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Trigger warning: This post discusses suicidal ideation and incest. Please read with caution.
I went to rehab three times, at about $19,000 a pop. I should have known that the first two wouldn’t work because, after I left, I kept thinking about how messed up I could get on $19,000. I have to say, though, I agree with the theory of threes: third time’s the charm, three strikes and you’re out, celebrity deaths, etc. I did stay clean and sober after my third attempt and for sure my third marriage (you may remember me from my 6-week marriage) has been my best. So, yay for that.
Little victories, right?
So, I’m in rehab for the third time, over 20 years ago, following a night of drunken debauchery that included my introduction to tequila after my distant alcoholic father told me he had secretly married his girlfriend three months earlier. Why was I so upset, I wondered. What did I want, to be flower girl? He was a 52-year-old man. He could do whatever he pleased.
Perhaps it was because I loved my father so very much.
Most girls do love their daddies, I suppose, despite the awful things they might do, and he and I were very much alike. I had his hazel eyes and his lips and his sense of humor. We both wanted to be actors, we both wanted to be writers and we both were addicts and confused, sad people.
Growing up, I loved the way he smelled. It was a mix of skin, wine and cigarettes, but it was warm and comforting when he hugged me. I would stand on his feet in the living room and we would slow-dance stiffly. If the family went on a drive, I would pretend to be asleep in the back seat so he would have to carry me inside. I loved when he grew a mustache or beard, so soft. I loved hearing his typewriter click from his office in the basement. He would make me PB & J with the crust cut off for breakfast and I would watch "Sesame Street."
Now I was 22 and our relationship had faded. He had divorced my mother and left town, was living with his girlfriend, who he had suggested dye her hair the same color as mine. She did.
I had just gone through my hundredth bad breakup and I called him to further torture myself because, at that time, I hated myself so much and I didn’t understand why. I kept doing destructive things. We were talking, I don’t even remember about what, and I said, “You should marry Patty.”
“I already did,” he replied.
“Oh,” I said, my voice trailing up at the end. “When?"
“Three months ago,” he said. He was very matter-of-fact. I remember once, when I was 12, he and my mother were arguing and he lifted a chair over his head and said, “Now you die” in the exact same way.
It was just like that, “Three months ago”/“Now you die.” He had a knack for shutting down. He taught me well.
As my father broke the news to me of his now three-month-old marriage to my new stepmom, my body, my mind, all stopped in a matter of seconds, like a robot being turned off in a 1970s sci-fi film. It felt for a moment like when we would dance in the living room and then he decided his feet couldn’t take it anymore. I would be so sad because I felt like I could dance with my daddy forever.
I hung up the phone with my father and went into the bathroom, ceremoniously grabbed a razor off the tub, and began cutting my wrists. The cuts were mostly superficial, like scratches and razor burns.
Shortly after, I went out to a bar and found a friend to buy me a drink. I met Mr. Tequila and we became best friends for the night. Then, I went home, cut myself some more, took some prescription pills and called the rehab facility.
I wanted to die, but I didn’t want to die. You know?
There’s nothing like the sound of the doors of a rehab facility shutting behind you. It creates a combination of security and dread. The doors are automatic, like hospital doors, but, in my head, they always sounded like the slam of a medieval drawbridge, complete with giant brass door knocker. “No one shall pass without insurance!” echoed the intake nurse’s booming voice.
Two weeks into a four-week program, and all seemed to be going well at the Chemical Dependency Unit of Acadiana. I pretended I was getting better and friends visited me and brought me cigarettes and Snickers bars, which were strictly banned. I was taking my meds like a good little monkey and doing “healthy activities” like painting ceramic bunnies in occupational therapy. I hated OT, a practice I found ridiculous, because I was SO BAD at painting ceramic bunnies, decoupaging wooden stools and making fake stained glass that it made me want to drink and use drugs just to compensate for my lack of artistic skills.
This wasn’t a prison, I mean, we weren’t making toilet wine in the bathrooms, but they had rules. We’d wake up early and make our beds, apparently a key to sobriety, and then wait in line for the small paper cups filled with happy pills (or quiet pills, depending on your disease), downed with medium paper cups filled with warm, metallic hospital sink water. Then we’d travel, lemmings-style, to the cafeteria that smelled like grade school and eat food without sugar or caffeine, though we learned to steal Diet Coke from the faculty lounge.
