lunch time. Harv treated us to lunch. But that wasn’t all. He surprised me by making me a cake. Instead of frosting, he covered it with tapioca pudding. They sang happy birthday to me. Harv only put 8 candles on the cake so it was a little short. But they were trick candles. Every time I blew them out, they relit. After we enjoyed his cake, he pulled confetti poppers out of his bag. When you pulled on the string confetti would pop out. Harv and I had a confetti fight until there was confetti everywhere. We all laughed and had a good time.

Harv (and Paul) worked really hard to make my day special.

I felt happy that Harv took the time to think of me and make me a cake. But underneath it all was a whole mess of hurt and sadness. My own dad didn’t acknowledge my birthday in any way. He didn’t call or send a card. He never did. He never bought me a birthday gift much less bake me a box cake. In that one act of kindness, Harv was more of a dad towards me then my dad will ever be and that hurt.

I thanked Harv and gave him a hug. Harv’s friend joked and said that Kate would be jealous. I told him that I didn’t need another husband. I already have a wonderful husband. What I really needed was a dad. On that day, Harv was my fake dad and it really was a great birthday.

After Harv and his buddy left, the storms came rolling in. I always love a good (not damaging) storm. It’s the way my birthday is the majority of the time, stormy.

The sorrow of friends lost

Arabella lost almost all of her friends. She didn’t get invited to her best friend’s birthday party. Her best friend and another girl would still hang out with her but at the risk of being ostracized by the rest of the friend group.

Arabella decided with some guidance to let her friendship with Ashlynn go. Ashlynn continued to make poor choices. One night when Arabella was there, she decided to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night to hang out with some guys. Then she lied to her parents about it. Ashlynn was spiraling out of control. Once I found out about the shoplifting and smoking I told Arabella I didn’t want them to hang out anymore. Arabella did not fight it but agreed with me that this friend was going in a direction she didn’t want to go.

That left her with just one friend, a girl she met in inpatient called Kami.

Arabella tried to connect with a friend from her old school. But it wasn’t long after she left to visit this friend that she came back home. Her friend told her that she changed and asked her to leave saying she didn’t want to be friends anymore. I would’ve expected tears when Arabella got home. But instead, there was laughter. Arabella laughed at all of the friendships she had lost. I really started to worry when not only did she not cry, but she acted as if something really wonderful happened.

Yes, my daughter did change. She was no longer the easy going happy go lucky girl we all knew so well. I wondered if this is what it is like when someone who is relatively normal suddenly slips into psychosis. What happens to friendships if someone suddenly develops serious mental health issues in the late teen years? Almost every single interpersonal relationship she had became very rocky.

It made me feel incredibly sad. My daughter is severely mentally ill and it pushed away all of her friends. Forget a minute about the sappy Facebook posts that say if you are thinking of ending it all give me a call. I am that friend you can call in the middle of the night crap. I want to tell you a hard truth. When you actually hit rock bottom even most of those friends are nowhere to be found.

Mental illness is ugly. It’s robbed my daughter of so much. I can’t even blame some of her friends for leaving her either. She really wasn’t all that different from Ashlynn, unhealthy. It is very painful to watch as a parent. I wanted so much more for her.

Wanting to leave, not wanting to be left

Things really went south when Jordan’s parents went on vacation. Up until that point, Arabella was mostly going to school and staying mainly at Jordan’s house. The first day Jordan’s parents were gone, Arabella decided to take a mental health day from school. I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t already behind on her studies and actually did something to improve her mental health like get out of bed. Things went downhill from there. She attended school one day that week. By the end of the week, enough was enough.

We decided we were going to pick her up and force her to come back home. Paul and I rang the doorbell at Jordan’s house and her grandma answered. She was very kind as we explained things. Arabella rode back home with Paul. We were afraid she might try to jump out of the vehicle in an attempt to escape. I followed them home in our car that we let Arabella drive. Yes, up until that point we were letting her use our car. But that was going to change.

I remember it was a miserable night. I could barely see out of the fogged up windshield from the buckets of chilly autumn rain. I felt a sadness of the uncertainty to come. We sat down with Arabella once we got home. It didn’t go well. She was freaking out that we forced her to come back home. I’ve never seen her so agitated in my life. She insisted that Jordan’s mom was her real mother and I was her fake mom. I thought in the moment that she was delusional and out of touch with reality.

It was getting late and I finally made supper. Arabella refused to eat with us. I did check on her often and made the decision although we took away her car, we let her keep her phone. When she made the suicide attempt, she reached out to her friends for help first. I didn’t want to take her phone away in case she needed help. Maybe that was a mistake because that night she ran away. She called a friend to pick her up. She jumped out of her bedroom window and she was gone. She called after she left and told me she was running away and we couldn’t make her come back. Sure enough, her room was empty and a cool breeze was coming through the open window.

