Dear Annie: My mother separated from my father when I was 3. She left my father, who never came looking for us. She later married a wonderful man who loves me more than anything.
When I was 15, a family member was able to get in touch with my biological father. The next day, he changed his phone number.
Recently, I did a DNA test and was able to connect with a cousin. I’ve been told that my biological father has since remarried and has two children. She gave him my number, and he has reached out to me. He wants to meet me but has no intention of telling his family about me.
I’m hanging onto this hatred and wondering if that is why, at the age of 40, I still can’t see past the worst in men. Do I live with this anger or do I move on? — Stuck in Anger
Dear Stuck: Living in anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It is understandable that you are angry with your biological father. He sounds like he was an unhappy man. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, not the other person. Try to see that your biological father was very limited in the love or support that he could give you. This had nothing to do with you and everything to do with his limitations.
As for your anger with men, try putting your attention on the wonderful men in your life instead of those who aren’t present. Case in point: the man your mother married. You said that he loves you more than anything. That type of love between a daughter and stepdad is so beautiful. Focus on that, and you will be much happier. If you need help in letting go of the anger and hurt of your father’s abandonment, then consider seeking the help of a professional therapist. There is a kindness about your letter, and kind people let go of anger. (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com
Really, Annie Lane? Kind people let go of anger? Who made that up? The same person who said that stuff about drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die, which, by the way, is entirely unoriginal and cliché?
Huh. Well, I’m here to say that I’m a kind person, but I don’t let go of anger. It burns within me like a cauldron of seething pain and eternal torment and damnation. The fire of a thousand suns shooting laser beams at a silo filled with popcorn kernels wouldn’t be as hot as… oh, never mind.
I rarely get mad at the people who matter to me, but I often get into these paranoid funks where I think back about past wrongs against me and just stew. Damn it all!
Like, why did my manipulative sister arrange it so that I got kicked out of the hospital while I was visiting our mother? (I talked myself out of that funk by reminding myself that Ellen had to keep it under wraps that she pushed our mom down the stairs in the first place.) Or why did that mean vet accuse me of wanting to have Sammy Samson euthanized because I was an unfit doggie owner? The list goes on and on.
And sometimes I delight in revenge or karma. Like, okay, the head of the music department at Bellarmine while I was majoring in music there, Dr. Satan, was a terrible person. I delight in the fact that he’s no longer the head of the department. He got his sorry self demoted because he wasn’t letting the music majors graduate with their degrees until five to eight years had passed. Ha!
Or the time I threw a tantrum at the pharmacy because they hadn’t filled my Seroquel yet (and the should’ve); and the beauty of the hell I put them through was that it was because I was undermedicated. Direct consequences.
I’m starting to suspect that these paranoid funks of mine aren’t normal and that most other people don’t experience them. Huh. Maybe I’ve been overly victimized in my lifetime. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not prone to massive self-pity. Most of the time, I blithely try to block it all out and pretend I’ve never gone head-to-head with anyone, much less a long list of people.
I’m used to the paranoid fantasies. They’ve always been there. They always will be. It’s a part of me. Often, it comes up while I’m walking the dog with my dad, and he has to calm me down. He’ll say things like, “The vet was pro-dog. She wanted to keep Sammy Samson alive,” and I’ll retort, “I told her she could have him! I said, ‘You can take this dog home with you right now.’ Not good enough! Not good enough! She was horrid.”
I don’t think it’s my mental illness. Well, it is, but it isn’t. I sense it goes back to the extreme amount of drama and accusations I grew up around for years and years. Like the way my mom was always telling me it was my fault she was crazy, when I was a little girl; or when I’d get yelled at and lectured because I “corrected” Granny Franny about which episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman was going to be on. All that jazz. It was that constant environment of suppression, forced subservience, ego-crushing requirements that I kiss up to everyone, and shaming that just left me feeling constantly accused and at odds with everyone around me.
So, no, Annie Lane, kind people don’t let go of anger. (I feel like I just said, “So, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Huh.) Am I going to feel less virtuous about myself and less kind because I’m angry all the freak-[bleep] time? No. So there, Annie Lane, so there. I don’t think it’s a testament to my lack of virtue. Rather, it’s a testament to my character that I’m kind otherwise by valuing and loving the people close to me so much despite the hellish environment I grew up in.
