There are days where the pain hits me so hard I could almost choke on it. A song will come on the radio that reminds me of my dad and I’m gone – tears are immediately rolling down my face, I can hardly breathe and I find myself doing that loud childlike crying. In the privacy of my car it’s a good release, it helps me to bit by bit comprehend what happened.
While my brain knows full well what happened, it’s taking my heart a while to catch up, that was until a couple of weeks ago. It was a good girlfriends wedding and the first wedding I’ve been to since I lost my dad. I really hadn’t even contemplated it being a hard day emotionally for me, I was so excited for my girlfriend.
It started in the church that sinking feeling, the lump in the back of my throat, the first realisation that my dad will never walk me down the aisle, we’ll never share that final smile that says here we go as the doors open. My mind started going to a thousand places but I have quickly reeled it back in not wanting to take away from her amazing day.
For the next few hours of the night I managed to drop back into normal mode, enjoying the champagne and hanging out with some of my best friends. But then the father of the bride and the father of the groom both got up to do speeches. There was so much in their speeches that I know my dad would have said. All the things that I was going to miss having him around for began to flood in and my heart started to grasp the reality of not having him here.
My girlfriends took me outside and I let myself cry a little more but not wanting to be so miserable at such a joyous occasion I forced myself to push my feelings back down and went back to an old coping mechanism for numbing. I began to drink a hell of a lot more. I did such a good job of excessive drinking that everything after 9:30pm is completely gone for me; I was proper blackout drunk.
The next morning, I woke up on a girlfriend’s couch because I’d been too drunk to get my own way home. Not only was I feeling devastated about my dad but I hated myself for having gotten so drunk. I hated that there was so much of the night that I would never remember and more so I hated that I’d slipped back into something that I’ve worked so hard to stop.
There was a time in my friendship group I felt like I was the drunk, the liability, the person you couldn’t trust to just have a few drinks. On the outside I played up to the party girl persona but on the inside I hated myself. It became a self-perpetuating cycle; the more I had these completely out of control nights the more I hated myself, the more I hated myself the more I wanted to get blind drunk so that I could disappear and not face myself. It wasn’t pretty and it took my dad getting sick and hitting rock bottom to really force myself out of the pattern.
For the next few days I hardly slept. I found myself constantly tossing and turning, anxious and upset. I hated the idea of having to really face any of it, it felt too painful to willingly sit with and so I continued with my regular routine and simply hoped that everything would just settle back down in a couple of days.
To a certain extent it did settle down a little, I stopped feeling like I was going to burst into tears at my computer but it still sat just below the surface and began to manifest itself in different ways. I found myself less able to cope with life, more easily stressed by work, more emotionally reactive to people and quite scattered in general. Still I persevered through the mess not wanting to acknowledge that perhaps I needed to unpack what the wedding had brought up for me.
But you can only let things sit below the surface for so long before something gives. I thankfully already had a session booked with my psychologist and when I found myself crying on the way there I knew I was in for a tough session. We talked at length about what had happened that night and how I felt. She asked how my dad would have felt about my wedding day would he have been excited? What might he have said in his speeches? Just thinking about it was heartbreaking not only from my perspective of not having him there but also from his perspective. I hate that he doesn’t get to be there, that he doesn’t get to be part of something that I know he would have loved.
I was finding it hard to answer her questions honestly because the answers felt so painful then she asked me if my dad was excited about having grandchildren one day. I could hardly speak, the thought of him missing out on that part of my life hurt more than anything else. He loved children and was beyond excited about future grandchildren. He would often talk about the things he planned to do with my future children. In that moment my heart broke for him and his dreams that he will never get to live out in this life.
As I was finding hard to speak my psychologist suggested that I journal about how I felt. She asked me to fully explore what I expected these major milestones to look like with my dad, to go into detail about the part I envisaged him playing and also come up with ways that I could still include him in the future. She suggested that maybe on my wedding day I might like to keep a seat reserved for my dad, acknowledging this presence in a different way and I have to say I really loved that idea. She told me that it would be hard and would bring up a lot of tough emotions but I needed to give myself the time and space to let that pain come out. I agreed that journaling about it sounded like a good idea but when I got home I just felt so emotionally exhausted that I decided that I really couldn’t deal with anything more right now.
Then the stomach pain started – really severe stabbing abdominal pain that would almost stop me in my tracks. After a week of relentless pain, I went to my GP who cleared me of anything serious and gave no real other explanation expect that sometimes this happens and if it’s still happening in a week come back. I’m a strong believer in emotional issues being connected to physical issues in your body and after that GP visit with no other real explanation I decided that the pain in my gut was perhaps about what I wasn’t emotionally digesting.
As much as it hurt there was a feeling of disentanglement as I slowly loosened my grip on my shattered dreams. At first I was hardly able to get a sentence down before I fell apart but then slowly as I began to let myself soften into the pain I was able to read back over things and find a sense of peace. I was slowly letting go of the attachment to what I thought my life would be. It won’t ever be what I thought it would be and no one will ever take his place but it will be wonderful in its own way and that I am sure of.
And as for my stomach the next day it felt about 80% better and it’s almost back to completely normal, you can draw your own conclusions from that…
I thought a lot about not publishing this post. Part of me worried about how people would take the honest account of my pain. My initial thought was that I don’t want people to feeling sorry for me and that is the old person who thought that strength was about putting on a brave face for everyone, sucking it up and moving on. But really strength is about vulnerability it’s about being real, talking about the struggle and owning your story. So I give my story a voice here in the hope that it provides a source of strength for others as I believe we are all made stronger by sharing our truth.
Love and Blessings