Tag Archives: Parents

Phoenix Rising

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A thin veil shrouds the twenty-four hours after my stomach pumping (Food for Thought, Part VI). I remember a hazy snippet of green scrubs mumbling something; my parents, crushed, talking to a white lab coat. I signed some papers. Someone tried to explain them to me. What I can piece together follows: None of the private mental health facilities nearby could take me. In my parents’ minds, state facilities resembled giant prisons filled with neglect and rape. Out of the question, the hospital could send me there over their dead bodies. So my parents signed me out Against Medical Advice, into their protective custody and on the condition that I would enter an intense counseling program. I signed papers agreeing not to attempt suicide again and that if I did, nobody could sue the hospital.

I slept a lot over the next few days as my system tried to recover. My parents received instructions on keeping me as safe as possible at home: No internet, no phones, no visitors until my new counselor approved them. No closing the bathroom door. No driving. No preparing my own food. No belts. I found all this ridiculous, I didn’t want to hurt myself. Yes, I took the pills on purpose, but I didn’t do it to die. I don’t know why I took them. No, I’m not crazy (newsflash: I was.)

Mother finally found an intensive outpatient program (or IOP) at a nearby hospital for me. I understood that it looked like I’d tried to kill myself. I needed to jump through some hoops to get my life back. Piece of cake, I thought. I’ll show them I’m not crazy, I’m not going to try anything stupid. It never even occurred to me that I might need to investigate what caused me to take the pills so that it wouldn’t happen again. I pushed the whole thing out of my mind as something that had happened to me, outside myself. I didn’t really do it. I boxed the whole experience up neatly in denial and taped it shut.

I easily complied with all the rules, ate whatever I got. I spent a week or two high as a kite. I read an explanation once that when depression culminates in a suicide attempt, it sometimes resets the brain’s chemicals, resulting in a euphoria-like state. This state can end suddenly, resulting in another attempt, or wear off gradually. By the grace of God I experienced the latter. I felt kind of like a happy robot for a long time. I could do what I needed to without much thought or personal responsibility. Run the program. Jump through the hoops. No thoughts of what I’d do with the rest of my life after, just comply. Go with the program. Get life back, whatever that meant.

How fitting, I thought as I entered the cold, gray facility that cold, gray morning. The lobby seemed cheery enough: pale yellow walls and burgundy carpet, green chairs, art, cheery lighting, plants and polished wood. Large, beige steel doors with skinny windows, metal mesh between the glass panes. A card reader and number pad beside them. Looking through the doors, I saw a cold gray hallway with sterile tile floors and white hospital chair rails. People in wheelchairs, slippers, and drab robes, pushed by sterile white orderlies. Fluorescent lighting. I didn’t want to go there. It looked like the kind of place that eats you alive and never spits you out. I shuddered and looked away.

The receptionist looked pleasant enough. She smiled sadly at me and handed me a clipboard with several forms on it. Some of the questions confused me. Eventually I got through them all and returned them to her. I sat down and waited. Studied the billows of my giant white tee shirt over my stomach and sweat pants. Studied my shoes. A man with a clipboard came and called my name. He smiled, shook my hand firmly, introduced himself as Dr. Smith. We turned away from the big metal doors (OH THANK YOU JESUS) and went down a long, yellow hallway, around a couple of bends, and finally entered his corner office.

Food for Thought, Part V

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Read the first four parts here, here, here, and here.

In my house, we lived out an emotional script. Sometimes there were limited choices, other times there was only one permissible emotion. If we expressed an inappropriate emotion, sometimes we were simply told not to feel that way, to feel this way instead. Other times we were instructed to express the prescribed emotion, and punished if we failed to comply.

I don’t remember being happy very much as a young child, but I know I was at least sometimes. In middle childhood, happiness rarely happened for me. I often felt confused, sad, frustrated, or angry. If I expressed those feelings at an unacceptable time, even non-verbally, I was ignored, belittled, or corrected. My emotional state defaulted to numbness. As I grew, the numbness grew. Eventually I stopped feeling happy almost entirely. I stopped feeling much of anything most of the time. Since I didn’t feel sad all the time, and people didn’t talk about depression, I had no idea that I had lived with clinical depression for most of my life.

