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Welcome to this week’s Ask Me Anything, elephant journal’s weekly advice column where no question is out of bounds!
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My dad and I have a complicated relationship.
When I was a kid (I am now in my fifties) he drank himself into unconsciousness almost every night and was emotionally distant except to express anger. He would go for days without speaking to us kids and though he never he hit us he often threatened to—and did hit and kick our family dog on several occasions.
What was even harder for me, having four siblings, all boys, was how he treated me in particular. He did not sexually abuse me (I don’t think—it’s been suggested by more than one therapist that I am “repressing” memories but after years of treatment, if they’re there, they are well hidden.)
But he did what one of my therapists called “sexualize” me, including talking to me about sex in an inappropriate way, telling me how attractive he thought this or that woman was with a lewd undertone, and also acting like he was my boyfriend when we were out alone together (in my teen years), and having me pretend to be his girlfriend.
It was nothing more than bringing me out to adult restaurants (which we never went to as a family), having me dress up, giving me wine and usually saying something like, “I bet everyone here thinks we’re a couple. They’re probably wondering how I landed a young beautiful girl like you.”
Again, to my knowledge, nothing physical ever happened.
Understandably, I distanced myself from him in adulthood, which has been challenging as he and my mother are still married and she and I are very close. No one seems to understand what my problem is, but they kind of just let it lie.
Anyway, now my dad is a a little over two years sober and he wants to be friends. I do not want this. He acts as if everything in the past never happened (including his cheating on my mother countless times which we all knew about but never discussed—our dirty little family secret), and wants to talk on the phone, come over for visits (alone!), etc.
I live in dread of seeing him alone. My parents live close by and he could easily just drop in—though he hasn’t yet, I know he will eventually.
I don’t know what to do. I’m done with therapy. I feel like I’ve spent enough time and money on this issue and I just want to move forward. My husband says to just tell him and my mom what the problem is. If I do that I will hurt my whole family—my kids, too, who actually love both of my parents and enjoy being around them. (My dad has become a lot nicer since he stopped drinking.)
I’ve tried to forgive and forget, but I can’t seem to manage it.
How can I get what I need without it being a problem for everybody else?
~ Distant Daughter
I’m so sorry for all you’ve had to endure.
You are indeed in a challenging situation. The way I see it, you have two options; stay the with stays quo—keep pretending things are normal and avoiding your father like the plague, or state the facts as you see them to your father (and maybe your mother, who has quite a bit of culpability for letting all this happen) and let the chips fall where they may.
Unfortunately, both choices will be agonizing, and I wouldn’t blame you for taking either path—nor should you blame yourself. You are not “weak” if you don’t speak up, and you are not “selfish” if you do.
I get it that you’ve had it up to your eyeballs with therapy, but you may want to have a few last sessions just to work through this particular scenario before making such an important decision.
It’s not fair that all this falls on you, but everyone else seems to be in denial and it’s clear that if a change is to be made, it will be made by you.
No matter what you do, honor yourself for making it this far and trust that you have the fortitude to weather whatever the future holds.
I work and live alone in a very conservative, rural community. People here have lived here for generations, rarely leaving, with few newcomers.
I originally came to this town (from a pretty big town in Ohio) because my then-boyfriend is from here, but we broke up, he moved back in with his family, and I stayed in our apartment over the local drug store.
I don’t have enough money to move on, and feel trapped.
Everywhere I go, I it seems like people are talking about me. It’s like being back in high school, but worse!
It’s true, I have done some things in my life that people here would look down on (which I’m sure my boyfriend told everyone all about after we broke up), but it’s not like I’m a prostitute or a murderer or something!
I hate my job—it’s very low paying and menial with no benefits—and I can’t believe I’m even doing it. My boss is a racist jerk who never even went to college.
The only plus side is that it’s beautiful here, and cheap, but with no friends and no future, that is small consolation.
I’m miserable but I don’t know what to do.
You are anything but.
You sound young and reasonably intelligent. All you need to do is hunker down, get disciplined, start saving money and figure out your next move—far away from this town.
You have four things working in your favor: a job (albeit menial, it sounds like there are not a lot of things to waste money on where you are so it should suffice), a cheap place to live, no dependents and experience outside this insular environment.
Sit down and write a budget for yourself with a goal to save X dollars a month and a total savings which will allow you to move on. I would suggest a minimum of $3,000- $5,000. No matter how long it takes, you will feel better knowing exactly what you’re saving for.
In the meantime, keep your head down, ignore the whispers, and know that greater things are coming. Allow yourself to dream. Spend time outside and enjoy the natural beauty which is the great perk of where you are now. The time will pass quickly and you may, at some later date, even reflect back on this part of your life with fondness.
Once you successfully move past this situation, you will have taken something very important away—the knowledge that you are strong, resourceful and independent.
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