I’ll Be Okay, Grandpa

Two days before my grandfather passed away, he asked me a question.

I was sitting next to his bed in the room at the rehabilitation facility where he’d been for the past two weeks; he’d taken a bad turn while fending for himself while my grandmother was recovering from hip replacement surgery.

The room was a nice one; somehow he’d lucked into the king’s suite at the end of the hall, wrapped around the corner of the building with large windows looking out over a tree-lined lawn that ran up to the road several yards away.  You could sit in that room and watch people drive, bike, run, and walk by all day long, and if you shut the door to block out the noise of the nurse’sIMG_4294 station with all its’ alarms and ringing phones, you’d almost forget where you were.

That’s precisely what we were doing, he in his bed and I in a chair with my feet propped up on the sill of the window.  A nurse had asked ten minutes earlier if he would like some ice cream, and his eyes had lit up as he replied “Oh yeah…”, so now he was happily digging into a cup of vanilla; his favorite flavor.

I felt myself drifting off to sleep in my chair (it had been an incredibly long couple of weeks), totally at peace beside one of my favorite men in the world, when he asked me the question I’ll never forget. Over my shoulder I heard: “Are you going to be okay, Meggy?”

He didn’t always call me by that nickname, but when he did, my heart would always melt.  I hated hearing it out of the mouth of just about anyone else, because most people made it sound patronizing – “Megeeeee” – like they were talking to a little child who was a bit slow.  But that’s not how he said it, so he was the only one in the world who I didn’t correct.

“Okay?” I replied, both startled by the question and more than just a little unclear about what he meant.  Turning around, I was somewhat startled by the look in his eyes as I found him staring back at me.  It was an all-knowing look, as though he were looking at me and right through me all at the same time, and for reasons I didn’t understand I felt goosebumps prickle over my skin in response.

“Yeah…are you going to be okay?”

Somehow, abruptly, I realized what he was asking me; the meaning spreading through me the way a wave spreads over a patch of sand on the beach.  283186_10100103663319786_218704_nAnd it filled me with sadness to understand he was asking if I would be alright after he was gone.  Sadness…and guilt, knowing I was the one of all his children and grandchildren who’d given the most cause for worry on that account.

In the blink of an eye I recalled how he’d come immediately to my side after I’d entered the Hazelden-Springbrook rehab facility for my thirty days of in-patient detox and treatment from opioid pill addiction.  Every Sunday, when visitors were allowed, he’d been there, dressed in his best with his hat matching his jacket and his jacket matching his tie and his tie matching his shoes, commenting on how good the food was in the dining hall.  And the one Sunday he’d not been well enough for the drive, he’d sent a letter with my grandmother to let me know how sorry he was to have missed it.

I recalled how he’d welcomed me into his home when the courts had briefly forbidden me from going home as they tried to determine whether or not my mother needed to be protected as my ‘victim’ as the prescriptions I’d been abusing had been written in her name.  It had taken ten days, several appeals by my mother, one long letter by my father to the judge ruling in the matter, and a court appearance to clear things up and let me go home, and until then, grandpa had made me bologna sandwiches every day for lunch and offered to make french toast every night (I only accepted that offer once, as I could tell grandma understandably wasn’t thrilled by the idea of French Toast ten nights in a row).

I’d struggled in ways no other member of our family had ever struggled, handed a felonious criminal record that I wouldn’t be able to shake for many years to come.  And I was embarrassed by it all, and horrifically ashamed too.  But he never made me feel unloved.

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All of that flashed through my mind as I looked at him, in the blink of an eye, and then I nodded my head slowly up and down.  “Yes, grandpa…I’m going to be okay.”  I spoke slowly…carefully…with reverence, knowing I was in a sense making a promise as much as I was reassuring him.

And my answer seemed to be all he needed, because the look faded from his eyes and he returned to his ice cream with a nod and a simple “Good”.

He died two days later, on a Thursday morning in May.

I’ve often thought about that moment since then.  I thought about it when life came crashing down and I ended up facing the courts a second time.  I thought about it during the brief period of time I was in jail; sobbing as I pictured his face and felt I’d let him down.  I thought about it every single time Randall would treat me badly and I’d allow it; seeing his kind blue eyes and hearing his voice – “I love you, Meggy…please be okay” – and feeling deep shame.

229213_918547636126_2469341_nUltimately as I sit here today, on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend reflecting, I have to admit I honestly have no idea what he would think of me now, knowing what’s happened and the turns my life has taken since I made him that promise.

On my bad days, I imagine him absolutely hating me for the stress and worry and financial strain I’ve put on the family because of the fallout of everything that happened due to my mistakes, vices, weaknesses, and poor choices.  I imagine him telling me how disappointed he is that I caused so much stress and worry for my grandmother in these last years of her life; the woman he adored and called his wife for over fifty years.

On my better days, I like to imagine it isn’t quite so bad.  I like to think perhaps from his position above us all he can see into my heart, and see I never meant to cause so much pain, and therefore at the worst feels incredible sorrow and compassion for what’s happened.

But I don’t know.

Some nights he comes to me in my dreams.  On my first night in jail, laying on a hard slab of a bed, shut away in a tiny little box and fighting back feelings of claustrophobia, when I thought surely I couldn’t keep going any more, I had a dream where he walked up and stood before me even as I was feeling pressed flat into the flooimg_3047r.  I remember looking up at him, sobbing and telling him I couldn’t do it any more, even as he extended me his hand and said, simply: “Get up, Meghann.”  And I remember other dreams, when I was in the middle of my relationship with Randall and things had become extremely ugly, where I’d be crying and calling out in the dark, and he’d come to me and hold me tight in his arms, rocking me back and forth and whispering in my ear how much he loved me.

I’d like to think that means he doesn’t hate me, but who knows?  It could also just be the delusions of a desperate subconscious.  I suppose that’s a question I simply won’t have an answer to until the day comes to meet my maker.

Until then, all I’m left with are memories.  Hundreds of beautiful memories…and one memory that brings me sorrow.

