Trigger warning – the following contains reference to violence in childhood and describes a binge eating episode. Please take care of yourself.
During the weekend I struggled with some depression that had me flat on my back in bed for many hours. I was upset and disappointed, because it caught me off guard as it almost always does, because it doesn’t feel good to feel depressed, to “lose productive time” when I feel incapacitated, dark, mentally numb and flat. I haven’t felt this way for a while.
As I do, I wondered what could have triggered the episode. I tend to experience episodic depression, meaning periods of depression of a few hours or a day or so, intermittent with longer stretches that are relatively depression-free. With experience and therapy, I’ve learned that when this happens, it’s usually some younger “part” of me that’s triggered, some younger part that’s experienced something and had a reaction that needs to be listened to.
I could feel that this was the case this time, too. There was a “collapsing” in me, as if some part of me, utterly overwhelmed, was folding in on herself, going lifeless in fact.
And so I thought about the timing of the depression and possible triggers and what and who might need listening to.
Immediately before the depression started, I had had a long telephone conversation — almost 2 hours — with a friend, I’ll call her Mary, who lives across the country. It was a wonderful conversation. We were both very present with each other on the phone for the entire time. Mary’s cat had died quite suddenly and she cried on the phone as I held the space for her to do that. I talked with her about what was going on in my life and some of what I was experiencing on my healing journey.
As I thought about the call, what presented itself to me was the possibility that there was a small, young part of me that was reacting to my disclosure of certain things about my abuse history to Mary. I know Mary quite well and she knows me; it feels natural to share personal details of my past with her and for her to do the same with me. In fact, part of what bonded us together when we met many years ago was some shared aspects of our childhood history. As well, she works in the mental health field and I know that she can manage hearing about anything or almost anything I might tell her. And she knows I have a therapist and that my conversations with her aren’t meant to be therapy.
On this call, I mentioned having felt when I was a child and youth and older that my father could have killed me. I may have said this to Mary before, I’m not sure, but it’s something that my closest friends know about my history. But I also mentioned to Mary that it seems possible that my father may have, when I was quite young, abused me sexually and told me he would kill me if I said anything to anyone. My closest friends also know there was very likely sexual abuse when I was very young. But the part about my father possibly telling me he would kill me, that part is new. It’s something that’s been percolating for a little while, but I hadn’t said it out loud before, not even to my therapist.
Even as I write it now, I go flat, a part of me seems to fold up and die, I feel a psychic collapse. I need to get away from my computer, take a break from this.
Numbly, I make a giant bowl of popcorn, carefully put toppings on it. I’ll nibble on this as I write, I think to myself, and save what I don’t eat for another day. But, in a daze, I stuff myself with all of it in one go, fast.
I’m drowning myself out.
But I know what she’s saying, that little girl within me. “I’m not supposed to say that,” she tells me, “I’m not supposed to tell about him possibly saying he’d kill me.”
It’s too much for her. She needs me to hold her, to be there for her, to help her, to protect her, to care for her, to love her.
Like no one did before, so many years ago when I was that little girl.
And as I processed this on the weekend, I realized more, I felt more, I felt a truth, a pivotal truth. That truth is this: If I am to give this little girl, this younger part of myself, the love, care, attention and safety she needs — and surely deserves — in order to help her move forward. If I am to give her these things, then, I have to abandon my father.
I must abandon my father.
I haven’t had any actual contact with my father for a couple of years. But I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t some part of me that sometimes still feels attached to him, emotionally. Feels protective of his vulnerability.
It seems absurd, and if I let myself, I can feel very ashamed about this. The man was terribly abusive and frightening — why would I feel any attachment or obligation to him?
But, abuse is messy. Families where there is abuse, are messy.
Attachment gets screwed up.
And my abuse history with my father is long.
And I was trained and conditioned to take care of him, and not to take care of myself.
I “know” this is messed up. I know it was always his job to take care of himself and not mine. But detaching fully takes time.
But, through my struggle with depression on the weekend, I realized that I simply do not have the energy to care for or about him and his feelings — even if it’s not all of me that cares and even if it’s just in my mind.
I don’t have the energy to care about him and also care for my traumatized little girl part. There’s not enough of me to go around.
And she needs me more.
I choose her. I choose me.
I posted a quote a while back from Glennon Doyle Melton about life being “brutiful.” A combination of brutal and beautiful so tightly woven together that we can’t experience one without the other.
My depression this weekend was brutiful. It was painful and it was beautiful And, I view it as sacred. It was a sacred, painful passage leading me closer to me. Leading me closer to whole.
Yours in healing,