I suffer from a disorder that causes my joints to dislocate extremely easily, sometimes in ridiculous ways. Like dislocating a shoulder while putting on a loose t-shirt. It happened that first semester of college, a few weeks in. I hadn’t even gotten my head to the neck hole, my arm got stuck in the air. When the triage nurse at the ER took my medical history and asked if I had a history of depression, naturally I said no. The ER doctor prescribed me Percocet, which apparently mixes poorly with mood disorders. I experienced massive mood swings while taking it. Lying in bed, I thought Well, I guess it’s time. I did not question what that meant, even though I hadn’t been contemplating suicide or self-harm. I just took every pill in my possession. I have no idea what happened in my brain, just that I had unknowingly been depressed for a long time and that, mixed with Percocet, almost killed me. I got back into bed with a smile on my face, feeling serene, high, sick… and I waited. Then, darkness crept into the edges of my vision and slowly closed in.

Merry Christmas

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We had a very merry Christmas indeed, and I hope you all did as well. This was our family’s best Christmas in many years, because we were able to spend it together. We have received abundant confirmations since the move that we are exactly where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing right now. Although most people would not want to be in our shoes and to the world outside things look pretty bleak, we are truly happy and all of our needs are met. This jobless time has brought our family closer together, and has presented SO many opportunities for God to show us how very big He is and how richly, extravagantly He loves us. We are getting to live Isaiah 61:3, and it is so much more beautiful than any of our own plans. Our future looks bright, but if it should fall, yet will I praise Him with my whole heart.

When it rains, it pours.

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We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Blessings, Laura Story

Moving day is tomorrow. The car won’t start. Mom and I are fighting. A lot. I’ve had a headache for four days, and we’ve had a cold snap here that has made my arthritis more painful than it’s been in several years. Husband had a job interview that may or may not work out, with no other interviews scheduled thus far. And there is not nearly enough chocolate in this house. What great opportunities for God to show Himself.

But today, a Pagan friend asked me to pray for her. Wow, what an incredible and totally unexpected honor! I am truly filled with joy and hope.

And now we wait, we pray, we believe, and we hope.

Essential Fridays Linkup

Food For Thought, Part I

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Every crumb that entered my body consumed me. Every morsel occupied my entire mind before it entered my mouth. Every calorie crowded out the important and the mundane. Every bite required atonement. To live was death. To think about anything real was pain. So I stayed hungry and focused on that. I thought about what I could see and touch: my legs, my stomach, muscle definition and hair and what I could pinch and where and how much. I believed somewhere deep inside that if I could just shrink down small enough, I’d be invisible. And if they couldn’t see me, they couldn’t hurt me. If nobody saw me they couldn’t punish me for crashing through glass walls. Not my parents, not my peers. If only they couldn’t see me, they would just leave me be.

Clinical anxiety is largely misunderstood by those who have never experienced it. An undercurrent of anxiety ran through my consciousness every waking moment. When I had nothing to worry about, my brain would find something. As I went through puberty, the changes in my body became an easy target. I was an early bloomer, and so went from a socially awkward child to a socially awkward adolescent who stood a head above her peers and whose developing breasts were, therefore, at eye level for her pubescent male peers. I went from being a target who could hide behind her books and stay out of the way, to a giant target with acne and frizzy hair with nowhere to hide except in giant tee shirts and hoodies.

I obsessed about my weight and measurements. I weighed first thing in the morning, then over and over again throughout the day, before and after anything I thought might affect my weight by even an ounce. I measured various parts of my body morning and night, and replaced my tape measure frequently in case it stretched out with use. I studied nutrition, gleaning everything I could about what nutrients we require to live and what different ones did. When I ate, I ate things that I thought would not make me gain weight (this was of course the most important criteria), that would help me not starve myself into blindness or hair loss, things that were supposed to be good for my skin and nails and kidney function. I had an extremely strict, very limited diet and all kinds of tricks to stick to it without being found out. I had a trove of tricks for staving off hunger as long as possible and distracting myself from the pangs.

