Capturing life in words…
I love my father, but I cannot be around him more than a few minutes. It hurts me to hear him lost in his world of government conspiracy, distrust of all people and hatred for the ones I love. His hatred of my oldest son (age 21) and my fiance’ (forty-something like me) is unfounded, yet in his distorted thinking processes it is justified. I only check on him occasionally
to make sure he is eating, sleeping, and behaving himself legally (translation:not needing to be institutionalized any time soon). I don’t know why he will talk to me, yet hates the fruit of my womb and the man I have loved for two and a half years. At this point I have given up on understanding his processing and I rarely let my kids around him, but he doesn’t notice this nugget of our relationship. I will only let him see my children in public places, he seems to pull back the reigns of madness when in public and tame the wild beast within.
There’s so much conflict inside. After this long, my anger at his refusal to seek treatment is growing into indifference mixed with empathy. I have set some very firm boundaries in life to keep my relationships and family safe from his wilder, unpredictable side. Boundaries are a common psychosocial term. It’s how far into your world you let someone. In my ignorance, after my mother’s death last winter, I let Dad be a “Kitchen Table” friend with gentle reminders (on his deaf ears) to please call or, at minimum, knock before entering my private residence. He looked at me like I was crazy for asking. When he stormed in an altered state of reality, I firmly took him home, poured out the remaining alcohol and had my locks changed. Alcohol and SMI (serious mental illness) are a dangerous combination. Dad has not been inside my home since. He knows to get in all he has to do is seek treatment. It’s his choice, not mine.
In talking with other friends (both social workers and journalists), I realize I am not alone in this very crappy situation. We share a silent bond and understanding. I’m in the beginning of the journey with my father because mom hid it so well from the public… her and Jim Beam kept his secret of delusions. I did a good job of keeping my distance from the dysfunction. Her death opened a trunk of secrets. I’ve opened each secret carefully, turned it over in my mind, talked to people and written notebooks and notebooks to process through the inevitable. Sadly, in being educated as a social worker and talking to those who have been down this path before, the ending sucks. He will lose everything, and most likely, I will be stuck as the messenger.
Being the only living family member who will speak to him at all, it amazes me we did go three months without talking, and he escalated into full blown delusions. So now I do a monthly “check up”. Until very recently, if he was lucid, I would meet him at a restaurant with the kids… let me add, a restaurant capable of having us served and out of the place in 30 minutes or less. I let him see the kids so he has a reason to live. I tell my 10 and 13 year old basic information and I don’t lie. I know it won’t be much longer, unless Dad gets help, and he will not be allowed to see the kids anymore. He saw them a few weeks ago and trashed talked my fiance’ the whole time. My children love Jay. He is their step-father.
I see my cell light up with his name. It no longer says “Dad”. Now it has his first name and last initial. He’s never been a dad because he is too ill to be a father. If he calls repeatedly I know he’s drunk already and it’s not even 11 a.m. So I will play the first 30 seconds of his voice mail to assess his sobriety and then decide if I call back. I don’t call when he’s drunk. To do so is like sticking my hand in the garbage disposal, as his words are cutting, painful and accusatory. If he’s sober I will call, let him rant for no more than 50 minutes (that’s my boundary) and then hang up. Frankly, I don’t know how long I can do this unless he gets treatment. It’s not like caring for a client. Family makes it messy and painful. Being family also means my boundaries must remain firm. Being family also means, the pain is worse, and the outcome is predictable and horrible.
The price of untreated illness IS expensive and non-discriminatory. SMI (Serious/Severe Mental Illness)it is in all ethnicities, genders, income brackets and ages. It will take your life. Your day will be filled with sorrow, possibly paranoia and even some suicidal ideations. Your friends and family will drop away one by one. Why? Because mental illness and as my father so readily embraced, self-medicating with alcohol, causes a person to say and do cruel things. It’s all so unnecessary too because the resources for treatment there. Yet, until the mentally ill person is a danger to him/herself or others, the decision to pursue or not pursue treatment remains in their faulty wiring to decide. Crazy.
I realize today I consider my father dead. Sad, but it’s a relief.
This is the raw truth of loving someone with mental illness.
I will do this a little while longer. The ending is different for everyone if you look at time frame. However, all individuals in my place come to a point where they have to give up caring to save themselves. I am pretty close, but close can be a week, a month or a year. It depends on how harmful to my life he becomes.
I will play my voicemail now. I love you Dad. I miss profoundly who you could have been.