Tough Memory

Hello All,

I would like to start out with a bit of a warning that today’s post will have some intensity to it including references to violence and deep vulnerability, so please skip this one if you aren’t up for it. Mom, I highly recommend you skip this one, but if you do read it know these are simply the memories I can never seem to be rid of.  

Last night I woke up around 3am with an aching that went through me down to my bones.  If was from the piercing bark of a dog that was quite loud for how far away it must have been. Normally a sound like this would be nothing more than an annoyance, but for some reason this sound, in this exact moment activated me into a memory I hate remembering.

I turned back into the 4 or 5 year old little girl who would hear the muffled yelling of my father and the sounds of clatter that I couldn’t quite figure out the source of. I watched in my mind as 5 year old me walked down the brown carpeted stairs holding the wooden handrail and hiding just out of sight in the shadows of kitchen wall. I watched as my father screamed profanities and endless insults at my mother for whatever the flavor of that particular argument was that evening. I watched from outside of myself viewing what a movie version of the moment would have seen with the black and white tiled floor of the kitchen, this tiny untainted mind peering out from the shadows, the white side by side fridge with her mother pressed against it, and the father, whose breath reeked of alcohol from even this far away, stood looming over this tiny fracture of a woman long since missing from her former self. I watched as she was beaten senseless yet again. The next day she would be wearing long sleeves, way too much makeup, and sunglasses in doors again.

I feel the pain of this moment, this memory for the first time in a long time, and in about 8 years I have anger for my father. The fact that I feel anything at all for him is new. The feeling of rawness, the sourness in my stomach, the aching of clenching everything I am to dull the pain…even now those memories haunt me. They always will I suppose. I have so many fragments of memories like this. So many moments where I see a tiny girl witness unthinkable things. I am shaking writing this still.

Witnessing the type of monsters humans can be is something that runs through the very core of me. It has shaped everything I am, every decision I have ever made. And it has made me who I am.

When I was 12 years old I stopped visitations with my father. A few years earlier my mom got up the courage to leave, finally. My father had been threatening to take us away from her for years, even in front of us sometimes he would tell her how if she left she would never see any of us again, if she saw anything at all.

I am so proud of her for leaving. I am so proud of her for knowing that she was strong enough. That she has what it takes to raise 3 bratty little kids on her own, even after my dad did everything in his power to crush her body, mind, and spirit. My mom is a survivor. She is a warrior and a hero. My father was a bitter, angry man who didn’t understand the slightest repercussions his actions had. He didn’t know that the pain he caused my mother would equate into many lifetimes of pain for those around him. He didn’t know that for the rest of his children’s lives everything he did would be viewed through a lens of pain and fear.

I stopped visitations because my father told me my whole childhood that the memories I had of the terrible things he did were dreams, that I was crazy, or making it up. I also stopped visitations because, even though there was never physical abuse to us kids, there was endless emotional abuse, and every time we went back home to mom we would be in tears from the awful things our father had told us. Nothing was ever good enough, if we spilled something we would be screamed at, and no matter how hard we tried we were always wrong in some way.

This was the day I became an adult in my mind. 12 years old, and something in me knew that this negativity, manipulation, and constant guilt would only cause me harm. I left with an ultimatum- “If you ever want to see me again I want you to admit what you did to mom, and I want you to take anger management classes.” For a preteen I thought this was quite a reasonable request.

To this day my father has done neither of these things, but has instead, from time to time, sent me cards and letters and tried to buy my love by paying for trips to Hawaii for us girls (I didn’t go) or buying me earrings (even though he knows I’m allergic to metal), or buying me (the cheaper, nonrefundable) plane tickets to go visit his family without my consent (and getting very upset with me when I didn’t go). His letters are always filled with some sort of guilt trip, and never anything along the lines of “I am sorry for what I have done.”

At the age of 25 I had a breakdown and almost had to drop out of college from the confusion and chaos in my brain of the emotional turmoil of this decision I made at 12. After years of not knowing if I had made the right choice, I finally figured out how to process and clarify how I actually felt.

What happened was that I finally sat down and wrote. I let my hands and heart do the work, leaving my mind out of it. I sat and typed for a long time. Eventually what came out was forgiveness, acceptance, and closure. It would take me another 7 years to figure out how to let go of the abandonment issues I had gained from this experience, but at least I had a clear understanding that I had made the right choice. I knew that for me, negativity is something that only negates my ability to thrive. It’s not something that helps me strive to be better, do more, or care harder. I already try as hard as I am capable of trying pretty much every day. I am a born optimist, and what nourishes me is gratitude not pain. I had managed to say how I felt (on paper if not out loud) that I felt my requests were fair and that I felt so incredibly unloved knowing that even the simple requests I made were ones I was not worth trying for. I recognized that I was happier, healthier, and more productive in my life since I had left behind the influence of my father’s constant negativity.  And I realized that family by blood does not negate the responsibility we have to be kind, caring, and honest with the people we love.

In my writing I told my dad that I didn’t have space to hate him anymore, and that there was nothing I could do or say that would change his mind on complying with my needs, so I had to let go. I had to forgive, and I had to let go. I said goodbye to my dad in that letter, and I let go. I forgave him, and I decided, I knew and know, that there was nothing left for the 2 of us to share in this life.

All of the bad feelings, all of the bitterness, resentment, contempt, and disgust I had for him vanished as easily as the olive I just ate with lunch. It was shockingly easy when I actually allowed myself to open that bottle and pour out all the unresolved feelings I had to sort through. Not that I think this would be the case for myself or any of you in any other situation (please don’t take this as advice, and please seek a licensed therapist if you want support dealing with your stuff like I did with the abandonment stuff).

And up until last night I had almost 8 glorious years where I could talk about my dad with my family and have little to no emotion at all. It was not like I didn’t care even, it was just that there wasn’t anything there at all.

That was why I was so shocked this morning when that fear, anger, and pain presented itself with the barking of that dog. I have no idea what the relevance is there, but at least I know now how to cope when those feelings come up.

It took me several method attempts before I found the right one, but I did get back to sleep. Some of the things I tried:

  • Telling myself that right now I am ok.

  • Taking deep, slow breaths

  • Checking in with my body and letting go of any stress that was physically present

  • Stretching

  • Checking in with my emotions and reminding myself that most of what I felt was from a memory

  • Reminding myself to be grateful and reaching out for my beau for comfort

  • Listening to Planet Earth (David Attenborough almost always puts me to sleep yay!)

I do feel fairly back to normal about all this stuff again, and I know that when a dark spot shows up it’s important to share it. I need to show the world that I am real. That I am human. That it’s ok to not be ok. And that I am loved just as much as you are when we experience life in its difficult forms too.

These moments give me an opportunity to check back in with myself as I never want to be at a place in my life where I am unwilling to consider something. This got me to ask myself the age old question in my world “Do I want my father in my life?” The answer is still no, but it’s nice to remind myself of the pain, forgiveness, and ability to reconsider my world.

Before I conclude I would like to share with y’all the update on my father as this is clearly not the whole story. My sisters both spend time with him regularly and say that he has softened a lot in the last decade or so. He and my mom are friendly, and he has been in a relationship with the same woman for the last probably 20 years. While my memories show the emotion I felt in the moment, I don’t currently hold that same negativity for him.

Thank you for letting me share this. My apologies for any pain I cause you in sharing. Sending my love.

Peace, Love, and Cuddles,

Samantha Hess