The story below is from Kendra, written at 23 years old. She gave permission for her story to be told and her real name to be used.
We did an intervention for my dad's alcoholism right before Christmas of my freshman year of high school. I was 14. We thought that it went well, and he agreed that he would go to treatment for his addiction. When we went to visit him for Christmas at the treatment center, he was royally pissed off and tremendously cold. He refused to see us beyond a 15 minute hello.
Two days later, we drove back home and heard from the center that he had left. He then moved out, filed for separation, and all hell broke loose. I was scared. I didn't know what was going on. The small town in which we lived all became involved and sides were drawn. Teachers were harder upon me, acquaintances and relatives alike tried to tell me I was acting ridiculous towards my father.
I didn't understand how to articulate how hurt and betrayed I felt. The courts dragged us through counselor after counselor, but the judge wouldn't meet with me or any of my siblings to let us say our part. I felt like my opinion didn't matter because I wasn't 18 and a legal adult. There was no trustworthy confidant for me throughout this whole time. I threw myself into school and extracurricular activities, ignoring the not-so-quiet whispers regarding my family. There was no privacy -- our family's dirty laundry was dragged all over the town.
My mother decided to move my senior year, but wanted to make sure I was okay with that. I was numb -- I didn't have an opinion one way or another. The divorce was finalized that year, so we were court-ordered to continue to see my dad every other weekend. It was hell. My little sister and I dreaded driving the four hours to his house, the whole weekend, the manipulations and control of verbal and emotional abuse -- all of it. We became recluses in our own house, mindlessly going through the weekend watching TV or just sitting in silence. We would try to ignore the horrible things my dad would say about my mother or other siblings -- or even of us.
My senior year is a blur. I hardly made any friends because I was so scared they would all turn against me again. The counselors kept changing so I couldn't even talk to them. I became overprotective of my little sister who is four years younger than me. I became more of a parent to her rather than a sister, and all she wanted and needed was a big sister. I carried great anger towards my parents and siblings, feeling abandoned and alone.
When I turned 18 during the spring of my senior year of high school, I refused to see my dad. I felt awful leaving my little sister alone there for the weekends, but I somehow knew I needed to do something for myself. I made things worse for her when I was there, because I couldn't keep quiet as I heard all of these awful things. She later told me it was a little better only because there wasn't arguing, but she desperately needed a sister.
Leaving for college was exciting. I was going out of state and knew that I would completely get a fresh start. I would have the chance for people to get to know the real me, not worrying about them knowing about my dad. I knew that I would be able to invest in relationships because I was not only going to be there for a year. I started to feel again. I found a spiritual director and grounded myself in faith and reason. Still, I made and lost friendships because I wasn't happy with myself. I felt unlovable but couldn't come to terms with it. It's still a daily struggle.
December 2017 was nine years since my dad left. I haven't seen him since 2013. I've drawn and held the boundary I know that I need -- I can't have a relationship with him until he comes to terms with his addiction and wants to change. I just can't. And you know what? That's okay. My siblings and I will never all be on the same page in our relationship with our dad. That's okay. I'm constantly working on forgiveness towards both him and my mom.
How Her Parents' Separation has Impacted Her
I struggle with the daily belief that I'm not lovable or enough. Even though I have come to terms with his leaving, it affects every other relationship in my life: professional, familial, filial, and romantic. There are times when I go through similar numb periods of just existing instead of enjoying and being thankful for my life. These frequently happen when I get a text from him or someone asks about him. I freeze up and my gut forms a knot.
I needed to find ways I could be happy, and to selfishly pursue those. I've communicated those needs to my family and friends, so they understand if I need to go for a vigorous hike in the woods to blow off some steam. If I don't, my anger will affect everyone else around me that I know and love.
Advice to Someone Whose Parents have Separated
Find someone to talk to, someone who shares the same beliefs as you. Many of my counselors didn't understand why I was so angry with my dad for leaving and filing for divorce -- they didn't understand the Catholic teaching of it. Many counselors didn't understand that there was a high-functioning alcohol addiction hidden in our family communication that still affects me to this day. It wasn't until I found someone that understood and respected my beliefs, realized that alcoholism and its communication patterns were present, and that I built up trust in them that I could start to heal.
How to Help Young People from Divorced and Separated Families
No one wants to talk about divorce. Or, rather, no one wants to talk about the devastatingly negative affects divorce has upon the kids. It might seem like the best thing for the parents because they are unhappy, but they are passing the cross of marriage down onto their kids -- and it is absolutely not the best thing for them at all. I wish I knew that someone would've been there for me as I was going through an already tumultuous time in my life, and then this massive curveball was thrown at me. If someone -- anyone -- would have reached out to me to just talk...I would have been so appreciative of that lifeline thrown to me as I was drowning in a sea of confusion.
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