I tried to induce vomiting a handful of times, but no matter what I tried I physically could not do it. I’d gag and gag, but never could get anything to come up. So I gave up on that traditional method of purging and turned to over-exercising instead. I’d sneak in reps of different exercises throughout the day whenever I could get away with it, in addition to my regular after school session and my more private, secret hour-long session before bed. I researched the most effective ways to burn calories and fat. Towards the end of middle school and entering high school when I had been suffering from this disease for several years already, I got careless. I was finally making some friends, and some of them began to suspect and to worry. So I had to reevaluate some of my strategies. If I was making friends and spending time with them outside of school or church, that left me with less time to sneak in exercise and more encounters with food to navigate my way through. But I found that as I began to make some real friends, missed sets and reps bothered me less.

I would read about actresses and supermodels who were taller and thinner than me and think dammit, why can’t I get below x weight and y body fat? I’m just not working hard enough. I don’t have enough self-control. I’m not a REAL anorexic. But I realize now, I just am not built to get that thin. I have hips and broad shoulders, and no amount of diet or exercise will change your bone structure. But even when I could feel my bones, even when some of my unrealistic, unhealthy goals were met, it never satiated. It was a competition, I was losing, and that was unacceptable.

Those friends I mentioned earlier, the ones who began to worry and suspect, they accepted me and liked me for who I was. They were real friends, my first. God used them, among other things, to begin to rebuild my shattered self esteem. Through those friendships, He began to show me His love. Some of the goals, preoccupations, and lies began to slip away, just a little bit at a time. When I went away to college, the health center offered free counseling. I’d known for about a year that I needed help, but I had no way to get it. In college, away from the stresses of home, I found the courage to finally begin the healing process.

TheWeekendBrewButton

Essential Fridays Linkup

Singed

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A couple of years after Nancy and Ellie came to live with us, we experienced a major tragedy together. Our home burned to the ground, along with most of our possessions.

It happened on a beautiful Fall day: crisp, cool air, just a few white fluffy clouds in the sky, leaves just beginning to change. While working in the kitchen, Mother caught a whiff of that awful stench: melting plastic. She frantically looked around the kitchen, but found nothing. Then we all heard a pop, followed by crackling.

Mother ran into the living room and ushered us all outside. She and Nancy did a headcount once we got to the curb and realized my brother was not with us. Mother ran back inside and found him hiding in the hall closet, clutching his blankie and crying quietly. She scooped him up and ran.

After depositing him safely in “Mommy Nancy’s” arms, she ran back in a second time, and then a third, and a fourth. Over and over, she ran back in. I remember increasingly large puffs of smoke pouring out the front door each time it opened. The neighbors gathered at the end of the driveway with us, watching in shock. Nobody tried to stop her.

After each trip back into the burning building, she ran to the end of the driveway to deposit an armload of things in a growing pile. Mostly photo albums and family movies, but she grabbed other things too: nick knacks, blankets and pillows, whatever she could snatch from the flames’ path. She only stopped when she went to open the door one last time and the flames singed her hair.

My dad came flying into the cul-de-sac around the same time as the fire engines. I remember him hoisting me up into a bear hug and asking Mom if everyone made it out OK. We watched the jets of water shoot into our crumbling house. It seemed like hours before the smoke began to slow. The flames won, rendering our home nothing but piles of black rubble. A neighbor brought blankets out to wrap around the children. She invited us in for cocoa to help us warm up while Mom dealt with the police, firemen, and insurance agent. I think I only took a couple of sips of cocoa. I remember staring into the thick, sand-colored mug in shock. Grown-ups were talking around me, but it sounded distorted, like I was under water.

We spent the night in a cheap motel, then moved into a rental house for several months while our house was rebuilt. I don’t remember much about the rental house except for drab, grey walls, and a window seat overlooking the back yard. It was my favorite spot in the house. Somehow cozy and magical, it made me feel safe, and provided the perfect spot to immerse myself in a good book or day dream. I’ve loved window seats ever since then.

Daddy did not live in the rental house with us. This was one of the separations when we didn’t see him much. The fire took the only home he’d ever known and left him devastated. He lacked healthy coping tools, so he withdrew and sunk deeper into his addiction. As soon as our new house was ready, he came around again. I don’t know if he moved back in, but he was there every night after work, playing, reading stories, tucking in, eating dinner.

