At the end of my previous blog, I mentioned that I had the feeling that my escape plan had gone a little too well, and I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Well, if ever I needed more proof that a gut-feeling is always right…
I also mentioned that at the time, I had no intention of removing my father from my life entirely; I was all for finding a way to have a somewhat normal relationship with him, although in retrospect it’s probably a bit naïve to think that it’s even possible to have a healthy relationship with a pathological narcissist who sees no fault in their ways.
After leaving NLPro, I thought I’d be ok. I thought we’d be ok. Clearly, it wasn’t the end of the story, otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here writing another part to this already insanely long tale. So, what changed…?
THE STRAP BOX FLYER
Have you ever heard the story of the Strap Box Flyer?
I hadn’t thought of it in years, but after I began to see my father for who he was, a short story that my primary school teacher once read to me, randomly popped back into my mind. I’ll try to give you the cliff notes version, but the last time I heard it was at least 25 years ago, so bear with me…
The story is about a bloke called Giffen, who everyone thought was slightly mad, but he was interesting so they watched him anyway. Giffen had invented an absurdly strong glue, the only catch being that the glue only worked for four hours. Wanting to sell it anyway, Giffen travelled to various towns and told everyone how amazing it was, selling them the special glue and making sure that he was long gone before anyone discovered that they had been duped. One day, while on the road, he met an inventor who had created a flying machine he called a Strap Box Flyer. Giffen was intrigued, and when the inventor invited him for a test flight, Giffen secretly decided that he was going to try to steal the machine. So, mid-air after a few hours of flying around, Giffen was about to fly off when the inventor told him: “I only made two, but I gave you the best one, built with your special glue”.
To which the machine suddenly began to creak and grind, until it fell apart and Giffen came crashing down to the ground. Karma, bitch…
I guess it’s not all that strange that this story came to mind; it may as well have been about my father. And it sort of describes how life felt for me after I figured out what was going on. It was like my life had been put together with the glue my father sold me, and now it was suddenly falling apart at the seams. And since I wasn’t sure which parts of my personality, my world view and my life were being held together by that glue, I couldn’t predict whatever would be the next thing to come crashing down. I suppose the best way I could describe it, is that I went through a kind of existential crisis. Unable to distinguish which of my memories were real, which of my thoughts, feelings, habits, or opinions were my own and which of them had been unwittingly and unwillingly engrained into my system through years of manipulation and abuse, I no longer knew who I was. Quite like the hero in a good vs. evil movie who discovers that they have a dark side, I often asked myself whether that meant that I was actually a bad person, and I found myself wondering how I could possibly trust myself, let alone anyone else.
For a long time, the events that occurred left me feeling numb. Stunned at how the rug had been pulled out from underneath me, I felt unsafe in the world and in myself. I felt utterly lost. Occasionally, I’d awaken from that stupor only to be engulfed by a tsunami of emotions. Old wounds that I’d worked so hard to heal were torn open and trauma that I wasn’t even aware existed began to (re)surface. Oscillating between numbness and complete flooding, my old suicidal thoughts were back with a vengeance and they were having a field day. Suffice to say, I was having a hard time.
Never the less, I put on a brave face to the outside world and forced myself to keep going. To be honest, I wanted nothing more than to curl up and hide from everyone and everything, or at the very least just give it all a rest until I’d taken the time to process and get back on my feet. But I couldn’t do that; there were bills to be paid, and now that everything had fallen away, I had to do anything within my power to regroup, reroute and survive. There was simply no time to waste on moping around. I also felt an immense pressure to succeed. To show everyone, myself and my father included, that I could make it with or without his help.
And so, I dove into getting Soulfire off the ground, working my ass off to create something from almost nothing. I continued coaching and drawing new clients in, I created and organized a buttload of workshops, struck up partnerships, wrote articles and posts online, forced myself to get out there and network… From the outside, you’d think I was motivated as fuck and doing well. But on the inside, I was really struggling. Soulfire had become like a minefield riddled with triggers, and working on what had once been my dream had become a tremendous source of anxiety and inner turmoil. As hard as I tried to convince myself that this was what I had to do, and what I wanted to do, it didn’t feel right anymore. My heart was no longer in it, but I wasn’t ready to let it go just yet.
There were many factors, both practical and emotional, that kept me stuck between a rock and a hard place. Trapped in a cycle of feeling uncomfortable with what I was doing, wanting to be honest and authentic, and yet forcing myself to do those things anyway.
For starters, I was completely marinated in shame. I was ashamed of how gullible and naïve I’d been, despite all the warning signs. I’d made some pretty bold choices and worked very hard to ignore all the doubts and convince everyone of how excited and confident I was about the whole plan. And now look where I’d ended up…I could already feel their I-told-you-so’s hanging over my head.
Even more so, I was ashamed of the things I’d said and done under my father’s watch, my blind faith in his knowledge, skill and intentions leading me to act and present myself in ways that didn’t always fall in line with my values. Taking recent insights into account, I looked at my life and wondered how much bullshit I’d internalized and reproduced over the years without even knowing it. There was a good chance I’d made a complete fool of myself, which was bad enough, but what if was actually hurting people without realizing it?
Considering how much influence my father had had on me, the setup of my business and the development of my skills, that wasn’t entirely unthinkable. I’d been faking it till I made it, just like he said, doing things I was unsure of and taking many of his tips and tricks to heart. And up until now, he’d always been there to back me up and to convince me I was doing fine. But now that I knew who was talking, I doubted myself more than ever. Sure, I was certified and all, but hey, so was my father, so apparently that wasn’t a good measure of character or competence.
My insecurities had me worried that I was doing more harm than good, or that I’d eventually do something wrong and get called out and shunned for it. At the same time, given the state of my own life and my mental health, I didn’t feel like the right person to be helping others to get their shit together. I was doing the best I could to practice what I preached, but I mostly felt like a fraud. And to make matters worse, I found myself getting triggered by my clients and their input, which is not a healthy place to work from. Both coaching and training required me to be grounded, unbiased, open and authentic. But in the midst of my own trauma response, I couldn’t be any of those things, even with the smallest query. All this should have been enough reason for me to stop working for a while until I figured stuff out, but at the same time, what else was I supposed to do?
I really wanted to take a step back and rest. I wanted to talk about what was going on, find support, take the time to process this shit, heal and move on. But aside from the fact that I literally couldn’t afford to miss any work, I was also terrified of what the consequences might be if I opened my mouth. Painfully aware of the stigma around having issues of your own when you work in the mental health field, I was scared that I’d be judged for how horrid I felt and how badly I was coping, and mostly for not being able to solve this myself. That certainly wouldn’t be good advertising. Not that I even wanted to draw in more clients at this point; I felt guilty enough for continuing to work for my own selfish needs, despite my doubts surrounding my capabilities. But somehow, after having lost so much already and without a viable alternative in place, I was stubbornly clinging for dear life to what was left of the hopes and dreams I’d started out with.
Other people’s opinions aside, the main thing that kept me silent was the fear of my father. If I suddenly closed Soulfire, albeit temporarily, people would start asking questions. And I wanted so badly to tell people what had happened, for so many reasons. I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, swallowing down all the pain he’d caused and keeping everything to myself. Not to mention, it killed me to see people still going to my father for help, while I knew how much harm he could do. I wanted to scream the truth, but I was gagged. I was terrified of what he might do if he found out that I’d been talking. Our status quo was precarious and I didn’t dare awaken any sleeping dogs. So, I kept my mouth shut, and I kept trudging on.
Rationally, I really believed that what had happened was fundamental and important. A paradigm shift for which I’d be better off in the long run, after I’d processed it all and resolved the practical issues, of course. But emotionally, I felt like I was staring death in the eyes, day after day.
OH HELL NO
As December edged closer and closer, that feeling of apprehension gnawing at my gut grew stronger. Things seemed peaceful, but I knew from experience that the weather could change at the drop of a hat and it had been a little too quiet for far too long. If I could make it through to January without waking the dragon, I was pretty sure I’d be home safe. But that meant I still had about two months on the clock in which I had to keep the boat steady; I had a few outstanding tasks left with NLPro, and lord knew that I needed those payments to bridge the gap until we got back from New Zealand and I was free to get myself a new job. Not to mention, we still had to make it through four weeks on each other’s lip and I was determined to make that trip worthwhile, which wouldn’t happen if we were at each other’s throats.
So, for the next couple of weeks I pushed on, walking on eggshells so as not to disturb the peace, and honestly, I thought I was doing a pretty good job. My father and I seemed to be on good terms, though I admit I had been limiting our interactions and keeping it very superficial. Things with Soulfire also seemed to be getting better. I was getting back on my feet, and with new people, plans and prospects, I was starting to have a little more faith in my ability to climb out of the pit.
As for our upcoming trip…For the longest time, I’d been afraid that it wouldn’t happen. After all, my father didn’t have the best track record when it came to keeping promises. It wouldn’t be the first time that he invited me and hyped me up, only for something to get in the way later on. In fact, in 2018 he even had me clear my agenda and pick out our tickets so that he could book them, only to text me the next morning that he’d decided to take my mother instead. Granted, we already had our tickets booked for this upcoming trip, but with everything that had happened over the past year, I was still a little apprehensive.
Anyhow, with our date of departure drawing near, we’d been working out our itinerary. There were a few specific things that I really wanted to do, which I booked and paid for myself. But for the most part, I just was just excited to be there. I was most excited about mundane things like hearing people talk in that recognizable accent, seeing our old houses and going to the supermarket. My father took care of the other stuff as promised, booking a rental car and all the accommodations on his credit card. He went for the non-refundable option so that our bookings were fixed, not even bothering with cancellation insurance. He saw no reason for it; he was certain that we’d be going, no matter what. My mum later convinced him to get that insurance after all, but he didn’t tell me that.
The idea of spending four weeks alone with my father did make me a little nervous, but as our plans filled out and our departure drew closer, I was actually starting to see it as an opportunity to put our differences aside, have a good time together and maybe even do some bonding. And as our itinerary took form and I could picture it in my mind, I started to loosen up and I even dared to start looking forward to it. In fact, I clung to a vision of myself celebrating Christmas on the beach under a Pohutukawa tree. I clung to it for dear life, because after everything I’d already lost and all the stress and pain that I’d been through over the past year, I needed just one good thing that made it at least semi-worthwhile.
Quitting school seemed like the worst decision I’d ever made, but at least I could see the summer in my homeland, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I were still teaching. So, there was that, and for now, it was enough.
My last stand-in training date for NLPro approaching, I was yearning to tie up those loose ends and move on. As I thought about how I was about to regain my independence and rebuild my life, I noticed that I was starting to feel a bit lighter. I planned to start off by looking for a simple job, so that I could support myself financially as I further built up my own practice. Sure, I was well aware that it wasn’t going to be easy, but this was no time to lay down and give up. I had no choice but to believe in myself and make it work. Well, we all know murphy, and murphy had other plans.
Around half way through November, my brother and I met up with John to discuss the possibilities for a business partnership. Although he couldn’t afford to offer me a paid position as an assistant trainer, he was willing to mentor me somewhat and eventually refer specific clients to me.
It was a great opportunity, though I was really nervous about it, too. I trusted and valued John, and I knew that he wouldn’t bullshit me. Which is exactly why he scared me so much; it was a lot to lose if I fucked it up. As you may recall, I had many doubts about my capabilities since I’d found out about my father. Hell, I even doubted my own character. And working with an expert in the field who had seen through all of my crap from day one, meant that there was no room for faking or hiding. It meant putting myself in an incredibly vulnerable position, in order to learn and grow. That excited me, but it also scared me to death. I was worried that I’d accidentally show how my father had rubbed off on me. If I exhibited pieces of him, would I be cast out, written off?
Those fears don’t exactly give John much credit for his ability to see me for me, which he’d clearly already done in my favor, but let’s not forget that PTSD doesn’t really listen to rational thought.
Anyway, we also struck up a deal that if my brother and I promoted his training courses in my workshops, we’d receive a commission for each new client that signed up. I’d previously had a similar deal with my father, although he never actually paid us in the end; he usually claimed that he already knew the clients before we brought them in. Obviously, I’d stopped referring people to my father a long time ago, as I couldn’t endorse his practices and I just didn’t feel comfortable with it.
My clients often asked me for advice on where to take their next training, and I’d been sending them John’s way for quite some time as I fully supported his work and I wanted to be sure that they had the best possible experience. Also, most of my clients were located in our area, so it just made more sense. Of course, I didn’t tell my father that, for fear of repercussions. But since I was almost free from NLPro and he had given me his blessing to start venturing out, I didn’t think he had any reason to hold it against me. And if he did eventually kick up a fuss, I could always make it about location. John provided us with goodie bags and flyers to hand out, and I was really glad to be on board with him. I could now officially refer clients to a place that I was proud to be affiliated with, and our deal would help me out substantially in time. Although I was nervous, I was also really excited and hopeful that things might actually work out for the best after all.
But then, about two weeks later, on the evening before that last training date, I received a message that made my heart drop. Omitting any details, my father sent me a vague text in which he mentioned that he’d gotten some bad news, and that our trip might be in trouble.
As you can imagine, I immediately went into stress-mode and wanted to know more, but he wouldn’t answer any of my questions. So, I waited in agony for another day or two, but still no news. Every time I asked about it, he dodged the topic. I was getting more and more nervous as the date of departure drew closer and I still didn’t have any information as to what action I may need to take. Eventually, I couldn’t take the tension anymore and I asked my mum if she knew what was going on.
And she dropped a bombshell: my father had lost his appeal in the long-running court case over his bankruptcy, and he now had to pay a massive sum of money. He’d always assumed that he’d win the case, going for appeal after appeal every time things didn’t go his way, but this time it seemed like the end of the road. And right now, he wasn’t even allowed to leave the country.
Hearing this, I panicked. Although our tickets were paid for, virtually everything else had been booked by non-refundable deferred payment. And as far as I knew, there was no cancellation insurance. Meaning; whether we went or not, someone was going to have to pay up. And with both our names on those bookings, if my father was indeed bankrupt, my broke and jobless ass would be the next in line to fulfill our obligations. Weighing out my options, it looked like I was screwed either way and I had only two weeks left on the clock to come up with a viable solution. The weirdest part was that with everything that was at stake and with time being of the essence, he still hadn’t told me what was going on himself. It was almost as though he didn’t want me to find a solution.
So, without telling him that I already knew, I asked him again what was going on. I suppose I wanted to see how long he was planning to drag this out, because it was starting to feel like he was keeping me in the dark on purpose. It had been three days since his original message, and we were supposed to be leaving thirteen days later. So, I pushed a little harder. Finally, he cracked and spilled the beans, blurting out that he couldn’t go and I needed to find someone else.
You’d think I might have felt bad for him, but by now I was just plain pissed off. His current predicament was his own fault, but it seemed that he wanted to drag us all down with him. All this time, he’d refused to tell me anything and he probably would’ve kept that up until the last minute, leaving me with too little time to sort it out. And the possibility of losing the one thing that had been keeping me going all this time, was only a small drop in the tsunami of rage that I felt. What’s worse was that he was clearly willing to risk dragging me into debt along with him, ruining my life all over again without even giving it a second thought. By now, he’d already taken so much from me that I simply wasn’t willing to let him steal this last little glimmer of hope as well. I was prepared to fight for it, but I knew that I had to be tactful about it.
Once I’d gotten my bearings, I got back to him so that we could calmly discuss our options. I can’t say I was surprised at how he flipped back into savior-mode, promising me that he was willing to go above and beyond to make it possible for me to go anyway. Looking back, I think he was fully aware that I couldn’t afford to go alone and that his ticket was non-transferrable, but none the less he told me that if I could find another travel partner, he’d gladly transfer his ticket to them. So, I told him that I’d try to find someone who was willing to split the cost, and I asked him to check with the booking agency whether his ticket was transferrable, which he agreed to do.
Two days later, I found my youngest brother ready to jump in. He was even willing to pay for the transfer fee, as long as he got a definitive answer from my father within a few days. That way, he could still make arrangements for time off work. It was a win-win situation; my brother and I could go to New Zealand, we’d split the costs between us, none of our bookings would go to waste and my father would be absolved of all costs apart from the original ticket, saving us both any unnecessary debt. However, when I told him the good news, he still hadn’t sorted it out. Frustrated, I hopped onto google myself, found all the necessary info and steps to be taken, passed on the information to my father and even sent him a link to the exact page where he could take care of it…but he didn’t. Instead, he deflected with a guilt-trip, whining: “Do you really expect me to pay for everything, now that I’m not going? I’m in severe financial trouble right now and it really hurts that you’re asking me for money instead of asking me how I am.”
Remaining factual, I reminded him that I was going to be paying my half of the travel expenses and my brother had offered to pay for the transfer fee along with his half. The only money that he would actually lose, was the non-refundable ticket itself which he had already paid for months ago, when he decided against getting a cancellation insurance. To me, it seemed like the best-case scenario in a shitty situation. But my father wasn’t done with me yet.
What ensued was a tantrum that looked a lot like an alligator in a death-roll, as he clamped down and jerked me around, pummeling me from all angles with every manipulation tactic he could muster in a frantic attempt to regain control. One minute he’d talk down to me in a condescending tone as though I ware an unruly adolescent, the next he’d be sulking about how we were casting him out and I needed to let him in. Then, switching positions yet again, he’d point the finger and exclaim that we both had our part in this fucked up situation and I needed to own up to my faults, followed by putting on his cape a few seconds later and presenting himself as the hero who was willing to do absolutely anything and everything to give me what I wanted and make me happy.
It was a sad and infuriating shitshow that would have rattled me, had I not recently learned to recognize each maneuver for what it was and see through this bullshit. Sure, he was dead serious, but I’d already come to a point where I’d rather laugh than cry about it, and from my new detached point of view it was actually quite hilarious. My father, unaware of this shift in me, was still swinging around like a shadow-boxer and arrogantly counting his points without actually checking to see if his punches had landed at all. As he kept switching back and forth between victim, hero and prosecutor rolls, I did nothing other than textually ‘smile and nod’ without throwing him any bones whatsoever.
My friend, who just so happened to be over at my house that evening, read along with the messages and saw the whole thing play out in real-time as we shook our heads in disbelief and bewilderment.
Eventually, my father had apparently convinced himself that he’d accomplished his mission, signing off with some cheesy, covertly gloating and condescending statement about how he was glad that we’d talked it out and come to an understanding. Staring at the screen of my phone, all I could do was roll my eyes and laugh at the irony and the sheer what-the-fuck-ness of the whole situation. His lack of empathy and social intelligence rendered him blind to the fact that his tactics had failed, as he had read my disengagement and sarcasm as genuine agreement. It seemed that this time, the tables had turned and the manipulator himself had been fooled.
Anyhow, since my father was still refusing to look into the ticket transfer, I eventually took matters into my own hands and contacted the agency. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a no-go; my brother couldn’t come along and I had to find another solution. Honestly, I considered giving up and cancelling, anxiety raging through my system as I thought about all the complicated and scary things I’d have to do if I decided to travel alone. Not to mention the fact that with what little savings I had, I was still around two grand short. But deep down, I knew that I had to go, no matter what.
You see, this trip to New Zealand was no longer a mere consolation for everything I’d been through, nor was it just a cool holiday or a trip down memory lane. It had quickly become so much more than that. For my own health and safety, I needed to extract myself from the situation I was in, leave my environment and distance myself from my father as far as I possibly could. I had to escape in order to breathe, process and plan my next move. And not only that; I felt like I was on the cusp of a personal breakthrough. My upbringing had left me feeling chronically unequipped to handle life in this big scary world, which often held me back in life and left me vulnerable to people with less than honorable intentions. I needed to get out there on my own and face my fears, thus proving to myself that I was my own person, capable of living my own life and fending for myself without my dad there to swoop in and save me. I had to break free, and it was now or never.