It was late, almost bedtime. We didn’t know what to do. I reached out to a couple of her friend’s parents but they didn’t know where she was. Meanwhile, Paul called the Crisis Center and from their recommendation called the police. We were deciding whether to report her as a runaway. If she was actively suicidal, they would search for her based on her cell phone location. If not, they would list her as a runaway and nothing would really happen. She called me while Paul was on the phone with the police and told us she was staying with a friend we didn’t know and she was alright. We decided not to list her as a runaway.

Paul wanted to speak to her friend’s parent. At this time, it was close to midnight. Her friend’s mom talked to Paul but refused to tell us where she was. She screamed at Paul as if she was afraid we would come over and beat our child. I can imagine Arabella told everyone how she wasn’t safe at home. It was very painful to be treated like monsters when we were trying to act in the best interest of our daughter with severe mental health issues. We were worried sick.

There was nothing else we could do. At least we thought she was safe for the time being.

Another sleepless night…

A couple days later she ended up back at Jordan’s house. We told Arabella we couldn’t do this anymore. It was tearing us apart. If she wanted to live with another family we weren’t going to try to force her back home. She was almost 18. But we weren’t going to let her use our car or give her money. She could come pick up her stuff. We were exhausted and reached the end of our rope.

She wanted to leave, but was upset when we let her go.

Who are you?

Arabella changed into a whole different person a year ago. It seemed like the difference between night and day to us. Or maybe that is when we noticed because she became so different from us.

It’s not terribly strange to have a teenager rebel or espouse things independent of their parents. In a way, I almost think it is necessary in developing who they are. In order to find themselves they have to lose mom and dad a little. But this seemed different.

Before the change Arabella was pretty easy going. She went with the flow. There was little conflict and she rarely challenged us. Kind of like the month of March, she came into the world like a lion so I was hoping she would leave childhood as a lamb. Not so, my friends.

Before she was the teen involved in church. She liked volunteering at Bible camp, helping with the kids program, and singing in church. Then practically overnight she became an atheist and slept in on Sunday mornings. At times I was afraid to go to church because I was afraid if I wasn’t there she might make an attempt again. She scoffed at our religious beliefs. We no longer shared the same views on politics either. It didn’t seem as if she was finding her own way as much as it seemed like she was rejecting us.

She didn’t want anything to do with Estelle and cut herself off from all of the kids she once considered friends at her new school. She started hanging out with her friends from her old school. Instead of being a foreign exchange student with Estelle, she wanted to finish high school at her old school which was only 30 minutes away. We said we were okay with that because she seemed so miserable at the new school.

She started hanging out with her old best friend who became transgender around that time. Actually all of the kids in that group were either gay or transgender. They all seemed to have issues with their identity and also suffered from depression. I really had a hard time understanding what they were going through. In my day, I don’t remember a single kid that came out as gay and changing your gender was something most likely featured in sci-fi movies. I went to a small town school where there was very little diversity.

I knew about her friend’s being gay or transgender before their parents even did in most cases. I called them by their chosen names and pronouns. I’m not going to say it was easy. I still can’t get it out of my mind that calling someone them or they isn’t rude. It was difficult to call someone I knew as a baby a different name and pronoun. But I imagine it was a lot more difficult for them and their parents. I couldn’t help but wonder if my daughter was hiding something from me like her friends were from their parents.

Our first family session

We had our first family session yesterday for our daughter’s residential treatment program without our daughter. We were able to meet her therapist online whom we all really like.

I told the therapist about everything that happened with my dad. I told her that my oldest daughter Angel found child porn on his computer and turned him into the police a couple of weeks before Christmas. I told her how I was devastated by the news. But I had to put on a happy face because we had two foreign exchange students and I wanted nothing more than to give them the perfect American Christmas. I didn’t tell my daughter Arabella about my dad either. Childhood is sacred to me and I wanted to keep it that way for her.

In essence, I was the one that pushed Arabella away. I told her everything was okay but she could tell it was not. Then there was that day when I was in hypervigilant PTSD mode. She came up behind me to give me a hug. I didn’t know she was there and freaked out when she touched me. I screamed at her to get away from me. Later I tried to explain things, it wasn’t her it was me. I still didn’t tell her what was wrong and she still felt rejected.

Not long after that she accused Estelle of stealing all of her friends away. She just didn’t fit in. Estelle was this super cute petite popular French girl with a vivacious lust for life. Arabella was the strange, klutzy, overweight, socially awkward, friendly girl with a good heart. She couldn’t compete.

When we sold our business a couple years back, we bought my dream house complete with an indoor pool. I would’ve killed to have the life we have given her. She, though, wanted to kill herself. She started going to a new school her sophomore year. Arabella wanted to give it a try. She was always my kid that embraced change, adventures, and new experiences. She was very adaptable. But the school was very cliquey and she didn’t fit in. Her junior year we brought in two foreign exchange students. We thought it would make it easier for her, but it didn’t in the end. Instead she felt rejected by me and her peers.