Some of our things were salvaged and professionally treated for smoke damage, including my favorite doll. I cried the day Mom brought her to the rental house. I hugged my dolly tight and didn’t let her out of my sight for months.

I developed PTSD after the fire. I had a recurring night terror about it for years where I was trapped in the burning house and couldn’t get out, complete with feeling the heat and smelling the smoke. I haven’t had that particular one in a long time, but I do still get occasional night terrors about fire. I’m still pyrophobic. If someone lights a match or lighter anywhere near me, it’s all I can do not to panic. I DID panic until a few years ago. I would scream and back away in terror, seeing the flame burst out of control before me. This got some weird looks, and I had to explain about the house fire to many friends over the years. None understood. I was never evaluated for PTSD until college.

Family Economics

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Mother had a stable but low-paying career working with children. Daddy worked at the family business, with a few short breaks. It was an extremely profitable but seasonal business. We maintained certain standards year-round: If we wanted a new toy or other luxury, we could either get it with our allowance or wait until Christmas/our birthday. We occasionally got a small amount of “allowance credit,” but were not taught anything about long-term planning. We didn’t go out to sit-down restaurants or order pizza very often (although we did eat a lot of fast food during the busy season.) We didn’t attend many movies, skating rinks, Chuck-E-Cheese, or other places that charged money for entertainment; except for special treats. And even during the brief time we were on food stamps, Mother always made sure to put a little something in the offering plate at church. My parents also maintained some luxuries whenever possible, even if that meant forgoing groceries or other necessities: Mom’s hair was always salon-dyed (as was mine once I reached the proper age), nails always painted, make-up always done. Mother forced me to have my hair dyed for years, but I could manage to avoid the nails and make-up if I really worked at it. She bullied me and sometimes withheld privileges if I failed to comply. We occasionally received hand-me-down clothing from our cousins, but we never purchased clothing or toys second-hand. Dad frequently traded his sports car or pickup truck for a newer model, owned the biggest TV on the market, and had a personal computer before anyone else on the block, in addition to the recreational drugs. We had a cleaning lady most of the time, but would occasionally cancel her services for a few weeks during the slower months. Even when the cleaning lady was on hiatus, we had very few chores.

During the busy months, Mom and Dad saved for the slower months, but it seemed they never put back enough. They kept a specific fund that could not be touched unless a dire emergency arose: the Christmas fund. Christmas was an elaborate celebration in our family. We wore brand-new matching outfits to the Christmas eve service at church. We opened our brand-new matching Christmas PJs Christmas eve, to wear to bed and then for pictures Christmas morning. Mother prepared a feast for our extended family on Christmas day. And the gifts, oh, the gifts. Each year we prepared a list of desired presents at Mother’s prompting. This list had to be long enough to share with the extended family and still leave enough to flood the house with gifts from Mother, Father, and Santa on Christmas morning. If the first list wasn’t long enough, we had to add to it. Gifts would be piled everywhere, under the tree, on the furniture, under the dining room table, around the hearth. Mother would choose the items from our lists that she found acceptable and would pass some of them on to extended family to purchase for us. The rest, if she deemed them acceptable she tried to find them at the best possible prices. If she could not glean enough gift ideas from our lists, she still felt compelled to drain the Christmas fund, so she purchased things seemingly at random, or things that fit her taste, things she wanted us to like.  As an example, once I reached the appropriate age, I usually received large amounts of make-up, especially kits, either from expensive department store brands or even occasionally drug store brands. Mother trained us not only to smile and say thank you, but to effuse over each gift and spend some time playing with it enthusiastically for the camera. Christmas meant more than just gifts, of course, but I will save the rest of the traditions and memories for another entry.

So even though an abundant Christmas fund sat in the bank, if the money ran out during the slow season Mother and Father would not touch it unless a true emergency arose. This meant that sometimes we ate nothing but pasta and hamburger for weeks at a time. Other times it meant we had three meager meals and no snacks, left with rumbling tummies for much of the day and night. Complaints about hunger elicited a number of responses, ranging from denial to charges of ungratefulness, belittling to annoyance. Meal and snack times and amounts were set and they had better be enough or we could “get over it.” Sometimes I would sneak food, even hiding boxes and wrappers in my room or in strategic places around the house. If I got caught I was reprimanded, and punished by missing the next snack or meal. As I got older, I would gorge myself in secret on grocery day so that at least for one day I wouldn’t go hungry.