I’m sorry, grandpa; I’m so, so sorry for letting you down thus far with my choices.  I’m sorry things took such an awful turn.  But I hope it’s not too late for me to turn things around, and ultimately end up okay.

He died on a Thursday in May, and ultimately we had our service for him on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend; so I have extra reasons to think about him beyond the usual on this particular holiday weekend.  And it isn’t just him I’m thinking of today either; I’m

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My mother and grandmother, his wife and daughter.

also unsurprisingly thinking a lot about the concept of regret, but also about unconditional love and the unique bonds that exist between ourselves and certain people in our lives.

I’d like to think that those who love us in that special, unique way also understand that we are fallible human beings, and that even as we are pretty much guaranteed to make mistakes, we are also redeemable on the other side of our mistakes too.  That’s certainly how I view many of the people in my life……so it’s not impossible to imagine that there are others who view me that way too.

I’m hoping I haven’t let him down yet.  I’m hoping that – God willing – I have many, many years left to make everything right.  And the same is true for anyone else out there who has been struggling and feelings like the odds are stacked against them ever succeeding.  Barring some unforeseen event, generally speaking the sun will come up tomorrow, and for many tomorrows after that; so it’s not too late.  It’s never too late.  Not for me, and not for anyone else.  It’ll be alright.  You’ve got this, you really do.  And so do I.  It’s taken me a while…but at last, finally, things are looking up, and while I have absolutely no doubt I’ll make mistakes again – I haven’t stopped being human – overall I feel how strong I am, and how capable I am of absorbing mistakes now; learning from them, and continuing to move forward.  That is the gift life offers us at the end of a long line of bad decisions and devastating mistakes, if we’re open to receiving it.

So for the first time in several years, I again feel like I can say this with confidence: Yes, grandpa…I’ll be okay.

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, investor, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis.  All people with inquiries, questions, and feedback can reach her at meghann@meghannandreassen.com

Disclaimer: Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities.

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Ahab’s White Whale

When I was young, I often enjoyed challenging myself with classic literature. One at a time, page after page, I started working my way through the likes of Dickens and Bronte, Hemingway, Shakespeare, and Austin all by the time I was ten years old. It was slow going in the beginning; often one of those tomes would require at least four or five months to finish in my early years.  But I loved it.

My father had a great library of classics he’d inherited from his mother; many of them books she’d inherited from her mother, and so on. I enjoyed going through the shelves and finding books inscribed “To My Lucille — 1853” (that was the oldest one I ever found…there were many others…some bibles practically falling to pieces that were in German or Norwegian, the languages of my ancestors).

I grew up with that. Dreaming of the day when those books would be mine, while also collecting my own novels to add to my “library”.

One book I fell in love with when I was about fourteen was Melville’s “Moby Dick”. I always enjoyed it…but it was also an enigma, that novel. Usually I could relate to characters fairly easily; but I just couldn’t grasp why anyone with half a brain would happily run their beautiful ship to the bottom of the ocean in pursuit of one bloody whale. Why on earth would that be necessary?  Truth was, at the time I couldn’t understand rage on such a scale.

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But then a monster hurt me; metaphorically ripped off my leg and left me learning how to walk all over again. And while I’ve now gone quite a while since the last time I spoke with him…today I found myself boiling over with rage. Pure. Rage. Because I was reminded of MY white whale. The psychopath I fell in love with, and who then thrust me beneath the waves and beat me about with his tale and his jaws as I fought for survival, until I finally managed to swim myself ashore, broken, mangled, and nearly dead. A changed woman, just as Ahab found himself a changed man.

I thought I was coping with it…and I suppose I am, but the way rage so quickly poured in today, realized I’m not as close to being “done” as I thought I was.

I had nightmares all night.  And then today my mother accidentally found something that triggered me horribly; she stumbled across his phone records while looking through cell phone bills, unaware that his is still connected to my account (long story), so while I no longer pay the bill, I haven’t yet gotten all the proper paperwork processed to get his file completely OFF my account. I just never look at HIS bill. Because I don’t want to know what he’s doing.

She found it accidentally; and then when she asked me what she was looking at, because she didn’t understand…..I knew immediately whose call records it was. And saw he was still calling Blanche, that damnable mistress of his, 5-6 times a day, plus four or five times a week talking to her on the phone for at least 30+ minutes. He was still talking to Rebecca every day; that seventeen year old girl who lived with us. He was still talking to all the contacts – all the teenagers – from where we’d lived together.  In short…from what I saw, he was carrying on with his life as though he hadn’t even missed a beat. He just swapped me out for someone else and kept going.

meghann andreassenI knew he’d do that, but actually seeing it was almost more than I could take.

The rage poured in as I imagined the naive young woman who’d fallen in love with Randall, and then been so brutally abused and terrorized. I recalled all the times he’d made me cry. All the STDs he’d given me, one of which still has flare ups that leave me in tears. I recalled all the infidelities. All the betrayals. And I raged. My hands were shaking.

I tried to walk it off in the workout room. I tried to talk to friends. I’d feel some small relief here or there from various methods…but nothing really took the rage away completely.

And that found me this evening actually researching how to report crime tips anonymously, something I’d already done; but I was looking anyway. In case there was any new information. Imagining him being thrown into the back of a police car and finally having SOMETHING go wrong in his godforsaken life. Even though I knew that wasn’t good for MY future, I was looking anyway, because in that instance all I could think about was him being “punished”. Why?  Because I wanted him to hurt. Badly, so that for five seconds he could feel what I feel whenever I dare lift the lid and let the pain slip into my carefully controlled heart.

In short, I’d spotted the white whale; the one I tried so often to forget about. I’d found him again. Had him in my sights. And I wanted him. I wanted a harpoon through his back.

Divine providence intervened at that moment; one of my friends who hadn’t been able to answer my call earlier chose that exact moment to call me back. I answered, at first calm as I said “Hello?” But it didn’t take long. She asked me what was wrong, and before I knew it, I was sobbing. Just sobbing.