So, scared shitless and motivated as fuck, I was doing everything I could to figure something out. But with just 1.5 weeks left on the clock and still no viable solution in sight, my chances weren’t looking too rosy. None of my attempts to scrape together the necessary funds had been particularly fruitful, and although I wasn’t planning to throw in the towel just yet, I was feeling pretty desperate when I confided in a friend who proposed that I set up a Crowdfunding campaign.
Initially, I brushed the idea aside as I was certain that it would piss people off. And I couldn’t blame them. I mean, considering the fact that I still couldn’t tell anyone exactly what was going on, all people would see was a context-less campaign that looked a hell of a lot like I was just randomly begging for holiday money. It wasn’t a good look, and considering the large amount of cash needed and the limited time available, I didn’t think it would work anyway. Why would it?
But you know what they say: desperate needs call for desperate measures. It was ten days before take-off, all my other efforts had been to no avail and at this point I had nothing left to lose. Swallowing my pride, I decided that it was time to ask my network for help. It was a long shot, but it was at least worth a try. And so, I began to write a campaign description, typing and deleting, typing, deleting, and typing some more until I had finally put together a carefully composed statement that provided enough context to convey my desperation without incriminating my father and potentially detonating the bomb that was still there, silently hanging over me. My hands were literally shaking as I clicked the upload button and watched it go live, expecting an avalanche of offended, berating comments to descend upon me at any minute…but to my astonishment, that’s not what happened.
Aside from one snarky comment which was quickly neutralized by a friend’s reply, help was flooding in from all angles in the form of supportive comments, link sharing and countless donations of all sizes. I was absolutely flabbergasted. Even people I hadn’t spoken to in years and people from whom I’d least expected it, were coming through for me. It warmed my heart to realize that I wasn’t as alone as I always felt. Amazingly, within less than 24 hours I had almost reached my goal!
In an interesting turn of events, my father, previously having shown no interest whatsoever in following through on his noble promise to ‘do anything he could to make sure that I could still go’, suddenly felt compelled to jump on the bandwagon before it was too late. Too late for the knight to make a grand gesture that would help to polish up his shining armor, I mean. Because despite all his efforts to keep me under his thumb, it was starting to look like I was actually going to be fine without him. And for someone with a savior-complex and an intense need to be liked, admired and needed in order to maintain an image and some semblance of control, we can’t have that now, can we…
Out of nowhere, my father popped up offering me an exorbitant sum of money that would essentially top off the Crowdfund. Given his current predicament, his offer was quite ridiculous, not to mention a tad suspicious. When I asked him about it, he just shrugged it off and said that he’d use the NLPro credit card, which was now registered to Amanda. My suspicion growing, I asked whether
Amanda had consented to this, which she had not. But my father was certain that she’d be fine with it. Naturally, I declined and told him to discuss it with her first. Judging by the discrete donation that showed up on my page later, she must have managed to talk some sense into him, thankfully.
None the less, it was a pretty weird situation considering his previous disinterest and refusal to cooperate. To me, it looked a lot like he’d been hit by panic stations. He’d clapped the dust off his hands and walked away from the ravage he’d created, marking the spot where he’d left me behind so that he could return at the perfect time to publicly pull me out from under the rubble, like a hero.
But he’d underestimated me, and by the time he noticed me climbing out, other people had already arrived on the scene and he was no longer needed; I was almost there. He saw me slipping through his fingers, along with the narrative he’d been trying to create. And with his nice-guy image wearing thin, he was suddenly willing to spring into action and take drastic measures to reinstate his position. And apparently, he was even willing to screw over his partner to achieve that. Either way, I was glad that I’d managed to avoid getting reeled back in to that co-dependent trap. I’d ignored the bait and warded him off without stirring up any drama, effectively taking another step towards my freedom.
No more than 48 hours after posting the campaign, tears of gratitude sprung into my eyes as I stared at my computer screen in utter disbelief: my Crowdfund had been successful, I’d reached my goal and then some. I couldn’t believe what was happening, and I sat there in silence with my jaw on the floor as my heart beat right out of my chest and I allowed the emotions to wash over me.
I guess my father was equally surprised that I’d pulled it off, immediately getting on social media to post a sickeningly sweet sob-story in which he expressed his undying gratitude to everyone who’d helped his beautiful daughter while he was incapacitated. It was a shrill contrast with the way he’d been acting and speaking to me throughout the entire ordeal, it reeked of damage control and I really had to bite my tongue as I watched people take the bait. Comments flowed in asking him what had happened, sending him hugs and kisses and even offering to donate extra money if that meant that he could go with me. Internally, I was screaming ‘NoOoOoOo!!!’, bile rising in my throat as all the emotions I’d repressed and all the crap I’d swallowed tried to force their way out into the open.
But as much as I wanted to call him out on his bullshit and expose his behavior, I kept my mouth tightly shut. I wasn’t in the clear yet. Still in close proximity to the bomb, I was terrified that I’d trip the switch before I’d made my way out of the nuke blast zone.
So instead, I chose to ignore him and focus on the positives: I was going to New Zealand! And I was going alone, yet supported by all the people in my life that cared about me. People who had my back, even when I couldn’t tell them what was going on. I felt warm and fuzzy with gratitude, a sparkle in my eye as I thought about the life-changing adventure that I was about to undertake.
THE LAST STRAW
I should have known the storm was coming when the clouds appeared. I felt it in the air, something was up. Counting down the days until my departure, I’d kept myself busy taking care of everything that still needed to be arranged now that I was heading out on my own. I’d gone out to buy a daypack and sunglasses, gotten my international driver’s license, taken care of insurance and made sure that I had all my documents in order. The thought alone that I’d be navigating unknown roads in a foreign place, driving a strange car whilst somehow remembering to stay on the left-hand side of the road…it scared the living shit out of me, but there was no turning back now. I was about to flex my wings and discover what I could do if there was nobody there for me to hide behind, and nobody to hold me back. Everything was looking good, but somehow, I still couldn’t quite believe or trust that it was really happening. It just wasn’t sinking in, and I couldn’t seem to shake the ominous feeling that something was about to go horribly, horribly wrong.
My last week at home, things remained uneventful and I almost thought I’d made it through to gauntlet unscathed. But just three days before departure, I opened my mailbox on my phone and saw an email from my father, addressed to both me, my youngest brother and John. My gaze fixed on the screen as my heart immediately leapt into my throat and I froze, contemplating whether or not I was going to open it. My brother didn’t leave me much time to think about it, though, almost giving me a heart attack when my phone suddenly started buzzing in my hand. The second I picked up, he exclaimed: “Have you seen it yet? Don’t read it. Just bin it.”
I steadied myself as my brother proceeded to explain what had happened. Earlier that day, he’d had a talk with my father. He’d asked all the questions that had been bugging him, requested the truth, and was taken by surprise when my father showed himself willing to oblige. They spent quite some time talking out their beef in what seemed to be an open and honest conversation, and after a while, my brother had gathered enough faith in the honorability of my father’s intentions to conclude that it was only fair if he reciprocated with full disclosure. And so, he told him about our new partnership with John. That turned out to be a big mistake.
Initially, my father’s reaction was very calm and reasonable. It didn’t seem to bother him at all. But no more than a few hours after they’d hugged it out and parted ways, the three of us were bombarded with an epic four-page rant in which he completely exploded and shredded us to bits.
Apparently, when he realized that he was no longer the center of my universe and he’d lost control over me as his pawn, the mask slipped and he effectively blew his own cover by breaking out into a full-blown narcissistic temper tantrum. It wasn’t pretty, but it was pretty damn telling and if I’d had any remaining doubts about my decision to step away, this told me exactly what I needed to know.
My father was clearly trying to elicit a reaction, but I refused to let him hoover me back in to a drama triangle with him. And so, I decided to take my brothers advice and leave the email unread.
I archived it for documentation purposes, but not before I’d run it past my coach and had her check if there was anything that required immediate action on my part. After all, a cat in the narrow can be dangerous, and I didn’t trust him one bit. If for example he’d threatened to sue me, harm me, hurt himself or cancel both our plane tickets out of spite, I needed to know about it.
After looking it over and sifting through all the bullshit, my coach reported back to me with the cliff-notes version and assured me that there was nothing in there to be taken to heart. Just a lot of emotional blackmail, finger pointing, blame shifting and self-pity, along with a laughable attempt to pit us all against one another. Long story short, he was accusing John of brainwashing his children and turning them against him out of jealousy, he made my brother out to be naïve and dishonest, and he was accusing me of being a selfish bitch who had only used him for money. And he himself, he was the poor, innocent, loving father whose only fault was that he’d been too trusting, leading others to use him for his kindness. He’d only ever loved us and wanted the best for his family, but we’d all screwed him over and ruined his life. Woe. Is. Me.
Lashing out like an animal backed into a corner, he was practically foaming at the mouth, loudly hissing and snapping with the intention to intimidate and scare me back into line. And if he couldn’t control me directly, he could at least get to me through the people around me, which is probably why he dragged John into this as well. Unfortunately, my father’s outburst did result in John backing out of our partnership, knocking me back substantially and uprooting my future yet again. I did understand John’s decision, though. I mean, imagine you were just starting a new relationship with someone and their crazy ex suddenly showed up on your doorstep with a baseball bat…you’d probably back out, too. Even if there had been potential, it wouldn’t be worth losing your livelihood over, right?
If indeed it was my father’s intention to scare me shitless, his tactic was working. My legs were wobbly, my hands were shaking and I was utterly terrified. But no matter how scared I was, I refused to play the game and this time, I wasn’t going to budge. I’d probably read the email somewhere down the line as my curiosity would likely get the better of me, but for now I needed to keep a level head in order to avoid getting swept up in the chaos that he was intentionally creating.
And so, taking a deep breath, I tucked the email out of sight and sat down to contemplate the best course of action. I could just sit back and wait to see what would happen, or I could put on my big girl pants and pluck up the courage to take the reins and stand up for myself.
Call me crazy, but deep down I still harbored the silent hope that if I offered him a chance to redeem himself, he’d take it. As his daughter, I just couldn’t wrap my brain around how he was able to treat own flesh and blood like a pawn, a mere possession that served only to further his own self-interests. I didn’t understand how he could tear me down, cast me aside and watch me struggle with the damage he’d caused, all without showing even the faintest mark of genuine regret or empathy.
Surely, if I approached him with kindness and understanding, we could figure this out. If I modelled healthier boundaries and communication, maybe he would pick up on it and eventually follow suit. And then maybe, just maybe, we could still fix this. But as much as I wanted to give him another chance, I was no longer willing to jeopardize my own welfare in the process. I still wanted a relationship with my father, but not at the expense of my wellbeing. And so, I decided that my olive branch would have to be accompanied by a very clear, firm set of boundaries. Should he choose not to respect them, it’d be my responsibility to hold up my end of the bargain by taking a step back.
And I wasn’t going to wait for him to come to me. If ever there was a time to get into the driver seat and take charge of my life, this was it. So, before I could chicken out, I whipped out my phone.
After taking a deep breath and planting my feel firmly on the ground, I contacted my father and let him know that I’d received his message, though I had chosen not to read it. Staying neutral, I explained as calmly as I could that I had considered that the wisest course of action, since his words had been written in anger after hearing only one side of the story, and he may have said things he’d regret later. I also reminded him of a conversation we’d had recently, about his tendency to jump to conclusions and run with them. At the time, he’d asked me to give him a heads up if I noticed him falling into that pattern, so that we could improve our communication. And so, I let him know that this was me giving him the signal, and offering an opportunity to work it out. Then, I asked him if there was something going on that he wanted to talk to me about. His reply: “Read the mail, I’m done listening to your bullshit. Take a real good look in the mirror.”
Not wanting to give it up right then and there, I took a moment to regroup and answered: “I’m not sure what’s going on, but the behavior you’re showing right now is not ok for me. I’m not going to read the email, as you’re running with your interpretation of one persons’ side of the story. The way you’re lashing out towards me, isn’t acceptable. So, I’m going to take a step back for now. My door isn’t closed, I still love you, I just need to take care of myself as well. I hope you understand and I hope that we can talk about this properly later on, when everything has died down a bit.”
I’m going to take some creative liberty in the translation of his Dutch messages, but his reply didn’t leave much room for interpretation, meaning something along the lines of: “Go fuck yourself, I’m pissed”. Not wanting to get dragged into slinging mud, I responded only to the latter portion of the sentence, telling him: “That’s ok, just don’t burn all your bridges in the middle of it. Love you.”
He must have noticed that his attempts to get a rise out of me, weren’t really getting him the reaction that he was hoping for, and in what seemed to be a ditch attempt to draw me out, he replied: “Then read the mail…if what your brother says is true…you both sold me out…you betrayed and used me…your brother was very clear about that…didn’t leave much room for interpretation…I have never been so angry in my life…I’ve been used.” By the way, if you’re wondering what’s with all the ellipses, your guess is as good as mine. For some reason, my father always types like he’s reciting a dramatic monologue in a soap opera whilst suffering an exceptionally wheezy asthma attack.
By now, it was quite clear to me that there was no getting through to him in this state, and I was not looking to serve as his punching bag, so I decided to round up the conversation. I told him: “Sounds like there’s a lot going on. I’m bummed that you didn’t come to me first, instead of drawing your own conclusions. That hurts me, too. I understand that you’re angry. Even if I’m not exactly sure what’s going on right now. And you can be angry, that’s totally fine. What’s not ok, is the way you’re choosing to act this out on us. So, I’m going to take my distance for now. We’ll talk about it some other time, when it has all died down. Take care Dad.”
He replied with: “Forget it. I’m so fucking angry and disappointed…you have no idea. And you’re choosing not to deal with it. So, forget it...” and I signed off with: “Ok, take care.”
My heart beating out of my chest, I finally exhaled and put my phone away. The frightened child in me was feeling overwhelmed by the urge to get straight back on the phone and start doing anything within my power to placate him and bring back the peace. But it was too late for that, and as uncomfortable and scary as this whole situation was, I couldn’t just unsee what I’d seen and go back to playing by the rules of his game. Right now, the status quo breaking apart, my father was on a warpath and I was the unfortunate bugger on the receiving end of his rage. There was no point in fighting it; in war, there are no winners. Frankly, the best thing I could do for either of us, was hold my ground, protect my boundaries and try to prevent further escalation while I let it run its course.
And in that, I had succeeded, which was a first for me. That was something to be proud of in itself!
As one could expect, my father didn’t stay away for long. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, I knew this game like the back of my hand; if one approach doesn’t get you what you want, just switch it up until you find an angle that works. And if you get called out on any of your bullshit, just pretend it never happened. Needless to say, when my father popped back into my text messages the next morning, he was courteous, controlled and sweet as pie:
“Hey Caro, sorry I overreacted. I’m still really mad and angry but I should have handled this differently. I don’t want you to get on that plane while we’re fighting. You do have a lot of explaining to do, because the facts that your brother laid on the table really hit me like a bullet to the chest.”
Unable to gage whether he was genuinely remorseful or just changing up his approach, I replied as neutrally as I could, but held my ground all the same:
“Morning Dad. Thank you. As far as I’m concerned, we’re not fighting. I understand that you’re angry and hurt, that’s totally ok. At the same time, I see you lashing out in your anger while being blind to the damage you’re causing along the way. Your emotions are valid, it’s your behavior that’s not ok. I refuse to step into that drama triangle with you, since we both know that there are no winners there. There’s just a lot of damage being inflicted, and connection being broken. I don’t want that for myself, or for you. I want to communicate with you as equals, and that’s why I’ll step back when that isn’t possible. If I were standing in the pit with a bucking bronco, I’d go and stand behind the fence for a while. That’s safer and fairer to both parties. I also hope that you understand that this behavior contributes to my not feeling safe or free to share things with you. I have learned a lot over the years about my own boundaries and how to maintain them. I get that that can be hard for you, just know that it’s not “against” you, it’s just “for” me. And indirectly, it’s also for you. Because if I protect my boundaries, I can hold space for the both of us to be who we are. Like I said, I still love you. Even when I don’t accept an aspect of your behavior. And I hope that we can talk about this like adults somewhere down the line, when everything has calmed. Take care of yourself, I love you.”
We exchanged a few more superficial pleasantries before I eventually put my phone away, but it was with mixed feelings. My response had been very calm and rational, but on the inside, I felt torn. I’d basically just promised him that after my return, we would talk and hopefully make up. Part of me still hoped that we could work it out, and part of me even felt obligated to do so. After all, he was still my father and rationally I believed that that’s what I was meant to do. Or supposed to want. But somewhere deep down, yelling at the top of her lungs from a distance so far that I could barely make out what she was saying, a part of me was screaming: I’m done!
My gut, my heart and my brain clearly all had different opinions on the matter. But it would take a while longer for all that to process.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
On December 16th 2019, I finally boarded the plane and left for my homeland. Up until the very last second, my anxiety had been through the roof. Even after making it through security, safely boarding the aircraft and looking around to confirm that the people sitting on either side of me were in fact not my father, it wasn’t until we were actually up in the air and sailing through the clouds that I could finally draw a deep breath and drop some of that weight from my shoulders.
In those last couple of days before departure, I’d been absolutely terrified that my father would go into another frenzy and do something awful. I conjured up all kinds of disastrous scenarios in my head, such as arriving at the airport, only to discover that my father had secretly cancelled the tickets. I imagined him showing up at the airport to come along after all, or simply to verbally assault me in public. Not that he’d jeopardize his reputation like that, he prefers the covert route. Never the less, I couldn’t really relax until I was up in the air and far, far away from him.
On the other side of the world, alone with myself and with space to breathe, I finally began to process what had happened. And along the way, I came to some important realizations. For the past 33 years, I’d been the metaphorical frog in a pot of water, slowly being boiled alive. Now that I had removed myself from the pot, I was looking back and suddenly realizing how hot the water had actually been. Although I hadn’t really noticed while I was in the middle of it, I was severely burned.
During my first week in New Zealand, I sent out postcards to everybody, including my father.
My brain was still holding on to the notion that I had to reconcile with him when I got home. But as more time passed and more pennies dropped, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to get back into the pot and allow that boiling water to harm me any further.
I spent a lot of time just wandering through the forests, pondering and processing. The voice that shouted that I was done, became clearer. My father had gone much too far, and I’d allowed it to go on for far too long. He’d been violating my boundaries over and over for the past 33 years, and it was enough. This whole situation had been the final straw, it was time to do what was right for me.
Taking into consideration my father’s lack of insight and his unwillingness or inability to take responsibility for his behavior, I could not trust him to treat me better in the future. After all, he saw no wrong in his ways and he had proven this over and over. And so, it was up to me to finally do for myself what my younger self never got the chance to do: stand up for myself, and choose me.
I made the decision that I would not tolerate any more of his abuse; so long as he continued to cross my boundaries and cause harm without holding himself accountable or showing any change, I would keep my distance. That meant ending our relationship for the foreseeable future. And since previous vulnerable conversations had only ever resulted more manipulation and damage, I decided against having a “final conversation”, as that would only do more harm than good. Besides, despite what my father had always taught me to believe, I didn’t owe him anything.
And so, I solidified my decision: no more. It’s over. I’m out. I won’t contact him upon return, I’m breaking all contact indefinitely and moving on with my life. Silently closing off communication may seem cold or unfair, but it’s no worse than having a ground-zero type battle with someone who knows exactly what they did and refuses to acknowledge it. I was no longer willing to put myself in harm’s way, nor was I under any obligation to do so. I deserved better than that.
