Saturday, November 23, 2013

Who Am I?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Early last month I came across an article entitled "Great Betrayals" in the New York Times.  As I read through the article I became increasingly enthralled by the subject matter.  Psychiatrist Anna Fels writes about the impact of suddenly revealed lies upon those who committed them as well as those who were misled by them.  The article can be found at the following link:

I found the article such a captivating read in part because it succinctly describes how I have been feeling lately regarding my own father.    I felt profoundly humiliated and angered when my father lied to me in my childhood regarding the circumstances of my stepmother's attempted murder that nearly claimed his life.  I was hurt in part because I suspected the truth but was told a different version of events; it was not easy to lie to me when I had also been a victim of abuse in his second marriage.  Despite my father's deceit and our subsequent interactions throughout the course of the years I still lived at home I found it in my heart to forgive my father's behavior.

As an adult I have sensed my father remains committed to taking the easy way out.  By that I mean that despite the horrific consequences his lies caused to me he seems inclined to lie or at least hide the full circumstances of unsavory circumstances or events if he believes doing so will somehow keep the peace.  It doesn't seem the suffering he caused to me due to his deceit made a sufficient impression on him to prompt him to change his behavior.

When I contacted my father this past summer to inform him of my PTSD diagnosis I was holding out a misplaced hope that he would show more compassion than he did.  I was hoping he would be more available to listen than he was.  I was nursing a hope that he would be a man different from the one I have known for so long.  In short, I was deluding myself.  The scales eventually had to fall from my eyes.  And fall they did.

One unfortunate aspect of catching someone in a lie is that it can take a tremendous amount of effort, faith and patience to rebuild trust with the person that has failed you.  It thus is all the more appalling if you should discover later on that you have been lied to again.  Deceit, and most especially repeated deceit, undermines the foundation of a healthy relationship.  This happened between my father and me. And I am not sure anything can ever be done to repair it.

The following words taken from the article impress me the most in regards to my own situation:

In this situation, therapy can be one path to reclaiming your past. Creating a coherent narrative of one’s life has long been seen as a central goal of psychotherapy. It provides the internal structure that helps us predict and regulate future actions and feelings. It creates a stable sense of self.

I am currently doing my best to create a coherent narrative of my own life as a way of moving forward. But I feel tremendously shaken.  Due to my father's past actions in which he has lied to me I cannot help but wonder if there are other instances I am not even aware of.  When a snake-oil salesman has deceived you just once it can be very difficult to open your door again to someone you thought you knew.  And it can be at least as difficult to open your heart and mind to strangers.  The practice of being open to new relationships and new possibilities can come to feel both scary and stressful.

I have long held a theory that my own father has a case of PTSD.  It makes perfect sense considering that my first stepmother attempted to kill him.  But now I can't help but wonder if there is even more in his life history that would have caused him to develop a traumatized disposition.  As a young man my father served in the Army.  At one time he was stationed in Korea.  Sometimes I have wondered if he endured some hardships or unexpected stressors and never disclosed them to anyone.  Other times I have wondered if he was abused while attending Catholic school as a teenager in Arkansas.  With so many reports of abuse by priests emerging in the last decade here in the United States it is easy to allow such reports to undermine your faith that your own parish is not plagued by such secrecy and dysfunction.  There is plenty regarding my father's life history that I do not know much about.  And I am beginning to suspect that I will never know.

In my darkest moments of fear I have imagined that my father had a case of PTSD when he first met my mother in Germany.  I have wondered if something happened to him in the Army that he never told anyone due to shame or fear.  And when I have found myself in those darkest places I can conjure with the (mis)use of my own imagination I then find myself immediately leaping to the implications of such a narrative within my own stream of thoughts.  If it is true that my father indeed had PTSD before I was even born and if it is also true that he never sought out any effective treatment for it then it would seem to follow that the man I grew up knowing as my father was a man whose character was distorted by a case of untreated PTSD.  It would seem that the model of manhood I received first and foremost from my father would thus be deeply interwoven with trauma.  And so then I ask myself these questions: Did I ever really know my father?  Have I ever seen my father present his authentic self to me?

These are difficult questions to even allow myself to imagine asking.  And they are likely even more difficult to answer.  I don't know that I will ever find an answer to them that will satisfy my curiosity.  And if I never find satisfying answers (or any answers for that matter) I must then decide how to move forward with my own life and create a life and associated narrative that meets my own needs.

Doing the work of grieving is not for the faint of heart.  I wish that my relationship with my father could be something other than what it is.  But I have come to the conclusion that it is in my best interests to cut ties and allow there to be immense space between us.  I have always loved my father and I still love him even now.  I just don't know if the person I have loved is very representative of the person he actually is.

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I invite you to accompany me as I document my own journey of healing. My blog is designed to offer inspiration and solace to others. If you find it of value I welcome you to share it with others. Aloha!