“He hurt me…” I gasped out. “He and all of them…hurt me so badly…it…it’s not….it’s NOT FAIR! It’s not right!” I wanted to throw things. Rend and tear. I wanted to break things. Hear things shatter into the floor. I imagined what it would sound like if I threw a baseball at the window. I was shaking. And my friend just listened; nothing profound that she could really say.

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The only thing she said at the end was “I know, honey…but you just…you have to find a way to let it go…he doesn’t deserve to ruin your days like this…”

My anger switched to her then. She didn’t understand! That’s all my angry inner voice was screaming. She didn’t understand just how bad the pain was! Surely if she just understood, then she’d understand why I had to strike back. Why I had to take back some sense of control…make him hurt, even just a little…

Her final advice to me was to eat something and take a hot shower. So after I hung up I numbly did just that. Ate. And showered; turning the water up so hot my skin was lobster red by the time I climbed out.

Standing there in the steam-filled bathroom wrapped in a towel, I looked at my reflection. At how big and strange my eyes seemed in that instant; so full of pain. So full of anguish. Anger. Rage.

And I also remembered what she’d said about how he didn’t deserve to take up so much of my life any more. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and I knew she was right. Of course she was right. I continued looking at my reflection through the steamy cloud, and suddenly one of the lines from “Moby Dick” popped into my mind:

“And he piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.”

For the first time in my life, I understood Ahab, and his maniacal chasing of that cursed white whale. That whale who could never possibly understandmeghann andreassen just what it had done to him the day it wounded him and caused him to lose his leg. He was driven by his rage, right to the bitter end.

I understood him…and I also knew I didn’t want to be him. I didn’t want my ship driven to the bottom of the sea, or my legacy to be that of a tragic almost-was who couldn’t quite break free of her bitterness.

I don’t necessarily have all the answers; I have no idea how to release the rage easily. The best thing I’ve come up with is to just let it run its’ course, because it does always eventually pass. Each and every time. Right now I feel better than I did two hours ago, and tomorrow morning I’ll undoubtedly feel even better yet. It’s not easy finding absolution from within; we often look to others to do that for us. But there won’t be anyone else who can give me absolution and freedom for this; only I can do that. He’ll certainly never apologize. None of his little minions will either.

No…absolution will only come from within. Survivors of abuse either have to release that rage, accept the scars, and walk on – let the great white whale go free – or we just end up hunting Moby Dick with our spears to the end of our days, unable to do anything other than throw harpoons even as the whale rips our ship to pieces and sends us to the bottom of the sea.

I have no desire to end up like Ahab. So I choose to release the rage. To let go of my need to see him “punished”. Not because I forgive him, but because I want more for my life.  I hope you do too.

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis.  To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities

meghann andreassen

Last Christmas…

Ever noticed how our minds are almost maddeningly good at glossing over the bad things in life?  If you haven’t, try being in an abusive relationship and then getting out of it and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

It’s a protective mechanism that is well documented in the medical community; it’s how abused children can have years of their lives repressed.  And it’s why the adage ‘time heals all wounds’ is only kind of true.  What it should really say is: ‘with enough time, your mind will dull the memories to make them less painful’.

meghann andreassenHolidays are often bittersweet for those who’ve recently gone through a breakup; the “first Christmas” or the “first New Years” the hardest as you’re overriding the most recent memories involving your ex.  And to make matters worse, holidays being what they are usually those memories are overall pleasant ones too…because of course people tend to be on their best, I-love-you-to-the-moon-and-back behavior at this time of year.

It’s no different for someone coming out of an abusive relationship.  I’ve discussed that before in another post; how the usual pain and suffering of a breakup is still there…it’s just buried under a ton of other layers of trauma and so doesn’t tend to take center stage in the healing process.  (And it’s also not often talked about…which is why I try and talk about it here, so that others going through the thrash this season can know they aren’t alone, and shouldn’t feel ashamed if they’re getting a case of “the wistfuls” due to the smell of pine and mistletoe.)

It sucks, doesn’t it?  Missing someone you know logically you should hate.  Yearning and pining for someone who treated you like dogshit and left you humiliated and miserable when they finally exited your life.

Well, own it…because it’s a real feeling.  And trying to hide from it honestly only makes it worse.

Own it, and then do what I do…don’t let your mind gloss over the bad memories.  Because that’s what’s happening when you have wistful moments: your brain is dulling the ‘dogshit’ moments in favor of the warm-and-fuzzies, because that’s easier to think about.  And while your dearly beloved brain thinks it’s doing you a favor, you have to learn how to say “thanks, but no thanks!” and get back on track.

I’ll show you what I mean: Just yesterday my brain was starting to skip and trot down wistful-memory-lane, filling my mind with images of a smiling, happy, loving Randall.  You know, the one who isn’t real?  The one who was just an illusion?

Well, it hurt like hell. My heart was hurting.  Yearning for the guy I loved so much.  Mr. Wonderful.  Actually having the thought “This time last year, you were so happy together…”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my cue phrase.  I hear that thoughbroken-heart-meghann-andreassent in my mind, and I know my mind is officially giving me the glossed over, trimmed up, photoshopped, Hollywood-ending version of my relationship.  The one that brings out the “oohs” and “aahs” and warm and fuzzy feelings……the version that absolutely has no resemblance to reality whatsoever.

See, when you’re in an abusive relationship, you’re basically living in a fog.  You get really, really good at not seeing the truth for what it is; and your abuser plays a big part in that.  They make sure you understand that they aren’t acting badly, you’re just being too sensitive; they don’t get along with your family because your mother is crazy and your father is passive aggressive, not because they are being abusive and your parents see it for what it is; they aren’t abusive, they just have some anger issues that they’d sure change if they could, but since they can’t you need to just accept them for who they are and deal with it……and so it goes.

But it isn’t real.  And that’s where having the right support network – and the right therapist – is so crucial when you first come out of your relationship.  They are the people who dig out that unedited, raw, real version of your relationship, dust it off, and put it in the projector for you to watch for the first time.  And yes, it’s horrifying when you first see it.  Horrifying, and embarrassing…but so important.