As a child, a teen and even as a young adult I remember hearing about people who weren’t speaking to their parents. I never understood that, and I even remember having conversations with people in which I tried to convince them to make amends. In retrospect, I don’t know if I ever really agreed with that, I was mainly repeating what I always heard society preach: blood is thicker than water and family goes above everything else, no matter what. Just think, how often do we condone toxic behavior from someone just because they happen to share a few genes with us, and how often do we tell people to let shit slide because ‘they’re still your family, you only get one and you’ll regret pushing them away once they’re no longer around.
I don’t subscribe to that notion anymore. If someone is consistently hurtful and damaging to your (mental) health and shows no intention to take responsibility for that, let alone change it…why on earth would you keep them around? Blood is no excuse; abuse is unacceptable either way.
Anyway, for the next four weeks I was on the other side of the world, experiencing what it was like to be my own person. I was learning to stand up for myself, and without anyone with me to hide behind, I was forced to do things I was afraid to do and I discovered that I was capable of a hell of a lot more than I’d always believed I was. Far away from the influence of anyone else’s thoughts or opinions on the matter, I was taking the time to reconnect with myself. Doing whatever I wanted to do, resting whenever I felt the need, feeling my feelings and learning to trust myself again. It was an amazing experience with all its ups and downs, and I valued every second of it.
THE HOME STRETCH
The decision to break contact with my father was by no means an easy one, let alone ‘the easy way out’. I felt completely broken inside, torn between what needed to be done for my own wellbeing and what my parental loyalty and conditioned guilt were telling me to do. I knew that the hardest part was yet to come, both practically and emotionally, and it was tempting to just try to fix everything and run back into that false security of what I knew. But as much as I just wanted to crawl into a ball and hide, I knew that giving up or turning back was not an option. So, I had to push on and create a life and a support network that didn’t include my father, and I had to get started right away.
Each day, I took some time off from being a tourist and took my laptop to a local coffeeshop while I prepared my resume and looked for job openings. After all, my father wouldn’t be paying out my last invoice with NLPro and he’d also blocked off my plans with John. There was nothing coming in, I’d poured the last of my savings into New Zealand and I knew that rent would be due by the time I got back. I had to find a job, and fast. So, my last week in New Zealand, I stayed in a tent at an old friends’ place and I sat in her back yard sending out job applications almost daily.
Just a few days before heading back home, I got a reply from an organic supermarket, inviting me for a job interview in the week after my return. So, I was feeling a little better about my prospects as the time came around that I pack up my gear and got ready for the long journey home.
I remember my last morning in New Zealand like it was yesterday. Everything inside me was screaming not to go, as I didn’t know what would be waiting for me when I got home. My future was one giant void, and here I was forcing myself to dive into it.
The plane took off and instantly, I was overcome by grief and terror. Tears were streaming over my face as I looked out the window, watching the trees and the familiar landscape grow smaller and smaller. People probably thought that I was afraid of flying, but in reality, I was terrified of going home. All I could think was that my life had fallen apart and I was about to leave this beautiful place far away from it all and return to ground-zero, not knowing what I would find, how I would make it through or where I was going to end up…
In the movies, this is usually where they end the story. There’s a shitty situation and some dramatic climax, the protagonist escapes and it’s all smiles and smooth sailing from there. Well, in reality, the hardest part doesn’t come until after all that. It’s out of the frying pan, and into the fire.
The entire framework of my life, my understanding of the world, people, myself…all of it had been flipped over, demolished, wiped out and scattered around. I’d have to rebuild this bitch from the ground up, and it wasn’t going to be easy. In fact, we’re over two years down the line and I’m still struggling with the aftermath. Quite frankly, it’s been hell, and in many ways, it still is. But I suppose that’s another story for another day…
We’ve all experienced it, that phenomenon where your day is going too well and you don’t trust it until finally, some shit goes down. According to Urban Dictionary, that shit is what we call “The Fuckening”.
In my previous blogs, I told you a little bit about my past, setting off with a period in which things were going exceptionally well and providing some background on my life and my family history. Later down the line, you’ll find out how that is relevant to the story. Just like I did.
I continued with some of the events leading up to the fuckening. I did leave you on a bit of a cliffhanger, though. Sorry about that, I swear it was for readability’s sake. As you may have noticed by now, it’s quite a long story and by dividing it into segments and themes, I’m trying to bring some order into the chaos for the both of us. For now, I’d like to pick up where I left off, around the time that my parent’s 37 years of marriage came to an end…
Oh, and obviously, once again, some names have been altered for privacy’s sake.
Anyone here ever inform their children of their upcoming divorce via email?
Yeah, it was a new to me too but apparently to my father, this is a thing. Let’s just say, the divorce itself didn’t surprise me all that much, but the way in which it was communicated to us, was…odd.
A few weeks after the dinner-of-doom, my father sent us a long, rambling email informing us that he and my mother had decided to separate, but that they would continue living together for the time being. For context, you should know that they already officially divorced a few years earlier, for legal and financial reasons following the bankruptcy of my dad’s previous business. The way they put it at the time, their divorce was done entirely out of love and trust and they were still in a committed relationship with one another. This relevance of this fact will become clear later on.
For my mum, though, my father’s sudden change of heart came like a bolt from the blue. Although he continued to deny his thing with Amanda, maintaining that she had nothing to do with it, he’d never been happy and that their marriage never worked anyway, it was obviously quite the coincidence that he just so happened to bring all this to the table after Amanda entered the scene.
Personally, I wasn’t surprised nor bothered by their separation. In my honest opinion, they probably should have done it years ago. Growing up, I often felt a strange kind of tension between them, and I remember wondering why they were together in the first place. Not that they fought or anything, aside from the usual bickering of a married couple. On the contrary, it was more like there was something missing, though I couldn’t put my finger on what.
What’s more, I was so done with all the drama and glad that the cat was finally out of the bag. I was tired of seeing my mother hurt and confused, wondering what she’d done wrong and how she could win him back when he had clearly already discarded her. I was tired of my father jerking us around, saying and doing hurtful things and leading my mother on as he avoided making a decision. And I was especially tired of being the piggy in the middle, a position I’d somehow ended up in since the whole dessert-spoon debacle. For weeks on end, I received countless texts, emails and tearful phone calls from them both as they poured their hearts out, asking me for advice and support as the situation dragged on. I guess you could say, difficulty with boundaries was a bit of a family ailment.
My father often called me to complain about his marital issues, making subtly demeaning passes at my mother as he tried to explain why his affair made sense and why his relationship with my mother was doomed anyway. But for some reason, despite the fact that he already seemed to have made up his mind about leaving, he just kept pussyfooting around and causing more damage along the way. Presenting himself as a noble knight, he told me he was staying with his wife out of ‘respect for the mother of his children’ and out of ‘concern that she couldn’t hack it alone’. But at the same time, while my mother was more than prepared to make an effort to repair and improve their relationship, my father rejected any bids for connection and told her that ‘she was no longer his wife’, ‘it had never been good’ and ‘trying to fix it was no use, as he’d already tried everything’.
My father also called me in distress every time someone else, usually one of my brothers, wasn’t taking his crap. Venting his disappointment in them, he’d complain that they ‘just didn’t get it’ and ‘nobody was listening to his side of the story’, then he’d thank me for being so understanding and roll over onto his back, tearfully asking me if I was still ok with him. Sometimes, he’d ask me to talk to them for him, to bring them around. Looking back, this looks a lot like damage control to me. He knew that things were not going according to his plan, and this was his ditch attempt to control the narrative by means of emotional manipulation, triangulation and fragmented communication.
During the time that all this was going on, I was already spread pretty thin. I was in the home stretch of my final academic year, working hard on finishing up, waves of grief washing over me as my last day drew closer. I didn’t have the mental capacity to deal with whiney, dramatic phone calls between classes, especially since our conversations always came down to the same thing. Time and time again, I told him kindly but firmly that no matter what decision he chose to make, people were going to be hurt and angry. Drawing it out wasn’t going to prevent that, if anything it would actually make it worse. He needed to cut the crap, take responsibility, make a damn decision and own it.
So quite frankly, when they finally cut the cord, I was happy to see them setting each other free and I felt they’d both be better off. In fact, I was looking forward to seeing my mother blossom.
As for the aforementioned email, it was just cringeworthy and aggravating. Written like a lengthy monologue for a broody, self-sacrificing knight in a romantic drama, it missed the mark entirely. You see, my brothers and I had already made it very clear that we that we were fine with the separation. We could even understand and come to forgive the affair. But we’d also explained to him that we were angry and hurt by the way he bowed and scraped to save his neck, lying to our faces and beating around the bush, emotionally manipulating us and treating us like crap rather than just owning up to his shit and holding himself accountable. Unfortunately, he didn’t take this to heart. Instead, he did exactly what we told him not to do. He deflected, and geared the entire email towards our dismay, anger and lack of understanding over the divorce. It was gross and insulting, the way he nobly begged us not to worry about him and to take care of our poor, fragile mother instead, dramatically stating that ‘he simply had to do what was best for the both of them and he hoped that someday we’d understand, and we could find it in our hearts to forgive him.’
What’s that sound? Oh, sorry, that’s just me dry-heaving in the corner.
Here’s a pro-tip: if you ever plan to cheat on your partner, you might want to refrain from letting your children use your PC if you have push-notifications enabled. That way, you will not only decrease the chance of accidentally blowing your cover, but you’ll also save your kids the hassle of scrubbing their eyeballs in hopes of unseeing things that they simply don’t want mental imagery of.
And on that note, let’s just say that my brothers had found good reason to confront my father with undeniable evidence and demand that he stop pussyfooting around and tell the truth. Because it’s one thing to do something stupid or hurtful, but it’s a whole other level of assholery to continue the behavior and not even have the balls to own your shit. My brothers had had more than enough of his bullshit, and they were enraged by how he was treating my mother. Something had to give.
And so, they set an ultimatum, asking him to get together with the whole family, cut the crap and finally talk about it all in an open and honest conversation. An intervention, if you will.
Prior to the date we had planned, my father texted me some sob story, asking me if I was still okay with him, since nobody else was willing to understand and they seemed intent on casting him out.
He then asked me for advice on how to deal with the upcoming talk. In retrospect, I think he was collecting information on what we wanted to hear so he could make his act as plausible as possible. But still wanting to see the best in my him, I helped him out none the less. I remember telling him that although I did not agree with his behavior, he was still my father and I loved him. I explained to him that he needed to drop the charade and stop trying to save his ass. He seemed to think that our feelings and opinions were indicative of a lack of information, and so he constantly tried to bowl us over with more information which only pissed us off even more. My advice was; come from a place of vulnerability, stop overintellectualizing and show how you feel, tell the truth and own your shit.
Well, the evening of the ‘intervention’ came around, and it was as though he’d followed my advice to a tee, almost like a script. His body tight with anxiety as he walked in and sat down, sighing deeply as he laid all his cards on the table, apologized and then proceeded to bawl his eyes out. My youngest brother asked for the truth about Amanda, wanting to know when it had started and what his plans were. He confessed that it had started around May, which later turned out to be a lie, and he told us that he intended to continue on with their ‘relationship’. Following this information, my brother immediately announced his resignation from NLPro.
I thought about it and decided to stick around a bit longer, hoping I could find a way to make it work between us. I’ll be honest with you; I had never seen my father so open and vulnerable before and I really believed that we were having some kind of breakthrough. That gave me hope. Afterwards, he hugged all of us and I remember telling him ‘Well done’. He told me that he was so scared he’d lost us, and I remember saying: “Well, you already have me. You may be an idiot, but you’re my idiot.”
Unfortunately, the breakthrough was short lived if it was a breakthrough at all. I received multiple phone calls from my father that week, requesting advice from my end. It felt as though he was trying to flatter me or keep me close, which would make sense considering I was apparently the only one of his children still willing to see past his bullshit. He had to keep me on his side, I guess.
He had probably also noticed that I was having a hard time getting though our training days now that he’d promoted Amanda to assistant trainer alongside myself. I’d come in to work feeling fine, and then half way through the morning I’d be completely drained with a whole weekend still left on the clock. There were so many triggers to navigate. The way they were both sickeningly nice to me, made my skin crawl. It was hard seeing them together, and even harder to ignore their flirty behavior, while I was also still terrified that the other clients would notice it and all hell would break loose. I still felt that their ‘relationship’ was ethically unsound, and unhealthy for the both of them.
And it took so much restraint and numbing on my end, just to refrain from opening my mouth and calling him out every time he spouted bullshit or put on his fake guru-like persona. All the while, I was still running around doing damage control for all the balls he dropped, trying to make sure that our clients got the quality they deserved while trying to keep our reputations, careers and our own relationship intact at the same time.
It was gnawing at me, continuing to work in a place where I felt unsafe and where I didn’t agree with what was going on. But I had no place else to go just yet; I had yet to find an alternative that would safeguard the roof over my head and give me some kind of perspective for the future. After all, I’d just given up everything to be here, so I was about to be left with absolutely nothing.
Also, the idea of cutting myself loose from my father terrified me. I was scared of what he might do if he realized that I was ‘rejecting’ him and his practices, or if God forbid, I made him ‘look bad’ by telling people the truth of why I’d left. After all, there would be questions. So yeah, plucking up the courage to leave was going to take some time and careful planning, I wasn’t ready. At the same time, staying was killing me slowly and I didn’t know how much longer I could keep it up.
As time passed, Amanda’s roll in the company became bigger and bigger. She had already joined me as a training assistant and now my father had decided to make her his full-blown business partner. He was pushing her forward and including her in virtually every business venture there was, but although I felt cast aside, I figured I couldn’t complain since I was the one that kept holding him off and keeping my business separate from his. It was only fair that he should move on, right?
Never the less, I was beginning to feel like a third wheel and it seemed a hell of a lot like I was being ignored or discarded on purpose. My input or corrections were no longer appreciated as he seemed to be getting more annoyed with me, his responses crasser by the day. He would also ‘forget’ to keep me in the loop with important business matters like altered or cancelled training dates and locations, leading to embarrassing and frustrating situations for me.
For example, there was a situation with a professional photoshoot that we had done for the website, back when my brother was still on the team. It was a whole big thing, including a make-up artist and the whole shebang. After my brother backed out, we obviously had to re-do the shoot. My father planned a new date together with Amanda, but didn’t ask me when I was available. He also conveniently forgot to inform me that we’d be doing things differently this time. And so, after going through the trouble of cancelling my own plans so that I could be there, I showed up with my bare face and a similar outfit to the last shoot, only to find Amanda and my father had already done their make-up beforehand, and they were wearing a completely different style of outfit to my own. I felt so embarrassed and left out, it was hard to pretend to be a team for the pictures.
It wasn’t just business that impacted me, though. As a daughter, I simply missed my father. I hadn’t spoken to him one-on-one in ages, because he was always joined at the hip with Amanda and I never got to see him in anything other than his guru-persona anymore.
Coping with working at NLPro was becoming harder and harder for me, constantly having to manage my own triggers and feelings around the situation whilst trying to function as normal. It was draining me, I felt down and heavy whenever I entered the building and it was preventing me from being my best self, both as a trainer and as myself. Feeling ashamed and guilty towards both my father and our clients, I eventually got to a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Gathering all my courage, I pulled my father aside one day and confessed: “If you’re really planning to continue down this road with Amanda, then I don’t know if I can cope with that. I’ll give it a little while longer to see if I can make it work, but if I continue to feel this horrible, I’m going to have to leave.” I don’t know what I was expecting or hoping for, but the way my father responded felt like a punch to the gut. Although he did his best to conjure up a soft expression, there was an emptiness behind it, and his words rolled so casually off his tongue that it was almost like he’d had them parked there for ages, waiting for the moment that he could finally say them out loud: “I’m sorry you feel that way and we’d like it if you stayed, but I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
And just like that, my own father, who I’d always thought I was close with, effectively chose his midlife-crisis fling over his own daughter, despite seeing the pain she was clearly in. After having just coaxed me out of the life I’d built up for myself, dragging my hesitant ass out into the middle of nowhere with a common dream and the promise to always have my back, he was just going to leave me there without so much as a second thought. The sheer nonchalance with which he discarded me, was a knife to my back. I felt so abandoned, and though I couldn’t quite place the feeling, somehow it felt but all too familiar.
Then, somewhere in July, only a week or two before my time at school was up, I was at my parent’s place, upstairs in the guest room as I tried to unwind after a long day of training. My father walked into the room with tears in his eyes, stood in front of me and begged: “I’m so sorry for not realizing what a difficult position I put you in, especially when you’re already going through such an emotional time yourself. I should have been more thoughtful, and I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?”
I was completely bowled over, and replied: “Listen, it’s ok. I’m an adult and I’m responsible for how I do my life. I’m the one who chose to stay, and it is still my choice whether I continue with this situation or not. But for the love of God, I’m begging you, please be careful how you proceed. I understand that you and Amanda may have developed feelings for each other, you’ve both just come out of long-term relationships and on top of that it’s actually really common for romantic feelings to develop within a therapeutic setting. But even if there’s a small chance that it’s the real thing, there’s a much bigger chance that it’s not. What you’re doing right now is really unethical, and the right thing would be to break contact, distance yourselves from each other and wait it out for a few months. If the feelings are real, they will still be there by then. And if it turns out they aren’t, well, then you won’t have risked your business, your reputation and your family for a fling.”
I told him that I was afraid it would be a huge scandal and damage us both if our clients and found out, not to mention how Amanda’s husband would react. I expected he’d be on a warpath to tear us down, which I would have understood completely. I mean, you don’t go to relationship therapy only to watch the therapist run off with your wife. My father replied: “Oh but he already knows, and he’s fine with it. He said that he knew from day one that he’d already lost her.” I was baffled, and to this day I still don’t know if that was the truth, or whether he was just trying to save his ass again.
Never the less, my father thanked me for my advice, my understanding and for letting him make his own decisions. He promised me with tears in his eyes that he was being careful and would take it slowly. I believed him, which is why what happened the next day was another kick in the gut.
Half way through another long day of training, we’d just finished an exercise and everyone was sitting in a big circle in the middle of the room, casually discussing their findings as they awaited further instruction. Sitting at my desk off to the side, I cast my gaze across the group and noticed my father approaching the front of the room with an odd look on his face. Avoiding me entirely, his eyes met with Amanda’s across the room (she was a participant in this particular training) and clearing his throat, he directed himself towards the group and announced that there was something he wanted to share with them. I had no idea what was going on, but as I watched his body language shift to his fake-vulnerability-mode, my heart started pounding and my gut clenched in anticipation. Then, after he’d buttered them all up, he finally cut to the chase and announced to the entire group that he and Amanda were now in a serious relationship.
I was utterly gob smacked. After our little heart to heart the night before, I was hopeful that he’d gained some insight and would be making smarter decisions henceforth, keeping everything on the down low for the time being. But in less than 12 hours’ time, he had gone from making a teary-eyed promise to take it slow, straight on through to nailing down a serious relationship. Never mind taking a break to explore his feelings, never mind casually dating for a while, and never mind telling his loved ones about it before making a cringy, formal announcement to his entire client base. With his own oblivious daughter sitting right there, mind you.
