You know things were bad when your new therapist says "this could make an interesting case study". This happened to me about 10 years ago. Needless to say, I didn't go back for another session with this person.

I've been in and out of therapy for decades because of the way the adults around me behaved when I was a kid. It was just dysfunctional and chaotic much of the time.

My dad was married 3 times. From the first marriage came a half-brother whom I barely saw growing up. He and my dad did not get along. So, my brother lived with his mom until he was put into foster care. So, I only saw him some weekends, holidays and a few weeks over the summer. When I was in 6th grade, my brother joined the military and I was the one who said goodbye to him when he was picked up at the house because my dad couldn't be there.

I was the product of wife #2. Mom had a lot of self-image issues and was anorexic. When I was 7, she refused medical treatment after a car accident and died several days later. I didn't really understand what was going on, but I realized that my dad couldn't help me get through whatever this was and that part of our lives was over.

Awhile later, my dad married wife #3. That was just bad. This woman was mentally ill and was hospitalized a few times for multiple personality disorder. She hated taking her meds and loved to drink. I spent a lot of those years being confused and angry because I didn't understand why she didn't remember things that I had told her or why she wasn't quite "all there" a lot of time. Her daughter hated me and my dad and resented the whole situation.

Needless to say, there was a lot of change and upheaval between grades 1-6 and I didn't really understand a lot of what was going on. I tried to make my best of a bad situation, but I also had a lot of unresolved grief and trauma. It was in this timeframe that I first got introduced to therapy because "she needed help".

The worst part about that was that I felt like I was in an impossible situation when the therapist asked me if my dad had sexually abused me. Instead of telling the truth, I lied because the alternative was living with the step mom who wasn't stable and the daughter who seemed to spend all of her waking hours finding new ways to hate me and my dad. So, I lied and stayed with my dad.

After my dad (who was extremely selfish and narcissistic) divorced my stepmom, it was just us. Me and my dad. Except in many ways it wasn't. it was just me, myself and I. He'd leave me alone for the most part because I did what I needed to do to feed myself and go to school and get good grades. I spent a lot of time alone and that was really unhealthy (looking back). My mom's family ditched us after she died because they never approved of mom's choice to marry dad. So, the family I actually know is limited to my dad's side of the family. When we did talk, a lot of times, it seemed like I was my dad's therapist.

The other twist in this story is that my dad lost his union job and was suing the company for workmen's comp. So, the lack of money dominated our lives as well.

By the time I was in 11 grade, we were almost homeless because there simply was no money for rent. I spent a lot of time focused on school, but looking back, it probably would have been better if I had gotten a job and tried to help out. However, my dad saw school as my ticket out of poverty, so that's what he told me to focus on.

I was relieved and struggling when I finally graduated from high school. We weren't broke anymore. He successfully had sued the paper plant and won, but we still didn't have a lot of money. We just didn't have to worry about being homeless anymore.

Going to college was a different world. I had a hard time relating to a lot of the students there. A friend of mine said that a lot of our mutual friends thought that I was just making up stories about my life to get attention (or something), but I told him that I don't have that kind of imagination. I had no reason to lie to people, but a lot of people just don't deal with the amount of trauma that I had in my short life. That just isn't part of their experience. So they couldn't relate.

Needless to say, I did make some excellent friends, but I learned that a lot of people simply want a censored version of the truth, not for you to tell the whole truth. So, I've become an expert in omitting details or obscuring the truth so I sound more like the people I'm talking with. My dad wasn't an unemployed and broke former factory worker who was suing his former company, but he was "retired". I lived in a "house", not a "house trailer" in a trailer park.

Besides the money issue, I was also taught that being a woman wasn't exactly good and that getting older was the most awful thing that could ever happen to a woman. The older women I knew were always sick or victims of domestic violence. My dad bragged about punching my mom in the mouth after she went to club one night. He also told me way more about their sex life than I ever truly wanted to know. So, I tended to hide my femininity and dressed more to cover myself than to look attractive. It wasn't until my late 30's - early 40's that I learned how to dress well for my body type and skin coloring.

I did date, but I didn't have a strong sense of how relationships were supposed to work. I hated dating "normal" guys because I always had to explain "why" when they wanted to know why things worked the way that they worked in my family. A lot of times, I never considered why - I was just doing what I needed to do to survive.

My low point was when I gave a child up for adoption. That broke me emotionally. I still struggle with that 20+ years later. I understand why we chose what we chose, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

I eventually made my way back into therapy and with the help with an amazing therapist - I started to see my value as a woman. I married my husband and we've been married for nearly 19 years.

I chose my husband because I didn't have to explain crazy to him because he came out of a chaotic family situation as well. We both had similar goals about not wanting to be "like them" and create something better and "normal". For the most part, we've done that.

It's hard to be estranged from your family because even if you have bad relationships with your family - they are still family and it wasn't all bad. It was just bad most of the time. I stopped talking to my dad on a regular basis after I realized what a gossip he was and that he didn't really respect my boundaries. He didn't get that I moved all the way to Alaska, in part, to get away from him. Even though I moved back to my home state, I never really spent that much time with him. Our worlds and interests were just too different. (And I consider that a good thing).

Dad recently died. It was nice to reconnect with my family for a time, but I realized why I haven't spent much time around them for the past 20 years. The whole experience confirmed why I made the choice to stay away and build something new with my partner.

A lot of families are similar to mine, but nobody really talks about it and just puts up with bad behavior because they think that they have to.

We've never done the big Thanksgiving or Christmas thing because we aren't interested in more "drama" - we had enough of that when we were kids.

I've survived, but sometimes, I look at the costs and I wonder if it was worth it. However, I have to remind myself that being disconnected from my family is much healthier for me and my family.

It's only been within the past 5 years that I've really felt free to be beautiful and show off my body and be feminine.

I'm so grateful for the role models I met after college who showed me that women can still thrive and be amazing well into their 70's and 80's. A lot of it is really attitude and mindset.

I'm playing with the idea of coloring my hair because I feel sassy and fun. Not out of an obligation to look younger than I really am.

I learned from my mom that you really have to appreciate the life that we are given. I haven't always done that, but I'm so glad I had the time to figure that out. She was deathly scared of being fat and old. So, she starved herself to death and made sure she didn't live past 40. I'm so proud and blessed to be older than she was when she died. I'm also proud that I have my grey hairs because for some reason she was scared of aging and what that meant as a woman. My goal was always to age well. I may not get it right or perfect, but I don't want to prematurely die either.

I'm still working on getting comfortable in my body, but I'm still trying, so that's a win.

I'm also learning that the choices I made regarding my dad were the right ones, even if I did/do miss him sometimes. I really wouldn't have made different choices if I had the option to go back in a time machine and change them. I'm just sad that I couldn't have the relationship I wanted with my last living parent.

My half-brother and I both agree that dad taught us more about what we don't want to be than what we do want to be.

It's just been a challenge walking that new path, so I'm grateful for all the people I've invited into my life who are "family by choice".

Learning new relationship and communication skills helped my marriage survive and thrive. It also helped me come into my own as a woman. I'm a lot more intentional about what I say and do these days.

I could say a lot more, but this is really the heart of my story. Sharing it is a gift, so thank you for allowing me to the opportunity to do so.

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