We also had to wear worn-out and out-grown clothing and shoes until Christmas, and then whatever we got for Christmas had to last us until the busy season, growth spurts not being accounted for. This meant that some years we went without winter coats, appropriate shoes, and occasionally no socks and one fitting pair of underwear. If we got down to no underwear that fit, then mother would pick up a few pairs, but that was pretty much the only exception. Child Services got involved on a couple of occasions, but that would only fix the clothing situation for that year. The following winter we reverted to the old way of doing things.

During the busy season, we lived the high life. With Daddy’s first big paycheck or two, Mom and Dad would catch up on the mortgage and any other lapsed bills. Then, right before Spring Break, we’d go on a huge shopping spree for our Spring wardrobes. We shopped the sales racks first, but after exhausting those we paid full price for the remainder. We’d get new water shoes or flip flops, sandals (sometimes two or three pairs for the girls), hiking boots, sneakers, at least two pairs of dress shoes, at least two swim suits and a cover-up each, church clothes, school clothes, and of course, play clothes for the long summer. We’d also each get one especially fancy outfit just for Easter. After Easter, the special outfits might be worn to a Summer wedding, but we usually only wore them once or twice and then donated them. We always did something for Spring Break; sometimes just an inexpensive camping trip to the lake or a park, other years Disney World or the beach or a water park, depending on how the busy season started out that year. We would have another huge shopping trip at the end of the school year to replace any outgrown clothing and fill out our Summer wardrobes. During the Summer, we always made at least one trip to an exclusive beach resort or theme park. We stayed in luxury suites, condos, or even rented a townhouse. We attended lots of summer camps: some VBSes, some educational day camps, and some sleep-away camps. We did lots of what people now call “staycation” stuff, seeing local attractions and such. And some years, we took an educational trip, such as visiting Washington, D.C.; Colonial Williamsburg, VA; the Grand Canyon; Mt. Rushmore, to name a few. Some of these trips early in the season went on credit cards that my parents then ended up making payments on into the Winter, contributing to our economic difficulties in the lean months.

My parents saved for retirement, but a tragedy wiped out most of those savings in my teen years. More on that later. They did not, however, save for our college educations and even with an upper-class income between the two of them, they paid for a lot of things with credit for a long, long time.

My Junior year of college, Mother called me out of the blue one day to tell me that there was no more money. And that was that. I’d chosen an intense major and didn’t even have time to look for a job, let alone actually work one. It was too late in the semester to drop any classes without penalty to find work, so I did the only thing I knew how to do: I paid for everything with credit. Car insurance and gas, cell phone, prescription medication, and any incidentals that came up. That semester I flunked out, mainly for unrelated reasons but it would be naive to say that stress had no effect on my studies. I don’t know how my brother managed to get by. My sister managed to pick up more hours at her part-time job, and allowed her boyfriend to help her make ends meet. Mother has no recollection of this. She and Dad managed to get through that Winter somehow.

Discipline

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My mother worked with children for over 30 years. She describes her disciplinary style as “nurturing but strict.” Between my dad’s strong personality, high intelligence, and his parents’ neglect, he found a lot of creative ways to keep himself occupied as a child. So anything we even thought about doing, he had either done or thought about doing. I think many parents probably believe this of themselves, but I digress. Of the three, Nancy stands out as the most reasonable and effective disciplinarian. Nearly as strict as mother, creative like father, but she bested them both in consistency and structure. During the first several years that Nancy lived with us, she left us with little time to get into trouble. She came up with appropriate punishments and applied them consistently to any child in the family. She made reasonable rules, and if she made changes, they made sense and did not apply retroactively.