Awkward congratulations began to tumble from people’s lips, both Amanda and my father avoiding my gaze as they mingled with the group and engaged in weird, cheerful banter. My insides churning, I sat frozen in place fighting off the urge to scream my lungs out and slap some sense into them all. I felt so incredibly betrayed and abandoned, I couldn’t believe the charade I was witnessing and I couldn’t understand how everyone was just shrugging and going along with it. I heard someone ask about his wife, by my father told them (as he’d apparently also told Amanda) that they divorced ages ago. Which is technically true, but also not the full story. I ached to open my mouth and scream the truth, but it seemed that I was the only one who had a problem and I was afraid they’d see me as a bitter, unreasonable child. So, numbing myself from the inside out, I planted my mask firmly on my face and tried as best as I could to make it through the day.
Unfortunately, things became infinitely worse when later that day, we received the message that my New Zealand nana had passed away. Already numb, I sat there with my grief and watched my father slip back into another vulnerability act, sharing the news with the group only to bask in their attention, compassion and admiration for his willingness to stay and complete the training just for them. I wanted to tear the place down, by I remained silent and swallowed it all down, as usual…
With no further need to be discrete, my father really laid it on in the weeks that followed. Watching him act exaggeratedly lovey-dovey for everyone to see, becoming someone I didn’t know as he amplified his new charming, fun-loving, youthful persona and switched to the sole use of the pronoun ‘we’ as if he and Amanda had suddenly merged into one, I felt like I had lost him for good. Getting him alone became damn near impossible; he was always with Amanda, and if I tried to set up a date for some quality father-daughter time, he’d only agree if Amanda could join us. I’d often decline because being around them together was still painful for me, but effectively, this meant that I never really saw or spoke to my father anymore outside of work. And if I ever did get him alone, it felt like I was speaking to a figment of the person I once knew. His new persona was fully catered to his new catch, and no matter how hard I tried to connect with the man I knew somewhere beneath that fluffed up exterior, the road had been blocked. My father was nowhere to be found.
In the weeks that followed, I continued to come in to work as I internally struggled with my feelings and searched feverishly for some kind of solution. Even so much as being around my father was triggering, let alone if Amanda was around. There was a potent mixture of grief, rage and terror festering beneath my skin and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Quitting wasn’t an option just yet, since I no longer had school to provide me with a tribe and an income. Not only was my father the one keeping a roof over my head, his business was also the road to my future as it was helping me generate clients, gain experience and build a name for myself in the field.
I felt trapped. Working there was taking a massive toll on me, having to function normally whilst constantly managing my own emotions and triggers, careful not to be too open or authentic for fear of saying too much. Coming home completely drained and with a massive headache at the end of each day, I knew I couldn’t go on like this. But I had nowhere else to turn as of yet, and all I could do was force myself into auto-pilot to keep going on. But at the end of October, something finally pushed me over the edge in terms of seeking help and making a decision.
A year earlier, I’d been to a seminar with Robert Dilts. I’d had such an amazing time that I immediately signed up for the next edition, and tipped my father and brother to tag along. By the time the next seminar rolled around in the fall of 2019, my brother was no longer a part of NLPro.
But I still went, and so did my father…with Amanda in my brother’s place.
The seminar was held in a beautiful area somewhere in the middle of the country, at a hotel in the middle of a forest. It had been organized by another NLP training institute, called IEP. What’s relevant to know, is that my father was no stranger there. You see, about a year prior, my father was taking his trainers training at the NLP Academie and about half way through, he had a messy falling out with the trainer and ended up quitting. After my tip about this seminar, he’d looked into IEP and contacted the trainers, seeking to complete his training with them. After his certification, he put me forward to do the same, even offering to pay for it if I would agree to teach more courses for NLPro. Knowing that I wanted to use the skills within my own growing business, I didn’t want to be bound or indebted to my father and I politely declined, signing up on my own accord instead. And so, my father signed Amanda up in my place. Anyway, what it comes down to is that although I knew these people vaguely from the previous seminar, my father was already in cahoots with them and couldn’t wait to introduce them all to his new girlfriend.
A week before the seminar, I celebrated my 33rd birthday. My father didn’t show up, texting me that it was probably better if he didn’t come and promising me that we’d set up a separate date to celebrate together. Since we were both staying in the same hotel for the seminar, I sort of hoped that he would take the opportunity to make good on that promise. After all, we hadn’t had a good heart to heart since Amanda had entered the scene and I really missed him, which I’d expressed to him many times. I didn’t even know where he was currently living, as he’d moved out and Amanda had pretty much moved straight in with him. Granted, he’d invited me over for dinner at ‘our house’ at some point and I had declined, but I had been very clear in letting him know that I’d gladly come over if it was just us. He didn’t respond to that, though.
Unfortunately, it was wishful thinking on my end. As per usual, the pair spent the entirety of the three days stuck together as though they were intent on shoving their happy relationship down my throat. Although I’d expressed my desire to spend some time with my father alone and indicated that being around them together was very difficult and painful for me, he made absolutely no effort to show some sensitivity towards my feelings. On our first day there, they plopped down next to me in the conference room and acted overly chatty and casual as I sank further and further into my seat.
And to make matters worse, we were then placed in the same break out groups to discuss personal matters and practice interventions on one another. The following days, I made sure to show up early and pick my seat more carefully, surrounding myself by other people and leaving nothing to chance. Later on, they showed up together and cheerfully struck up conversations that always happened to be within earshot, reciting their glossed over version of events. It enraged me, hearing old friends and new acquaintances swallow the story and gush over the glowing lovebirds as I thought of the pain and destruction that he’d caused. But I had to stuff it all down as making a scene would only make things worse.
I tried to avoid them as much as possible, still hoping that my father would find a moment to spend some time with me. How hard could it be, realistically, to tell his girlfriend: ‘Hey, are you good entertaining yourself for an hour or two while I go out and have a little walk & talk with my kid?”
But instead, they would seek me out in the breakfast hall each morning and pull up an extra chair to my table for two, acting like nothing was wrong and making casual conversation as a lump formed in my throat and I hurried to finish my coffee so I could leave. With the hotel surrounded by a beautiful forest, I often made my escape amongst the trees for some space and some fresh air. But even as a roamed the grounds trying to recuperate and ground myself, I constantly ran into them on the same route. There was no escape, and I felt more awful by the day.
As much as I had looked forward to the seminar beforehand, I was having a horrible time. It was like there was a huge black cloud hanging over me that just kept growing and growing. I couldn’t concentrate, I felt drained, anxious, depressed and utterly hopeless. Even as I went on long walks in the beautiful autumn scenery, all I could do was bawl my eyes out with no relief. Something ominous was pressing down on me, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. All I knew, was that I was in way over my head, and I needed help. It was time to take responsibility for my own part, meaning: either get help with processing my own issues so that I can maintain my job and my relationship with my father without destroying myself in the process…or find a safe way out, without losing everything.
And so, on the last evening in the hotel, sitting on the edge of my bed, I took a deep breath and tapped out a text to the one person I trusted to treat this situation with discretion, integrity, skill and compassion: “Hey John, can you coach me through something? There’s a lot going on, and I get the feeling that I’m way over my head…”
To my surprise, John was already expecting me. Apparently, my brother had recently been to see him about the exact same thing and it was clear that some kind of shit was about to go down. We set up an appointment for later that week and I sighed a breath of relief. We’d sort this out.
At the end of the last day of the seminar, I remember grabbing my gear and speed-walking out to the car, fully intending to leave that very second. But after dumping my bags into the boot, I found myself standing outside an open car door, frozen in indecision as I tried to figure out whether or not I should go back to say goodbye to my father. Exhausted and hurt, I felt compelled to speed off without saying a word, but I stopped myself at the last moment in a conundrum. Was I really going to act out my anger and disappointment by leaving without saying goodbye? He was still my father, after all, and I loved him. I reigned myself in, convincing myself that if something were to happen to him, I would regret having been so petty. Besides, I didn’t want to be the one to put our relationship on the line just because I was feeling hurt. I just needed to grow up, right?
And so, I turned back, elbowing my way through the crowd and finding my father in a jovial conversation with an old friend, completely oblivious to what had just played out in the parking lot. I hugged him and told him that I loved him, nodded a quick goodbye to Amanda and headed back out to start the long drive home. Little did I know that the next time I saw my father would be the last.
THE CAT’S OUT OF THE BAG
It’s funny how the world as you know it can seem to fall apart, yet come together at the same time. Throughout my life I’d often had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right, and over the past year and a half, a sinkhole had opened up. As more and more signs breached the surface, my loyal brain had been working overtime to explain them away or block them out entirely. But now I had reached a point where I couldn’t deny it any longer; my father was not who I thought he was.
After coming home from the seminar, I called my younger brother. In that conversation, putting the pieces of the puzzle together with our family history, our combined experiences and the things he’d already discussed with John, the penny finally dropped: my father is a pathological narcissist.
Obviously, it wasn’t an easy conversation to have, nor was it a fun realization. Everything I thought I knew was imploding around me, but it simultaneously felt like everything was falling into place. When I showed up for my appointment with John later that week, the info wasn’t new to me anymore, but the sole fact that I was finally being seen in everything I’d gone through, and validated in all the things I had picked up and explained away over the years, was incredibly impactful. Even more so considering the fact that it was coming from someone who knew his shit; an expert in the field of analytic profiling, who had been working with us long enough to have seen every fucked-up pattern play out before his eyes.
Nervously walking into his office and shifting in my seat, my eyes darted around the room before finally making eye contact with John, and before I even knew what was happening, the dam broke and I burst into tears of relief, repeating over and over: “It wasn’t just me, it wasn’t just me…”
Because all these years I had been convinced that I was the crazy one, the selfish bitch, the bad guy, the one who was inherently flawed and had to fight for love, and for her right to exist. But after the façade fell away, I knew that I wasn’t imagining things and it wasn’t my fault.
Sifting through a tangled web of emotions, thoughts and memories that flooded my body and mind, the pieces were falling into place. I’d never consciously allowed myself to feel what I really felt in relation to my father, always pushing it away and telling myself I was wrong. But as my gaze turned rigid and my body began to tremble, I was quickly becoming painfully aware of how afraid I was of him, and I was even more terrified of what he’d do if he discovered that I’d figured him out.
Realizing that our working together could only end in disaster, it became apparent that I had to find a way out of his clutches and become independent as soon as possible. And seeing the extent of the damage that our toxic relationship had inflicted on me over the years, given his complete lack of insight and accountability, it was clear that he’d only continue to cause harm if I didn’t take a step back and hold extremely firm boundaries moving forward. At the same time, I knew that making my escape from NLPro and from our enmeshed relationship would be an incredibly delicate operation. Our lives were intertwined on so many levels, one wrong move and his repercussions could tear my life apart beyond repair. If I were careless with my timing or approach, I could be bankrupt and on the streets in the blink of an eye and before I’d even had the chance to find or create an alternative, he would most certainly launch a smear campaign so potent that I could kiss my future plans, hopes and dreams goodbye. I knew what he was capable of, both from first- and second-hand experience, and this time, I did not want to be caught on the receiving end. And so, that afternoon, John helped me lay out my options and figure out the best route to take.
My plan carefully mapped out in my brain, I was both hopeful and scared to death. At this point, I did not intend to remove him from my life entirely, I just wanted to untangle myself from him, get out on my own two feet and find a way to have some kind of safe, functional relationship with him. But although I knew that this was the best thing that I could possibly do for myself, I felt apprehensive of the great, empty unknown ahead of me.
Keep in mind that my father intentionally created our bond to be heavily enmeshed and I’d felt that I needed him for my survival from a very young age. The foundation had been laid down in early childhood; the outside world was a big, scary place and my father was always there to ‘rescue’ me, never mind that he was often the one who’d tripped me up in the first place. He fronted as my biggest cheerleader, but in reality, he was more like the peppy team captain who would hype me up only to secretly sabotage my routine so that I’d crash before I reached the top of the pyramid, undermining my confidence and thus keeping the vicious cycle in place.
And now he had inserted himself into my future plans, hopes and dreams, making himself an integral part of them while prying me away from my own life. I’d given up everything to be on board with him; my job, my own income, a large portion of my social network and even my opportunity to have a baby in the near future, which I’d postponed in order to set up shop first. But now that I saw the truth, I had to cut loose from it all and venture out into that big scary world with nowhere else to go and nobody to fall back on. It was so tempting to shove everything back down the hatch, pretend nothing had ever happened and carry on as always…but I couldn’t unsee it anymore. So, I had to pull myself together and get moving.
Step one of operation get-the-fuck-out proved to be quite a challenge; I wanted to talk to my father in private, but it was exceptionally hard to pry him away from his counterpart since they had all but merged into the same person. Thankfully, he still owed me a belated birthday celebration and after I proposed a date and deflected his adamant offers to hit up a fancy restaurant, I managed to convince him to come over to my house. I promised to make pancakes and he suggested we work out our New Zealand itinerary over lunch, since December was around the corner.
Jumping at the slightest sound, I nervously waited for the doorbell to ring. He was running late and I was beginning to worry that he’d flaked on me, meaning I’d have to push the whole thing forward and marinate in my anxiety until I could finally get this over with and move on with my life.
By the time he finally arrived, twenty minutes late, I was already a nervous wreck. My heart beat right out of my chest as he hugged me awkwardly and made his way into my living room. But I kept it together, retreating to the stove to prepare lunch and making light chit-chat until we eventually sat down at the table together, each with our own stack of sweet-smelling banana pancakes.
Naturally, the conversation soon steered towards business and I took this as my chance to carefully nudge towards the matter at hand. Making sure to stay as neutral and as close to myself as possible, I reminded him of how I’d recently agreed to stay at NLPro for a while longer to see how it went. I explained to him that it was proving to be harder on me that I’d expected, the situation with him and Amanda triggering some deep-seated issues and past pain within myself and leading me to conclude that leaving NLPro would probably the wisest course of action for my own wellbeing.
What followed was a conversation in which my father shifted back and forth between savior, victim and perpetrator roles so quickly and seamlessly that he almost had me lost in the convolution of it all. The savior asked me about my struggles, listening and nodding until he found something to latch onto for the old bait-n-switch: the second I honestly expressed my pain over his recent actions, he feigned surprise and confusion, then randomly and inexplicably dragged my ex-husband into the mix. If your head is spinning, that’s the whole point: it’s a mindfuck. In the past, I would have lost track as he further muddied the waters to hide the truth, deflect from his shortcomings and avoid being held accountable. But now, I knew what to expect, I recognized the patterns and I managed to shake the confusion before it got the chance to take root.
As the conversation went on, that oddly familiar sense of abandonment that my father often triggered in me, slowly began to make sense. You see, throughout life, my experience had been that my own thoughts, needs and opinions could only exist at the expense of my connection with others.
Remembering the many arguments and discussions I’d had with my father over the years, I felt that old familiar terror or having to choose between losing myself, or losing love. There was no room for the both of us to exist simultaneously, he raised me in his image and whenever it came down to it, I always chose to abandon myself and give him free rein. But things were about to change.
Being careful to stay close to myself and avoid pointing fingers, I got back on track, calmly telling him that his actions had really hurt me. He was clearly caught off guard when he noticed that his usual tactic hadn’t taken effect, swiftly redirecting his approach toward rationalizing and glossing over everything that had happened. Then, when I didn’t respond to that either, he promptly hopped on the pity train, complaining that I hadn’t been talking to him and everyone was shutting him out.
My next move may not have been the smartest considering his inability to empathize, but something inside of me still hoped that if I was open and honest, maybe he would be, too. I wanted to believe that there was someone there behind all the smoke and mirrors, and deep down I hoped that if I reached out and told him what was bothering me, he’d be willing to take my hand and work on fixing this mess together. And so, giving it one last chance, I responded to his complaint by telling him why I’d been closing myself off: “When I tell you how I feel, the way you respond feels dismissive. When you avoid the painful stuff and ignore, rationalize or gloss over my experience, I feel like I’m not being seen and heard and that only hurts me more. That’s why I often keep things to myself.”
Ironically, his response to this statement was to do exactly what I just told him not to do, exclaiming that ‘he didn’t do that’, and that I was ‘getting him all wrong’. And when I pointed this out to him, the crocodile tears appeared as he cried: “I don’t know what you want from me, am I such a bad person for not wanting to hurt anyone?”
Protesting that we weren’t giving him a chance and we were pushing him away, he wailed: “Everyone has an opinion on what I’m doing, and I don’t understand why now that I’m finally feeling happy and alive again, everyone has to hold it against me”. Feeling the irritation bubble up inside of me, I held my tongue and ignored the bait. By now, I knew enough.
I had thrown him a bone, opened up to him and provided a chance for us to connect, reflect and make amends. Not all was lost, I still hoped that we could mend that ever-growing rift between us. But instead of taking the hand I was offering him, he made sure to pull out all the stops in saving his own ass and succeeded in making everything about him within a matter of seconds. He’d shown me exactly who he was: an emotionally immature man who was not willing nor capable of self-reflection or change. He’d effectively confirmed that I was making the right choice by leaving.
And so, with a deep sigh of resignation, I leaned back in my chair and watched the show. For the first time, I was no longer engaging with his attempts to reel me in or get a reaction out of me. It was almost funny in a sad kind of way, watching him squirm and flail about as it gradually began to dawn on him that he was no longer in control. Not over me, nor over the situation. Trying every trick in the book as he frantically grasped at the reigns, I ignored his hooks and responded with the same sentence over and over: “We both have personal issues to work on, and that’s ok.”
Running out of steam, he eventually calmed down and fell back into his nice-guy routine, which I can only assume was a last-ditch attempt to salvage whatever was left of his image and his influence. Admitting that the situation at work wasn’t healthy for me and he’d noticed that I’d been having a hard time, he agreed that it was probably best if I left, even though he ‘missed me’ and he was ‘afraid of losing me’. Of course, if that were true, he had a pretty fucked up way of showing it. But I held my tongue once again as I felt the hurt and the anger build up inside of me. Instead, I told him that I’d finish the tasks I’d already promised to do and make a clean break from NLPro after that.
When he offered to continue paying me, I assumed that there were strings attached, if only it being that he could uphold his good-guy image and maintain some form of dependence, a kind of influence in my life. A finger in the pie, if you will. With this in the back of my mind, I told him that as much as I appreciated the offer, I didn’t feel comfortable accepting money for something that I was no longer doing. But he insisted that he help me out, considering my situation was a direct result of his indiscretion. And so, we made a deal: I would complete the tasks that had already been planned, including a training that I was going to fill in while he and Amanda were on a business trip, and he’d continue to pay my monthly invoices until we got back from New Zealand and I’d found a new job.
Keeping it light-hearted as the conversation ran at its end, I told him that even though I was pissed and sad, he was still my dad and I loved him. And now we knew that we were better off as father and daughter rather than business partners. Offering him a smile, he asked me: “What now?” and I replied with a grin that we should start working on our itinerary for New Zealand. December was approaching fast, after all, and we had a lot of planning to do. Ironically, he hadn’t brought the necessary documents despite the fact that it was the whole reason he’d agreed to come over in the first place, so we had to take a rain check on that one.
When my father finally walked out the door, I waved him goodbye and sighed a deep breath of relief. I’d done it: I stood up for myself, did what I needed to do and got the both of us through it unscathed. My father and I were still on good terms, he was still acting normal and could stay a part of my life, albeit at a safe distance. I was free from NLPro, I wasn’t suddenly homeless or penniless and I had my father’s blessing to go out and find something new. All in all, it was the best outcome I could have wished for. Especially since we were about to spend four weeks holed up together on the other side of the world. Can you imagine how awkward that would have been, otherwise?
