Coping Mechanisms

“Dad, I hate you. I wish you’d divorce Mom so I never have to live with you again”.

When you hear these words fly out of your mouth like a slow echo through a dark tunnel, you know something is seriously messed up. I was just an innocent, angry, confused, lonely, outspoken, sensitive, hurt girl, maybe 12 or 13 years old.

Distrust in men… perfectionist… self-reliant… untouchable high standards… heavy on independence… imbalance of ego-self… master of anger.
Brick by brick I had constructed a protective impenetrable wall around myself.
I was the one they never had to worry about.
Coping mechanisms
Coping mechanisms
Coping mechanisms
…. sigh

Yep, there they were, right in my face. The beliefs, conditioned thoughts, and character traits that pumped themselves up like an inflated Sumo wrestler suit so I might not ever be disappointed, hurt, rejected or abandoned. All geared towards men. But the beautiful grueling part is that once we become ‘grown-ups’ (which is completely overrated) we get to decide what we want to do about it all. Yeah, that usually means the blame game is over! If you’re pointing the finger at someone else there are always three pointing back at you. And, if you just like me, you know coping mechanisms are usually never serving in our adult relationships.

So was I going to play old belief patterns over and over like a broken record? Or was I going to process them so they wouldn’t constantly trip me up.

I processed the shit out of them ….

My Dad now has more sober years under his belt in my lifetime than drinking years. 31 years sober to be exact. I’m in awe of him, and I am a very blessed daughter. I realize not all alcoholic stories turn out like this. Heck, in our family alone I’ve experienced pretty much each direction it can turn ~ from full cold-turkey sobriety to tragic death and all the shenanigans in between. Me and my Dad’s story was not without its challenges but the blessings outweigh the broken road that led to here.

When I was in my early 30’s it hit me like a brick… most likely a brick from the wall I had built around myself. I was tired. The wall was starting to crumble. I was tired of the constant maintenance of patching holes where, god forbid, someone might sneak in. I was ready to tear it down. When patterns keep repeating themselves you’re got to consider the common denominator. Well, in my love relationships when it came to self-sabotage and push-away tactics, all in the name of self-protection, the common denominator was me. But isn’t the common denominator always ourselves?!

Let that simmer…

I sorted and sifted through my patterns with all the Harvel Hendrix books, years of Alanon and all their books, who knows how many hours processing with my closest girlfriends, private therapy, couples therapy, EMDR, the practice of reacting in ways that felt completely opposite of how I wanted to react, meditation, and the list goes on. Oh and did I mention a thousand self-help and “children of alcoholics” books?! I tried to cast light on all my shadows. What else could I do?

And then an approach was suggested that I would not have dreamed of on my own nor entertained. A sparkling spirit of a counselor said that if I was truly to make progressive change in my love relationships I needed to go to the source ~ My Dad. Boy did this sound frightening! The thought of presenting any of my damaged self and wounds to my Dad, because of our relationship, was the last thing I wanted to do! My counselor was compassionate and insightful. With her guidance and of course, on-going therapy, I spent weeks writing and rewriting a letter to my Dad. Maybe not the letter you would imagine… you know, the one filled with ‘you did this and didn’t do that and now I’m damaged,’ with all the finger-pointing, shame, blame, blah blah blah. Quite the opposite… but I will circle back to this.

Here is where I began to create amazing healing ground with my father.

With the letter completed and my trip planned to visit my parents, my next step was to call my Dad and set up a coffee date. What?! Could it get any worse?? What had I gotten myself into!? Couldn’t I just mail the dang letter?! It sounds silly but phone calls and communication was not the relationship I ever had with my Dad. In fact, whenever I witnessed a girlfriend turn to her Dad for a compassionate hug, ask his opinion about life, share tid-bits about daily plans, or mull over situations about a boyfriend, I’d imagine what that would be like. I’d drift off to visions of playing ball as a little girl with my Dad, maybe crawling in his lap for security, or feeling comfortable just sitting next to him and saying I love you. A foreign world. Much of my childhood is a blur but I now grasp these many missed moments carved deep beliefs that I was not worthy (of love), I only had myself to rely on, and if I could be more perfect I’d be rewarded with attention and words of affirmation… I’d be enough.

My Dad was a functioning alcoholic. There was always food on the table, a roof over our head, and clothes on our backs. We had a lot of fun times camping and adventuring in our VW pop-top bus. This was our transportation and hotel anywhere we went; to visit family in Canada and on the east coast. My friends loved him and thought he was so funny. Yes he was… when he was sober. After a night of Dad drinking, in a half asleep state, I would listen to his persistent arguing with my Mom. I could never understand what she did that was so bad. I witnessed verbal abuse and beratement to members of my family. Brushing my teeth one night as a young adult I heard a sound that you can’t put your finger on nor truly describe but it zaps you to your core… and you just know someone is being hurt. Following the lead of my fight response I barged in their bedroom and physically pulled my Dad off my Mom. I spent years… years of unwinding my Dad(dy) Daughter issues. And I have sincere empathy for my counterparts ~ Mom(my) Son issues. So the simple act of calling him to set up a date felt totally unnerving. Nonetheless I was committed and tired of being held in bondage by my own suffering. I made the call. He happily obliged. Wasn’t so bad. I mean it was just a coffee date – Dad & daughter – but to me it felt like the journey of a thousand steps and my feet were exhausted.

