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Divorcing Father

Once, in my therapist’s office, I walked in with an unknown feeling. Usually I have an event that led to an obvious trigger, but this time, I simply felt my body. Sinking into the chair, and my breath, a dark scene entered my mind. I was high on a plateau, like in a movie, and on one side of the plateau were the distant woods, and the other side was a high cliff that bordered a huge, rushing river.  I moved as if in a dream, in twilight darkness towards a large stainless steel tub, like the ones used to water cattle. Drifting above the tub were ghostly spirits, and looking inside, I saw the tub was actually a coffin and inside, my dad lay there.

Instantly parts of me came up, especially my numb part. My therapist gently guided me to bring more parts out. Led by my angry teenager part, my parts gathered and together, they lifted the coffin as if they were pallbearers. They hoisted the coffin over the cliff and watched as my father plunged into the rolling river. Then my parts held a funeral for him, again, at my therapist’s suggestion. My angry teenage part raged at him and gave him all the years of hurt and pain and longing for a loving father. My caretaker part wrote him a letter- a nice letter wising him well in the spiritual world. My child cried and cried at this devastating loss, at this severe abandonment.  My numb part retreated into sadness.

After the funeral, we closed in a circle embrace.

This was at least five years ago. My dad was an abuser in every way. His rages were epic. His love for me was like a drippy faucet that got turned on once a year. His acceptance and tolerance for me were zero. His voice still echoes in my head, so indelibly placed there as my inner critic (along with my mother.) My critic comes up as I write this, telling me I am selfish for taking time to grieve him and for crying when I have so much to do.

But grief is what must come, always. When you have spent your life longing for a father, for his love, and it has shattered your hopes and dreams of creating a healthy family or love relationship, you have to move through that with great feeling.

I grieve for my children, too. My younger two have a father who cannot love them for who they are. They, too, will have to reconcile what it means to have an unloving father.

Recently, I read Pete Walker’s book on cPTSD. He wrote a fair bit about re-parenting, mostly re-parenting the inner critic, but he spoke in terms of mothering and fathering, and how you have to give yourself those things you missed because of the abuse. At the core of abuse is a complete abandonment of who you are.  He writes of this abandonment:

“The Abandonment Depression is the complex painful childhood experience that is reconstituted in an emotional flashback. It is a return to the sense of overwhelm, hopelessness and helplessness that afflicts the abused and /or emotionally abandoned child. At the core of the abandonment depression is the abandonment melange – the terrible emotional mix of fear and shame that coalesces around the deathlike feelings of depression that afflict an abandoned child. Surrounding the abandonment melange of the flashback are perfectionistic and endangerment cognitions and visualizations of the toxic inner and outer critic (See my articles on the critic), and at the surface is the self-destructive enactments of the fight, flight, freeze or fawn responses (See “A Trauma Typology”).”

I’ve had a lot of shame and anger regarding my cutting my dad out of my life. Which is funny, because he is the one who cut me out a long time ago. I had to let go of my salvation fantasies- the ones where he would suddenly change and love me now. I did not tell you the rest of the story about my inner funeral for my father. A couple of weeks later, on my birthday, I received a card from him. It was the first card I’d ever received from him for my birthday. It helped me appreciate how connected we all are spiritually, and work we do in our hearts reverberates. His card was not a healing. I took it as an acknowledgement that he was my father for a time, and now he is not. He is not capable of loving me and so I send him off to God.

Today I grieve for you, Dad. You missed out on a loving, beautiful daughter.

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