I don’t need a therapist to change out the versions anymore; now I can do it myself.  And that’s precisely what I did last night when it was looking like sleep was going to elude me because all my brain wanted to do was play happy-go-lucky versions of what I was doing this time last year with love-of-my-life Randall.

Here’s the Hollywood Version: Randall took a road trip to his home state 1,700 miles away to visit family and friends for Christmas, and while he was gone I had the opportunity to clean up, make some improvements to the house, relax, see family and friends, and miss him just enough to feel that sweet ache for the one we love while looking forward to a blissful reunion.  I got an unexpected draw before the holidays that meant I actually had a bit of a cushion in my checking account for the first time in a long time, and life overall felt good.  I was able to buy him the Christmas gift he’d been wanting for months, having saved $20 here and there under the mattress until I had enough, and I remember proudly going to buy it at last; taking it home and wrapping it up and leaving it for him to find on the counter.  He actually came home early, and I got to see him in the wee hours of Christmas morning; I remember him bursting into the bedroom, flipping all the lights on, a beaming smile on his face as he took me in his arms, kissed me, and spun me around before excitedly showing off the present he’d unwrapped for all the world to see.  And they all lived happily ever after.

Nice, isn’t it?

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Now…excuse me while I put the real version in the projector…

Here’s what Actually Happened: Randall took a road trip to his home state 1,700 miles away, but right before leaving (literally the day before) he announced he was taking three of his little ‘minions’ (the teenagers and twenty-somethings he had following him around) with him.  He didn’t ask me, he announced.  And two of the three were young women.  He swore to me it was all harmless; the plan was to drop the twenty year old guy off in Arizona on his way, as the guy was going to stay with his father for a few months; and then one of the girls lo and behold had an aunt who lived close to his final destination, and so she and the other girl were going to spend Christmas there.  It was all arranged.  All perfectly innocent.  He was just being helpful and charitable, the way he always was.  (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)

Anyway…I feel like something is off.  Feel like I’m being lied to.  And I should throw in a bit more context for you: I’d only just discovered approximately four weeks earlier that I had been given FOUR different STDs courtesy of a bunch of young women he’d had sex with behind my back and lied about…and one of the girls traveling with him now mysteriously had the same STDs I’d tested positive for.  He insisted it was all coincidence, but the GYN’s daughter in me was highly suspicious.  Still, it happened fast enough I didn’t have much say.

Regardless, they headed off…and before Randall even reached his final destination, he’d burned through ALL THE MONEY I’d budgeted out to last for both his trip down and his trip back home.  I was shocked.  And pissed.  He told me I should have known better; that I should have doled it out daily because he’s “not good with money”.  I fired back maybe I didn’t want to be stuck going to the bank every day with his allowance; that he should be able to be a grownup.  Regardless, he had no money and was stuck.  So I was forced to tap into that bonus draw and give him more.

driving-in-snow-meghann-andreassenIt got worse.  The guy was dropped off in Arizona successfully, but when he reached his destination he informed me the girl’s aunt was refusing to speak to them.  Refusing to give her address.  Refusing to let them come to her house for at least three more days.  I was skeptical; saying that made no sense.  No aunt would tell a niece to travel 1,700 miles and then refuse to let her show up.  I was floored that they hadn’t gotten an address for the woman’s house before leaving.  It seemed so unlike Randall to be that sloppy.  And that’s when I started getting suspicious, my mind whispering it had all been a story.  He’d just wanted the excuse to take her along.

Before I knew it, I was getting barraged with messages from his family and friends; all of them demanding to know what the hell he was doing with these teenage girls, how could I be okay with this, they wanted him gone, I needed to do something……it never ended (funny how somehow this was MY fault…his family had some interesting ideas about responsibility, and I guess it’s easy to see why his first instinct was always to blame other people).  Ultimately his sister messaged me (the same sister I was sending $1,500 a month to for her apartment and utilities), begging me to send more money so he’d have the finances to leave early, because she was uncomfortable and wanted him gone but didn’t have the heart to say that to his face.

I caved and sent the money (again tapping into the reserve instead of waiting for the draw I was scheduled to get in five days as had been originally planned), and they left immediately, back on the road.  (Oh, and I should add that while he was there, he was also often meeting up with Blanche and her children, usually missing his ‘check in’ call with me by several hours, one time his phone turned completely OFF – though he claimed the battery just died – while he was supposed to be with her.  Which was an added feeling of unease that his later apologies didn’t help one bit.)

They raced home as quickly as possible in the increasingly wintery, icy, dangerous weather.  One day they had to stop off at a cheap roadside hotel simply because not even snowmobiles were able to drive; the roads had turned into sheets of pure ice.  It was nerve wracking…and so unnecessary, since the original plans had not had him coming home for another week when the weather was supposed to be better.

meghann andreassenWhile this was happening, I started receiving text messages from an anonymous number (a texting app that was untraceable) telling me I was being played for a fool; that he was having sex with that girl all the time (the one whose aunt never allowed to come over), that they were basically carrying on a relationship and declaring themselves to be in love when I wasn’t around, and that I needed to open my eyes and see it.

Not good for my already suspicious intuition.

I sent him the screenshots and said I didn’t know what to think; he declared in a rage someone was just trying to get back at him, and that I needed to not give in to the drama of a bunch of teenagers.  That he thought I was more mature than that.  I sort of took his word……but the seeds of unease and doubt continued to grow.

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, and I went home from dinner with my family, I didn’t feel excited to see him…I just felt empty.  Completely numb.  Not the kind of feeling you’re supposed to have when your soulmate is on his way home to see you for the holidays.  But I KNEW something was wrong…I just couldn’t quite prove anything.