Weirdly, a part of me also felt confused and guilty after he left. You see, during the time that he sat in front of me crying, I was surprised to notice that I felt irritated rather than compassionate, despite the fact that I usually feel someone else’s grief to the point where I can hardly hold back from bursting into tears myself. It made me wonder if maybe I really was a selfish, horrible person.
It wasn’t until the next day when the realization hit me: the reason I didn’t feel his grief, was because it wasn’t grief at all. It was self-pity. He’d just been trying to manipulate me again, and he’d almost succeeded. Thankfully this time, I figured it out before I got ensnared again.
I was happy and relieved that we could both turn towards the future and move on without any drama or bad blood between us. But at the same time, there was something ominous looming in the back of my mind, like part of me was silently waiting for the other shoe to drop. The whole thing had gone a little too well, and I was worried that he’d just been holding back. Something was bound to come round and bite me in the ass…
To be continued…
This story is turning out to be a lot longer than I’d expected, but I will say that it’s doing me some good to get it all out on paper. As I get further into the thick of it, it’s becoming harder to see the forest for the trees and it’s taking me a lot longer to untangle everything and catch a coherent train of thought. I guess that means we’re getting to the hard part.
In this part, I’ll be talking about the events leading up to the aforementioned fucktastrophy of 2019. If you’re an observant reader, maybe you’ll be better than I was at spotting the red flags along the way. It’ll be like a fun little game, or something. Maybe I should hand out prizes…
Quick disclaimer; since the story involves people other than myself, I have changed a few names for privacy reasons. If you recognize any of the people mentioned, I respectfully ask that you keep that knowledge to yourself.
Anyway, let’s get on with it.
As I mentioned previously, my father and I commenced NLP training in the spring of 2016 and as our respective dreams began crystallizing into goals and plans, our shared enthusiasm soon had us exploring various ideas for collaboration. When my father then decided to leave his current occupation and start his own practice only a few short months into our initial training, I may have had my concerns, but I can’t say I was surprised. I mean, when it comes to his tendency to latch on to whatever piques his interest, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And when my father sees something he wants, he goes straight for the gold. I suppose I’m like that too, but my approach is generally more reserved; I like to have everything figured out before I venture to try it and I can be quite the perfectionist, whereas he is a master of bluff who swears by the ‘fake it until you make it’ route. I did admire his guts and perseverance, but I felt no desire to trade places.
My father and I were taking different roads to Rome; he was on the bullet train, I was taking the scenic route, and we had basically agreed to travel together wherever our paths crossed and our itineraries allowed it. We touched base often and since our relationship had improved so much over time, I thought we’d reached a point of mutual understanding and respect. That being said, when my dad hops on that train, he tends to get tunnel vision, often dragging those standing along the side into the backdraft as he charges through anything and everything in his way.
From the very beginning of our journey, my father coaxed me to quit my job and become a fully-fledged entrepreneur, just like him. NLPro was growing, and he wanted nothing more than to include me in his endeavors. He presented it as a win-win situation for us both, a father-daughter Dream Team building an empire, changing the world and helping people all at the same time.
Latching on to my ambitions, he would poke and prod, push and pull, joke and nag, bait and hook…and he had countless aces up his sleeve. He would put me forward for exciting assignments and opportunities, talk me up to everyone around him, and refer clients to me that seemed to fit my target group. He even hired me as a training assistant for his workshops and began to pay me for my efforts so that I could afford to rent my first office space. He would glorify life as an entrepreneur, boasting freedom, adventure, fulfillment and more money than you would ever earn working for a boss. Quite an interesting stance considering he was still dealing with the aftermath of his previous bankruptcy, but hey, optimism and entrepreneurial spirit are strong with this one. And in all honesty, he did manage to get me curious, excited even. He made me feel like my hopes and dreams were all within reach, if I would just take a leap of faith. And he would be there to catch me if I fell.
I was still hesitant though. My plans and wishes clear in my mind, I was on a vastly different timeline. Not to mention I already had enough on my plate combining that with my training and my career. So, despite my father’s goading, I continued steadily en route. Picking up occasional gigs with NLPro, I took my sweet time deepening my skills and building up my own practice while maintaining a certain level of stability in my life. I was in no rush at all, if I ever wanted to make the switch to full-time coaching and entrepreneurship, it would be a slow transition over many years. And every time my father reopened the discussion, I held my ground and kindly reminded him of that.
The collaboration with my father actually seemed like the perfect learning experience, not just for my coaching, training and business skills, but for my personal development as well. I was still learning to hold boundaries and express my needs, and my dad’s fanaticism often put me to the test. For example, I’d often find myself having to pace him when he’d gotten ahead of himself and made plans, promises or decisions on my behalf without consulting me first, or when he had set me up with assignments and clients that didn’t suit me or that I wasn’t ready for. Every time he pushed too hard, crossed a line or took things a little too far, I’d remind him that I appreciated his support and then I’d kindly but firmly show him where he ended and where I began. It could be frustrating and tiring at times, but I kept reminding myself that he meant well and that it was good practice for me.
Most of the time, he’d then apologize and say that he was only thinking of me and trying to help. He’d scoff at those who chose to work for a boss and question my preference for the stability of a regular job, telling me that I was meant for greater things and giving me the feeling that I had something to prove. Or he’d chuckle and ask when I was finally going to let go of my insecurities and dive in, but he did take a step back and let it go. As kind or supportive as he came across, I also felt a strange, subtly condescending or contemptuous undertow that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I felt this nagging urge to pull back and run, whilst also wanting to lean in and make him proud. Those contradictory feelings confused me, and I wondered if my own issues were just having me on and I was imagining things. Guilty as I felt for doubting someone who clearly wanted the best for me, I decided to ignore my concerns for the benefit of the greater good and carry on.
Something happened, though, down the line that began to weaken my resolve.
As I mentioned earlier, I was working part-time as a biology teacher. I loved my job and my school, and I loved my team even more. I felt at home there and I was grateful that I’d managed to land that job, since it was the school that I had set my heart on during my second-year internship and chances were slim that I’d find a position there at all.
That being said, it wasn’t perfect. Not that any job is. My main frustration was the education system itself. With all the rules and regulations, I often felt like I was expected to do my job with my hands tied behind my back. That cost a lot of energy and sometimes it got the better of me. I cursed it at times, but I loved it none the less.
Anyway, that year, just like every year I had a performance interview. It was mostly fine, but one piece of critique in particular really packed a punch. Basically, my introversion led some people to question my involvement, or how much I cared. Well, considering how much I loved that school and all the people in it, and considering how hard I’d been working on myself and my relationships, that really hit me where it hurt the most. I had grown and changed a lot, and it stung to feel like my efforts were not being seen or appreciated. They also wanted me to show more of myself, step up to the forefront and take more initiative. I’d been called a ‘silent force’ in the past, but now I felt like I was being measured by my capacity for small talk and it sounded like my hard work only mattered if it was done in the spotlight, while I was at my best taking care of equally important shit backstage.
Up until then, I thought I was in a place where I was appreciated and accepted for who I was. But now I felt like an imposter about to be discovered, as if they had seen me for something I wasn’t and now they were trying to squeeze something out of me that wasn’t there. An old familiar feeling washed over me, hollow and afraid as I awaited being unmasked and discarded. I felt like I had lost them already, the bitter taste of their disappointment in me hanging in the air as I concluded that I could never please them just by being myself. The only way I could fix it, was by pretending to be someone I wasn’t. And that’s something I was no longer prepared to do.
I knew they wouldn’t fire me over it, but the thought of staying somewhere I felt unwanted was much worse. Suddenly, I felt very alone and cut off from what I had considered to be my ‘tribe’. I was absolutely devastated, and I’m sure this weighed in on my decisions later down the line.
THE LAST ACE
It’s obvious to me now, as I read back through my thoughts and feelings at the time of the interview, that I was not in an adult state of mind at the time. The overwhelming feelings of shame, hopelessness, abandonment and despair do not line up with what was factually happening in that moment. Rather, they were remnants of the past that had come rushing to the surface the second I felt a hint of disapproval or rejection. At the time, I didn’t know anything about complex PTSD and the existence of emotional flashbacks, nor was I aware of my triggers. I was being transported back to the way I felt as a child, but I was feeling those intense feelings in the here and now, so I responded to them as such.
Either way, the performance interview really hit hard and as all those feelings continued to simmer in the aftermath, I figured I should probably talk to someone about it. You know, like normal people do. Coming from a family where we avoided problems and emotions, I wasn’t really used to being vulnerable with others and the idea alone made me really uncomfortable. But I had been told by many a therapist over the years that learning to open up and share the load would be good for me. And honestly, having only ever learned to bottle everything up and deal with shit by myself, my descent into self-destruction as a young adult wasn’t really all that surprising and it makes sense that learning to connect, trust and ask others for help was a vital part of my recovery. This is something that I was (and am) still working on, and on that day, starting with a parent seemed like a safe bet.
So, as unnatural and uncomfortable as it felt, I confided in my father, telling him what had happened and how upset I was about the whole ordeal. Looking back, I think this was probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life and you’ll soon understand why. My father took this information and ran with it, using it to drive a wedge between me and the parts of my life that were standing in the way of my full availability to him and his cause. And I fell for it.
Validating me in how hurt, rejected and frustrated I felt, he told me that this was simply a sign that I had outgrown the system and it was time to move on. It was time to stop ‘living in fear’ as he called it, I just had to take the dive and start making my dreams come true. And all it took, was to quit my job and get out on my own. I’d be free, never again having to push a square peg into a round hole as I tried to fit in where I didn’t belong. I’d achieve great things while doing what I loved, and I’d have only myself to answer to. And hey, since I’d be making big bucks and organizing my own time, I’d finally be free to do all those things I’d dreamed of doing but never got round to. I’d be living life on my own terms, and he would be there every step of the way to support me. I had to admit, it all sounded awfully tempting and as I began to mull it over in my mind, the hurt began to evaporate.
Seeing the internal conflict arise in me, he pulled out one last big, shiny ace from his sleeve: “Hey, wanna come to New Zealand? My treat…”
Now, for those of you who are a little confused as to where the hell that came from and why it packed such a massive punch, here’s the deal: I’m basically a kiwi. My family immigrated to New Zealand when I was three, moving back to the Netherlands just a few days short of my 12th birthday. Having spent roughly nine years going to school, playing, getting to know the world around me and growing up in the land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa is my second home. That being said, I didn’t really give it much thought when I boarded the plane to Amsterdam in October 1998. I saw it as an exciting adventure and being the social outcast I was, I figured I had nothing to lose and a fresh new start on the other side of the globe was a godsend. I hadn’t really considered that I was leaving my home behind, nor was I aware of the impact that it would have on me.
The longing to go back, grew over time. My own fading memories tugged at my curiosity as I wondered what I would recognize, and what had changed over the years. At the same time, I felt a strange sense of emptiness as though I had unwittingly left a part of myself behind that I needed to reconnect with. Unfortunately, travelling back to New Zealand hadn’t been possible for me all those years. My father had invited me along a few times before, but those plans somehow always fell through. Going by myself wasn’t an option either, since I was always either flat broke, tied down by work, terrified to go alone, or all of the above. But now, with this big, fat, shiny ace…my father had effectively wiped all those obstacles off the table. I’d stood my ground for so long, but suddenly I found myself about to topple over the edge.
A few days later, I approached my father for tips if I were to -hypothetically- quite my job, and he pounced. No sooner had I uttered the words, and we were sitting around the table together writing up a plan of action. He had promised me a while ago that he’d help me write a solid business plan and help me figure out everything from administration, finances and insurance to all the rules, regulations, what pension plan I’d need and what kind of a timeline I should keep in mind. Nervous and excited to start creating some order in the chaos, I was curious to see how this might work out. But as glad as I was to have my father light the way, I left feeling rather deflated and somehow more lost than when we’d started. I had asked a ton of questions, but somehow all his answers remained vague and implied that I was making way too big a deal out of it.
Eventually, I went home with a piece of paper reading nothing more than a few training dates and a quick calculation of how many coaching clients I’d need in order to make a basic living. It was by no means the formal business plan that I was expecting, nor had I learned anything about the ins and outs of business. But no matter how or what I asked him, he remained nonchalant and told me that he didn’t even have most of those things worked out himself. He didn’t have a pension plan; he planned to sell his house when he got old, and he’d live off that. He didn’t have unemployment or disability insurance, and he only set a quarter of his income aside for taxes instead of the advised third because with all the tax deductions, he figured he’d never have to cough up that much anyway.
He told me to let it go, take a leap of faith and learn to embrace the adventure; he’d back me up. All this made me very nervous, but his face had often given away his contempt for those who liked to play it safe and I didn’t want him to see me that way. I wanted to show him that I could be brave, confident and adventurous. I wanted him to be proud of me. I suppose, deep down, I was afraid of losing love. So, as terrified and unsatisfied as I was, I trusted him.
After that conversation, things suddenly started moving very, very fast. Personally, I wasn’t in a hurry. I hadn’t made a definitive decision yet, but even if I had, I’d still have to complete the academic year at work. I had months to go, so I was taking the time to process and figure it all out. For my father however, things couldn’t move quickly enough. At least a few times a week, he’d call, text or email me regarding some new development, job or client that he wanted me to partake in.
At one point, we were at a concert together and just before the curtain went up, he sprung on me that he was setting up an online agenda on his website so that our clients could automatically book appointment with us. Instantly freaking out internally, I spent the entire concert zoned out as I frantically tried to come up with a way to respectfully decline. You see, I highly value my own time and autonomy. I don’t ever want anyone else controlling my schedule for me, and I had also made it very clear that I was starting my own business, separate from his and in my own area, and he could hire me freelance. I was supposed to hold the reigns, but I felt like I was already being swallowed up.
In the weeks that followed, I continued to hold off, only taking on occasional small tasks that I could combine with my busy schedule. But it felt as though the fact that I still had my own life was just a hinderance to him, even though he acted as though he was doing it all for me. Whenever I rejected him, he would point to my ambitions and say: “Ok, but the sooner the better, for you...”
Adding to the pressure was my growing desire to have children. I reasoned that if I was going to leave school, I’d either have to do it now or wait another twenty years. Leaving now would give me a good two or three years to get my business off the ground and create a strong foundation for me to support a family. And since I didn’t think it wise to leave a stable job for a new small business while caring for a child, if I decided to wait, I’d have to stick with school for at least another eighteen years. Considering the situation at school, I didn’t think I’d be able to hold out that long.
So, the pressure grew as time passed and it began to feel like waiting any longer was just a stay of execution. Maybe my father was right, maybe these were all signs that it was finally time to take that leap of faith.
CUTTING THE CORD
In January of 2019, I finally cut the cord: I walked into my superior’s office and told her that I was leaving at the end of that academic year. I was terrified, yet exhilarated at the same time.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make and, in all honesty, I still felt torn about it. Scared of the great unknown and heartbroken over leaving something so familiar and dear to me, my head was working overtime to convince my heart that it was all for the best. I told everyone that I was letting go of something good in order to make room for something even better, hoping that if I repeated those words often enough, I’d come to believe them myself.
Hiding my worries and uncertainty, I hoped that my father would be proud of me for finally stepping up and becoming the ballsy, optimistic person he always wanted me to be. But when I told him the news, his response caught me completely off guard. My jubilation faded quickly as his previously breezy and encouraging attitude flipped 180 degrees and he turned dead serious.
I broke the news by referring to our trip to New Zealand, which we had planned for that upcoming December. But instead of excitement, he responded with: “Well you can’t exactly leave for a few weeks now that you no longer have a job and a stable income.” He then proceeded to list all of the things I needed to start worrying about: my budget, business plan, insurances, coaching clients…all the things that I’d asked his advice on before, and that he’d always brushed aside.
He emphasized that he was willing to help, but that I was solely responsible for my choices and their consequences. I’d done exactly what he’d told me to do, and now, all of a sudden, he was saying: “Don’t make any decisions unless you’re absolutely certain that you have everything figured out, dependence isn’t going to get you anywhere.” To my horror, he even suggested I quit teaching group fitness classes. The gym, my passion, my outlet and practically my second home, was the only thing I had left that was entirely my own, not to mention my only remaining source of income. Giving that up seemed like a ridiculously stupid thing to do, but he was dead serious.
I was absolutely flabbergasted, his new approach a polar opposite to the angle he’d been maintaining the past few years. Preaching ‘fake it till you make it’, pushing me into things I wasn’t always ready for, making decisions on my behalf, offering to help me out financially or otherwise, condescending hesitance or caution, making it all seem so easy and telling me not to make such a big deal out of it. I had been under the impression that he wanted to see me step up and take the dive, but now that I had finally gone and done it, he seemed to want the opposite. This unexpected new angle freaked me out, but since I’d already passed the point of no return, I pushed back my fear and told myself it was fine. He was testing me, and now I needed to show everyone what I was made of.
IGNORING RED FLAGS
As I’m writing all this down, I see so many red flags whipping around in the storm that I can practically feel them slapping my face. You might be wondering how on earth I didn’t notice them before, and to be honest I spent quite a while mulling over that question myself.
Here’s the thing: you can’t see red flags if you’re wearing red tinted glasses, and I saw the world through a lens that had been colored by my father’s shenanigans from a very young age. Thus, I wasn’t seeing anything out of the ordinary and if any warning signs did reach my subconscious, they were quickly neutralized by the fact that I’d been conditioned not to trust my own intuition. And let’s not forget that kids are notoriously loyal to their parents, even as adults. I wanted to see the best in my father, just as any daughter would. All in all, it’s a lot like that metaphor of the frog sitting in the pot of water as it gradually gets hotter. It took a long time for me to notice the heat.
Throughout 2017-2018, I probably spent more time with my father than I ever had in my life. We were in training together, we became business partners, taught workshops and eventually full training courses together, I even spent weekends over at my parent’s place to limit my commute.
At first, everything was really exciting and fun, which boosted my confidence and motivated me to seriously consider doing it full-time. But over time, I started noticing things that unsettled me. As we worked together more closely, I began to see things that didn’t quite add up. Small things that by themselves could easily be ignored or brushed off as a misunderstanding, a mistake or a silly little quirk. But as time went on, these things piled up and slowly, the cracks began to appear. It’s hard to explain exactly what I saw, since the individual puzzle pieces are so small and scattered. But for the sake of illustration, I’ll give you a few examples.
His website stated that he had over 20 years of experience and that our trainings were fully accredited. This wasn’t true. I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to meet expectations and we’d be handing out invalid certificates, but whenever I voiced my concerns, he dismissed me. He told me that the IANLP had already completed their audit on NLPro, and they just kept forgetting to list us on their website. This seemed odd to me, since he wasn’t even officially certified as a trainer yet. There was no way. But whenever I questioned him further, he just waved it aside and told me not to worry.
In another situation, he asked me to edit the course material he was writing. Going through the pages, I couldn’t help but notice that the vast majority of it was a simple copy-paste from several internet pages and from our trainer’s own training manual. Not wanting to be a dick about it, I asked him whether it was intentional and if he’d asked for permission, since the material was copyrighted. He acted very surprised, saying he didn’t know what I was talking about and he’d worked especially hard to write everything in his own words. I was flabbergasted, since the plagiarism was so blatantly obvious that he couldn’t possibly deny it. But he maintained that I was mistaken, and I let it go.
This was a common theme: if he received critical questions, he’d either dismiss them, beat around the bush or just lie. His communication was always indirect, giving everyone different pieces or versions of the story and keeping people separated so that the full picture never came into view.
Another example. After a workshop, an enthusiastic participant inquired about our training options. My father presented our upcoming NLP Practitioner and Hypnosis courses as though he’d been doing them for years, when in fact this was going to be our trial run. He wasn’t even certified yet, nor did we have our training dates, location and course materials ready.
