I spent most of today thinking about my problems, and how I might’ve come to be this way. I’ve thought of it a few times this past week, and kicked some ideas around, and one thing I keep coming back to is that I grew up without an emotional support network. Again, I love my parents, and I think they did the best they could raising me. They were raised the same way, most likely, with the biggest difference being that they had siblings. I’m an only child, so I only had myself and my parents in the home.
My father is not a talkative man, in general. When it comes to emotions, he’s a closed book. His father was, too. I’m not saying he wasn’t available to me, but I looked up to him and saw his lack of displayed emotion as strength. Because I wanted to be like him, to make him proud of me, I felt like if I opened up to him about my feelings, I’d be letting him down. I’m not saying he doesn’t have feelings, or that he’s never expressed emotions to me. One of the most profound things he’s ever done, though, was he sent me a card when I was at college, right after a lot of things went wrong all at once and I was having trouble. It was a Garfield card with a pre-printed message saying “Just to prove
I we thought of you today.” (The “I” was crossed out and replaced with a handwritten “we”.) Beneath that, in his handwriting, was a personal note: “Hang in there – I know how you feel and am thinking about you – It will get better – Dad” I’m not a person who tends to save greeting cards. I have four of them in a file in my drawer, and this one is one of them. I still cry anytime I pull it out and read it, like I just did.
My mother is quite the opposite. She’s a talker, some might even say a vocal rambler. Even so, she’s not usually one to gush about feelings, unless those feelings are frustration or irritation. She talks about other feelings, as well. She says she loves me, and she can be sweet sometimes. Other times, though, she can fall short. Two examples have bounced around my head today. The first one was after my first major break-up. I sat in my room, listening to I Will Not Take These Things for Granted by Toad the Wet Sprocket on repeat for days. Literally days. Neither of them came up to check on me. They walked past and looked in, presumably to make sure I was still alive, but never came into the room and sat down, never asked if I was okay. A few years later, that relationship came up in a conversation, and the split, and my mother commented on how thankful she was when I finally stopped listening to that depressing song. The second example was a few weeks ago, when I first went out there to talk to them about the separation, and I found the strength to admit to them that I held a gun in my hand for a few hours and planned out my suicide. She scoffed, and said “I would have been so angry with you if you had done that.” The first words out of her mouth were about how she felt about it. I was literally at one of the most emotionally vulnerable points of my entire life, and it felt like she was making it about her. She went on with examples of how I’m like my father, and the problems that she has with him, and at least showed some sympathy towards the way my wife was feeling in that aspect of things. Even now, though, I wonder if that was sympathy, or more making it about her and how she was affected.
With emotional support like that growing up, I developed my own coping mechanisms. I retreat into myself. I shut down. I push my feelings down and bottle them up. I make jokes, usually self-deprecating ones. Over time, there were just so many suppressed emotions that I simply couldn’t break that dam. That walled-up flood of feelings was too scary. Having been drowning in that flood for weeks now, it was a justified fear.
With regards to emotional support, though, I don’t need to be coddled. I don’t need someone to sit with and pat my knee and lie to me about how everything is going to be fine. I don’t need someone to tell me how my feelings are affecting them. I may not even need someone to talk at all. I just need someone to sit with me, to be there for me when I feel like I’m on the edge, to listen, to comfort or guide me if they talk. To get that, though, I’m going to have to leave the house at some point, and push through that crushing fear of crying in front of a friend.
To the very few friends who have sent texts and emails, at least one of whom might read this, I want to say thank you. Part of me feels like you’re just looking for proof of life, but another part of me knows that you love me. Know that I love you back, even if I’ve never said it with words. I’ll come out of the cave at some point, and I’ll probably need a hug. It’s okay to be angry at me, too, because I hurt your friend. I fucked up one of the best things in my life. There’s not enough anger in any of your hearts to compare with the anger in mine, and I can assure that you I’m angrier at myself than you ever could be.