Wrapping up his present, I also wrapped up the little gifts I’d bought for the two girls since I knew they’d probably stay at the house until the morning when they went home (and I was raised with manners).  Then I went to bed.  I didn’t even try to stay awake, because that’s how empty and numb I felt.  He turned on all the lights when he got home at 2am, beamed at me, smiled, took me in his arms, and kissed me…and for a few brief seconds I saw that man I originally fell in love with.  Felt the fluttering in my heart.  But it passed, because there were those girls, a reminder of what was happening, and the ill-feeling in my gut returned.

meghann andreassenThe next day, he took them home, and I thought at last we’d have our first full day alone together in our home in months.  But two hours later (barely) he received a text message from the girl who’d supposedly had the aunt she was going to visit, begging him to come pick her up.  “Oh, no, Randall…” I protested, and he initially acted just as irritated, like he was going to say no.  Seeming to tell her to suck it up.  But in the end she got her way, and even as I was furious, he went back and got her; and then he chided me publicly for not welcoming her warmly back into the house after I’d “promised” she’d always be welcome.  (What I’d said was she’d always be welcome if she needed to get away here and there…….I had not promised she could bloody well move in, which is essentially what she’d done.  And again, this is the girl everyone is saying my boyfriend is SLEEPING WITH when I’m not around…let’s not forget that.  He apparently forgot that detail constantly, but I sure as hell didn’t.)

So that was last Christmas.  Roll credits.

See what I mean?  That’s quite a different version, isn’t it?  Quite a disgusting, twisted, abusive, ugly version.  One that’s preferably disregarded.

Today I am so, so grateful to be free and safe from all that.  He never confirmed he had been sleeping with that girl; denied it right to the end.  But I know he did.  At this point, if my intuition says ‘yes’, then I’m trusting it; because it was right about everything else.  It was my heart that had shushed it, wanting desperately to believe him instead.

Now I’m free of that doubt.  Free of that crippling pain and low self esteem that came from his constant triangulating with other women.  Free of the shame that came from his constantly demeaning me in front of others.  Free of the anxiety of having strangers in my home every minute of the day.  Free of the stress of trying to provide not just for myself and for him, but for his sister, and for the others living in the house, and for Blanche who still held the car loan in her name…so on and so on.

merry-christmas-meghann-andreassen

I’m free of all that.  And it is a blessing.  I would rather be single for the rest of my life, and loved by my family and friends for precisely who I am, than ever return to such a nightmare.  He belittled me.  He used me.  He abused me.  He deceived me.  He gave me STDs and then got angry with me when I got angry with him about it (“Well how the fuck do you think I feel, man?”).

That was my reality last Christmas.  But that’s the thing about life: we are the masters of our own fate.  I don’t care what some try to tell you that is different.  We have the power to change our circumstances.  And I did.  He never thought I’d leave him…but I fucking did.  And unlike last Christmas, this year when I smile it’s genuine, and happy, and warm, because I am at peace.  It’s the greatest gift in the world.

Merry Christmas, everyone!  And to all…a good night.

 

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis.  To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities

Bloom And Grow

How is it that I am so unprepared for death?

Sitting in the straight-backed hospital chair, I feel the silence of the moment compressing my chest like a two thousand pound weight.  No less stunned than the rest of my family to hear the doctor pronounce that grandpa is dying.  No one moving.  The floor fascinating to me, even as dad intensely studies a speck on the far wall and mom analyzes a crack in the ceiling.

Grandma seems unable to look away from the empty hospital bed; sheets pulled back, the imprint of a frail man’s body still evident on the mattress.  I can read her mind; wondering how on earth she’ll tell her husband of fifty-two years what she knows when he returns from his walk.

Off in the distance, someone coughs.  Machines are beeping all around us; some operating respirators, others signaling an IV bag has run low, and others still monitoring heartbeats.  It’s the strange music of a hospital.

And all I can think, over and over again, is I shouldn’t be surprised.

He’s eighty-four years old.  He has cancer.  He’s human.  And humans are mortal beings.  This is natural.  This is the way of things.  The progression.  The circle of life…

…isn’t it?

I guess that’s what I’m supposed to think.

In reality, all my brain seems able to do is short-circuit on the thought: “I’m not ready…I’m not ready…I’m not ready…” Though what exactly I’m not ready for, I’m hard pressed to describe.  Maybe it’s the reality twhite-rose-meghann-andreassenhat death has never before touched me; not like this.  And I’m not ready to face it.  Because to face it means facing my own mortality in ways I’ve been ignoring all my life.

The doctor clears his throat, and we all return to reality.  I tear my eyes away from the recently waxed floor, and look to dad.  Dad always has the answers.  Except he says nothing, hands shoved into pockets as he rocks back on his heels in a gesture I know means he’s uncomfortable.

I turn to mom…and just as quickly turn away because there are tears in her eyes.  This is a father she is losing.

Again I look to dad, this time in a different light.  A terrifying truth in my head: Some day I’ll lose him too.

Some day I’ll talk of him the way he talks of his father.  Pointing to photographs of his smiling face while describing to my grandchildren what he’d been like.  How his eyes crinkled when he smiled.  How the Boston Red Socks were his favorite baseball team, ‘The Quiet Man’ his favorite movie, and Steve McQueen one of his favorite actors.  I’ll try to fill in the gaps a picture will leave, but it won’t ever be the same.  Some day he’ll just be gone.

Hell, while my brain is on the subject, I realize that some day I too will be nothing more than some dated photograph on a mantle.  Some footnote on a family tree for people to study and wonder over.  Meghann, daughter of David and Nenice…sister of Keith…wife of…mother of…grandmother of…and so on, until I am long forgotten.

I think of the family tree we have in a dusty leather-bound book back home.  All those names.  All people.  All come and gone.

Finally, unable to stand the silence a moment longer, I unfold myself from the chair.  Moving to put a hand on grandma’s shoulder, for the first time I notice just how frail she is.  I can feel the bones just beneath her skin.

How is it up to this moment she seemed so invincible?  Why is it that now she doesn’t?  How can a few words from one doctor so thoroughly change my life and my perception of the world?

“He’s been through some pretty rough times,” I hear myself saying.  “So maybe he’ll pull through again.”  Grandma nods; I think it’s just out of habit.  I don’t think anyone really believes that.  Not this time.  This time, the bank account is overdrawn.  Nothing left to take.

