For a very long time I carried with me feelings of toxic shame and debilitating fear. These feelings had their roots in my relationship with you. The father/daughter relationship that should have been filled with love and trust had been transformed into a nothingness that defied that fact that you were physically present.
At the age of 31, I felt lethargic and lifeless. Although my life with a husband and two healthy children was basically calm, there was a heaviness in my heart that threatened to drown me. This feeling translated itself into intense anxiety and depression. I was barely able to do basic household chores. It took great energy to talk with my children and put on a semblance of normalcy. I didn’t know why I felt so anxious and afraid. Thoughts of ending it all filled my mind. Death seemed to be the only way out of this agony.
Thoughts of ending it all filled my mind. “Rabbi,” I whispered, “I have a family. I can’t give up.”
It was a frigid day in January when I made the tentative phone call to ECHO, the National Jewish Institute for Health. “My life seems to be fine but I have no desire to continue living,” I told the Rabbi. I gave him a brief history of the therapists and medication which had failed to relieve me. Then I whispered, “Rabbi, I have a family. I can’t give up.”
“I’m glad you called,” he said. “I have a wonderful therapist for you.”
One week later, I found myself sitting on a black leather couch with the person who would profoundly impact the rest of my life. Before I entered therapy I decided not to talk about my childhood; I was wary of psychoanalysis and told myself that it was nonsense. Well, I was about to have a major revelation. My therapist, gently reminding me that past therapy had not worked, asked me to be open to revisiting my past. Desperate, I agreed. As the therapy progressed, I came in touch with my inner child, a little girl whose voice had been silenced. But now she began to speak.
I wasn’t worth your time, Daddy. You were too busy gambling our savings away to take notice of me. I thought it must be my fault. I felt that maybe if I was better you would see me. I did everything a little girl could do to get your attention. I drew a pretty picture with you in it. ‘Daddy, look what I have colored!’ I would say. You would mumble something, pat my head and hurry out the door with the money you had taken out of mommy’s purse.
Mommy was busy and distracted. Because of your addiction, she was forced to work full time just to make ends meet. She didn’t want to admit to herself or to anyone else that there was a problem. She blamed your boss, your family, and the economy for your inability to hold down a job. She chose to protect your addiction instead of protecting me. I was left to raise myself.
After school the bus would drop me off at Aunt Myra’s house. She was your great aunt and my great great aunt. She was a cranky old lady who needed a companion and probably needed a home attendant as well. I had to fetch this and that and got a frown rather than a smile for my efforts. I was expected to eat whatever she had left over and like it. I still have a bitter sweet memory of the little, ceramic, doll house furniture sitting on a tray in her living room. There was a tiny bedroom set, a living room set and bathroom – including a tiny sink and bathtub on legs. I was mesmerized by it but knew that I did not dare touch it. My reward if I was ‘well behaved and obedient’ was to sit near it. It was meant to be looked at, not played with. At night you would pick me up and thank her for taking such good care of me. She would ‘lend’ you money which you promised to pay back with dividends when you returned from the bar or casino. But of course you just gambled it away.
You hurried me home and sent me to my room. There was no good night kiss, no bedtime story and no teddy bear to cuddle up with. There were no words and no eye contact.
With the help of my therapist I realized that this deprivation had caused me to feel worthless. Over time, my pain had gone in deeper and deeper. I felt that I didn’t deserve to take up space, to exist. Humans are resilient and I survived, but I did not go unscathed. I continued to carry the shame that a child feels when she knows that her parents treated her only as she deserved to be treated. For parents can do no wrong.
“I give you back your shame! It is not mine! Here, take it!”
But in therapy you were brought into the room and placed on a chair in front of me, and I gave you back your shame. My therapist made me say it out loudly: “I give you back your shame! It is not mine! Here, take it!”
I cried out all the sorrow and released a flood of toxic energy. Slowly, I began to feel lighter. I began to believe that I do have value. I realized that although you never saw me, God did. He held me through it all, ensuring a miraculous survival. He saw to it that I would find an incredible therapist to assist and accompany me on my journey of self-discovery.
It’s time to let go. It’s time to heal. It’s time for my heart to be a little more whole. It’s time for me to experience joy. It’s time for me to dry my tears. It’s time for me to move out of isolation and to choose life.
I no longer feel fragmented and lost. I have a heavenly loving Father and He is providing all my needs. He always saw me; He sees me and will never take His eyes off me.
Even though you’ll never hear these words, I say to you today, Erev Yom Kippur, with a sincere and cleansed heart: I forgive you daddy. I am free of resentment. I understand that something dreadful must have happened in your own childhood that made you sick, but this cycle has been broken. Love has prevailed. Your smiling, happy grandchildren are living proof.
I will never mail this letter to you, because you have demonstrated numerous times that you will never acknowledge or take responsibility for the part you played in my painful childhood. Due to your mental illness, you don’t have the capacity to understand. So although it is addressed to you, I am really writing this letter for the benefit of all those who have never experienced a father’s love. I am here to tell them that I know it hurts. I am here to remind them that our true Father has never abandoned us. He has and will always watch over us. He hurts when we hurt and only permits pain and loss so that we will seek Him. He wants us to ask Him for protection and to know that we have the right to protect ourselves. Most of all, He wants us to understand the vital importance of protecting those around us who need our love and our care, our young, our old and our infirm.
I am also writing this letter to You, my Daddy in Heaven. With a heart full of gratitude, I thank you for bringing me home.
Your Loving Daughter