A Harsh but Honest Email

img_0179.jpgI started therapy last month. My therapist suggested I do some reading about “co-dependency”. The word still irritates me to no end (more on that later), but it has given me a different perspective. Maybe as a result of that, maybe just because this is years coming, I wrote an email to my husband. It’s the most honest I’ve ever been with him. Here it is:

I’m not even sure how to start this. I have a lot to say, and it might be messy and it might be hard to hear. I can assure you it was damn hard to write.

In some ways it’s hard to understand why all this is coming out now. Things seem to be going well. Luke’s almost done with treatment. We have food to eat. There is nothing majorly wrong with the house or broken appliances and we have 2 working vehicles.

But maybe that’s it. Maybe for so long I was barely holding on and every breath was focused on survival and I was too desperate to look around and think about why I was drowning. I just had to get all of us to the next day.

Well the next day has finally come. And now I am looking at everything that has happened and the future and it’s terrifying. Because I can’t go back to that, Andy. I can’t. I can barely talk about what things were like. My whole body tenses up and my stomach cramps and I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep breathing. But I’m going to try saying what I need to in this email. Because we need to talk about this.

I can’t do this anymore. I know you have been better lately and you have been waking up in the morning and doing chores and helping with the kids. I know you even started selling those damn cards on eBay. But that’s not enough. That’s basic functioning and I’m glad. But I need a partner. I need someone who knows what it means to be an adult. To be independent and functional in every way. Yes, I know about your mental illness and I know I can’t even imagine what it is like. I’m not you and I will never know what it’s like in your head. But I know that people with anxiety and depression get up and go to work every day. They provide for their families. They make careful, adult decisions and they handle their finances. They look for help and they follow through. Sure, not all of them. But there are plenty of people all around you every day who deal with shit just as debilitating as yours.

I know you are probably thinking that I just don’t understand. I’ll confess I think that same thing about you. I don’t think you can possibly understand the weight of carrying 3, precious, growing children and 1 dysfunctional, addicted adult through life on my back. I don’t think you can imagine what it feels like to make choices that you know are going to tear you down a little bit more just to lift up the people you love every. single. day. To recognize that gas money means no laundry detergent, so instead you get on your bike, put on the nasty, torn up neon vest you found on the side of the road for safety’s sake and bike to your first job, the one with the creepy, cross-dressing priest that you found on craigslist, who drives you an hour to an antique auction while telling you stories of the time he met an alien. But you put up with him because you desperately need the money and he bought you a meal once, which you desperately need because otherwise you aren’t sure your body will have the strength to bike to the next job. And at the next job, you rub off your sweat in the bathroom with wet paper towels and walk out with a smile and give it your all because it’s the one place you actually feel like you are doing things right, even though you sometimes have to sit down because you haven’t eaten in a couple days and you get dizzy and it’s really hard to walk in the room where the kids are having their free snack. But you are super grateful whenever there’s food in the break room, even if it’s always dessert. You ate ice cream every day for a week last summer until the leftovers from the ice cream sundae party ran out. Some days that was all you ate. And you were grateful for it. And at the end of your shift, you get ready to bike home, in the dark, on a horrible road with no bike lane, stopping a couple of times because you feel lightheaded, and you get a message from your husband asking you to stop and pick up some booze on the way home. Can you imagine what that is like? Or what it is like to ask your children to poop at school because you can’t afford more toilet paper? Or to carry a toothbrush in your purse whenever you go to a friends house so you can sneak in the bathroom and use their toothpaste because there isn’t enough in the bank account to buy more, because it’s overdrawn, because of a charge for $10 at UDF and you know your husband bought beer but you don’t want to say anything because having him drink makes it easier to live with him? Or what it’s like to run out of food stamps and be so thankful we have a food pantry close by but you know your husband won’t go, so you have to rearrange your work schedule to make sure you can get food for your kids? Or what it’s like to ask other parents to switch snack days with you because you can’t buy snacks for 25 kids unless it’s right after the 14th, when food stamps renew? Or how about the day I drove myself to the emergency room because I was having trouble breathing. All day it kept getting worse, the air got heavier and heavier and finally on the highway I wasn’t sure I could make it home so I drove to the ER and they surrounded me with nurses and checked my vitals and I gave them a friend’s number so you wouldn’t worry if they had to call someone and they brought me water and snacks and tucked me under a warm blanket and I broke down completely. I wanted to stay there forever and be taken care of. I was overworked, overstressed, underfed. There were so many days I left work and sat in the car and sobbed. Then I pulled myself together and drove home, stopping for booze on the way, and tried my best to make life feel okay for our kids. There were few months that I could actually pay all the bills. I had to time them and rotate and make lots of pleading phone calls.  I tried, 3 times, to set aside enough money to open my own bank account so I could save $ in secret that you wouldn’t spend, just so I could pay the bills. But there was always something, something desperate that I had to use it for. One time I managed it. I opened an account with $100. But I wasn’t using it regularly and they fined me and I had to close it. Because I never had extra to deposit.

