Growing up I remember my Dad as being silent, passive and disconnected. Those were the later years and unfortunately, my pre/teen years are the sharpest in my memory so I remember more bad than good. I know he was not always that man and when we were young, he was an active father who read us The Jungle Book using different voices for the characters, who tucked us in, who took us to his office on the weekend so he could get some work done while my mom cleaned the house and rearranged the furniture while blaring Neil Diamond or Barry Manilow. (Seriously, my mom loves doing that. It’s how she unwinds.) I loved going to my Dad’s office. I would play secretary, typing on the typewriters, pushing the buttons on the multi-line phone and at the end of our excursion, we’d go to the cafeteria and pick out a treat from the vending machines. Those afternoons were really the only times I remember being with my dad when my mom wasn’t there.
I distinctly remember my father sitting out by the pool one evening- sullen, staring off into space, drinking a beer. It was probably not his first beer of the night nor would it be his last. As a child (and as an adult), I have always been overly sensitive to others pain. Particularly when it comes to my dearest loved ones, I over-empathize and have a very difficult time separating myself from what they are going through. That night I came outside to check on my dad. I think I was around 11 but my mom would probably argue differently. It was before the seriousness of alcoholism took over our house. We were just teetering in the place where we all felt like something was wrong but no one could name it. We just existed there for years until it all blew up.
I don’t recall the entirety of my conversation with my dad but I do remember that he was depressed and was telling me that we (my mom, sis and I) would be better off without him around. I tried to convince him otherwise because of course I didn’t believe that to be true. I left that talk feeling like my dad wanted to die. Of course internally I was panicked. I had always been a daddy’s girl. As distant as he had felt from me, I longed to have whatever was wrong be fixed. In my childlike logic, I thought I could be good enough, perfect enough, and love him enough to change his mind.
When a person doesn’t feel worthy of your love there is really no amount of any trying that can convince them that they are. You can love yourself into exhaustion. You can lather yourself up in a love frenzy, giving, giving, giving and STILL that will not be enough. There’s a well inside of them that needs patching and you don’t have access to mending the tear. That’s their work. It’s extremely difficult though to love someone and feel like that love is not enough. Worse still, to watch them not fix the tear but instead, wallow in their own self-loathing.
It’s hard to not feel some semblance of rejection by that.
There was a time when I didn’t let people love me. I have never been an alcoholic but my depression when I was 30 years old mimicked my father’s. I felt like I was no good, unworthy of people’s affection, and I locked myself away from people who wanted to help. Friends would call, come to my door, send me cards and I would not answer. I know how it feels to wallow. I’ve been on both sides.
I heard from my MIA friend the other day. She texted to invite me out for a walk. It’d been close to a month since we’d last had any exchange. For months she’s been impossible to get a hold of- sporadic working phone, no home internet access, no car- so often my emails, calls or texts went unanswered for weeks. It got to a point where her sister, her other best friend and I had to call each other to see if anyone had heard from her. Of course I was worried. I had no idea how she was or what she was doing. I was at a loss for how to help. And on top of being worried, I started to get really pissed off.
I sat there with my phone in my hand thinking and worrying and wondering what to say in response to her invitation and how to say everything that I was feeling. I finally texted that: I had reached the end of my rope with making plans that she doesn’t follow through on. I feel like my time and friendship are disrespected. I am very sad by all this. I want to see her but only if she can ensure that she is going to show up.
I hit send and started to cry.
She said she is sorry and acknowledges her flakiness. She told me that she tried. She also said that I couldn’t show up for her in the way she needed. All this, mind you, was via text. (Fucking text! This is not a conversation to have via text!) That response came a day later and was a mix of apology, excuse and blaming. I felt punched in my gut when I read it. I cried again and called my mom. Who else would understand this fucked up dance you do with alcoholics but the woman who lived through it with my dad? We talked for a long time and she helped me see that I did the right thing even though it hurt. It’s difficult for me to swallow the fact that I can’t show up for my friend the way she needs. Actually, it isn’t that I can’t but more that I won’t. Because it seems to me that showing up for her means not showing up for me and I can not abide by that.
I have this long history dating back from my childhood of giving too much to people. I give them multiple chances to redeem themselves while sacrificing my own heart every time. I give them opportunities to change and with those squandered chances, my hopes are dashed. I am not stingy with forgiveness but sometimes it can take me a while to get there. I think right now the thing I am most stuck on is the fact that someone who has been one of my best friends off and on for twenty years can think of me and say “you can’t show up for me.” Who? Me?! The truth is, I don’t know how to show up for a person when they won’t let me in. If you keep me at arms length, there is no way I will ever be able to reach you.
It’s not a new realization but lately I am reminded that sometimes the only way left to love someone is to let them go.