She told him about her desire to start her own small business, and he promised we’d help her with that, too. “I have a lot of experience, and so does Carolien. You can ask her anything. You can trust us!” he said, with a smile. I stood there feeling incredibly awkward, since he’d just lied to her face and made her a promise on my behalf that I knew I couldn’t live up to. If I failed, it would make us both look bad. It could ruin both of our reputations and careers. But it would make us look equally bad if I called him out on the spot. So, I kept my mouth shut and pulled him aside afterwards. He shrugged it off as a business tactic, and when I asked him to let me speak for myself in the future, he agreed. I was proud of myself for setting a boundary and I was certain that if I continued to do so, we’d be fine. But these things happened more and more down the line.
Another thing I noticed, was that he was like a chameleon. Around others, he’d step into some kind of ‘guru’ mode, presenting himself as superior and all-knowing, yet humble and relatable. He’d bluff his way through, telling inspirational life stories that were either exaggerations or flat out lies. Initially, I assumed that he did this just to illustrate a point, which I can understand. But it made me feel increasingly awkward, especially when he dragged me into it and made me play along.
He acted overly friendly, helpful and jovial with everyone, continuing to laugh and talk on the way out after training, but he’d switch it off the second we got into the car to drive home. That switch was especially confusing; we’d be in full conversation one minute and then suddenly I’d get nothing more than a disinterested “hmm” out of him, leaving me to wonder what I’d done wrong.
As his assistant, I spent most of my time sitting at a desk at the back of the room, where I could oversee everything and jump in when needed. I loved it at first; it felt really good when I could help out or contribute something useful to the lesson. However, it became increasingly stressful as more and more of my time was spent correcting his mistakes or filling in the gaps whilst trying not to step on his ego or damage our reputation in the process.
My father seemed more concerned with his image than with the safety and validity of what he was teaching. He loved to be seen as the most knowledgeable person in the room, he’d rather lie than admit that he didn’t know something. A master in bluff, he could be incredibly convincing while spreading information that was false or incomplete, sometimes leading to very sticky situations. But even then, he seldom owned up to his mistakes. Instead, he’d try to convince everyone he was right, blame it on someone else, or he'd just make it seem like the mistake was intentional. I shit you not, even that cliché statement ‘I was just checking to see if you were paying attention’ was deployed.
It frustrated and worried me that these people trusted my father blindly, and he handled it so carelessly. At the very least, they were receiving false information. But worst-case scenario, they could get hurt during training, or they could be learning inadequate skills and hurting others when putting them to practice somewhere down the line. And as if that wasn’t bad enough; now that my name was linked to NLPro, if my father did ever take the fall, he’d effectively drag me and my future down with him. And so, I was constantly alert as I frantically tried to intercept any balls he dropped.
If I caught him out, his response depended on whether he could reasonably talk his way out of it. If I was within my area of expertise, he’d be more inclined to chuckle, thank me, and weave my contribution into the lesson. If not, he’d tell me I was wrong and point out that he was ahead of me in training and I’d probably just misunderstood or missed that particular subject. As you can imagine, this caused a lot of confusion and self-doubt on my end.
Never the less, I didn’t see malintent in my father’s behavior. I assumed that he meant well, even though his execution wasn’t always up to par. But that’s why we made such a good team; my qualities and expertise overlapped where he fell short and vice versa. So, when I got annoyed or frustrated, or when I got the feeling that something wasn’t quite right, I told myself that I was being mean, nit-picky or arrogant. It wasn’t my job to judge him for the balls he dropped, it was my job to catch them. Our results were a combined effort, after all. And he’d do the same for me. Besides, I didn’t plan to stay forever. I had my own dreams, my own business (Soulfire) was slowly coming off the ground, and one day I’d be ready to fly out on my own. In the meantime, I’d just make it work.
THE DESSERT SPOON
By the time 2019 rolled around, I wasn’t the only one to notice that something weird was going on. His questionable behavior becoming more overt by the day, it soon took all the cognitive dissonance that I could muster just to be able to keep giving him the benefit of the doubt. But with the stakes so high, I suppose my subconscious had good reason to stay in denial for as long as I did.
Up until then, all the puzzle pieces that presented themselves to me had been inconspicuous or open to multiple interpretations. But what happened in January 2019 is still etched into my brain as the moment that the façade began to waver and pennies began to drop.
With NLPro growing steadily, my father decided to expand our team. My mother took care of administration, my youngest brother completed his own NLP training and joined us as a coach and training assistant, and a young woman we’ll call Amanda was recruited for marketing and social media. Initially a coaching client, Amanda had been seeing my father for relationship therapy with her husband, and they both took part in our NLP Practitioner training. That’s how I knew her, too.
Although I’d noticed that my father was very friendly with her, I didn’t think much of it. I was used to seeing him in guru-mode, exerting his charisma and being overly amical with everyone, and I knew him to be a little…oblivious, or tone-deaf at times. Nowadays I wonder if he was just playing dumb all those years, but at the time I was convinced that although he acted like an idiot sometimes, it was innocent. My mother and my brother weren’t too sure though, and they voiced their concerns more than once. I suppose that from my biased standpoint, I didn’t see what was happening right under my nose. Until of course, the evening came that my father took us all out for a celebratory business-dinner and proceeded to hand-feed Amanda whipped cream from his dessert spoon.
Yet even after walking out ahead of his wife and kids to the restaurant, arm in arm with a giggling, stiletto clad Amanda, choosing his seat beside her at the dinner table and performing this peculiar mating ritual right in front of our eyes, he seemed surprised by our dismay upon returning home. My mother was hurt, my brother was pissed, I was confused…yet my father maintained that he and Amanda were just friends and we all needed to stop overreacting.
Although he didn’t understand the problem, he agreed to distance himself from her and keep their interactions professional. Yet lo and behold, just a few evenings later, Amanda called him from a gas station in the middle of nowhere, where she’d been left behind by her husband after an argument. It was late, he’d only just returned home and scarfed down his dinner, but before he’d even told my mum about his day, he leapt off the couch and started the car. Jumping to the rescue, he picked Amanda up and took her home with him, consoling her as she wept on my parents’ sofa.
To her credit, my mother kept her cool, though needless to say she was not amused. My brother on the other hand, ever protective of our mother, didn’t even try to hide his feelings on the matter as he completely went off at my father.
To them, it was clear as day that something unsavory was going on. But for me, through the lens of my loyalty bias, I didn’t see it yet. Looking back, I feel so stupid that I actually jumped into the crossfire to protect him. I took on a mediating role as I tried to keep the peace and restore the status quo, assuring everyone that he was just overdoing it with the nice-guy gig, blissfully unaware of how he came off. I desperately tried to convince everyone that it was just big misunderstanding. But over time, things got weirder and weirder until they became impossible to deny, even for me.
Before Amanda had completed her training under my fathers’ wing, the quality of which is up for debate, he had already promoted her to the position of assistant trainer. She always showed up early and they were attached at the hip for the rest of the day. I could hardly even get a word in, he dismissed me entirely. He was an entirely different person around her, acting goofy as though he were trying to dial down his age, regurgitating cliché motivational quotes that he didn’t actually live by, developing a sudden taste for her go-to beverage, fresh ginger tea, and uploading sentimental Facebook posts about his dead parents despite having basically shunned them in the past. It seemed as though he was mirroring her, drawing her in, and she fell hard for it.
Although he maintained that their relationship was strictly professional, they eventually got sloppy. Their constant flirting was nauseating and uncomfortable to watch, and with so many other clients around, I was terrified that they’d soon be caught in the act. They didn’t seem too bothered though, my father at some point even sitting down right next to me at lunch while playing footsy with Amanda under the table. Not wanting to draw attention to the matter, I held my tongue until I could get him alone. But when I asked him to stop flirting in front of everyone, he put on the most innocent face he could muster and replied: “What are you talking about? I'm not doing anything.”
At some point, a mutual acquaintance in his office building told me that she regularly saw them slip into his office together and place the flip-over in front of the window, hiding their faces but leaving a view of their legs standing…suspiciously close together, as she put it. They were not leaving much up to imagination, but even then, I hoped that it wasn’t what it looked like.
Maybe I just didn’t want to see it. I mean, think about it. My own father, my partner in crime and the man I’d just entrusted my entire future to, seemed to be having an affair with his coaching client. A young woman just two months older than myself, with plenty of issues of her own, who had initially been seeing him for relationship therapy, of all things. Granted, my dad is not a registered therapist so it technically isn’t illegal. But it’s definitely frowned upon, and for good reason; general grossness aside, there’s an undeniable power imbalance at play there. It’s just not ok.
What’s more, if people found out, it’d ruin his reputation and credibility in the field, risking the future of his own business as well as tainting mine by association. If he took the fall for this, he’d drag me down with him. Having just quit my job, I was financially dependent on NLPro. And aiming to build up my own career in the field, both my future and my dreams were on the line along with the roof over my head. My father didn’t seem bothered by this at all. In fact, he seemed perfectly aware of his leverage over me as his behavior became more erratic by the day and he didn’t even really bother to mask it anymore. Whether it be cockiness, sloppiness or just plain assholery, I think he assumed that with so much to lose, I’d keep my mouth shut and take whatever he threw at me.
Furthermore, the way he held himself throughout the situation was beyond hurtful to those closest to him. He treated his family like a cast-off doormat, shoving his own wife and children aside for the high of others’ attention and adoration. Dancing around the truth and beating around the bush, he continued to drag the whole thing out as he frantically evaded any form of accountability.
But still, even with this situation added to the list of questionability surrounding his person, nothing in me assumed malintent. Sure, he had some issues and he’d done some stupid things, but hey, we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Hurt and angry as I was, I still believed that my dad was a good person at heart and we’d eventually figure this out, just like everything else.
I guess I still hadn’t clicked enough puzzle pieces together to see the full picture. But that day was coming closer, looming on the horizon like a flock of birds heading straight for the blades of a windmill.
I didn’t know it yet, but the shit was about to hit the fan…
We meet again. Welcome back.
In my previous blog, I talked about some of the important life changes I made in 2021 and let you in on how I’ve been doing lately with my mental health. There have been massive changes all-round, and I still have some explaining to do in terms of how all that came to be.
I mentioned the fact that c-PTSD, which I was recently diagnosed with, finds its roots in repeated and prolonged trauma, often starting in early childhood. I also referred to the great fucktastrophy of 2019, but had not yet gotten around to telling you what that exactly entails.
It’s a long story full of plot twists, segways, interwoven storyline, smoke and mirrors; I’m still in the process of untangling the confusing chaos myself, and finally writing it all down is just another way in which I’m slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together as I process and move on. So, if you’re along for the ride, buckle up, buttercup…it’s going to be a wild one.
In order to understand what happened and why it had such a huge impact, you need to know a little more about me and my history. Let me start with a bit of a back story….
SETTING THE SCENE
Rewind back to 2016 for a second, to my 30th birthday.
I brought all my old bands back together and organized a giant jam session just for the occasion, inviting everyone I cared about to join us. It was a memorable evening involving some pretty epic shit, including but not limited to a guitarist in a fur coat and a giraffe legging, and my dreadlocks somehow getting tangled in the guitar strings at one point. I still think of that night often, it meant so much to me. When I walked into that venue, hung up the balloons, welcomed my guests, climbed onto the stage and sang my lungs out for four hours straight, I wasn’t just celebrating my birthday, I was celebrating that I was finally alive.
As you know, I’ve had my struggles in the past and dealt with depression, anxiety, self-injury and eating disorders for over a decade. After roaming the mental healthcare system for many years without sustainable results, I’d almost resigned to “just learning to live with it”, since that’s what I was repeatedly told by the countless professionals who couldn’t figure out what to do with me.
It was pure grace that I met my coach when I did, leading me to discover a vastly different approach that actually worked for me. With her support, I embarked upon a challenging journey as I took full responsibility for my own health and happiness. Working incredibly hard on myself, I faced my demons, challenged my limiting beliefs, healed old wounds, built and strengthened relationships, learned new tools, got my life on track and I was finally standing on my own two feet. I had secured my dream job teaching biology at a school that I absolutely loved, I’d gathered a tribe of wonderful people around me, created a nice little home for myself and I was finally living life to the fullest.
Although I knew there was still work to be done, I really believed that the dog days were finally over and I had come out the other end a stronger and better version of myself. For the first time in my life, I was fully alive, healthy and happy. Genuinely happy.
HOPES AND DREAMS
My recovery left me feeling equal parts euphoria and sheer outrage. I mean, not only had I just spent a decade of my life needlessly suffering, wandering through a broken system and unaware that there were other options…but there were so many others out there still doing that same thing!
Now that I was aware that there were better, more effective options, I wanted to learn more so I could continue to heal and grow, and learn to help others as well. After all, I had navigated that dark labyrinth, I knew it like the back of my hand and now I also knew the way out. I simply could not -in good conscience- just happily skip off into the sunset and keep that knowledge all to myself.
One of the methods my coach used was Neuro Linguistic Programming. I already had some prior experience, since I’d briefly worked with an NLP coach in the past and I’d minored in coaching during my Batchelor’s degree. But now I also had this profound personal experience with it and the results were so spectacular that I was excited to learn the methods for myself. After all, up until then practically the whole world had been trying to convince me that my mental health – or rather, the lack thereof – was a life sentence and there was nothing anyone could do to change that. And just look at me now! That shit’s golden, and I felt compelled to pay it forward.
I saw myself helping those who, like me, found themselves struggling and spinning in circles in the psychiatric system, believing that they would never recover simply because the conventional route did not meet their needs. I even hoped to one day develop more effective treatment methods, train therapists and make this type of healthcare more accessible.
Obviously, I didn’t plan to achieve all this overnight, or even over a decade for that matter.
It was more of a long-term passion project that I wanted to do alongside my teaching job. Although that may seem impractical to some, that’s just how I roll. I love having projects alongside a steady job. The stable income provides me with the freedom to authentically go all-out on my passions.
Take my work at the gym, for example: since I’m freelance and not financially dependent on it, I’m free to choose which classes I teach and when. That way, I can fully focus on the ones that suit me best or that are most important to me, and leave the rest for someone else. Honestly, it doesn’t even feel like work. It’s more like a paid hobby and it gives me more energy than it costs.
So, I wanted to approach coaching the same way. Money out of the way, I’d focus fully on the clients that best fit my target-group and take enough time to expand my skills and knowledge. Ever better: I could help people for free or at low cost, thus lowering the threshold for people who couldn’t afford ‘alternative’ help. I didn’t have a timeline in mind, but I was keen as mustard!
MAKING IT HAPPEN
You probably haven’t noticed this about me – insert sarcasm - but I’m one of those people with a ridiculously large collection of hobbies and a broad scope of interests. And once I latch on to something, there is no holding back. I’m going to dive in and immerse myself entirely, because half-assed does not exist when it comes to the things that I’m passionate about.
So, once I had my sights set on learning to coach and changing the mental health game, I couldn’t wait to start paving the way. My first step was finding the right trainer, and I knew that the person who had trained my own coach just so happened to be one of the best in his field. Wanting to acquaint myself first, I scooted on over to his website and scrolled through all of the options for shorter experience workshops. They all seemed equally interesting, so I just signed up for the next one on the agenda: Analytic Profiling.
Then, later that week, I spontaneously invited my father to tag along. It’s actually kinda funny how that happened. Over at my parent’s place for dinner, I walked in on two of my brothers arguing with one another as my father unsuccessfully tried to mediate by imposing his solution on them without actually listening to their needs. Having observed the situation, we later struck up a conversation about the patterns I’d seen and I offered some ideas for a more effective approach. Now, that may sound like a bit of a weird topic of conversation between a father and his kids, so for context I should add that my father and I have many common interests, and as a businessman and a total geek for logic and analysis, he was quite open to discuss communication strategies with me, especially since it could benefit him in the future.
Anyway, my analysis must have piqued his interest as he asked me where I’d been learning that stuff. So, telling him about my own coaching trajectory and my ambitions, I invited him to come along to the workshop. Knowing for sure he’d absolutely love it, I thought it would be a cool father-daughter activity. And if it ended up being beneficial to our personal development and our family dynamic, then that would be an added bonus.
Initially, my father was a little hesitant. He argued that he’d tried before, but he could never seem to find a trainer that was ‘far enough above him to teach him anything new’. Eventually, I managed to convince him that if he really was interested and if finding a trainer was the bottleneck, a one-day workshop would be a great way to test the waters. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
And so that next Friday, we showed up at the venue together and spent the day learning all about the fascinating world of micro-expressions and body language. We had an absolute blast and lo and behold, my father was so enthusiastic that he enrolled for two training courses on the spot.
I was extremely keen to participate myself but I couldn’t afford the tuition just yet and I was pretty bummed about the prospect of having to wait a few more years. You can imagine my elation when I was offered the opportunity to participate at a discount, so that my father and I could do the NLP Practitioner training together!
Looking back, I’m sure that the trainer saw something happening that very first day at the workshop and had good reason to train me alongside my father. I wasn’t aware of it then, but would provide me with tools and insight that would come to be of vital importance in the near future and for that I’m eternally grateful. But at the time, I was simply thrilled to get started on what turned out to be a life-changing journey that continued on through many more courses, including NLP Master Practitioner and Master Coach of Strategic Intervention. I had a dream, and I was making it happen!
My father and I commenced our training together in the spring of 2016. It was an exciting time, I was completely obsessed with everything new I was learning as I put my skills to practice and spent every spare minute devouring books, videos and every scrap of knowledge I could add to that.
And if you thought I was fanatic, wait ‘till you hear about my dad. He raced ahead as he always does, and within just a few months he decided to pull a 180, leave his current occupation and start his own coaching and training business. Business cards were printed, a website was set up and his first clients were hauled in all before he had even completed his first course. He was soon well underway with huge plans and aspirations, and the most exciting part was: he wanted me to be a part of it!
My father’s new business, NLPro, expanded quickly alongside his ever-growing ambitions. Considering my own aspirations, it didn’t take long for us to start collaboratively fantasizing about future endeavors. My father planned to continue expanding his business with coaching, workshops and training in personal development as I planned to carefully start coaching alongside my teaching job, working to build a foundation from which I could impact the mental health system in the future.
Although we both followed a different timeline and approach, there was enough common ground for us to consider joining forces, combining my personal experience and teaching skills with his boldness and entrepreneurial experience. We could refer clients to one another, develop and teach new training courses…we’d be having fun and making an impact at the same time!
As this project was so close to my heart, I really wanted to take my time and do it right. It was an exciting yet daunting prospect, as it required my venturing out into vastly unknown terrain and putting myself out there. As a lone wolf who doesn’t enjoy networking or asking for help, I had to let go of my primary instinct to do everything by myself. But for a cause so important to me, I was willing to set aside my hesitance and accept that collaboration was essential to making it work. Considering the relationship I had with my father, I concluded that if I was going to take the dive and trust someone to hold my best interest at heart, my own dad was my safest bet.
They say that first-born daughters always look like a female version of their dad. Well, my younger father had long hair, leather pants and a rock band and I swear that if you photoshop my teenage face on that mental image, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
My father and I have a lot in common, not just in looks. For instance, we’re both thinkers, cerebral and analytical. We get high on learning, information our drug of choice and book collections bursting out of their seams as we consume facts and theory as though our lives depend on it. We’re fast learners with an extensive and ever-growing array of hobbies and interests; whatever we dive into, we’re immersed in no time at all and we aim to master it quickly and proficiently.
