Not Just a Day at the Beach: Part 2 – Aftershocks

Where I left off – I’d had a meltdown (or as many of you have suggested on Facebook, a “release”) following the beach trip. I recovered enough to go to the movies that night. I then came home and went to sleep.

I awoke extremely shaky the next morning, chest gradually filling with wet cement, arms strangely numb or feather-light or some such thing, and my stomach feeling as if it were a butterfly garden. I also felt on the verge of tears. Somehow I got Sienna out of bed, gave her breakfast, did the dishes, put her in her pen and got into the shower. It was there that my brain buzzed with blog thoughts and the realization that if I was going to tell the truth about what happened, I’d have to write about how my dad played into things. Guilt, which my therapist always says is useless to me, set in immediately, nearly knocking me over.

I staggered out of the shower, dressed, got Sienna out of her pen, and started her Sesame Street/Muppet Show playlist (her favorite remains “C is for Cookie”…remind me to record her reaction when it comes on). Within minutes of turning on the computer, my dad sent me an IM asking if was ok. Now, this shows how much he cares about me, but it came when I was already reeling and I decided I needed to “confess” and warn him about the role he unwittingly played in the meltdown during which I kept apologizing and begging him not to feel bad. He said it was ok and that he’d deal with it because I said we had a good relationship now, but it wasn’t good enough for me because the guilt was relentless. I continued to apologize. And at one point my dad stopped responding. That’s when I broke again. Tears were streaming down my face and I once more I couldn’t breathe. Worst of all it happened in front of Sienna and she looked frightened.

“Daddy’s ok,” I sobbed, trying to smile. “It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok.” I patted her head and typed, “Please write something! Or call…something! Please don’t hate me!” After a few minutes (years to me), my dad wrote back that everything was fine and that he just had a phone call. “I’m a parent just like you and that will never happen,” he wrote regarding my fear about him hating me, but logic had gone out the window. I called my mom and asked for help. She said she’d be over within minutes (she works across the street). The guilt about hurting my father refused to abate and it combined with the guilt about falling apart in front of my daughter to form this monstrous self-condemnation. I couldn’t stop crying. I continued to try and reassure Sienna. “Daddy’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok.” But my hands were shaking and I don’t think she believed me.

The doorbell rang and I let my mom in. She gave me a big hug and told me she was proud of me and that she’d take Sienna so I could heal. I told her that I’d just told my dad the specifics and that I was terrified I’d hurt him and he’d hate me. She said that he’d never hate me and that he’d be ok. I sleepwalked through getting Sienna’s lunch together, and my mom took her out, but not before giving me another big hug.

I sat alone in the apartment. Drained. Stunned. Ashamed. I tried to sleep, but it didn’t happen so I watched TV until my mom brought Sienna back for her nap. I could barely talk, but I did manage to thank my mom. Once Sienna was down, I finally fell asleep.

The rest of the evening went ok, though I still felt awful. I couldn’t believe that I’d broken again. Elaine told me it was just an aftershock from the extreme stress of the previous day and that I almost always have them. Everything’s fine. This is normal. My recovery time has gotten so much quicker. She praised me. I was still upset that it had happened in front of Sienna, but Elaine said she Sienna’s so young that she’ll never remember it. I still couldn’t blog…still couldn’t even look at the beach pictures. I couldn’t wait for the day to be over.

The next morning I was fine. Perfectly fine. And I managed to blog. I got a lot of Facebook responses to the entry, but I couldn’t look at them. Once the blog was out I wanted nothing to do with it. I spent the rest of the day playing with and taking care of Sienna until it was time to head into the city for session. My mom came over to watch Sienna while I was out. ┬áThe closer it got to my therapy appointment, the more my chest hurt. I was pretty much an internal wreck when I got into my therapist’s office. She read the blog and told me she was proud, but I refused to listen. I spent most of the session stuttering and chastising myself. I couldn’t look my therapist in the eyes despite her ordering me to. Like Elaine, she praised me and pointed out how far I’d come, but I refused to listen, falling back into my old patterns of wanting this all to be over; considering myself a failure because I don’t have the house, the pool, the money, the job status that I’ve always believed I’m supposed to have by now because my definition of success remains strictly monetary and material; and of course, there was the guilt about hurting my dad. My therapist continued to list my accomplishments and had me repeat certain mantras including guilt being a dangerous and utterly useless emotion. I did my best, but I wasn’t responding well. The session was rough (which always makes me feel more guilty as I feel like I’m failing my therapist – my self-recrimination never seems to stop!!). She called me a “writer” and I scoffed saying I wasn’t a real writer and that actually getting published was a pipe dream. She kept telling me to stop being so hard on myself, but it seems I was in such a bad place that very little was getting through my thick skull. Eventually, my therapist got me calm down a bit by having me talk about media analysis and how important it is to me. She advised me to keep rereading my blogs. As hard as it is for me to admit, my therapist cares about me. I have that in print now. She’ll be proud of me for that.

I managed to wind up on the same train as Elaine on the way home. I was exhausted, sweaty from the humidity, drained from session. That night I looked at the Facebook responses to my last blog and couldn’t believe the support. So many friends called me brave and said they were proud of me, and more than one wrote that I didn’t have a breakdown, that I had a “release.” I think that’s a good way to look at it and I will try to. I think the aftershocks are done, though I still haven’t seen my father in person since the “release” and worry a little that another one might be on the horizon. I have to work hard not to think that way otherwise it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I must also keep working on not living my life through the eyes of others and not letting irrational guilt rule me. The facts are that I have an incredible wife and a beautiful daughter both of whom I love so, so much. I’ve developed better and stronger relationships with my parents and sister. I have loving friends. I continue to challenge myself and get better, but it takes time. Healing after holding so much in for more than 30 years takes time and work. Buried memories will pop up and I’ll have to recognize that they are not setbacks. In fact, they’re just the opposite.

Part 2 of this blog is now over and with work and cognizance on my part, there will not be a Part 3. Now this stay-at-home dad is off to play with his beloved daughter.

 

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