We’ve done three rounds of chemotherapy.  Four surgeries.  Two experimental treatments.  Studies at the medical school.  And endless trips to the Veteran’s Hospital to beg for cheaper prices on prescriptions so he can afford his medications…so very many medications…meghann andreassen, girl with rose

Testosterone depravation to fight the prostate cancer…estrogen replacement to fight the hot flashes brought on by too little hormones…nausea medication to treat the effects of too much Estrogen…pain medication for the cancer in his bones…laxatives to fight the constipation brought on by the pain medications…steroids to help improve kidney function, as the kidneys are stressed from the daily laxatives…diuretics to help with the fluid retention, caused by too many steroids…

…and so the list goes on.

Running through it in my head, it certainly sounds like I’m describing a man who’s been through hell.  A man who has lived well into his eighties.  A ripe old age by most standards.  Who has fought and survived through two wars, the Great Depression, and lived with his cancer at least five years longer than people had originally expected.

So why does death surprise me?

Eventually it all has to end, doesn’t it?  Eventually it all will end.  And the only difference between grandpa and the rest of us is he now has his ticket to the other side, while we’re still waiting in line to get ours.

I hear grandpa’s voice out in the hall, and panic seizes me by the throat.  I can’t face him.  Not right now.  And so I cowardly duck out of the room so fast no one has a chance to even ask me where I’m going.

On automatic pilot, I move down the familiar halls of Tuality Hospital; the hospital where I was born.  Where dad has worked as an Obstetrician and Gynecologist for thirty-five years.  The hospital where I’ve known so much joy; tagging along at dad’s heels as a child, his self-proclaimed ‘assistant’ as he would round on patients or check on newborns in the nursery.

But that’s all on the second floor.  The Labor and Delivery department.  A happier place.  I’m currently on the fifth floor, which is reserved for more long-term care.

I just want to get away.  Get out of here.  But where can I go?

Without really thinking, I step into the elevator and punch the button for the eighth floor.  Feeling butterflies as the elevator lifts me up to the top of the hospital.  Stepping out into a mess of construction (they’re remodeling) and gingerly moving around the plastic and the sawhorses to the door leading into the outdoor garden on the roof.

The fresh air hits me with a shock; it’s spring, but here in Oregon that doesn’t mean it’s warm.  At least it isn’t raining.

Moving to a bench, I sit down and stare straight ahead.  Hands helplessly splayed open in my lap.  Empty.  Unable to do a damn thing to fix this problem we now face, because it’s a problem no one can fix.  Not even the most skilled of physicians.

Death.

As mortal beings with a ticking clock from the very first moment that proverbial sperm connects with the egg, you’d think we could do a little better job of preparing for the inevitable.  At least pack a hypothetical suitcase and leave it in the corner for when our time comes.  But we don’t.  Those commercials on television urging us to plan for the sake of our loved ones always fall on deaf ears.  There’s always a tomorrow to see a lawyer about a will.  And we’re always too busy with life to see a priest until the very last instant, yanking the poor man out meghann andreassenof bed and demanding he absolve us of our sins just before we step off the boat and into eternity.

No, usually death sneaks up from behind, and we’re left sitting on the roof of the hospital contemplating the meaning of it all while our grandfather is being told three floors down that he’s not long for this world.

I feel tears threatening the corners of my eyes, but furiously push them back, knowing once the tears start I’ll never get them to stop.  Instead I force myself to sit in silence.

The door behind me opens, and I hear a foot land on gravel.  I hear the sound a second time, and a third, and realize with a little jolt that I know who it is even before he speaks.  Dad has a very distinctive walk.  A little hitch (some might call it a limp) in his step from a long-ago knee injury sustained during an intramural softball game.

“Are they wanting me back downstairs?” I ask after he stands behind me for several minutes, sharing the space.

“No…I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

A smile forms at the corner of my mouth.  Dad can always do so much while saying very little.  He hasn’t even touched me; put a hand on my arm or pulled me into a hug.  Yet hearing his voice and knowing he’s behind me offers a level of comfort I rarely find anywhere else.

He is my safe harbor.  My sanctuary.  He always has been.

My earlier thoughts attack my mind viciously, and I’m forced to fight back tears all over again.  What will I do when he’s gone?  Who will I turn to?

When you get old, are you even allowed to have safe harbors any more?  Or are you just supposed to support everyone else?  Is it a luxury only the young get to have, kind of like believing in Santa Claus and never having to worry about paying the bills?

Again the questions flood my mind, and again I force my brain to go numb and quiet.  Looking around for a distraction.  Finding it in the shape of a beautiful little rose bush, a perfect white rose starting to bloom.  Three small buds just beneath, ready to follow suit.

Looking around the garden, I see many budding leaves and flowers.  It’s only a matter of time before the garden will become what it is during the summer months: a place of loveliness.  I’ve never been much of a gardener myself, but I can appreciate a garden’s beauty when I see it.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Dad’s voice interrupts my study of the white rose.

Crossing my arms over my chest in a universally protective gesture, as though by sheer force of will I’ll ward off all negative thoughts and depressinmeghann andreassen, nenika marieg feelings, I stand up a little straighter.  “It seems wrong that grandpa’s going to die in the springtime.”

Dad doesn’t respond at first to that; although since I’m not facing him, I can’t tell if it’s because my remark surprised him or if it’s because he’s trying to come up with a suitable response.  When he does finally speak, I decide it must have been a little of both.  “Why exactly do you say that?”

I shrug.  “Spring is a time for life.  Even you notice how many more babies you deliver in the spring than in the fall or the winter.  It just seems…wrong somehow to die in the spring.”

“Better to die in the winter?”

I bite my lip.  Bite it before I say something really stupid and childish.  Something along the lines of how he shouldn’t have to die at all.

