True Life: Growing Up with a Suicidal Parent

This post is part of our True Life series where OKC moms are sharing real trials & tribulations they have gone through as mothers, as wives, and as women. 

I sat in the back seat of our blue Honda civic with my 12 year old brother next to me as we drove my father to rehab.  My mom was driving and my dad was in the passenger seat.  Rain ran down the windows of the car as I stared out the window.  It was like I was watching my own tears stream down the cold glass.  The hurt cut so deep, that tears were impossible.  I asked him why he did it.  Why did he tried to kill himself?  How was suicide an option, if I was his daughter?  His response was, “Life isn’t worth living when the fun is done; life is just too hard as an adult.”

Suicide; the Ultimate Sting of Betrayal

The sting of betrayal set in.  How could my own father choose death over me?  I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the carpeted back seat of the car and wrapped myself up tighter in my winter coat.  My eyes shut.  Beneath my eyelids, I pictured a lone statue on a pedestal. It was clean, made of marble and chiseled to perfection.  It was my father, up there, standing so proudly and in such high esteem.  Slowly, the pedestal was knocked from beneath the statue. I saw the whole thing crash in slow motion, the beautiful figure was now in shambles on the floor.  The man I had once held in such high regard, was now a broken mess.  

For transparency purposes, I must admit that a piece of me wished he had died in his suicide attempt. I was that angry.  The hurt was nearly unbearable and I would have done anything to avoid the reconstruction that was to come. I was 15 when my father attempted suicide.  He called me on a Friday night, about to leave work, and  asked me what I wanted for dinner.  His plan was to pick up some fast food on the way home.  I gave him my order and hung up.  A few hours later, and he still wasn’t home.  I began to call several people he worked with, asking them when he left work.  Worry quickly set in.  I found out later that my mom eventually discovered my dad on the floor of his office, overdosed on meds; blue and lifeless.

The Turning Point

This was the turning point for our family.  His suicide attempt began the slow revealing of the unhealthy reality we had been living in. My dad had been a closet addict.  Playing the classic role as co-dependant, my mom knew everything and did a fantastic job keeping things secret.  My siblings and I were kept in the dark for years. Suddenly, his behavior made sense.  The yelling, the mood swings, the unexplained disappearances; they all fell into place. My dad checked into rehab a few weeks after his suicide attempt.  He denied he had a problem, and it took a real bonafide “intervention” to get him there.  I sat in a circle and read a letter to my father before A&E made it popular.

Healing After Trauma

Years of individual and group therapy followed for all of us.  My parents divorced after he refused to get sober, and two years later, they remarried. (Which is a story worth it’s own blog post). Growing up with a father who was an addict and suicidal has affected me on the deepest level.   The day my dad was found, cold and unconscious on the floor, my core was altered.  Therapy has helped me to understand the impact that the trauma of suicide has on an individual.  My ability to trust was impeded the day my dad fell from his proverbial pedestal.  The most respected man in my life betrayed me.  I experienced a treason of trust, a let-down of love, and the apostasy of addiction.  

Looking Back as an Adult

Time and maturity have helped me to see my father through a different lens.  I have more empathy now that I understand the difficulties adulthood brings.  My dad had an unfortunate childhood that set him up to fail.  He needed help, and didn’t know how to ask for it.  Today, twenty years later, our relationship has been restored.  He has once again become one of the most respected men in my life, all due to the hard work he has put into recovery. 

As a mother, I know that my own children now place their parents up on the same pedestal.  Because of that, I am conscientious of my own mental health.  Addiction and even suicide can be generational legacies.  I refuse to fall into the trap of statistics, so I continue to seek therapy and to live in a proactive state of mind.  It is ridiculous to pretend that my childhood experiences didn’t shape who I am and how I parent.  Today, awareness is the key.  I wake up each morning, remembering that I am in control of my own path, and I am hoping to choose a different one for my own family.  

 

If you are reading this and you experienced a parental suicide attempt, parental suicide or a parent with addiction, you are not alone.  How has trauma in your childhood affected you as an adult?  Are you currently seeking therapy for such trauma?  How do you parent differently because of your experience? The key to breaking the stigma is to talk about it.  Don’t be afraid to share your experience, here or with a  friend.  Thank you for reading. 

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