Sometimes we got to go bowling and, boy, did we all have a reaction to the cases of Budweiser stacked to celebrate some upcoming tournament or giveaway. That’s called a “trigger.” Bad planning, Chemical Dependency Unit. Bad, bad planning.
We screened wholesome movies on movie night, attended outside AA meetings (where we tried to hide from anyone we recognized) and, most fun of all, watched grainy, hopefully significant videos from the 1970s in which a man was trapped in a bottle wearing a matching, polyester vest/pant combo, or a woman who was confused and frightened by the web of Pick Up Sticks in which she was engulfed, while wearing a matching, polyester vest/pant combo. All the while, we had private therapy sessions, meetings with psychiatrists, and group. I talked about my father’s drinking, my cousin and great-uncle touching me, my addictions. I talked about them like they were nothing, like I was over it. They were minor offenses in my life.
I still hadn’t figured it out, though, why this latest incident with my father had driven me over the edge.
We were all in group one day and this big man was crying about how he sold his “sh-t” to get crack. He could never get enough money for his habit. He sold clothes and jewelry and his car. He sold his mother’s wedding ring. And then he says that he sold his kids' toys to get crack money. “The Barbie van, the Big Wheel… all of it,” he said.
Something hit me.
My stomach flipped and felt like it was tossing a peach pit around. I suddenly didn’t feel so well.
His kids’ toys. I thought, Parents don’t realize what they do to their kids. Smack! Something slapped me in the head. The peach pit was being thrown harder and harder. What the hell was happening?
Parents don’t realize what they do to their kids, I thought again. Smack!
STOP SAYING THAT!
The record just kept skipping. And it was a bad record. Parents don’t realize what they do to their kids, Parents don’t realize what they do to their kids, Parents don’t realize what they do to their kids.
Suddenly, the understanding of what I was remembering grew like the Grinch’s heart. Two sizes that day.
Parents don’t … they don’t see it… Smack! Parents don't realize…my father drank and I was neglected! Smack! And he wasn’t who I think he was… Smack! and… and… he was having sex with me. The whole time.
Wait. What? Oh, no no no no no.
But yes. It was a big yes.
Suddenly, one of the counselors asked me, “Do you have something to say.”
And I go “Yeah, parents don’t realize what they do to their kids.”
And as I said it, all of these memories started flooding in, confirming the reality that yes, my father did molest me, since I was around 4, and, yes, it was the key to everything I had done up to this point.
But all I could say was “Parents don’t realize what they do to their kids." I started rocking back and forth like Rain Man saying, “They have to realize what they do to their kids. They have to realize what they do to their kids. I’m an excellent driver.”
And the counselor said, “Are you having some memories?” and all I could manage was “Uh-huh” and I was shaking and crying and they led me out of the room with a blanket over my shoulders like James Brown.
So the lesson is: Never tell an incest survivor with repressed memories that you sold your kids' toys for crack.
No, that is not the lesson.
There was no lesson. There was actually a blessing. I now had a base to figure out why I did the things I did. I was hypervigilant, manipulative, angry, violent, sad, happy, sick, despondent, hateful and loving, all the while knowing, at my core, that I had a good heart, it was just covered in barbed wire. My father hated my choices, my boyfriends, my mother, his mother and he treated me more like a lover than a daughter. So much became clear. And part of me was grateful. And part of me still loved him, so much.
Behind the woman who was sardonic, impertinent and impenetrable, was someone who hurt like everyone else and was just as battered.
Through my tears, I found a joke, as usual, and said, “Great, so now I have this to deal with? Not only am I an alcoholic, drug addict, manic depressive, etc., but along comes incest?”
It took spending almost $60,000 and being forced to come to terms with one of the hardest truths I've ever had to face, but I never had to go to rehab again. Whatever had been stopping me was finally out in the open. That was the important part.
I grabbed my lance, a can of Diet Coke and charged straight into the fight.