Honesty.

I am an open book. I haven’t always been that way, because while growing up, all of us kids had to learn not to rock the boat. Dad had a bad temper, and a little thing could become very big indeed. It was trauma to the nth degree, and it created lasting trauma. Last evening, after work, I had an anxiety attack like I haven’t had in years. I couldn’t get my breath. I couldn’t focus. I was sweating and still cold. I couldn’t even nap, which I so desperately wanted to do just to shut out the mental pain. Instead, I had to medicate and watch drivel on TV to calm myself down. Finally I was able to rest at my usual bedtime.

Despite making mistakes in life, as we all do, I am an honest person. If I don’t like you, you will know it. If I love you, I can’t hide it. I don’t stab anyone in the back, but this week I found out that someone thought I had. How do you prove your honesty? The only way I know is to be myself and be steady. People have bad days or bad weeks, and you just have to allow for that. I’ve had a lot of bad days since finding that lump last March, but I’ve tried to remain true to who I am at my core. I don’t know if last night’s anxiety was due to the one year cancerversary approaching or to having my integrity questioned, even for a moment. In business–if not in marriage–my dad’s word was his bond. I learned that from working with him. It has served me well all these years, and I won’t change.

The anxiety attack has left me a little “hungover”. This morning my head is throbbing and I just want to be in a dark room, but I have things to do. Cook, clean, deliver some goodies to friends. It will do me good to get out of the house and out of my head.

I wish my siblings and I didn’t live with this trauma. Our parents were selfish. Dad was a workaholic, maybe as a way to cope with his alcoholism. Look up “dry drunk” and you’ll find him there. He was also angry pretty much all the time. Some of that I understand. He was a country-and-western guitarist who had played on stage with the likes of Johnny Cash, but he had a wife and kids to support. Music didn’t pay enough. Music also fed his addictions. The alcohol flowed, and when it did, so did his libido. It was too much for Mom, and I’m sure she gave him an ultimatum. So he gave up the drink and started working his butt off. He would pick up the guitar and play and sing for us. He bought me a piano after I begged and begged. He loved music.

Over time, however, he started to take his unhappiness out on Mom and us kids. It was always tense at home. He suffered from paranoia. If Mom put on a new lipstick before taking us to church, Dad would accuse her of trying to catch a man, but he would never go with us. “Say a prayer for your Daddy,” he would call to us on the way out the door. Sometimes, Mom would cook him a good meal, and he would be convinced that she was trying to poison him. He would rake it into the trash, and the fight would begin. I saw him beat my brother. Not “chastise” him. Beat him. Kick him. Bloody his face. For what? For coming home smelling of smoke or on suspicion of drinking. (Dad smoked at least 2 packs a day for 30 years. Combine that with the asbestos he was around at work, and he ended up with terminal lung cancer.) He could be incredibly cruel and thought we were all out to get him.

Mom, for her part, still loved Dad despite everything, but sometimes she believed the things he said about her. Instead of finding a way to leave, she tried suicide, over and over. We all learned how to check for breathing and a pulse, how to call for help if we needed it. I don’t think either of our parents ever thought, “What is this doing to our children?” No. They just ran on pure emotion. They never applied logic or intellect to what they did. It was raw and ugly. No parents are perfect, but our parents didn’t even pretend to be.

It was a bizarre way to grow up, and as a result we all fled home as soon as we were old enough. My oldest brother joined the USAF at 18. My older sister left at 18 and moved in with roommates, getting married shortly afterward. My other brother left at 18 and got an apartment with friends. I left at 16 to go stay with my older sister and finish high school. Now, very few of us talk to each other. When we do, we’re careful, just like we were growing up. A little thing can become a big thing.

So it shouldn’t surprise me that I had an anxiety attack. When anything goes wrong, it feels like the world might come down around me. But it won’t. I know that consciously. You would think that after cancer, nothing could shake me, and yet it still does.

If you’re reading this, know this — I won’t lie to you. If I think the truth will hurt you, I’ll keep it to myself. The exception is that in a love relationship, I might say terrible things in the middle of a fight. How’s that for honesty? It’s damned hard to break a pattern you learned so well growing up. (This is one of the reasons I’m not sure I want another relationship.) Sometimes I think that adulthood is all about trying to break patterns and learn to be better people than our parents were. It’s very hard work. It’s worthwhile work. I’ll keep doing that work.

Yours honestly, J

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