Oh, you see that skin?
It’s the same she’s been standing in
Since the day she saw him walking away
Now she’s left cleaning up the mess he made.
-John Mayer, “Daughters”
I remember the first person who broke my heart. The first person who made me feel replaceable, disposable, unloved. The first person who made me question my worth and my sanity. The first person who shattered my spirit and collected the pieces like trophies. The first person who taught me that love can be conditional and one-sided. The first person who toyed with my emotions, using my love like puppet strings that choked the breath from my body. Dance, puppet, dance. I remember.
It was my father.
I always find it interesting to think about the emotional scars (we think) we’re hiding so well, only to realize that they are sitting next to us in the morning while we drink our coffee, communing with us while we drive to work, hogging the covers of our beds at night. For years, I convinced myself that I was not affected by my dad’s decision to choose addiction over his family. I went to school, made good grades, graduated college, got a job, and stayed out of trouble. I showed all the signs of a perfectly content, perfectly whole twentysomething.
It’s funny, almost, how long we’ll allow ourselves to stay damaged because we want to convince ourselves that we’re not.
But then the anxiety attacks started and I figured out that I had been lying to myself, just as he had lied to me. I figured out that I did not know how to exist in the world. I figured out that I sought others’ approval with agonizing desperation. I figured out that I hated what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I figured out that I feared rejection like I feared death. I figured out that brokenness is hereditary. I figured out that I did not love myself. If my own father doesn’t care about me, why should I care about myself?
My dad left me without an anchor to tie my heart strings to, so I blow in the wind, untethered and untrusting. I’m terrified that I’ll never know how to truly love a man because the man who was supposed to truly love me made me feel so damn insignificant. Was I not a good enough daughter? Am I not pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough? How could he stare into the eyes of his own child and lie time and time again? How could he dip in and out of my life at will, taking chunks of my soul each time he walked out the door? My heart is being held together with tape and glue and staples and flimsy band-aids etched with “I’m sorry”- does he even care?
As I blindly barrel my way through my twenties, I’ve come to understand that everybody is fighting their own battle. I’ve come to see my father as a human, first and foremost, incapable of perfection and burdened with the weight of his own past. I am learning to forgive him for the mistakes he made and to accept the sincere apology that I never got. I’m learning to forgive myself for all the self-destructive thoughts that I have allowed to intertwine into the very fabric of my being. I’m learning to stop blaming myself for things that were never my fault. Perhaps most importantly, I’m learning to love myself – as scary and damaged and broken and unsure as I may be – because I deserve it. Because I’m worthy. Because that is, in fact, the greatest love of all.