Once upon a time, there was a little girl whose father drank. He drank so much that sometimes, he couldn’t make it home without help. This help came in the form of other adults, like his girlfriend, waking up the little girl in the middle of the night and telling her that she had to go get her father to come home. She was often the only one who could convince him to do it. The little girl dreaded these nights because they at least meant seeing her father in ways she didn’t want. Ways that scared her. Passed out at his desk. Sad. Crying. Yelling. Punching. But the voices told her it would be okay. He would never hurt her. She just had to make him come home. Usually by telling him that he had to say prayers so she could go (back) to sleep.
She heard so many arguments, those nights. Sometimes the voices could get him into a different car, looking small and dejected. Other times, though, he wouldn’t go in a different car. He wanted to drive home because he was worried about leaving his car/truck there. His car/truck was very important. That’s when the voices told her that she should go with him. “To make sure he got home okay.” At nine years old, she didn’t know how to drive. But she always managed to white-knuckle it home from her place beside him, keeping him alert. They always got home. Whether it was from his shop a few blocks away or another state. They only once almost hit a tree coming into the driveway. Only once almost crashed into an underpass pillar.
Those voices didn’t care if she was scared. They didn’t care if she said, “no.” They didn’t care about anything but making their lives easier. She was told there was nothing to be afraid of. That she was overreacting. She learned not to talk about what she wanted because no one would listen. She learned not to cry. She learned to numb her feelings because they didn’t matter. She then learned to eat the feelings, because sugar made her feel something that was like happy, however shortly.
Her father told her that if he wasn’t so stressed, he wouldn’t drink. The little girl spent years trying to be perfect. Getting good grades, not getting into trouble, making sure her father got home okay. Trying to be perfect. Taking care of those who were supposed to take care of her.
Then the little girl grew up and spent years in therapy, gradually learning it wasn’t her fault. For a very long time, though, she got scared around people who drank. She avoided parties where there was alcohol. She didn’t drink alcohol herself until well into her twenties. It took having a boyfriend who understood how scared she was. It took a slow, safe introduction to people drinking to teach her that drinking didn’t have to be traumatic. It took a steady journey of small, successful tries. A few sips of a pretty drink. Next, a whole one. She was nearly thirty before she was able to let go enough and feel safe enough to actually get drunk.
A lingering factor, though, was that she still ate her feelings. Usually with sugary things and especially chocolate. It was a way she could feel better, happier, calmer without losing control. Combined with two hormonal conditions, however, it was also a way that she put and kept on weight. But she was “safe”.
For the most part, she had moved on. She had healed. She wrote a short story about her late night “death rides” and sold it to a magazine for young adults. She felt better. Like maybe she helped other kids who had alcoholic parents. Her therapists told her she had PTSD, but the episodes became fewer and further between. She thought she had processed and dealt with her past.
She hadn’t been triggered in years.
One day, she found herself confronted with the perfect combination of whiskey and belligerence right across the table from her. She felt crazy. This couldn’t be happening. She had to be misunderstanding. This person wouldn’t do this. She trusted this person.
The voices came back.
Telling her it didn’t matter how she felt. The person across the table wanted her to do something and that was all that mattered. They kept saying it. Insisting that she talk about difficult things from the past. Demanding that the other person at the table tell her why those things from the past were fucked up. It didn’t matter how she felt. That she knew they were fucked up and that she had come to terms with them in her own way. The old voices told her that she couldn’t say, “no” or “stop”. She just had to stay calm and push all the panic and anger and fear away. Getting upset never worked. Because it never mattered.
However, this time….this time, other voices were surfacing. Voices from after she was grown up. Voices from people who know how to love in healthier ways. Voices from this past year, especially, which has been full of explosive growth and change.
A voice that told her she was far less powerless than she felt and to hold tightly to that. That she had grown into a powerful, strong woman with a voice that helps people, and has found love and passion in uncommon ways, has built the life she always wanted with an amazing array of people who love and support her, and whom she is privileged to love and support.
Then a voice that told her she could get out of this situation. She had people she could call. Hell, if nothing else, a small voice said Uber would be happy to pick her up. But with a single text to a dear friend, she had a ride home. She did not have to get in the car with anyone she did not want to. Someone was coming to get her and when they did, they let her talk in her own time and didn’t tell her she was wrong or overreacting.
With a single phone call, a calming voice gave her a lifeline to hold onto, didn’t demand to know what was going on when she said she didn’t want to go into it and just needed to hear their voice while she waited for the ride so she didn’t break down completely.
Another voice said that it was concerned about her desire to drive over an hour to get good chocolate to stave off the PTSD episodes over the next few days, but that voice said they understood, given the severity of the situation.
Which kicked off the next voice, of a close friend who said she’d read research that said that when you’re craving chocolate, usually you’re dehydrated so drink water.
Which spurred the next voice, one from an impromptu, unexpected correction scene where I was ordered to kneel for ten minutes holding a glass of water because “maybe this will help [me] remember the importance of hydration.”
The last voice that came in was a dear friend I’ve known for nearly twenty years, who told me over tea that the best advice she ever got (in reference to a painful part of her life) was to simply feel what she was feeling. Simple. Not easy. Don’t bottle it, repress it, or try to cover it up. Let it ride.
Which is how I found myself deciding not to go the chocolate shoppe, and instead, got two bottles of water at a nearby pharmacy and drove back home, where I proceeded to cry and let myself feel the terror and sadness and madness and helplessness and raging questions of “why doesn’t anyone care?!” and “why don’t I matter?!”
And somewhere in there I realized that I do matter. All of those voices that have haunted me were gradually being drowned out by the new ones. The stronger ones. They all belonged to people who care. People who have told me that…I matter to them. Reconciling this, thinking about the juxtaposition of the voices that led to this post, made me see something that I don’t want to forget.
I matter to me and I care about me and I made the choice to get myself out of that situation in the best way I could. I did so with the help of some amazing people, all of whom I’m sometimes still stunned and very grateful are in my life.
The past is over and I won’t live there anymore. And even though it’s left scars that come screaming back to life for brief bursts in the form of the vicious bitch goddess called PTSD, the voices in my head now and the people in my life now are helping me to fucking shout the past down while walking forward to a better life.