Thursday, March 30, 2006


What's that word for the process by which allows for the expression of pent-up emotions? That word that is so overused by actors to the point of cliche; and yet, I want to use it because it says exactly what I want to say? Oh, yeah: cathartic.

I wrote a letter to my biological father, and the experience was very cathartic. (Hey, just like writing on a blog can be!) I experienced catharsis after writing this letter. I felt a purging of my emotions after writing of the letter. I now feel lighter and freer; expressed. Ahhhh.....

So, my biological father. There's a long story, but to sum up: he is emotionally very young and incapable of coping with the normal ups and downs of life in a healthy way. He enjoys remembering the past to the point of obliviousness of the here and now. He doesn't understand boundaries, he just does what he feels. Socially, he is awkward and had no idea how to behave around other people. He comes off as quiet, but weird-quiet.

When I was five, my parents got divorced and he didn't move past that point, emotionally. Growing up, he made me responsible for his happiness by telling me he was only happy when I came to visit (every other weekend) and then about how depressed he was. This made me feel useless because even though I was visiting, he would tell me he was depressed, and then of course I would feel it was my fault. I went home and worried about him, not knowing that this really wasn't my problem to solve. Every thing, every situation was all about him, his needs; and all of it was because he didn't know another way to be.

All of this left me feeling totally used up and sucked dry. I knew this was not right, but I had no idea how to cope with it, much less change anything. My solution as a kid was to shrink inside myself so much that what I presented to him was a shell, the real me was buried so deep inside that I dared not let her out to be exposed to that crap.

I didn't have any frame of reference for this. I had friends whose parents were divorced, but none of their fathers acted this way. I felt totally weird and freakish, in addition to the normal weird and freak feelings that accompany adolescence. As I grew older, I used the shell technique with other people and uncomfortable situations. I had learned a useless coping skill and incorporated it into all parts of my life.

Yes, I've had much-needed therapy, thank you very much!

I had some good weekends with him, to be sure. I have good memories. It's important to say that, because it's a fuller picture of what it was like. I think the hardest part about dealing with all of this was that it wasn't as if it was all bad. It wasn't as though he were an alcoholic, which is something that everyone knows about, and for which there is much support available. He was...socially inept and emotionally needy, where's the meetings and support groups and literature for othat? It was a problem that was hard for me to define, which was probably why it was so hard to step outside of it and to cope.

One of the most profound realizations I have had were that the things that have happened to me as a child were not my fault, and that I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. Those two things have lifted innumerable amounts of weight off my shoulders, allowing me to leave those experiences behind and move forward with a lighter heart. To articulate a problem can distance you from it. With distance a realistic perspective is gained while the pressure on yourself to act before you're ready or know what to do is relieved. Allowing yourself the space in which to explore healthier ways to manage or solve a problem is a very valuable gift to give yourself.

Anyway. I spent some years not talking to him. He didn't understand why. (Duh, dude.) But now; now there is the letter! It's short and to the point, imperious, assertive, strong, specific, not to mention way, way overdue. It feels like one of the best things I've ever written. Probably because of all that catharsis.

1 comment:

snowballinhell said...

I suspect my son knows exactly how you felt as a kid. I hope he gets past the shell stage as beautifully as you have.