Dad puts his hand on my shoulder.  “There’s no good time to lose the people we love, sweetheart.”  His fingers curl a little into the muscles of my neck before beginning to massage the tension away.  “And who knows?  He could still live a long time yet.  With prostate cancer it’s hard to say for sure.  All Dr. Stone is saying is there’s nothing left to treat him with.  Nothing left medically to fight the cancer.”

“I know.”  And I do.  Chemotherapy would kill him if he does it again.  The steroids he’s been taking are ripping his insides to shreds.  And even if they weren’t, the diuretics to help with the steroids are giving him chronic urinary tract infections.  I know it boils down to this: can’t treat a body if the body can no longer respond to the treatments.   Which is the point grandpa has reached.  Nothing working right any more.  And any new medication to treat one failing system would inevitably put too much stress on another.  “He’s dying.”  I don’t know why I feel the need to say it.  But I do.

Dad’s fingers stop massaging briefly, and then start again.  “Yes.  Yes he is.”

“How long do you think it will be?”  Dad is always my sounding board.  The one I look to for answers.

He sighs.  “I’m not an oncologist, Meghann…”

“But what’s your best guess?”

“I think he’ll still be with us for the rest of the year, at least.  He’s declining…but declining slowly.”

My eyes return to the rose bush.  “One more year.”  What would I do if I only had one more year?  What would I want people to do for me?

meghann andreassenI wouldn’t want to miss a single moment.

Glancing again at that perfect white rose, I’m seized with sudden inspiration as I get to my feet and move forward, grasping the little stem in one hand and snapping it with the other.  Feeling the soft petals on my palm as I walk past dad in silence.  Heading back to the elevator, cradling the rose in my hand with all the tenderness of something infinitely precious.

Some day soon, my grandfather will die.  I will drive over to the condo he shares with my grandmother and see only an empty chair.  Life will change forever.

Death is suddenly very real, and I am mortal just like him.  Seeing the wheel of time starting to leave him behind.  Knowing some day it will leave me behind too.  Roses blooming that I will no longer see or smell.

But not yet.  I am still here.  Here to love him.  And this thought comforts me.

Grandpa can’t walk up to the garden any more, but I can at least bring a piece of the garden back to him.  So I do; and the tears that well up in his eyes when I give him that little piece of spring mirror the tears in my own.  Crying together over a single white rose, and knowing it’s a good day to be alive.

meghann andreassen

Let Me Fall — Part I

On September 29, 2008, I made the decision to change my life. To end the dependency I’d developed on prescription painkillers, and get help.

Recently I dug out something I was asked to write while in treatment at Hazelden-Springbrook in Newberg, Oregon. I was given the assignment, during my final week (it was a total of four weeks I stayed there), to do a write up, in prose format, of what had led me to the center in the first place. All I was given was paper and pencil, and so I started to write.

This is what I came up with.

It turned out to not just be good therapy; it was also fun experimenting writing in first-person present tense. Something I’ve never done before. I enjoyed it.

Here’s the first part.  I’m sharing it for the addict out there who still suffers and wonders if there’s any hope.  Because I’m here to tell you that there IS hope.  You’ll be okay.  Sometimes we have to fall in order to rise up stronger than we were before.


 

“Meghann?  How are you feeling now?”  A hand touches me on my naked shoulder, and I hiss and recoil from it.

Immediately the hand is gone.

The weight of it is too much.  The warmth too much.  It’s all too much, because everything hurts.  Absolutely everything hurts.  I can’t breathe without gasping for air.  I can’t shift on the bed without whimpering in pain.  And I don’t dare open my mouth, lest I throw up again.

In this moment I am completely and utterly trapped, my body forcing me to lie down and take my punishment for what I’ve done to myself these last several months.meghann andreassen

“Meghann?”

The voice is back again, and this time I try to respond, tilting my head a few inches and no more.  It’s too heavy, and I’m too weak.  “Yeah?”  My voice cracks, and I feel the vibrations running up and down my throat, which is dry and in desperate need of water.  Of milk.  Of something that could soothe the tissues that I know must be scraped raw by now from all of my vomiting.

I swallow.

But that doesn’t seem to help much.

“How are you feeling now, sweetheart?”

It’s my father.  He’s been with me since this all started what feels like weeks ago.  And I want to reach for him.  I want him closer.  “I hurt, dad.”  I wince as I feel even more pain in my stomach.  It’s like a blow torch has been set off in the pit of my abdomen, and someone is trying to drill a hole straight through me to the other side.  The fire has been lancing at my insides for so long now I wonder if I can possibly survive another second.

Cringing, I feel my body’s desperation to move, and without even really realizing what I’m doing, I flip over violently from my left to my right side.

An involuntary movement.

Something my body has to do.

I can’t explain it, even as it is happening to me.

I think people call it some kind of a convulsion.

Not that it really matters what it is.  I do what my body demands; being put in my place over and over again as I’m shown just how powerless I am over this whole process.  All I can do is ride it out.

“Do you think you were able to keep down that last bit of antacid I gave you?”

I can see dad’s eyes right across from me.  He’s lowered himself to my level, and I’m peering straight through his glasses into an endless sea of brown.

I would do anything for those eyes.

For this man that I adore.

Especially right now.

Right now, knowing everything that I’ve done and everything that I’m asking of him to help me clean up my mess…right now I would do anything.

meghann andreassenWhich is why I hate having to tell him what I know he doesn’t want to hear; namely that the Prilosec didn’t stay down.  That I saw it come up into the blue bucket about twenty minutes ago, during one of the many moments when I’ve heaved all the contents of my stomach onto the floor in the last several hours.

Honestly, there’s not much left in my stomach to expel at this point.

Those two little pink pills were the first actual things I’d seen in a long time.

Which is why I know exactly what they were.

Why I know they didn’t do me one damn bit of good.

And as I tell him this, in a soft, painfully slow voice, I see him sigh and shake his head.  See the frustration that passes over his face.  The helpless bent of his shoulders.

And if I could cry at that moment, I know that I would.

But instead I just throw up again, leaning over the side of the bed as dad holds the bucket up close under my chin until the episode passes, his fingers stroking through my hair as I cough and sputter and rebel against the taste of bile in my mouth.