I think Annie Lane’s ridiculous. I get what she’s saying, but she hasn’t worked through it herself, so she’s speaking empty words here. She’d have more authority if she’d overcome something similar. That said, I always admire it when Annie Lane tackles a relationship question with her own thoughts rather than empty referrals to a therapist. I mean, that’s sort of a cop-out.
Annie Lane talks of how the letter writer’s dad was inadequate as a dad, and it isn’t personal to the letter writer, so she shouldn’t take it personally. It’s weird, but I’ve never found that awareness to be helpful. It sounds like it would be helpful, but it isn’t. I’m fully aware that the bad influences I grew up around had issues, and I can see those issues as clear as day, and yet I’m still an anger machine. It doesn’t make a difference.
The best advice I could give the letter writer would be to cultivate relationships with men. She’s solid with her stepdad, so she could also try to get closer to cousins, half-brothers (if her mom and stepdad had any kids), friends, coworkers, uncles, mentors, churchgoers, neighbors, etc. If she can make a list of men who aren’t sleazy like her bio dad, it might help her see that her bio dad isn’t setting the standard very high.
I’d also recommend that she own her anger. Holding a grudge isn’t unvirtuous (in and of itself). For example, if she were to immediately just forgive him, what if he were to change his phone number again? Wouldn’t she sort of regret having blindly given him the benefit of the doubt? Grudges can play the role of protecting us from getting hurt again. That said, she’s being overly hurt by being unable to trust any other men. I’d agree that she needs to work through that issue, for sure, probably with a therapist. Here’s hoping she can find a good one. Don’t get me started!
Dear Annie: The letter from “Shepherd With a Lost Sheep,” who feels that his adult daughter is not making good life decisions, reminded me of my own daughter, “Jane.” Jane easily graduated with honors from college, but like “Shepherd’s” daughter, she has never been employed in her educational field and worked only at fairly menial jobs. In addition, she has been divorced twice and had several questionable live-in relationships.
What I didn’t know for many years, and what “Shepherd” may not realize about his daughter, is that Jane had a mental illness. She was able to function marginally OK for daily life, but she could not make the best life decisions.
Even though she took the initiative to see numerous mental health counselors, and did her own exhaustive self-study, it wasn’t until 25 years after college that her mental illness finally reached a crisis that resulted in getting the help she needed. I recommend “Shepherd” contact his local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has exceptional programs for the loved ones of persons with mental illness.
NAMI and my counselor have helped me to understand and cope with Jane’s illness and how to properly assist in ensuring she gets the help she needs. I now accept that Jane is doing the best she can, and we maintain a wonderful relationship. I wish the same for “Shepherd.” — Dad at Peace
Dear Dad at Peace: Thank you very much for your letter. I am delighted that you are able to maintain a wonderful relationship with your daughter. So much of having a good relationship with others stems from understanding where they are coming from or what they are going through. I have a feeling your letter will help many readers.
Oh, come on, don’t be like that! We need more info here. Which mental illness does she have? How does it affect her functioning? How’d she function despite it for so long? Details! I could benefit from some details to intuit the overall message of underachievers being mentally ill in actuality.
The sad thing is that Jane saw a lot of counselors. Here’s the problem with that (among other things): counselors won’t diagnose a mental illness, and they won’t recommend medication. Now, I get that they’re not licensed to prescribe or diagnose necessarily, which might have something to do with it; but they could easily say, “Have you considered seeing a psychiatrist to discuss your depression [or whatever] symptoms?” but they won’t. So if you’re dealing with major mental illness symptoms, don’t expect your counselor or therapist to point it out to you.
(I’m not sure if this is just my experience, or if it’s broadly applicable. But there have been countless times in my life that I was mentally ill–and quite obviously so–and my then-therapist never suggested psychiatry despite the full knowledge that I was unmedicated.)
It’s weird, too. This letter makes me wonder if I’d be gainfully employed at present if I’d been adopted at birth by a stable family. I wouldn’t have my troubled history, but I would have my brain chemistry. Huh. I have no idea.