Well, I have it now. I have my own bank account and I am trying my best to be financially responsible with it. This past year has given us breathing room because of the amazing people in our life who have given to us after Luke’s diagnosis. They couldn’t have known that they were giving me a lifeline. I have an account you can’t touch and I’ve never felt more secure. That is not how it should feel. But it does and I have to say it.

I expected you to be upset or to ask questions when I opened that account and moved our money to it. But you didn’t. You just kept on spending. Because you still have access to our business account. The account that had over $5000 last August. The account with funds to promote our project in festivals. So that I could attend and make connections and talk it up and meet with distributors. I won’t be able to do that anymore. Because there is now less than $500 in our business account.

It’s fair to say you have a right to it. I know you worked hard on that project and that could be considered your pay. But we had a budget and a plan and you claimed on our tax return that we were using $5000 for festivals so I think I can be pissed about this. Also, if they audit us, you will have to pay them $5000.

Here are the facts. Our monthly utilities are roughly $1000. That doesn’t include things like gas and food and clothes and school supplies, etc. I need you to come up with half of that. So far, in the past 7 months, you have spent about $430 per month. That is how much you need to be coming up with for expenses. So if you want to keep living the way you are now, you will need to double it. You need to use your own money for your entertainment. And your alcohol. If you want to spend $10 a month on a MoviePass, find a way to make $10 a month first. Don’t come to me asking if you can spend money on something. I’m not your mom and I don’t want to give you an allowance.

You need to start understanding the value of every dollar you spend. If I EVER have to stand in a conversation with you and friends where you talk about the new shows or the movies you have seen lately I think I will throw my drink in your face. I can’t tell you how many times I smiled and nodded at one of those conversations, watching you drunk and laughing about whatever-the-fuck you had done on the internet lately, and I had just come off a HELLISH week of desperately trying to make ends meet. I nearly canceled our internet multiple times. But it was the one chance (I thought) of you actually finding a way to make money, through online job searching or video editing jobs or eBay.  Next time you want to Netflix and chill, work on finding an income instead.

I have transferred money into your overdrawn bank account for the last time. I’m taking my name off the joint account. I have a copy of the bank policy on overdrafts I can give to you. You will have to monitor it and if it goes into the red it is your turn to make pleading phone calls or to go to friends for loans or to troll Craigslist for weird cash-paying gigs. I’m done doing that. I don’t ever want to dress up as Tony the Tiger at a Walmart again. It’s all you now.

I’m sure you have a lot to say. The truth is, I will listen to it. But I won’t believe anything you promise or say you will try. You can stay up late tonight and get drunk and write an impassioned email to everyone you know that is thoughtful and moving. I don’t really care. I just want to see you do something. I want to see you going to therapy and AA meetings and making good choices and thinking about the future and modeling what it means to be an adult for our kids. I want you to live like you know how good you have it. And like everything isn’t about you and your issues. I want you to look at what you have as if you’ve seen third world poverty, and as if here, in our first world you know what it’s like to live with no plumbing and not enough food and holes in your shoes. Because you DO know what that is like! You have been there. Yet somehow, this is still not enough for you. I want you to be grateful and kind and generous.

I feel I have become less grateful and less kind and less generous with you. I don’t want to be with someone who pulls me down.  I want to live a life of giving back, of making a difference and changing lives. I want to be involved in our community, in our neighborhood and in our city. I want my children to see that as part of what life is, not just ideas we talk about when we see them on the screen. I want to be active and live out my beliefs. I used to think we had the same beliefs, but I don’t see any of that in you. Not right now. Not in actions. Not IRL.