We are also both incredibly creative and share a passion for music, which is probably what we bonded over the most. We both sing and play various instruments, took part in musical theatre, visited many concerts, played together at parties and family gatherings and even formed a band for a while. That was our gig, pun intended. He was prouder of my talents and achievements than I was, and just loved showing me off to anyone willing to listen, no matter how awkward I felt about it.
With so much in common, it makes sense that I naturally leaned more towards him. I was a real daddy’s girl and I thought the sun shone out of his ass. He was so smart, charming and resilient, there was nothing he didn’t know or couldn’t do. Everybody seemed to love him, and the few who didn’t were either jealous or threatened by him. Craving his approval, I wanted to be just like him.
Looking back though, I wonder if I really was that close to my dad, or rather to the image of him that I’d created in my mind. You see, my father wasn’t really around much during my childhood. I was hardly aware of it at the time, but he was always either at work or out somewhere chasing his latest passion. If it wasn’t band rehearsal, he was training search dogs or dangling under a helicopter whilst on a Search and Rescue mission in the New Zealand bush.
It was easy to hold up an illusion of him as the coolest dad ever, and to view my mother as the ‘bad cop’ who always spoiled the fun. After all, my mother bore the brunt of our upbringing and my father was more of a superficial presence who fixed things, brought gifts and told cool stories.
My mum basically raised four kids on her own. Five, if you count my father. She tells me that she simply accepted that my father was the kind of person who, brilliant as he was, needed to be left free to do his thing. So, she cleared the path for him. Working from home, my mum held down the fort, taking on an extra job at the supermarket in the early hours of the morning just to keep a roof over our heads when business was slow. She was also the voice of reason whenever my dad’s ideas, plans or promises became too risky or fantastical. My mother was the stable factor in our household.
My dad could be quite a whirlwind; extremely ambitious, and often impulsive, careless and full of hot air. He always had some new plan or idea that he was convinced would make it big, and it always leaned on the premise “fake it ‘till you make it”. Refusing to acknowledge risks or failure, he never bothered to be cautious or prepare for potential problems. He just went for it, and he’d figure it out along the way, no safety net required.
Although his bravado and optimism often got him very far, very fast…it did come at a price. He took his chances and often enough this led him to great heights, but the knife cuts both ways. Things didn’t always go according to plan, leaving a trail of destruction that was somehow always someone else’s fault and someone else’s job to clean up. But no matter what, he was always quick get up, dust himself off and move on. It was one of the things I admired most about him, though I didn’t realize until much later that he could never have done it without my mum. She picked up the slack, she was the safety net. If anyone was taken for granted, it was definitely her.
Personally, I had a bit of a complicated relationship with my mother. For the longest time, I subconsciously assumed she didn’t like me very much. Looking back, we just didn’t understand each other very well and we often got our wires crossed. As a baby, I had bad digestive issues and I didn’t like to be held. Whenever she tried to cuddle me, I pushed her away. This left her feeling insecure, wondering if she was doing something wrong. Sensing her hesitation, I assumed that I must be faulty and we both ended up feeling some kind of unspoken rejection from one another.
My mum can also be pretty high-strung, which in my young brain translated itself to the conclusion that I needed to take care of myself, and protect her. Que the development of a hyper-independent miniature adult who preferred to be left to her own devices, as if I wasn’t stubborn enough to begin with. Both being very precise, strong willed and wanting things a certain particular way, our personalities just clashed. Thankfully, we get along a lot better these days.
To the outside world, I’m pretty sure we looked like a perfectly normal, happy family. And for the most part, we were. I mean, we were an odd bunch for sure but we hardly ever fought, we loved each other and we had our good times. But of course, every family has their ow problems and we were no exception to the rule.
My parents had their own struggles resulting from their own histories respectively, and in our household, we simply didn’t do vulnerability. We connected and communicated on a superficial level as we each co-existed on our own little islands, and difficult conversations, feelings and conflict were avoided like the plague; you just had to suck it up. Generally, we dealt with the hard stuff by ignoring, downplaying or rationalizing it and focusing solely on practical solutions.
Children aren’t born with the ability to navigate and regulate their own emotions; this is something we learn from our primary caretakers. Parents obviously do the best they can with the skills and knowledge that they have at their disposal, but their approach doesn’t always match the child’s needs. I can’t speak for my brothers, but personally, I felt like I couldn’t turn to my family for support if I was going through something difficult. I didn’t learn to regulate or navigate my emotions, needs and boundaries, in a healthy way; instead, I developed a whole myriad of unhealthy coping mechanisms along the way. Because unfortunately, I did experience some hard shit throughout my childhood that I could have used some help processing.
Our family immigrated twice, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely comes with its challenges. And for years, we lived in an unsafe neighborhood where it wasn’t at all unusual for the neighbors to slash our tires, smash our windows with empty beer bottles in the middle of the night or burgle our house while we were out for a swim. There was always tension under the radar, amplified by the fact that my parents both worked their asses off but could barely make ends meet.
Although they tried to hide it from us, I remember waking up one night to the sound of my parents crying in the next room, and suddenly being very aware: if even my dad is worried, we must really be in trouble. Aside from the struggles we had as a family, there were also things going on in my own life that I didn’t quite know how to handle. I was bullied relentlessly at school but I quickly learned not to come home upset, as I was told to either ignore it, or toughen up. I also experienced repeated sexual abuse at the hands of our next-door neighbor, which ended up in a court case and the whole shebang. Unfortunately, the emotional support and guidance that I needed was not up for grabs and I came up with my own creative, make-shift solutions such as dissociation, bottling things up, moving into my head, people pleasing, perfectionism and avoiding authentic connection. Those solutions got me through when I needed them, but obviously they weren’t exactly adequate for the long haul.
My relationship with my father was complex; as much as I loved and admired him, there was quite a flipside. There were certain patterns in his behavior that impacted me, our relationship and our family dynamic dramatically, and caused a lot of harm over the years.
To me, my father was a very confusing man. The things that he said and did, and the way he presented himself, didn’t seem to line up with how I felt when I was around him. He could be very controlling and manipulative, though in a subtle way that was practically invisible to the naked eye. On the surface, he was always a kind, charming paragon of politeness, reason, and understanding and because of that, it took me many years to figure out what was happening in the undertow.
A remnant of his own upbringing, my father often used guilt or emotional blackmail to bend me to his will. I was often told I was selfish, and from a young age he instilled in me his own version of the ‘emotional bank account’. Effectively, this meant that everything had strings attached. If I did something wrong or refused to do what he asked, he only needed to remind me of everything he’d done for me and hint at how my decision may affect our relationship the future, that would win me over. And if not, threatening ‘what will everybody think’ was a very effective way scare me straight.
As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy setting boundaries or communicating needs and feelings with him; he simply didn’t accept or acknowledge what didn’t suit him. Over the years, all this took on a life of its own in my brain as literally any social interaction became a transaction and I felt like I was in permanent debt. If someone so much as smiled at me on the street, I felt guilty. Hell, I even felt bad if I gave someone a gift or did them a favor, because by doing something for them, it could potentially make them feel guilty, and I felt bad for putting them in that position.
To my father, the notion that different views and opinions can co-exist, was foreign despite the Covey principles preached. He lived in a very black and white world; it’s either win or lose, you or me, and there’s only room for one truth. Thus, if our worlds ever collided, his primary objective was to make sure that his own world remained intact, and he would stop at nothing to achieve that.
As a child, I quickly learned that my feelings, experiences or needs were only valid if I could rationally back them up. The only way to create space for my own existence was to provide a rock-solid logical argument or an appealing lure to get the other person on board. To this day, I still feel compelled to over-explain everything and question myself all the time, not to mention my knee-jerk reaction to immediately try to win over anyone who has a different opinion from my own before I lose my right to exist. I don’t like that about myself, and it takes a conscious effort to work around it.
Discussions with my father were a mind-fuck of epic proportion, I often left conversations feeling drained, confused and empty. Smart and quick witted as he was, he’d have you buried under an avalanche of information and trapped in his web of logic in no time. He was incredibly convincing and persuasive, yet also freakishly good at conjuring guilt and shame from the crevices of your mind. And the most mind-boggling of it all, was that his calm and rational good-guy exterior never faltered.
During conflict, I felt immobilized. His tactics ensnared me like vines wrapping around my limbs, his calm demeanor making it so that I couldn’t possibly express myself without looking like the bad guy, or like a crazy, irrational drama queen. And so, internally, I was screaming to be heard as I thrashed around and hurtled myself against the bars of a sound-proof cage, breaking my bones with the sheer force of my own frustration. Conflict always tore me up inside, because if I chose myself, it would inevitably result in disconnection from the other person, but choosing to comply would lead to disconnection from myself. I had to choose between two evils and I usually ended up choosing the latter, thus learning to sacrifice my authentic self in order to receive love and acceptance. Conflict still terrifies me, although it’s really the loneliness and the pain of the disconnect that I’m afraid of.
My father was also very achievement-oriented and could be extremely critical. I assume his intention was to help me grow and improve, but keen as I was on earning his approval, his pushing caused a lot of frustration and performance anxiety on my end.
I remember being twelve years old and signing up for a talent competition. My dad was probably more excited than I was, and he made it his mission to see me win. Devising a makeshift microphone stand out of an oar attached upside-down to a chair and a microphone duct taped to the handle, he had me rehearse my song over and over for weeks, adding props and choreography, videotaping me and reviewing my performance dozens of times. Unsurprisingly, I eventually got sick of it and I told him I wanted to continue on my own. My father got incredibly angry and argued that I’d never win if I didn’t stick with his plan. When I replied that I just wanted to have fun and I didn’t care if I won, he yelled: “That’s ridiculous, no one does these things for fun. You’re either in it to win it, or you’re out”. When I disagreed, he exclaimed: “Well, don’t come crying to me when you lose!” When I ended up winning second place, he was the first to brag about my achievement, though.
I also clearly remember an incident following my first parent-teacher conference at high-school after moving to the Netherlands. Considering the fact that I’d just moved half way around the world, learned a new language and adjusted to a completely different education system, I was quite proud of my results, as was my mentor. Coming home expecting a pat on the head, you can imagine my shock and bewilderment when I was suddenly standing with my back pressed to the fridge as my father got up in my face and began loudly reprimanding me for not trying hard enough.
My father was very intelligent, but he had a hard time meeting people at their level of understanding. He loved to help out, but to be honest, his help often left me feeling more insecure and bewildered than I felt beforehand. I will say that I quickly learned never to ask him for help with my homework as having him explain math to my dyscalculic brain was a recipe for disaster. His last attempt ended with me in tears of frustration and him yelling in my face: “Oh come on, you’re not even trying! You’re just pretending to be a moron!”
Accepting help from my father was a precarious thing. His love of teaching and helping others may seem like a noble cause, but I often got the impression that it had more to do with his need to be needed, or to be seen as special and interesting. An opportunity to showcase how good, smart, nice and helpful he was. The way he pressured me, led me to believe that my success was very important to him. And it was, especially when others were watching; he loved to show me off. But the way he helped me often set me up for failure, for example by giving me incomplete, vague or incorrect information, feeding my insecurities and pushing me into the deep end before I was ready, eventually leading to my defeat along with the inevitable blows to my self-confidence. It was almost as though he wanted me successful and independent in public, but he also needed me to fail and be dependent on him behind the scenes. I walked a tightrope trying to balance the two.
What I learned from all this, was that lacking a certain skill or piece of information was not acceptable. And so, I would avoid or run from situations, bluff my way through, anything to avoid asking for help or admitting incompetence. I mastered figuring things out for myself, always keeping my eyes and ears open to pick up missing puzzle pieces. Any venture had to be done right the first time, and it had to look easy. I lived in a constant fear of being unmasked, ridiculed and cast out, an imposter amongst all these people who knew what they were doing.
I had adapted myself to observe and learn quickly, making me as independent as possible. I didn't want to need anyone. Yet the constant anxiety simultaneously kept me tethered to my dad. I was unknowingly under his control, convinced that I needed him to help me navigate this big scary world. I felt helpless, so ignorant about the ways of the world and yet unpermitted to make mistakes or to ask for help. I felt paralyzed, and his 'support' was the medicine that I kept taking, believing that it was helping me while it was actually what was paralyzing me in the first place.
My father described our relationship as close and special, and I always said the same. Yet deep down, I felt as though I didn’t really know him at all. He was like a chameleon, morphing into a different person around everyone he met. His demeanor, stories, interests and opinions changed along with whoever he was talking to and who was around to hear it, and went flat when they left.
He had a way of fluffing and hyping things up, making them seem more important or special than they were. Making promises he didn’t or couldn’t keep and grand gestures that seemed out of place, I’d often come away feeling awkward or disappointed, and then I’d scold myself for being so ungrateful. I even remember accusing myself of setting him up for failure by setting my expectations too high, or not expressing myself clearly enough. He was only doing his best; I needn’t be so mean.
I often wondered why I felt so awkward, subdued and on edge around him. I didn’t get why I felt scared, why I didn’t trust him and why I didn’t feel safe even though he was such a loving and supportive father. I assumed it was my own fault and I felt horribly guilty about that, so outwardly I did all that I could to ignore and counteract it. I trusted him and let him in because I felt like I was supposed to, even when my gut protested.
There were always little things, whether it be the bluff, the white lies, the unkept promises or the overly-enthusiastic pushing of boundaries, but I always brushed them off as quirks, assuming that my dad had his heart in the right place. I loved him all the same.
When I got into NLP, I slowly started seeing all these patterns. Sure, I’d gained some basic insight from the few family therapy sessions we’d had all those years ago, but only to the extent that I was aware there was some unhealthy shit going on. This time around, I was really bringing it all out into the light and exploring it in depth. And since my father and I were both in that training, I figured it was time to have an open and honest conversation with him about these patterns, and about how his behavior had affected me over the years. He responded surprisingly well, acknowledging that he had a tendency to be manipulative and opening up about his own childhood and how it had shaped him. He seemed to be gaining a lot of insight and he was really committed to changing toxic patterns and improving his relationships. I even saw him taking steps and making big changes as the training went on, which felt really good and which strengthened my trust in him. As time went by, we grew closer and our relationship stronger as did my faith in our future collaborations.
Little did I know that my entire life and everything I thought I knew was about to be flipped upside down, torn to shreds and burned to the ground…
To be continued.
Isn’t it weird how time can seem to pass in the blink of an eye, yet simultaneously feel as though many lifetimes have gone by?
Throughout 2015 and 2016, I wrote down my struggles, strides and victories, sharing with you my journey of healing, recovery and growth. I left off with my last blog ‘2016: Stardust & Duct tape’, though I was by no means “done”, nor was I under any pretense that my life would be smooth sailing from then on. But I was on the right track and I was in a really good place.
If you are at all acquainted with Murphy’s Law, you’re probably expecting a curve ball at this point. Yeah, so was I. But let me tell you, out of all the unexpected that you learn to expect…this particular curve ball was more like a rogue wrecking ball doused in gasoline and set to ignite.
For a long time, I’ve been feeling the urge to write it all down and get it out of my system. But I was so entangled in bewilderment and confusion that I simply couldn’t find the words, and I didn’t want to kick up a fuss. Part of me was terrified that speaking out would lead to ramifications. So, I held my tongue, but in doing so…I also held myself hostage.
And I’m done with that.
So here we are…
SO, HOW AM I NOW?
I’ve noticed over the years that how well I’m doing tends to be inversely proportional to how well I take that question, and I’d say that right now I handle the topic about just as well as the Wicked Witch of the West handles the rain. Meaning, I avoid it like the plague. So yeah, nah, I’m going to be perfectly honest with you here as there’s no point in denying it: I’m not feeling well.
Times are tough, though they have been tougher. And yeah, I’m tough too, but I have my limits and those have been heavily tested over the past three years. I’d like to share what’s been going on and just how I got to this point, but it’s hard to know where to begin. So, I suppose I’ll just start in the present and work my way back from there.
STATING THE OBVIOUS
So, we can all agree that 2020 was a bitch, right? I think I can safely assume that we’re on the same page there. I don’t know about you, but personally I spent that shitshow pouring every last bit of my energy into treading water as I tried to stay afloat. Since going with the flow was basically the only option we had, I let the waves come and go as I focused solely on keeping my head above the water until the storm would eventually pass. Obviously, that didn’t go as planned or expected.
When the clock struck midnight that New Year’s Eve, I probably wasn’t the only one who toasted to the wishful thought that 2021 would be better: it would be our ticket out. But alas, it pretty quickly proved to be more of a sequel, as covid numbers peaked again and we were launched into yet another round of lockdowns and restrictions.
Thanks to a very well trained and extremely stubborn built-in auto-pilot function, I did a pretty good job of at least making it seem like I was keeping it together. However, by the time the July lockdown of 2021 was being deliberated, I wasn’t so sure I could steer clear of a complete mental breakdown anymore. The people around me were dropping like flies, falling apart at the seams and burning out. I felt the same inside, but as exasperated as I felt, I had to keep going.
In practical terms, I had already lost so much income that I was scared of ending up on the streets. Coincidentally and thankfully, about a month before shit went down, a totally unrelated situation (which I’ll talk more about later) forced me to take a job in a supermarket which effectively turned me into an essential worker.
Minimum wage kept me coughing up my rent during lockdown, though the job did come at a price. Working a dead-end job in a toxic work environment caused a level of stress that I wouldn’t have accepted had I had anywhere else to go. But jobs were hard to come by and after a while it also became apparent that my own business wasn’t going to survive; I had to give up my office and close my practice for good in order to avoid going bust. So, in terms of career or income, the future was looking bleak. I didn’t like where I was, but I had no place else to go and I couldn’t afford to stop what I was doing just yet.
Mentally, the situation in the world was just as much of an onslaught: the stress of losing my income, my business and my sense of autonomy, along with the effects of isolation, losing the things that made life worthwhile or enjoyable and the lack of perspective as the goalpost was shifted over and over again. And with the government act like an overbearing, toxic parent I felt coddled, gaslit, controlled, triangulated and guilt-tripped. With everyone so strung out, nobody seemed capable of having an open, adult conversation anymore; no matter what your opinion, you could be sure that if you opened your mouth, someone else would attack or ostracize you for it. The constant tension in the air and the ever-growing level of polarization and social control was extremely overwhelming.
What’s more, logic was nowhere to be found, thus there was no way to predict what would happen next or when any of this would come to an end. And usually, when times are tough, I escape in my own mind with fantasies about fleeing to a far-away place. But with the entire world involved, even those thoughts were quickly blocked off. I felt trapped, and that drove me crazy. It triggered feelings and memories of things that I did not want to be reminded of.
The past three years have been hell. I have yet to tell you was happening in my private life, but I don’t think I need to explain that the pandemic made things exponentially worse. That cocktail has kept me oscillating between complete numbness and extreme waves of frustration, grief and anxiety for the past few years now. It’s quite the joyride, let me tell you.
You probably wouldn’t tell just by looking at me, though. I tend to freeze under stress, which outwardly looks like I’m perfectly calm and collected amidst the storm. Internally, I may very well be burning to the ground, running around in circles with my arms flapping above my head as I scream bloody murder. Honestly, since about half way through 2020 the only thing that’s been keeping me sane is thinking of death. Reminding myself that there’s an escape rope, reduces the need to escape.
Now before you balk at that, let me clarify that in my brain thoughts of death are a pretty common occurrence at any given time. They’ve been there as long as I can remember and I’ve long since learned to embrace them, as they come from an allied part of me with an important message. Those thoughts generally don’t mean that I want to die. It’s quite the opposite: I want to live, just not like this. I have learned to interpret them as a warning sign that I’m living against my own truth, a signal that there’s something going on that needs to be addressed and resolved. So, in reality those thoughts serve a function to keep me safe and whole. Though I agree their way of communicating is a little…unconventional.
