Everyone has their story. And each story is worth hearing. This is part of mine.
Our life leads us down a path, we all cross bridges and overcome obstacles of our own. Would you agree that every struggle, every success, and all moments in between shape who we become?
I choose the word “shape” as opposed to “define” because while we may experience a lot, our past does not define us. However, it does mold us and remain part of the bigger piece.
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While I’ve had many close deaths, hurtful moments, dangerous situations, etc., a large portion of my childhood was spent with an alcoholic father. He’s 10 years sober, bless his heart, so I write this with the fact that I am proud of what he has battled and beaten, but also with the sense that the damage for me has been done.
Growing up, I remember going to work with him at the Sale Barn, seeing all of the animals, the auctions, the cafe, and having a blast (except for the smell you sort of just try to ignore). I even worked at the cafe during one summer — neat serving people who had known me since I was a baby, but I didn’t know at all.
Props to my mother for dealing with an abusive drunk, getting the strength to leave, and still allowing him to have a relationship with his daughter and not telling said daughter about anything until years later when I could comprehend the gravity, appreciate the way they handled everything, and really be grateful she let me come to my own conclusions and let all unfold in whichever manner it would.
I have many happy memories of time spent with my dad, but they are intermingled with plenty of missed performances, phone calls once I turned 16 to pick him up from one place and drop him at a bar, and jail time or being kicked out of or banned from yet another establishment in town.
When you’re related to much of the town, living in a small place, word gets around quickly and usually it’s a, “did you hear about your dad?” Most of the time, I could either answer “what did he do now?” or a dull, “I’m sure it’s great.”
The Biggest Impact
What I think had the most impact on me growing up, amidst the other sad bits I needed to come to terms with and learn to handle emotionally, was when my father attempted suicide for the first time. Now, I’m an open book. I don’t hide these stories or facts away, but it certainly won’t be the first tidbit I share with you, either, for obvious reasons. Pretty much my entire second-grade year was spent in Billings, Montana helping him recover from the accident. I would go back home at the end of the week to turn in homework, take any tests needed, pick up new assignments, and visit with my mom.
Then, we (my stepmom at the time and I) would shuffle back up to the house we stayed at across from the hospital.
I remember as a child thinking he looked like he was Asian from the swelling in his face, shaving his head, and having a contraption taped on. My dad is a tall, skinny, blue-eyed Polish guy. His features were a little different. But, I also recall as I stood there with his side of the family, I held his hand and he squeezed it. No one else got that reaction from him, only I did. So, I gave him a reason to fight, to recover, to play cribbage again.
Some may say it was not a burden a child should have had to bare. As a little 8-9-year-old, I only knew that I wanted my dad to get better and I was lucky that he was alive. Another odd highlight in my mind from that time is that I lost the necklace my sister had given to me as a gift in the waiting room of the ICU and never recovered it. I was pretty distraught as anything I got from her was a treasure. And, it went with the Swan Princess book, so I left half of the gift somewhere with a constant reminder of never getting it back. Silly, but true that day.
A New Light
The demons he dealt with internally were obviously too much. The older I got, the more I distanced myself from him in terms of partaking and enabling. I still spoke to him when he called, visited once in a while, and he’s still the dad who is part of the good memories.
One of my nicknames growing up was Mrs. Sunshine dubbed by a boy in one of my classes. Another was Bubbles. To say I was a positive kid would be entirely accurate. I owe a lot of that probably to just “how I am”, but I also saw the counselor in elementary school and was surrounded by amazingly supportive people who guided me well and equipped me with enough tools to overcome the worst and celebrate the best.
Anyone going through rough patches, find an outlet. Whether that be a journal, poetry, music, dance, art, working on cars, sports. Find a positive outlet. That will do you more good than you can ever imagine. It may not solve what you are dealing with, but it will give you a way to express your emotions and release them without bottling them up and destroying you. You may even begin to understand them all a little better.
How This Shaped Me
An incredible culmination of crap meant I likely grew up a little quicker than those that don’t have a lot of traumatic situations to handle as a child. Yet, I was also aware that there were those out there who have gone through and will go through much worse than what I did. That perspective sat with me every moment. It still does.
While I know plenty go through less than I did, I also know it could have been worse. I have forgiven, but will never forget. That last bit is a bit harder, and I think if I forgot, then I would lose the lessons I gained in each occurrence. You can grant forgiveness, and move forward. Doing so forces you to accept that you cannot change the past, you know that if it hadn’t have happened, then you wouldn’t be the person you are today.
I know these situations have caused good and bad qualities in me. I am VERY stubborn. Part of that is my genetics, and part of it stems from each experience. It also makes me aware, and I can step back and try to do better each day. I try to be patient, even with my stubborn streak. So, my kids reap the benefit of quite a bit of patience handed to them. Attending as many school functions, activities, and fun times to create memories remains high on my list, too.
More importantly, it shows me that no one is perfect.