When she started to experience depression, I asked her what she had to be depressed about. After all, I’d given her the perfect life. She didn’t have to live with a greasy pedophile dad. A mom who stayed with him so she didn’t have to be alone. She didn’t have to live with an autistic/schizophrenic brother who heard voices to kill pretty much everyone I was close to in my life plus countless random strangers. She didn’t have to deal with having a lazy ass dad who was barely employed. She didn’t have to live in a filthy hoarding house that no one feels comfortable in. I could probably go on…………but won’t. If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you probably got the picture.

I simply just wanted my kids to be kids. I wanted to protect them from the chaos and insanity that ruled my life as a child that somehow has a way of still spilling into my adult life. I was very upset that what I had worked hard to give her wasn’t good enough. She should be happy. She didn’t have any reason not to be, except….well…..genetics.

Right before the pandemic

Maybe she was crying out but I wasn’t listening. Her problems seemed so petty, like the fight with Estelle. I had given her everything I wanted but never had as a child. In my mind my problems always trumped hers because I was shielding her from life’s real problems. I didn’t listen to any complaints about how hard she had it for anything.

But in reality I really was trying to protect her. She just didn’t know about it. I didn’t tell her anything about my dad. I didn’t tell her that several weeks back her older sister found child porn on their grandpa’s computer and turned him in to the police. She was a child. I wanted to protect her from that. She seemed so innocent, carefree, and happy. Why take that from her?

I developed a plan. Arabella was going to be a foreign exchange student. Maybe she wouldn’t find out about her grandpa until it was all over. But I was worried. There were a few problems with the plan for the children in my house to have the perfect childhood. The police could arrest him any day and then the world would know what kind of monster my dad is. Our foreign exchange students might get sent home. Their parents might not want them here although they would have nothing to do with my dad.

Then there was the part about me being a complete and total mess. I fell into a downward spiral of depression and despair after I heard about my dad. I suffered greatly from the blow and the trauma I experienced as a child resurfaced in the worst way. I knew I was suffering from Complex PTSD. But that knowledge didn’t stop me from going through what I did.

I pushed everyone away. I pretended everything was okay. But I wondered how anything could ever be fine again.

I experienced moments of extreme anxiety and hyper-vigilance. One day I thought I could try to calm myself by listening to music in my earbuds. Arabella came up behind me unexpectedly to give me a hug. I freaked out and screamed at her to not touch me and get away from me. I was horrified. I apologized and tried to explain to her not to touch me if my back was to her. But I could tell she didn’t understand. She felt rejected and I blamed myself for it.

After Arabella’s suicide attempt, we had a long talk. I decided to tell her everything that was happening with my dad. I told her that I was having a hard time with it and me pushing her away had nothing to do with her. Together we cried.

Inside, though, I was furious. If my dad didn’t screw up my life once again I would’ve noticed that my daughter was depressed. I didn’t call him on his birthday. I didn’t even send a card. I blamed him for what happened with Arabella. I was so focused on his mess that I didn’t even notice my own child was suffering.

I wasn’t doing well before the suicide attempt and I certainly didn’t do well after. I suffered severely from insomnia and nightmares for over a month. I thought I was going to lose my mind. That all happened right before the pandemic.

Transforming performing

Every day I put a fake smile on my face. I’m probably not fooling anyone.

I sometimes wonder if it’s the reason my children like to perform. When I hear them play or sing something changes in me. I smile, a real smile. They know where they can find the real me, the happy me.

It was always a dream of mine I am living through them.

I wanted to play and sing too. I wrote music then. I wrote the lyrics, played a simple tune on the piano, and sang along. It angered my dad. He told me to stop that banging on the piano and caterwauling. So I stopped forever.

I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes, you see. I was expected to be perfect the first time I tried something or not to try at all. I was an embarrassment if I was not perfect. Even my choir teacher told me that I sucked the first time I ran through a song for solo and ensemble. I wasn’t allowed to go. I wasn’t good enough.

The first time I ever sang a solo in front of people I was so terrified my voice choked out a little croak. I didn’t know then that it was normal to have stage fright. I thought I was horrible. No one ever encouraged me.

For a very long time, I gave up the dream. I didn’t audition for jazz choir or even choir in college although I wanted to more than anything. Music was a stifled passion. I was convinced I sucked which is so sad to me right now.

Watching my children perform opens the door to true joy. They are what I could’ve been. For awhile, I’m able to put the fake smile aside. My eyes shine and my heart smiles at them with everything I have. Their performing is transforming to me.

It is never too late to rekindle a dream.

My salvation fantasy

I used to find solace in God.

I prayed and yearned for my whole family to seek serenity there.