Anyway, what I mean to say is that my exterior doesn’t always accurately mirror what’s going on inside. In all honesty, I’m really struggling at the moment and I have been for quite a while.
I’ve gathered some really valuable tools over the years and I’ve been using them at full force. I’m incredibly grateful for them; they get me a long way and I’m pretty sure I would have been much worse off without them. But at this point, it’s like I’m trying to empty the ocean with a thimble.
I recently came to a point where I realized that I’m in way over my head with it all, and it’s time to ask for help. I may have a pretty decent tool-box, but sometimes you need an objective set of eyes and an extra pair of hands. After all, if I were the world’s best surgeon and I broke my back in an accident, I wouldn’t operate on myself either. It was time to admit that I was down for the count and I needed to call back-up. More on that later.
REBUILDING FROM GROUND ZERO
If you know me personally or if you follow me on socials, you may have noticed that I made some pretty significant life changes in 2021. My surname changed, my job, my house…What can I say, after the great global constipation that was 2020, I certainly didn’t waste any time!
It’s starting to sound like I’m about to slap you in the face with an aesthetic picture of some avocado toast, captioned with a vague inspirational quote about raising your vibration and creating your best life. Good thing I’m not a fan of avocado toast, because I’d make a pretty lousy influencer with this one. I can assure you it wasn’t all that motivated or motivating at all.
Despite the magnitude of the steps that I took in 2021, I did not have a specific goal or vision in sight. I wasn’t really feeling much of anything at all, to be honest. The reality is quite bland: after about a year of drifting with the current, I concluded that without an end in sight I had no choice but to change strategies. As Winston Churchill said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. After all, you wouldn’t want to stay in hell. There you go, there’s your quote.
But yeah, I guess I just realized that if I didn’t start swimming soon, I was going to end up drifting too far from shore to find my way back. The options were ‘sink or swim’, and since I wasn’t ready to drown just yet, I felt obligated to pick the latter.
By January 2021, I was running on empty and desperately trying to find even the tiniest drop of fuel to keep me going. Options were very limited, so I had to be creative. I took that quite literally when I started scrapbooking just so that I could physically flip through the pages and remind myself of the things that I loved, whenever my mind went dark and my ability to visualize them failed me.
What started out as a collection of random collages, ended up turning into a list of short-term wishes and goals for the year and I noticed that it helped perk me up whenever I felt hopeless and grey. Some of the items were small and silly, like doing the sour candy challenge or trying a particular foreign breakfast cereal. Those things made me smile and were relatively easy to achieve, giving me the added sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from crossing things off a list. And we all know I’m a sucker for that.
Eventually, though, I added a couple of really big things to the list. When I wrote them down, I didn’t even think they were attainable. They were complicated, expensive or required decisions or actions by other people…and they definitely did not meet the criteria of smart goal-setting. But by dubbing my items ‘wishes’ instead of ‘goals’, I had found a loophole in my brain that allowed me to add anything that felt good to fantasize about or look forward to, without feeling demotivated by an unreasonably high bar or the possibility that I wouldn’t cross it off that year. Without the pressure, I felt free to explore my desires, grasp opportunities and take any possible action on my part. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. As it turned out, that approach worked wonders for me. By the end of the year, I’d managed to complete about 90% of the list including every single big “crazy” thing on it.
The first ‘big one’ I hauled in, was a new teaching job. I escaped from the supermarket in July and started at my new school at the end of August. It’s hard to start over and I’m exhausted, but it’s good to be back in the classroom, and my colleagues are absolutely fantastic. It’s nice to have some perspective again, as well as a stable income. The latter also made it possible to tick off the next big thing: a ‘new’ car, as my old one was on its dying breath. The week before school started, I bought a cool black Opel Astra with a damn good sound system, making my commute a lot more enjoyable.
No sooner had I finished celebrating those achievements when the next opportunity came crashing into my already full agenda; I was growing out of my tiny apartment, and I wanted to move. When I saw a nice two-bedroom maisonette with a garden on the social housing site, I applied for it knowing full and well that I hadn’t been on the waiting list long enough to be allegeable. Somehow, I got extremely lucky. The house belonged to the same housing corporation as my apartment, which gave me priority over the other respondents. And so, amidst the chaos of my first few school weeks, I found myself amidst even more chaos with all the painting, packing and moving as well. Worth it!
The last big thing on the list had actually been a work in progress since the end of 2020. I’d applied to have my surname changed, for reasons that I’ll get into later. The process is long, tedious, expensive and emotional, so when I checked the mail at my old apartment after having dropped off a few boxes at my new place, my heart leapt into my chest as I recognized the envelope. I sat on the floor as I opened the letter, and burst into tears of relief when I read the verdict: request approved.
What followed was a whole period of bureaucratic chaos as I had to renew all of my documents, accounts and registrations. But I can’t tell you how good it feels to finally see my new name on the mail, or to be called from a waiting-room as “Mevr. Roozendaal”.
If you were to ask me whether I’m happy or proud of what the things I achieved, I’d say yes. But it would be a rational answer, as I’m not really feeling it yet. For the majority of 2020, I managed to keep myself convinced that my declining mental health was situational and that it would get better after all this was over and I had gotten my life back on track. It’s what I needed to tell myself in order to keep moving. But deep down, I knew that it would be a little more complicated than that.
Things are still pretty chaotic now, but chances are that once things settle down and I have everything sorted, I’m going to be met with a tidal wave of unprocessed shit that I’ve been holding back all this time. Although I took care of the most pressing practical issues and things are actually looking up, I feel like emotionally I haven’t quite caught up yet.
Last December, I was at a birthday party standing at the table under the disco light whilst sipping at wine and chomping on cucumber sticks. My brother and his girlfriend were there, and we rolled into a conversation about how recent events were affecting us. Just before the pandemic hit, our family had been through something awful and we were both still dealing with the aftermath.
I was trying to convey to them how I’d been feeling lately, which was really hard. The best way I could describe it, was that it feels as though something fundamental inside me has broken. It feels like I’ve lost myself. Like that last little fragment of innocence that I had managed to keep intact all those years despite everything that I went through, has finally shattered.
Now hear me out…I know I’ve never exactly been a bundle of joy and I’m certainly not the most optimistic, confident or trusting person you’ll ever meet. I’ve always considered myself to be rather cynical and given my life experiences, that does kinda make sense. The thing is, even in my darkest times, I felt like there was always a little spark hiding in there somewhere. However small, there was always a part of me that saw the good in life and in people, and that believed everything would be alright in the end. Last time I wrote, I actually thought that I had made it there.
But since the great fucktastrophy of 2019-2020, something really changed significantly. Sometimes I don’t even recognize myself or the life that I’m living. And it doesn’t really compare to anything I’ve experienced before either, which is quite an achievement in itself given the broad spectrum of mental health stuff I’ve experienced over the years. Sometimes it concerns me, but at the same time it’s like I can’t be bothered to care.
For example; I didn’t even think I could get more cynical, given my starting point. Yeah, turns out, I was wrong about that. I also feel like I’ve become even less trusting than before, both towards myself and others. I see danger and toxicity everywhere I look, and sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees. I’m constantly asking myself: are there really that many shitty people in the world, or am I just more aware of it now? Maybe I’m biased, paranoid or just imagining things.
Don’t even ask me how many times I’ve retrieved my wallet or keys from the refrigerator lately, as my brain is foggy and my memory a sieve. Sometimes, my thoughts are interjected with jarring images and clips of awful things, my brain just randomly sprinkling them around like glitter. Halloween-glitter, if that’s even a thing.
For example, I’ll be in my car and suddenly I’ll see a horrific accident flashing before my eyes. When I pass someone in the park as I’m walking my dog, or when someone comes to my house to pick something up, I see the most brutal scenarios flash before my eyes in which I’m being overpowered, assaulted or even killed. I’m fully aware that these thoughts are not real and out of proportion, which is why I let them float on by as I just go about business as usual, but it’s not the most helpful contribution to my mental state.
My nervous system seems to be on high alert at all times, especially around other people. One certain look or tone of voice, a nearby disagreement or conflict (even if it doesn’t involve me), a sudden movement or a loud noise such as shouting or laughter; anything can send me into overdrive within a split second. My pulse spikes and I can hear my heart pounding in my ears as my face begins to flush and my legs go wobbly. It feels as though my internal organs have turned into cold, gravelly concrete that scratches my insides as my stomach knots up and my mouth goes dry. Then, my mind begins to spiral, taking me to dark places that don’t make any sense when I try to match them with the actual situation in front of me. At times like these, all I can do is breathe and wait for it to pass.
As you can probably imagine, I’m triggered a lot throughout the day considering there’s no shortage of people, loud noises and conflict in the world as is. Even more so when you work in a building full of boisterous teens four days a week. I’m already overstimulated by the time the first coffee-break rolls around and I’m in a constant state of exhaustion.
Just getting out of bed in the morning, being a functional adult and making it through the day is a challenge in itself. Currently, living feels like I’m navigating my way across a minefield, performing triage on my wounds as I go along. It’s a full-time job on top of the jobs I already have.
I put my remaining energy into the things that are strictly necessary, leaving me so overdrawn that I have no energy or motivation left to do anything else. Even brushing my teeth or cooking is a whole undertaking; you don’t know how many times I’ve resorted to eating cereal for dinner just because opening a bag of frozen vegetables –ironically bought for convenience – seems too much of a hassle.
Lately, I’ve been isolating myself more and more, physically and mentally. This leaves me feeling lonely and longing for deep connection, but at the same time I feel so intensely vulnerable and social interactions are so draining that I’d rather be left alone. So, I keep everyone at an arm’s length, no matter how kind or understanding they seem. Anything to ward off the intense feelings of anxiety, guilt and shame that are triggered whenever I let someone slip past my defenses and they get just a little too close. Ironically, I’m more afraid of the people I like than the people I don’t.
My need to retract and recharge has far exceeded my natural introverted tendencies. And well, that makes sense; with my body and mind repeatedly going haywire throughout the day and with me actively working to defuse that time and time again while continuing to function as normal, it’s a massive drain on my energy reserves.
I tried to come up with an analogy that might make this easier to understand, and I guess you could compare it to having an extreme sunburn. You might normally be cool with having people around, you might even be someone who enjoys physical touch. But if your skin is red and blistering and the layers underneath are exposed, it’s going to be searing with pain if someone even so much as looks at it, let alone touches it. No matter the person or the approach, you would yelp, jerk back or push them away before they even came close. And that’s me right now; so severely burned that it hurts to even be looked at. Nothing personal, but I’m going to keep my distance if you don’t mind.
Mood-wise, I’m on a rollercoaster that loops back and forth between extreme emotions and complete numbness. I don’t feel much of anything most of the time, just this continuous static that leaves me feeling bland, flat and grey as I go through the daily motions. It’s only when I’m triggered or when my frozen state thaws out, that I’m suddenly engulfed by overwhelming waves of anxiety, rage and grief. In an instant, I’m flooded by the intense urge to escape as impending doom closes in on me and I’m certain the world is about to end. Then, a split second later I’m hit with the realization that I’m an adult who simply has to function in that moment; there’s nowhere to run and resistance is futile. My brain registers the distress and deadpans: “Well, that’s no use, is it…” as it flicks a switch that flings me straight back into a frozen state, leaving me to act on auto-pilot.
I wouldn’t say that I’m depressed, despite the fact that it feels similar. When everything is just ‘meh’ and you can’t find enjoyment in the things that you used to love, it’s easy to draw that conclusion. But with all I’ve learned over the years about trauma and the intricate workings of the nervous system, I’m fully aware that I’m currently stuck in a fight-flight-freeze cycle and I’m living in survival mode. Don’t get me wrong, that system is a fantastic adaptation that’s doing exactly what it was made to do. Survival mode is a wonderful thing to have access to when you need it, and lord knows I needed it. But I also know that there’s a time and a place for it; it’s not a way of life and it’s not sustainable in the long run. There has to be a release at some point.
The 2019-shitshow, which I’ll get into later, reopened many old wounds, some of which I’d worked long and hard to heal and some that I didn’t even know existed in the first place. It also tore countless new, deep gashes into my system that effectively shredded apart my sense of self and my understanding of everything I thought I knew. Survival-mode was simply needed to keep me going until I could reach safety, and I did this knowing full and well that there would eventually be a time in the future when I’d come to a halt, settle back into my body and begin to process everything.
Looking at my life now, it seems that that time has come. I have salvaged what I could from the rubble, picked up the pieces and put my life back together as best I could. But now that I’ve finally made it to safety it seems that my body and mind are not getting the message.
Every now and then, I begin to thaw out a little and I can feel something stirring beneath the surface, reminding me that there’s a buttload of unprocessed shit to plow through and I have a long way to go. I’m quite factual about it here, but I can tell you I’m not looking forward to it. It’s like I’m going through a painful medical procedure under local anesthetic, acting tough and joking around as I watch it happen, all the while knowing that this is going to hurt like hell when the drugs wear off…
At the risk of sounding like I’ve been hit with the self-pity stick, I’ve got to be honest here and confess that I sometimes get really frustrated and sad over the unfairness of it all. Sometimes, it feels like I’m back at square one even though I rationally know that’s not true. It can be hard not to feel dejected, having worked so hard to recover and to rebuild my life only to have my hard-earned health and happiness torn away from me again a few short years later, by none other than the one person who should have cared the most for my wellbeing. And not only that, but to find that they planted and watered the very seeds of my struggles to begin with.
I want so badly to reach a point in my life where I can just settle down and cruise for a while. It doesn’t seem fair; I didn’t ask for any of this and it’s not even my mess to clean up…but here I am. Wallowing in the why and the woe isn’t going to get me anywhere though. I still believe that I’m responsible for my own healing, even if the wound wasn’t my fault. And I will do everything within my power to do just that. But that doesn’t keep me from cursing this fuckery from time to time.
CALLING IN REINFORCEMENT
Last summer, I started toying with the idea of going back into therapy. I was reluctant, since I haven’t had the best experience with the conventional route in the past. But a lot has changed since then. Nowadays, I take a lot more responsibility for my own process and I have a better idea of what I need, so I thought I could at least give it another chance.
Scouring the internet for the best options, I quickly discovered that the methods and approach I’m leaning towards are not covered by my insurance. That discouraged me and I gave up looking for a while, hoping that I would just start feeling better with time. Did I put my blinkers on and ignore the problem? Damn right, I did. For old time’s sake, you know?
It didn’t last long though, as my nervous system was not planning to let me forget. As time went by, I just felt worse and worse. It got to a point where I knew: I can’t go on like this. If I don’t do something now, this is going to get really ugly, really fast. I realize that I’m not equipped to deal with this oncoming tsunami on my own, I need to call in reinforcement. So, I took to the interwebs once more as I resumed my search for a somewhat unconventional therapist within in a conventional system. It wasn’t easy, but I eventually found someone who I think can help get me back on track and after three months on the waiting list, I finally made my way into her office.
Now as you may know, I have a lot to say about labels and mental health diagnoses. Suffice to say: I’m not a fan. And before people start bringing out torches and pitchforks, I’m not trying to invalidate anyone’s pain, struggles or experiences. Those are absolutely real and valid.
Personally, my concern lies in how these labels come to be in the first place; most psychiatric diagnoses are a descriptive collection of symptoms that have been lumped together based upon the assumption that they have a common core or origin, but that’s pretty hard to prove. In fact, bringing all these criteria together and slapping a name on them is a highly arbitrary process and that has a lot of drawbacks.
A diagnosis can certainly be useful if it gives you info about the cause or the most effective treatment for the issue, but with a descriptive diagnosis that’s just not the case. And don’t even get me started on the ramshackle diagnostic process and the self-fulfilling prophecy that can come from attributing more value to a label than it’s worth.
Of course, a diagnosis can have its benefits. It can open doors to treatment and resources; it can be really helpful to feel that your experience is being validated and giving it a name is a lot easier in communication. In my opinion, a diagnosis is fine if it helps you, just keep in mind where you want to go and don’t focus so much on the label that you lose sight of the person underneath. I’m glad that I am aware of that myself, and I’m glad that I found a therapist who has a similar mindset.
All that being said, I did end up with a diagnosis. For legal and insurance purposes, when you start treatment it’s just part of the deal. I’ll be honest with you though; when I eventually heard the verdict, I felt oddly relieved and validated. Because after having spent so many frustrating years of my life cycling through the psychiatric system, being slapped with countless incorrect diagnoses and working my way through a fuckton of fruitless medications and therapies, it turns out that I was right all along. There is something identifiable going on in my body and my brain, I’m not just making this up and it didn’t just come out of nowhere. And better yet; there are treatments for it.
After taking my full history, reviewing my symptoms and going through all my previous treatments and diagnoses, my therapist looked at me and all but face-palmed as she told me: “I don’t know how they’ve managed to miss this all these years, but this is textbook PTSD.”
My therapist diagnosed me with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, although I would rather call it a response than a disorder. After all, my system is doing exactly what it was made to do and it served its purpose very well; I survived. I just have yet to complete the cycle. It’s that simple, just not necessarily that easy, unfortunately.
If you don’t know what c-PTSD is, it’s basically a variant of PTSD that includes many of the same symptoms, along with a couple of additional ones. PTSD is a condition that involves a set of mental, physical and behavioral reactions following a traumatic event. The main difference with c-PTSD lies in the duration and the frequency of the trauma. PTSD stems from one or several singular events, while c-PTSD is the result of repeated trauma over a prolonged period of time, often starting in early childhood.
Common symptoms of both variants include re-living the event (e.g., flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive distressing thoughts, memories and feelings), avoiding reminders of the event, negative changes in thinking and mood, being in a constant state of high-alert and physical reactions like dizziness or palpitations. When it comes to complex PTSD, there are additional symptoms such as difficulty regulating emotions, a negative view of self, others and the world, intense feelings of shame, guilt or failure, difficulties with interpersonal relationships, detachment and dissociation.
It's not unusual for people with unprocessed trauma to experience other mental health problems as well, such as depression, anxiety or unhealthy coping mechanisms like addiction, self-harm or eating disorders. Gee, does that sound familiar?
Now, I can already hear you thinking: if this started in all the way back in early childhood, how was it not an issue before? And the answer is: it was. I’ve had plenty of issues with my (mental) health over the years, but it was never recognized or diagnosed for what it was.
There are two main reasons for this. First of all, back when I first started therapy in 2006, there wasn’t as much information on the effects of trauma and how it manifests. A lot of research has been done since then, and is still being done now. But it takes a while for these findings to seep through into general practice. The second reason, is that I was missing a crucial piece of information about my life that could have made things clear a lot sooner. That puzzle-piece didn’t show up until I was 33, so it wasn’t until then that the penny dropped and everything started falling into place.
So, what now?
As I mentioned before, this is all still so fresh and new that I’ve only just begun to uncover the full extent of everything that has happened and what truths lie underneath all the confusion. Writing everything down is one way in which I’m starting to untangle everything and put the pieces of the puzzle together as I process and move on.
I realize that I still have not told you exactly what happened, and I may be putting it off a bit. It’s a lot to go over, and I’m untangling it as I go along. I hope you will bear with me, there. Since this blog is already ten pages long and I haven’t even started yet, I suppose that will be another story for another day…In the meantime, if you’ve actually read all that and stuck by me throughout, I just want to say: Thank you.
Until next time.
These are the blogs that I have not shared openly with the greater public