Finally my abdomen stops clenching, and I fall back, exhausted, onto the pillows and sheets, which are damp with sweat.

I’m chilled, but I know that in another moment I’ll be tearing the covers off of me as I start burning up all over again.

That’s how this dance seems determined to go.

Dad leaves to wash out the bucket for the thousandth time since all of this started, and when he returns, I’ve flipped over violently again onto my other side, so that now I’m facing away from him.

I want to stretch.

I want to curl up into myself.

I want to rend and tear my mother’s favorite white sheets into shreds.

I can’t seem to stop moving.

I find a position that feels blissfully perfect for all of two seconds, and then my body is forcing me to move again.  Spinning circles on the king-sized mattress.  Making a mess of everything.meghann andreassen

I’m good at that.

Making a mess of things.

Dad comes back again after what could have been minutes or hours…I have no idea which…and tells me that mom is on the phone.  That she wants to talk to me.

I’m afraid as he hands me the cordless device and puts it to my ear, though I don’t know if it’s that or something else that’s currently making my hands shake.

“Mom?”

She is crying on the other end, and it breaks my heart.

I don’t think I can stand it.

“Your life is over, Meghann!  Over!  Do you know that?  Do you know what you’ve done to yourself?”

I swallow, the feeling painful as my chapped, raw throat protests the clenching and unclenching of muscles, and try to speak.  “I know, mom…I know…”

“Is that all you have to say for yourself?”

“I-I’m sorry…I never-”

“You’ve ruined your life!  They’re going to arrest you, Meghann!  They’re going to come and throw you in jail like a common criminal, and you’ll never get to do anything again!  You’ll never finish school!  How could you do this to yourself?”

I know that my mother is just afraid, as are we all.

I know she’s just angry that she can’t be there to help me.

I know that she feels trapped and powerless, and is hating every minute of it.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel a lance piercing straight through my heart with every single word that pours into my ear.  The ring of truth stinging like salt in a raw, gaping wound.

“Mom, please…”

I don’t know what I’m begging for exactly.  I just know I need her to stop.  So maybe I’m begging for mercy?  Begging for her to give my guilty conscience a rest?  Because God knows it’s had plenty of time to build up to this moment in the past several days.

Unfortunately, she has other plans.

meghann andreassenShe’s an unstoppable force now, and I just have to sit there and listen.  Sit there and listen, and know that it’s all my fault that we’ve arrived at this moment in time.  Know that I deserve it, whether I think I can stand it or not.

I have to stand it.

There is no other option.

“You fucking selfish bitch!” She rails at me, pulling out the big guns, and my heart shatters just a little more, leaving me to wonder if I’ll ever be able to pick up the pieces again.  “How could you do this to me?”

I want to tell her to stop making it all about her.

To say it has never been something I’ve consciously done against her.

But I can’t form the words.

Instead I drop the phone and throw up again, leaving dad to clean up two messes; my literal one in the bucket, and the far more complicated one on the phone with my mother.

He moves away for a moment, undoubtedly so I don’t have to hear exactly what he’s saying to her.  Not wanting to cause me any more pain than he can probably already see written plain as day on my face.

When he comes back, he’s trying to smile for my sake.  And I want his comfort.  Need it as much as I once needed the drugs now being expelled from my body with all the violence of a Category Five hurricane.

He reaches for me.

I yearn for the contact.

And then when I get it, I hiss again and recoil backwards, my skin immediately protesting the contact, and the process starts all over again.  I violently flip a few more times on the bed while dad watches, helpless, beside me.  And I know he wants to help.

That he’s desperate to make it all go away, partly because he’s a doctor trained to help people, and partly because I’m his baby girl.

I know this as surely as I know that I want desperately to die in this moment.  Because I don’t think I can stand it any more.  This pain.  This endless suffering.  The black hole that I see before me, threatening to consume my entire life in a matter of seconds.

I don’t want it any more.

I can’t stand it.

I want out.

Out of this all.

Help me…

I have no idea who I’m calling out to.  No idea what divine being I think will even bother to pay any attention, given the fact that I’ve never turned to anyone before.meghann andreassen, girl with rose

But it’s definitely true what they say; crisis can bring out the spiritual side in all of us.

“She’ll be okay, sweetheart,” dad is saying to me, trying to reassure me that mom will be okay again.  That she’s just hurt.  Upset.  Scared.

All these things I already know.

But I’m not sure I believe it, which is why I shake my head once from side to side before falling back onto my pillow.  “No…” I whisper the word, feeling the truth of that single syllable slam all the way to the marrow of my bones.

I’ve lost her.

She is gone.

My mother; my best friend and greatest support.  My biggest obstacle and greatest source of heartache.  The being I don’t want to live without.

I’ve lost her.

I’ve finally found what will drive her away.

I’m sure of it.

And it is that thought, more than the physical pain…the endless vomiting…the ants that seem determined to crawl over every inch of my skin…the sweating…the convulsions…it is that thought that matters most.  That thought that makes me think I want to die.

To just close my eyes and not have to worry about any of it, ever again.

I am alone.

“I can’t…I can’t do it…” I think of that moment on the bridge, only about a month ago, when I ran, terrified, from the bungee jump.  Saying those same words.  Feeling that same futile terror.

Only this time my cliff is in the form of a future that holds too much uncertainty.  Too many holes open for questions.

“I can’t…”

Help me…save me…

Suddenly I feel a hand again on my cheek, only this time, for one blissful moment, my skin seems to calm down, and I can stand to be touched.  I turn my eyes up towards my father, and he is there, smiling at me, and I know that I’m not alone.  That I have at least one ally still in my life.

For an instant, I feel just slightly better.  And unbidden the thought comes into my head: this too shall pass.

I repeat it like a mantra in my head, even as I once again shy away from dad’s fingers.  Once again require the bucket as I heave-ho over the side of the bed.

This too shall pass.

And hours – maybe days – later, I finally, mercifully drift off to sleep.