Then a miracle happened. My dad really made a mess of his life. Before this every time he invoked the name of God it always had a damn after it. He laughed at my mother for her faith. He sneered at the very essence of God. He knew a lot about theology and always could find a loophole in our faith. It was easy to seek sanctuary in a place where my dad refused to go.

But then my dad sunk to the very bottom. It was the only way he could open his heart. He started listening to my mother’s words about God. He started reading the Bible. He shed a few tears. He said a few prayers.

Soon afterward, God sent old friends of my parents to their door. My mom didn’t recognize her old friend. They haven’t seen each other in 15 years. The friend said that God had my parents on her heart. She came over to invite my parents to a Bible study at their house. They knew my dad didn’t believe. They had several heart to heart talks with my dad and he was very receptive.

My mom even tried out their church which has a low sensory room for people on the autism spectrum to participate in the service. My mom could take my brother to church without worrying about whether he was going to act appropriately. It seemed like the hand of God was all over this.

It was everything we ever wanted. Right? Then why does it seem like the closer my dad becomes the further I am cast away? Seriously who wants their parents to go to hell if they sincerely believe in God??

But this was not how I played it out in my mind. I thought the first thing my dad would do once he became a Christian is give us a call and ask us for forgiveness. He would apologize for the abuse he heaped upon us. Then we would have a great father-daughter relationship. He would all of a sudden be everything he wasn’t. He would be loving, supportive, encouraging, and would want to get to know me and love me the way he never had.

But it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t even close. My phone isn’t ringing off the hook with his bright shiny new clean heart. I didn’t receive any handwritten letters in the mail. I haven’t even spoken to my dad in two months. I was deceived by this salvation fantasy in my head that if my dad accepted God everything would be perfect.

I know this is going to sound crazy because isn’t this after all what I prayed for. More than anything, I feel abandoned by God. This is not what I wanted, nor expected. I feel like maybe there is still a God out there, but he doesn’t love me.

All I wanted is one person to reach out to me. I, myself, am drowning in sorrow. Just show me God’s love, tell me he hasn’t left me. I sought but found nothing.

I just wanted a normal loving family. Is that too much to ask for?

I can no longer find solace in God because now my dad is there. Spending an eternity in heaven with my dad sounds like hell to me. I can’t hide under God’s wing anymore. It is no longer safe.

I am not at peace. I have stopped seeking. I can no longer pray.  I don’t even want to go to church. I feel very confused and afraid. It’s strange, I never thought my dad finding faith would threaten everything I’ve ever believed in.

Broken peace is

What do you want more than anything in the world?

I want to feel inner peace.

What does that look like for you? I want you to give it a color.

Peace is purple.

Now I want you to visualize releasing the painful feelings and replacing it with purple. Cover your whole body in purple. Let it radiate inside and out.

Little bubbles of red hot anger evaporate. Blue bubbles of sadness and despair evaporate. As they are released, the bubbles burst. The blue and red mix together. Purple peace rains down on my black and white world in brilliant color. My body is glowing purple.

Now I want you to embrace your inner child.

But I want her to be gone like the red and blue. I want her to take her pain, pack up her baggage, and never come back.

You must realize that cannot be done. Do not reject her like her dad did. Embrace her. Bandage her wounds. Wipe her tears. Accept her broken as she is. After all, she is you.

Luke’s visit, part 2

I suppose since you have a big house now that you will be hosting Christmas this year.

It wasn’t the first time I heard this comment…

I told Luke that I didn’t really like an aunt and uncle of ours.

Why?

Because of the time that they came over for supper when we were kids.

What about it?

They had the house with the piano. They wanted us to come live with them if mom and dad left us forever. That evening while we were eating, Matt hurt our aunt. It wasn’t unusual for Matt to hurt someone.  It was our aunt who was acting strange. She locked herself in the car crying hysterically. She could not be comforted. I’ve never seen her so upset before or since.

Suppose that our aunt was attacked and Matt triggered her memory of it.

Aunt left and didn’t come back. They said that they didn’t want us to come live with them in their house with the piano anymore.

Who told you that?

Mom. She cried and said that no one cared. She said things would be different if her mom was still living.

How old were you?

I don’t know, maybe 8 or 9.

You were too young, why would she tell you that you were unwanted?

Something strange happened in the course of our conversation. For the first time I was able to see the event through adult eyes.

I was able to let go of the rejection of 30+ years. My aunt has always been kind to me, but I didn’t trust her since that night. Other family members cared. They were busy living their own lives. Some were only a few years older than me. They saw what was happening but didn’t know what to do about it. Some lived far away. The ones that were near did help.

My mom just needed more help than anyone could reasonably provide.

So I became the helper. I became the adult.

I have forgiven my family.

Someday I will forgive my mother too for my lost childhood and for giving me this heavy weight to carry. I think it is time to start unpacking my baggage.