“Just wanted to say hi.”
Those four words were all it took for me to unravel last week. I don’t know why I felt the need to click on that “other” tab on Facebook that day, but I did. And there was one message. From him. The one who started it all. The one I could blame all of my issues on. My very own Walkaway Joe. The first man to ever disappoint me.
I’ve written about him before. About how I’m without a doubt his daughter, and how I have to stop the cycles he started. How I’ve found a way to be grateful for being his daughter. But I haven’t stopped hating him.
I’ve hated him for so long. I didn’t even know he was my father until I was sixish, when I found out I was adopted. But I knew to hate him even before then. He was a bad guy. That’s what I knew. He’s the guy who always smelled like old booze and a hint of something; cigarettes and pot. I knew, even before I knew exactly who he was. And today? Today he’s still the one who chose a needle over his children, the one who never even got to be on my birth certificate.
The one who even now, can bring me to tears in the middle of a crowded coffee shop, because it’s all just too much. For 31 years, it’s just been too much.
Sometimes I forget, you know? I forget that I’m the daughter of two drug addicts, one dead and one dying. I forget how mad I am and how fucked up things are, and how much work I still need to do. And then something like this happens and I remember. Everything that is tucked away spills out and I have to start all over again. I have to cry all over again. I have to forgive all over again. I have to find a way to be grateful all over again.
And sometimes I hate him all over again.
But for the sake of full disclosure, it’s not just hate. It’s fear. It’s the fear of a little girl who was terrified of the term “drug addict,” the little girl who didn’t understand the disease, and the fear of a grown woman who is terrified of, well, most everything.
I’m 31. I’m a grown woman who loves fiercely and loyally and protectively. But I’m also a broken and sad girl who was let down by the people who are supposed to protect me. I’m a girl, who in her mind, still thinks every single day about how she wasn’t wanted. I’m a woman who cries in a coffee shop because the little girl in her is still trying to heal.
Which brings us to this moment. The moment I sat down and decided, after so much thought, and more than a few blinked back tears, to forgive one more time. To respond. To be better.
“Hi! It’s nice to hear from you. I hope you’re well.”
Boundaries, not barriers.
He is part of my story. I can’t change that. No matter what, he’s my father. He’s part of me. So I choose to use boundaries instead of barriers.
I will be kind. I will find empathy. I will remember that he is battling a disease. He is an addict. A broken, shame filled, self-loathing, hates himself enough for all of us man who doesn’t know how to make it right.
I’ve spent 13 months finding some semblance of self worth, coming to terms with all the dark parts of myself and waking up every day grasping to the light. Choosing to find the rainbows after the rain. Choosing to be strong instead of tough. And now choosing boundaries instead of barriers.
I won’t put up a barrier with my father. I won’t ignore him and then feel a gnawing, codependent guilt that causes my heart to ache and my brain to fixate. I will instead place a boundary. I will show him grace and find the good in him, remembering that there are things only he knows. Memories of my mother than only he can tell me, questions only he can answer. I will be thankful for the good, while acknowledging the hurt, and never forgetting that keeping my heart safe comes first. Safe, but open. Hurt, but forgiving. Broken, but mending.
Boundaries, not barriers.
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