I love you. But it’s harder and harder to see that as a good thing. I have dreaded saying all this for a long time. I think because I never wanted to be with someone I would have to say all this too. I have wanted you to see this, to see me, to see what I’ve been living through, without me pointing it out. I’ve wanted you to see and to lift me up and hold me and say it’s okay. To tell me you will take care of me. That you will fix it.

I have never gotten that message from you. Ever. You have never made me feel cared for, or safe.

I have dreaded admitting that.  But there it is.

I’m not sure what’s next. I guess that depends on you.

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Writing Therapy

I need to talk to him. About all of it. But working myself up to it is hard. So I write.

What do I want from him? What do I want from this conversation?? I don’t even know. I realize I have been thinking of it as an ask of some kind. Asking him to do more. Asking him to be responsible. Asking him to be a partner in this relationship. But the thing is, I can’t envision what comes next. What if he agrees with everything I’m saying. What if he buckles down and works harder and stops complaining and quits throwing money away. What if he puts others first and thinks about the future and makes practical decisions. The idea of it is almost laughable. He’s not going to become that person. How is it fair for me to ask that of him. He can’t do it. I don’t believe he can. I’ve stopped believing that he’s capable of any of those things. Small things, sure. He’s capable of getting up in the morning. Or doing dishes and laundry and parenting. Which, honestly, isn’t small. It’s huge. Maybe it should be enough. But I don’t think it can be enough for me. So maybe I am the problem after all. Because I don’t think he can do what I want in a relationship. I have so little expectations. I hold his hand for everything, all day every day. I’m parenting a teenager and hoping he’ll eventually become a grown ass man. But I can’t even envision a world where he’s reliable and resourceful and sensible and responsible and independent. It won’t happen. I have so little respect for him left. He repulses me. But I still love him somehow.

So back to this conversation. What do I want from it? Do I want him to promise things? No. I won’t believe him and we’ll both be disappointed when it all proves hollow.

Do I just want him to feel bad? I mean, maybe, if I’m being brutally honest. I think he feels awful about himself every day and it doesn’t change anything though. So what good would that do? Other than making me somehow feel vindicated? Which is ridiculous.

Do I want him to be angry? Actually, this sounds bizarre but I think I do. I want him to be pissed off and yell and bitch to everyone he knows and then I can yell back and hit him hard with all the shit. I feel like I have a volcano’s worth of pain directed at him, rooted in his behavior and his weakness, just bubbling under the surface. I feel like if I unlock that anger I could scream and blame and cry and wound him for days. I have countless moments and days and decisions and tragedies that run through my brain every time I think of living with him. They color my view of him and us and they poison the future for our children. Those things that have happen, that piled up, year after year, won’t go away. And if I start naming them I don’t think I’ll be able to stop. Until I run dry and he’s left a bleeding mess. Then I can say we’re done. Because how could we come back from that. Is that what I want? To be done??? I don’t know.

My therapist asked me, point blank, do you want to leave him? Silence for a long time. No easy answers. No, I said finally. Slowly. No. But I don’t want this.

So, what do I want from him? What is a reasonable, optimistic expectation? I have no idea.

Solutions that slowly kill you inside

This isn’t meant to be a well-thought out response to mental illness. So suspend that judgement. Maybe someday I’ll have a fancy degree and I’ll be able to address this in a gentle, appropriate way. You know, with the knowledge you buy with student loans *cough* indentured servitude *cough*.

But right now, I’m just pissed as hell. Because I’m done with this shit. I’m done trying to understand the pain he’s going through. The fragility of his ego. The spirals he can so easily trip down that render him totally dysfunctional.

My husband has problems. They mostly go by the names anxiety and depression and they have made my life hell one too many times. Particularly when they invite alcohol to the party. Which is the specific reason I’m mad right now.

See, last summer I checked Andy into a psych ward. He went off alcohol while they got him on some new meds, hooked him up with a new therapist and sent him through an intensive program. It was all great. We should have done it years ago actually.

But then my son–our son–was diagnosed with cancer. Andy started drinking again. He hasn’t seen his therapist in many months. I guess I’m supposed to rejoice that he at least takes his meds. Really, I feel like I’m supposed to applaud every time he does anything useful and normal. (I used to say “thank you” when he gets out of bed–I’m working on that.)

