Part Two. (Here’s Part One.)
I’ve always written my way through life. Through the ups, downs, funny memories, scary moments and everything in between. I’ve written to share good news and beg for prayer. I’ve written to tell funny stories and to tell heart-breaking ones. Writing in itself usually isn’t all that difficult for me, but if there’s one difficult thing it would be this: writing about the weather when the sky is falling.
I’ve never been all that good at small talk or polite conversation. And writing about the mundane and trivial when my life feels like it is coming undone at the seams is the equivalent of small talk and polite conversation. And so over the last few years, I’ve mostly stopped writing about what was really on my heart.
But here it is — the heart of the matter: Three years ago I walked out of a church where I’d just joined my family in watching my dear sister-in-law get baptized, and I haven’t seen my parents since.
I didn’t know that would be the last time. And truthfully, maybe (…hopefully…) it isn’t. But things had reached a tipping point in our relationship, and it was clear things couldn’t continue as they were.
In that moment, I felt angry, misunderstood, and unvalued. I could only see their faults — drinking, confusion, years stacked upon years of unwillingness to seek help for my father’s mental illness, and an unwavering loyalty to one another even though it seemed to most on the outside they were taking each other down; and I didn’t realize how enmeshed and I had become in their self-destruction. For all my talk that I “was fine,” I wasn’t.
That day in the church culminated with a huge blow-up fight, for all to see, because I couldn’t find my four-year-old daughter. (My dad had slipped outside with her.) And my parents were enraged that “I didn’t trust him” with her.
And the truth was plainly there for all to see: I didn’t.
For years, I’d carefully managed all our interactions. Oh, you want to take Cora to the park? What do you know, I feel like going too! Ready to go out to eat? I just love this (terrible) Mexican restaurant (that doesn’t serve alcohol)! You want to babysit so Jacob and I can go out to dinner? That’s OK. We’d really rather stay home with all of you.
The mental gymnastics I performed to both avoid situations where a boundary would need to come in play and also to try and camouflage the boundaries under layers of sugary-sweet (and quite frankly false) explanations left me exhausted and spent. And though I wondered how to continue this dance, I never really entertained the notion that I’d stop dancing. The only thing harder than dancing was stopping, and I didn’t think I was strong enough for that.
In the weeks that followed that event, the truth crystalized in a painful reality. There was really no path forward in which they would peacefully accept our boundaries and we could never go back to pretending my favorite Mexican restaurant was that one where they don’t have margaritas and they have salsa that tastes like watered-down ketchup. The boundary — which had become more like the Great Wall for me because it centered around the safety and emotional well-being of my children rather than “merely” my own comfort and happiness — would always be the front lines for a simmering war in our relationship. There would be no truce unless I gave them what they wanted: unfettered access to my children, zero expectations when it came to their alcohol use around me, and acceptance of what I saw to be my father’s delusions as reality. And it was something I could never give.
So I said goodbye. And the sky fell.
Estrangement is such a dirty and hard-edged word. Trust me: it’s even harder to live. In those early days, there was nothing I could really say to make sense of this new reality, and so I stopped writing. Add to it that my story is their story, too. And though they see everything so differently than I do (even to this very day), I’ve never had a desire to injure them… so I stopped writing.
And since I couldn’t talk about the weather when the sky was falling, I slowly found myself with less and less to say.
But that’s changing.
I don’t know how to do this… I don’t have a relationship with my parents in real life or on social media. And if I start writing in a public space under my own name, I realize that may open Pandora’s Box. But I’m tired of keeping silent out of fear of the unknown. I still don’t want to say anything that would defame or wound them, but I can’t share the incredible journey of healing and restoration I’ve been on these last few years without being honest about its beginnings.
I’ve always thought writing can hold the same power that a lighthouse in a stormy sea represents. It can serve as a beacon of hope and a reminder that we’re never alone and there’s a way forward; a path through the darkness. It can remind us, in our most tumultuous moments, that safe harbor is just around the bend. In my darkest moments, the lighthouses of others who went before me guided me safely to shore.
This blog isn’t going to get a subtitle of “How to navigate your parent’s mental illness without losing your mind” anytime soon, but I needed to say — out loud and in writing — that the sky fell in my life. I lost my living parents. (Thankfully, though I miss them every.single.day., I’ve found a lot of healing and sanity which is probably why I’m even ready to share.)
And in the days to come, I know so much of the story I want to share will center on seeing God in the gritty edges and rough spots of life. Like a pool of gasoline on the ground, when you see it in just the right light, life has the same hard-edged beauty of rainbows one can find in gasoline-covered asphalt. But without being vulnerable about the hard edges of this story, I could never really share with you the richness of the rainbows. And without being vulnerable about the hard edges of this story, I could never really write my way through it.
So there it is: I love my parents. And I haven’t seen them for 3 years.
And maybe, just maybe, my writing can be a lighthouse for someone else.