My parents strongly believed in the punishment fitting the crime, but often disagreed on the details when it came to living out that philosophy. The rules of the house and the consequences of breaking them changed frequently. Sometimes a rule seemingly erupted from nowhere, with additional consequences for not inherently knowing how to behave. They enforced most rules sporadically. If one parent disagreed with another’s discipline, they simply overrode it with their own harsher or more lenient punishment, or disregarded it. Like most children of the eighties, we got time outs. We lost toys and privileges. We occasionally got  spanked. I think this one may be more of a cultural thing than an era thing, but we occasionally got “whupped” with a “switch,” or a long, thin hickory twig stripped of its leaves.  For the worst infractions, we had to select the switch ourselves. It had to be just the right thickness, color, and length. Then we had to strip the leaves from it ourselves. Occasionally, the entire punishment consisted of the mental anguish and anticipation involved in choosing and preparing the switch. Dad still kept that switch handy for a few days to help us remember not to repeat the infraction. When we got “a whoopin,” he aimed to leave marks and make it painful for us to sit the next day as a reminder of our wrongdoing, without breaking the skin. And he never did break the skin. I say he because although mother might occasionally prescribe the switch, she never implemented it herself. That task belonged to father. Mother preferred a wooden spoon.

My teen years brought many changes. My parents were trying to learn how to function as a stable married couple, and we all had to learn how to operate as a family unit without Nancy and Ellie (we still saw them most days, but it’s different when you live in different houses). My dad was adjusting to life without drugs, learning how to be a full-time father and husband, trying to get to know this God who pulled him from the very brink of death, and rebuilding himself and his entire life.  My mother was living with some serious health problems and had to take a prolonged leave of absence from work. And, there were three teenagers living under one roof.

Grounding became the punishment of choice. Grounding ranged from simply being confined to the house for a few days to losing everything in our rooms, including furniture, except for bare essentials, then being confined to our room for up to a month with no phone privileges, no visitors. This is where the inconsistent discipline really blossomed. Whatever level of grounding we originally received never stood. Within a day, the length of the grounding got extended or shortened, and might change again several times before someone decided we had learned our lesson and earned our privileges back. The severity also fluctuated from day to day and from child to child. My brother always received preferential treatment, but after Nancy and Ellie moved out in junior high, the favoritism exploded. He got away with things “us girls” never could, and when he did get in trouble he got off a lot easier than either of us. My sister and I felt like either she or I might receive favor while the other sister sunk to the status of “the bad one.” These roles usually lasted anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before reversing.

We may have gotten jealous from time to time, but we never resented my brother for his position in the family. He did nothing to try to earn or gain special treatment, it was simply bestowed upon him. And whichever of us was on good terms with our parents always tried to help the other one out if we could without jeopardizing our own favor. We had kind of an understanding about that. On rare occasions, neither of us were favored and we just walked on eggshells together until they either decided one of us was worse or better than the other again, thus giving one of us the coveted position of Favorite Daughter.

“Heart Sisters”

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When I was three years old, my mother needed to raise three babies with no job, no family nearby, and a transient husband. She also suffered from a slew of medical issues. She needed help. Right around this time, a family friend’s sister lost her husband. She had nowhere to go. We had a spare room. Our family friend wisely put us together, and her sister and three-year-old niece moved in with us. So now our family consisted of two mothers, sometimes a father, and four children under the age of four.

Ellie fit in seamlessly with my siblings and I, and we grew up as a close-knit sibling group of four. We did everything together: vacations, family portraits, holiday celebrations, the works. And Ellie’s mother, Nancy, became fast friends with my mother and like an aunt to us kids. She and my mom shared the load equally whenever my dad left, each acting as a parent to all four of us. When Daddy lived at home, he treated Ellie as one of his own and she called him Daddy. Family meetings and discipline included all four children.

At some point, we decided we needed a special term to describe our relationships because, in our limited experience, there just didn’t seem to be a fitting term. “Oh, so you and your sister have different dads?” “Yeah, and different moms too. But nobody’s adopted, and we all live together.” Those discussions drew a lot of confused looks. So we coined the phrase “heart sisters” and “heart aunt,” terms of endearment we still use as adults. But mostly, we’re just a family, no modifiers needed.

Prince Charming

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I grew up a total Daddy’s Girl. He was big and strong and fun and smart, and he gave the best hugs. I wanted to be just like him. He’d rough house with us, but I always felt safe with him. My Daddy would never let anything bad happen to me. I’d watch him and emulate the way he sat, stood, walked, even his posture when we rode an escalator. I would do just about anything to spend time with him.