I ended up opening my own bank account which he has no access to and I have all my income deposited there. I use it for paying our bills and any donations (of which there have been quite a few ever since Luke’s diagnosis) go straight into there. This is very intentional and is meant to protect our unstable finances from his irresponsible spending (mostly alcohol related). I’ve tried to do this in the past, but it was always too difficult to maintain two bank accounts with the kind of poverty we usually live with. I can’t describe how complicated my feelings are about this. The only reason I am able to even make this financial break from him is because of the generosity from friends and family after our son’s diagnosis. This separate bank account is what gives my children a stable life protected from my husband’s financial abuse but it is largely funded by my husband’s family and friends. Because my son has cancer. It’s complicated and painful.

Anyway, Andy still has access to a business account for the small business we own (it does not generate income but there are donations in there meant for business expenses). I can only assume that’s where he’s getting money to purchase alcohol. Because I find empties all over the house. In our bedroom, under the stairs, in the kitchen cabinets, etc. Once I bought some rum for a party and I hid the bottle in the basement, inside a cooler in a box. He found it. The amount of effort that must have taken is baffling to me. The man who can’t find a job will expend unending amounts of energy in finding booze.

Tonight is New Years. We let the kids stay up. I actually fell asleep for a bit, but I woke up about 10 min til midnight and couldn’t find Andy anywhere. Finally, I looked outside. The car was gone. I watched him pull up a few minutes later, staggering up the steps with his booze. I bought a box of wine for New Year’s. And entire box–that’s 3 bottles worth. But that wasn’t enough. So this asshole drove, intoxicated, through the snow to buy himself more alcohol on New Year’s. He had to hold onto the railing to get to the front door.

He told me last week that he is not going to drink in January. What the fuck kind of plan is that? That’s not a plan. That’s a month. What then? What about when you want to? Where’s the consistency? Where are the coping techniques? Where’s the weaning off and the accountability? Where’s the therapist???

Then he tells me about how he decided instead of drinking he’s going to buy the movie pass. $10 a month and he can go to all the movies he wants to. This is some crazy ass privilege here. This guy thinks that instead of drinking all his family’s money away, he’ll just go to movies instead. WTF??? How about you think of a way to MAKE $10 A MONTH??? Has that every occurred to you??? No, because everything has been handed to him his entire life. His parents gave him all he wanted and now I slave away so he can have his iPhone and his Netflix and his booze and the thought of not having that booze is so unbearable that he has to go find a way to SPEND MORE MONEY. That is his solution. I want to scream. But I don’t. And I can’t because it will shatter his frail white male ego. He’d spiral back down to where he doesn’t actually function AT ALL. And then where will I be??? I need him to be functional. Because we have a child with cancer who needs a parent with him all the time. Like when I’m at work. So, I let Andy have his movie pass. I’m sure this is a great solution. Right?

Plenty for Christmas

P1070829This Christmas morning was insane. I mean, the pile of presents was so ridiculous I just kept alternating between laughing and hiding my face in my hands. It’s embarrassing. Because when your son has cancer people give you shit.

Ok, that sounds harsh, but it’s true. And I can’t even describe how grateful I am. This year has been by far the shittiest our family has ever had and to be showered in this crazy generosity has been an incredible source of joy. My children woke up and came downstairs to every single thing they had asked for and hoped for and been pretty sure they wouldn’t get. An American Girl doll and a polaroid camera and crazy expensive LEGO sets and a TV and an Xbox and new shoes and an actual BB-8 robot. I have never been able to give my kids anything like what they had this Christmas morning. And I probably never will. I doubt we’ll ever see this again.

And even though I’ll miss it, I’m also rather grateful. Because I can’t even imagine if this was a regular expectation for our holidays. What would that even mean?? I’ve tried so very hard to keep the commercial out of our celebrations, but honestly that’s pretty darn easy when you don’t actually have anything. This year though, we had everything.

Including a really good prognosis. Yeah. Here’s the best part of our Christmas: my boy’s scans are totally CLEAR! There are NO MORE VISIBLE CANCER CELLS!!! From here on out, we are just treating invisible cancer. It’s hard for him, because he figures if it’s gone then he done, right? But we still need to start radiation and finish his chemotherapy and he still won’t be going back to school this year.