Everyone makes mistakes, and that’s okay. We all can learn and grow. And a little encouragement, positivity, and support go a long way in all walks. You may not be able to do much more than be there as a sounding board at times, but that could make a huge difference. Understanding, or trying to, making that effort is essential.
I’ve never been a partier thanks to watching my father. So, when I became a single mom, I was so ready for that challenge and chapter in my life. With each new little being, I knew I would provide for that child reliability, loyalty, and support that I had from every facet of my life beyond my dad. I am very lucky that my step dad came into the picture when I was young and filled a role he certainly did not have to. Nor did I, the logical, fact-based child, give him the credit he deserved.
Not everyone has a void filled with a positive role model, but I do know that we are much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. My mind minimizes this big impactful part of my life until I talk to someone new about it and wonder or amazement flows from them about how they had no idea, etc. For me, it’s just something I went through and has become a normal part of my life and story.
One pivotal thought I’ve had is I’m grateful it happened to me so young. I feel like if I had experienced that hardship while I was a teenager, I may not have adapted, accepted, and been able to work through the emotions quite as well as I did. Teenagers are very capable, so that’s not saying they are unable. The hormone levels and other changes you deal with as a teenager in addition to something as catastrophic may have created a bit more of a hurdle to cross.
As I release this aspect of my life, I hope it helps others to know that no matter what you have gone through, you can embrace it and rise above. Let it mold into a piece of you, but continue on and become better because of whatever hurt or pain you may feel. Those feelings will come and go. I would like to say that they will dissipate. However, I won’t lie. They will fade, and something might happen that kicks it to the surface like dust that has settled on a shelf. One small breath, and up it floats. But, just like that dust, the feelings will settle again and you will get better at finding peace in the memories.
When someone offers me a drink, I always have a split second of wondering if I could ever fall into the depths that my father did. Then, I remember I’m not him. I hold a part of him within me, but I also hold a part of my mom and myself. His second suicide attempt ended in him in jail and forcibly attending AA meetings. That was the turning point for him and why he is now 10 years sober. I notice attributes I got from his DNA, and even after everything, I see the good in him. He’s SO smart, can befriend a person in one conversation, his storytelling matches no one else I’ve met, and he has a memory like an elephant.
My point, my big takeaway for everyone here: as cliche as it is, look for the silver lining.
We all have our negative moments, those fleeting thoughts and blues. Actively seek the bright side, though. Do not let yourself drown in that negativity. Feel your feelings, embrace that as you validate those, but lift yourself as well. Write about it, paint it, talk about it, or reach out. If you need extra help, that’s okay too. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty for allowing yourself to find a semblance of positivity and happiness. And happiness to you will likely differ from the person next to you.
Wherever you’re at in your journey, I hope you find comfort, support, and strength!
How This Shaped My Parenting
To the point, I feel this entire scenario led me to be the parent I am today. I enjoy watching my children and guiding them when I’m able. Being there for as many dance practices and performances, baseball practices and games, swim lessons, bike rides, shoe tying, stumble, celebration, and whatnot that I can. With three kids, that juggle can be a little trying at times, but oh-so-worth-it to see their faces light up when they notice you’re there or ask you if you saw such and such after they finish.
Going through this ordeal allowed me to see why being present is so important. Once you let your child down, they remember that forever. I hope I don’t let my children down too often. Disappointment will happen, but when that becomes the usual trend, I feel like that would be letting my child down. Missing more than you show up for makes them feel unimportant, and I want them to know I’m here for them.
Open and Honest
Sharing, answering questions, and filling them in on subjects definitely sprung from my childhood. My mom was always honest with me about topics, and I feel like I was prepared to handle situations better that way. At certain ages you’ll need to know how much you feel comfortable sharing, but following your instincts is a good place to start. Having conversations makes up a huge part of teaching and learning for your kids.
I’ve been told I’m entirely too patient. However, my expectations can sometimes be high. My son is very tall for his age, so I have to remind myself how old he is to put a perspective on what I am wanting from him. My oldest daughter is small for her age, so I have to remind myself of how old she is so that I can put appropriate responsibilities on them. Offering patience let’s them know that I am aware of their learning, changing, developing and will try to accomodate so long as they do their best to fulfill the requests.
From everything I’ve endured, I believe my mind works through many scenarios. I still fall into the trap of narrow-mindedness here and there. But, overall, I’m able to step back and look at how we reacted, then sit down with my children and say, “Okay, this is what we both did. Did you like that? I certainly didn’t. How can we do better next time? What do YOU think would help in the future?” Trying to look at both sides of the coin and being aware of how we can improve ourselves and the way we approach interactions.
This element has become basically the motto in which I base my entire parenting around. Letting my kids see that mistakes will happen; and when they do, we can apologize, reflect, and attempt to do better. Exemplifying that no one is perfect, no one should be perfect, but we can always strive to be a better version of ourselves each and every day. We may even go back to old habits, but we can acknowledge that and take steps to change. During this metamorphosis of life, we can have fun and try to see the silver lining in situations.
What are some ways that a big, impactful moment helped shape you as a parent?
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