As I got older, he spent less and less time at home. He and my mom separated sometimes, and he would still come play with us after work, but then would go wherever he was living after we went to bed. As a child I didn’t understand.  I knew that I missed him terribly when he was gone. I found out sometime in my teen years that he had struggled with addiction since before I was born. He left to protect us. Sometimes someone from his community of dealers and users would threaten his family, other times the drugs made him paranoid. For years, he kept the drugs from my mom.

My great aunt taught my mama how to go to war in prayer. They prayed that any bed but his marriage bed with my mother would feel like a bag of rocks. A couple of the times when he moved out he asked her if he could take their mattress with him because he couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep anywhere else!

Near the end of my childhood, he stopped coming home to see us every night. This was new, and I hated it. I felt angry and confused. When I asked my mom where he was, she averted her eyes and made excuses. Sometimes we’d go nearly a week without seeing or hearing from him. I needed my Daddy. I began waiting up for him, sometimes falling asleep in odd places. One day, something happened at school and I really needed to talk to my dad about it, but I didn’t know how to reach him. It had been a few days already since he’d come home, so I hoped all day that he would show up that night. He didn’t. I was crushed. So I wrote him a note. I told him what happened at school, and how much I needed him there to talk to me and help me through it. How I missed him. I poured my little heart out into that note, and solemnly gave it to my mom, asking her to give it to him if he ever bothered coming back. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I handed her that pink envelope.

Since the letter was for my Daddy, I never thought that she might open it and read it first. At her desk she sat, weeping over my words, my hurt, late into the night. In the morning she called him and read him my letter, barely holding herself together as she felt my pain meet her own for the hundredth time. Where her tears and begging met with stony resistance, seeing the pain he had caused his daughter was too much. He came home that night and stayed for a couple of days. Then, he gathered us all at his knee and told us that he had to go on a trip. He didn’t know how long he would be gone, but he promised to call every day and send postcards and letters when he could. My sister and I cried and begged him to stay, but he said this was just something that he had to do and that when he came back, he would see us every day. I believed him. I was willing to part with him again for a while if it meant getting to be a real family again.

For my dad’s “trip,” he spent a couple of days detoxing on the couch with the one “clean” person he felt he could trust. The detox nearly killed him before he finally gave in and let his friend take him to the hospital.

I remember visiting him in rehab. I didn’t like it there. It felt like a weird hotel, not a home. It bothered me knowing he had to sleep there. And I didn’t feel like we could be ourselves there. I wanted him to come home. But Daddy was sick, and this was a special hospital where he could get better. When we visited him, he’d read to us or we could play cards or board games with him. I liked that, it felt more normal. As time passed, he seemed different. I remember feeling hesitant and unsure about the changes I saw in him. Some days, he seemed sad and didn’t talk much. He’d be distracted while we played. Other days he was much as he’d always been, just my happy, fun, big strong Dad. But even on those days, something was definitely different.

I remember the day he came home. It felt like a dream, I was so afraid I’d wake up and he’d be back in the hospital. I wanted to never stop hugging him. But he was actually home, and he never left us again. He’d hit rock bottom and found Jesus waiting to pick him up. He started going to church with us, and soon we got baptized as a family at the church that helped my mother pray him out of addiction without even knowing what exactly they were battling.

My dad doesn’t know how to do anything half-way, so when he met Jesus he dove into the relationship head first and immersed himself in the Bible. After a few years, he felt the need for a solid Biblical education, so he went to divinity school and became an ordained minister. Now, he is my “go-to” guy for questions about the Bible and theology. He and my mother are deeply in love and devoted to one another. They’re that sweet older couple you see still holding hands in public, teasing and grinning at each other like a couple of teenagers. They’ve been that way, with surprising consistency, for over a decade. My dad has ministered to countless addicts over the years, some in prison and some on the outside. He’s performed several weddings and been a guest speaker in churches in three different states, telling his story. As a family, we have seen so many prayers answered, so many miracles. I hope to share many of them with you soon.

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