I arrived in Colorado and so did the date for our coffee talk. Outside the cafe we sat across the tall round wooden table from each other sipping coffee, which for many dads and daughters would feel just like any other day. Those initial moments felt locked in time as I revealed to him I had a letter to share. He had no idea what this date was about. It was the first father/daughter date we ever had! It was probably the first time he and I ever went somewhere together… alone.

So I unfolded the pages and turned toward the blade. (No I didn’t ‘“lean in”. Never been a real fan of that saying because there is usually discomfort or down right pain involved when forging into uncharted territories. I digress… ) I revealed to him my wounds. I shared with him the challenges I had been experiencing with my love relationships and my own heart. I let him know because of the twists and turns of our father-daughter relationship that I felt he was the only one that could assist me in improving my relationships.

I asked him for help.

Yep, that’s what the letter looked like. No blaming, no resentment, no judgement,
no offense or defense, no right or wrong, no side-winded comments or snide remarks. It blew my mind! Who knew that being taken to your knees with such a vulnerable request could be so powerful.

This date forever changed our relationship.

The gift my Dad gave me, in return for my vulnerability, was his presence and a tender heart… he looked me in the eyes and deeply listened. He didn’t defend, argue, or justify. He listened. He validated. He reflected back to me my feelings. He gave me comfort in my moment of risk and groundlessness. I felt safe. Then he calmly said yes.

Yes, he had failed as a father, to show up for me the way I deserved as a daughter ~ To be seen and heard. Yes, he was often physically absent when I needed him. Yes, he wished he had done better to express his love. Yes, it hurt his heart that I was gone for two years in high school for my dance because he missed me. Yes, he owned he often talked about how proud he was of me but never said it to me. Yes, the communication was merely absent in our relationship.

But mostly, he said yes.

Yes he would be here for me unconditionally, in whatever capacity I needed from that day forward. For a listening ear, a strong backbone, a voice of reason, a compassionate heart, or a shoulder to cry on. He never once argued for his limitations. My Dad showed me what humbleness really looks like.

Yes, the anticipation, nervousness, and build-up in writing this letter to take the thousand step journey to heal my relationship with my Dad stretched me. But it is another of my greatest gifts. Another adversity overcome. The disease of alcohol pushed me to find the wisdom in separation of his disease and the man he truly is. This teaching has come in handy more times than I can count. Our trying relationship offered me such a strong reflection of self and the parts that needed healing that I could not turn away. It constantly returned me to myself, to face my inner demons. Have those coping mechanisms completely gone away? Absolutely not! Being in my fear with those conditioned thoughts can still come up daily but they are more tame. And it has shed light on the necessary components in a love relationship that allow me to feel safe and loved; presence, attention, and affirmations ~ to be seen and heard. To know that I matter. It has become my life’s work… to love and understand those parts of myself that sometimes feel hard, and to offer grace when they show up inflated (Sumo wrestler suit!). So I am forever grateful for the broken road that has led me here… to my beautiful now.

“I give up all hope for a better past” ~Lily Tomlin.

I choose to remember my future rather than remind myself of my past.

Thank you Dad for the kind, calm, gentle soul you offer. Thanks for being one of my greatest teachers. I’ve always known the man that existed beyond the disease. Your dedication to self is admirable. It reminds me that life loves us… and it’s up to us who we choose to be in the world. Thank you for the opportunity to seek out and better understand myself. Thank you for placing me in the line of courage to own what is mine to do and release you of any accountability. It is a constant work in progress.

So I ask ~ are you holding any deep-seated resentments, pains, grudges, wounds, worn out belief patterns, conditioned thoughts, judgements, criticisms, fill in the blank…

What (who!) is the common denominator?

I do know this is just my story… There are many stories much much worse, many better. I take none of your stories lightly… we all have our experiences. But they are stories that can be changed… you can change how your story will end. You do not have to stand in your muck from the past. Those rooms full of drunks taught me ‘it’s like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.’ Who knew they had it all figured out!

So why wait? Let it go. Figure it out, unwind it… get to the root of what is causing that trigger (wound, story, etc) to feel so relentless. Stop holding others responsible. Process the shit out of it! You are only hurting yourself and those in relationship with you.
As the old Buddhist saying goes, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

And remember dear ones, you are never in it alone. I have stood where you stand.

Heck, I still do!

Big Love 🖤

 *Writing approved by Dad Naus 🙂

In reflection of this writing, an excerpt of a personal message from my Dad…

“My early life of being a father and a mentor was not a roaring success. Alcoholism fogs one’s ability to see life only as ‘where is the next drink and how to get it’. My life changed the day your mother stated she was not staying around to watch me kill myself by drinking. I realized that not only was I ruining my life by what I was doing, but also the lives of my family. This was the turning point and the start of a new life.

AA showed me a new way of living, and to enjoy all of life, good or bad. Your writing asked about holding any deep-seated resentments and I can say no, except what I should have done; stop drinking earlier and hurt all the people that I did. Pains, grudges, wounds and old belief patterns have left as I went through the 12 Steps of AA. I can honestly say I can not make judgements or criticize others. I now fill my life with helping others overcome their disease of alcoholism. As this helps me stay sober. It is the mainstay of my sobriety.

We all must learn to love one day at a time and be thankful we are here to enjoy it with family and friends. My dearest Colleen, you have always amazed me and I am sorry for not giving more of myself to you. Be aware that you are loved.” Dad

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