But I will take that Christmas gift over any other. No. Visible. Cancer. Thank you sweet Baby Jesus. 🙂

The Daily Monotony of Tragedy

It’s been over 2 months since we got my son’s diagnosis, and I’ve discovered something about myself–I’m terrible at long-term tragedy. I’m pretty good in a crisis. Always have been. It was brutal and devastating and I was a broken mess of a human for the first few days, but I have an amazing network of people in my life, and I was able to get up and get going. I was able to handle things and hold it together for the kids and make shit happen. I was able to grieve and kickass at the same time.

But the gasping, reeling shock has bled into a slow season of daily tragedy that grates against every fiber of my being. I’m a doer. I’m a problem solver. And this can’t be fixed. And now that basic life things are taken care of, I’m left with the huge, impossible reality that my son has cancer, my husband is still trying to solve his mental instability with alcohol, I still don’t have a way to be there for my family and also provide for a secure future for them, and the things I’m passionate about in the world are not going to be a part of my life for a long time.

The daily plodding pain and the monotony of uncertainty is wearing me away. It’s dripping into my brain, hollowing it out. I don’t know how to function.

Chemo Duck

I had no idea this was a thing, but this little chemo patient Duck is my new favorite. Today my son learned some new words: cancer, chemo and port. Somehow, this amazing hospital staff made it fun and interesting. They explained bad cancer cells and chemo using playdough, they let him do experiments with baking soda and vinegar and they introduced him to Chemo Duck. This incredible duck is a teaching prop, an interactive toy, a comfort object and a friend who will go through the whole treatment process with him. He LOVES #chemoduck and he has already used him to explain ports, chemo and hair loss to his siblings, friends and stuffed animals. In bed last night, watching him give his stuffies a demonstration of how a port works, I felt better than I have in days. He's going to be ok. Chemo Duck said so.

Weekend of Yes

It’s been 4 days since I got the call about my 8-yr-old’s biopsy results. My son will probably start chemo this week. I’m still reeling, still confused. Nothing makes sense. At all. But in the midst of it all, I know that my beautiful boy will never be the same. And that my darling, fiery girls are about to have their lives turned upside down too. And I knew that we had this weekend. Before the needles and the whatever-the-implant-thing-is-called, and the meds and the hospital stays and the restricted activities, we have this. This time. Right now. When they have no idea. And they can just be kids. So we carpe-diemed the hell out of it.

Yes to armwrestling sisters into the pizza

I’m pretty good at saying no to my kids. I hate it, because I would much rather say, “yes, later” or “sure, after…” or any of the other good parenting ways to not actually say no all the time. But the truth is, we have very little. Very little money, very little time. Usually, very little not-stressed out moments. That’s the reality of living in poverty and dealing with mental illness in the family. I find myself saying no All. The. Time.

This was our weekend of YES.

Yes to late night games of Scum
Yes to sneaking M&M’s into the movies
Yes to the water park
Yes to splurging on the skip-the-line-wristbands
Yes to curly fries and bowling
Yes to impromptu water balloon battles
Yes to new board games

Yes to arm wrestling into the leftover pizza at the restaurant. Yes to screeching to a halt on the side of the road because he saw a woodchuck. Yes to sneaking candy into Despicable Me 3. Yes to stopping at Target to buy slime and at the pet store for a toy for his mice and to late night card games. Yes to Zoombezi Bay and ZoomPass wristbands and Dippin Dots and buying the biggest thing in the gift store. Yes to staying until they kick us out. Yes to pancakes and waffles and bacon and milkshakes and Coke for breakfast. Yes to bowling and curly fries and arcade games. Yes to all the change in my purse for the vending machines. Yes to new family board games and pranking Dada with whoopee cushions. Yes to surprise water balloons and epic backyard battles. Yes to another cookie. Yes to playing scum with a $1 buy-in. Yes to drinking Ginger Ale right out of the bottle. Yes to sleeping in Mama and Dada’s bed tonight.

I don’t know what tomorrow will look like. I’m terrified. My heart hurts so much. It feels impossible that I somehow made it through the weekend without my chest imploding. But I will always remember these last few days. And I hope my son does too.