These Are Your Confessions - Transcript
This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “These Are Your Confessions.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.
Listen to the episode here.
I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
This show started because after my husband Aaron died and his obituary went viral, I got a lot of messages. A lot of emails and DMs and tweets and sometimes -- a little scarily -- physical letters from people who were going through or who had been through something hard and needed someone to know that they, too, had crawled through the darkness or maybe were still pawing their way around in the abyss.
They were reaching out to say, “This thing happened, and I need someone to know about it. Someone who doesn’t know me, who isn’t burdened by the full context of my existence.” And some of those messages ended up being the first season of this podcast, and I’ve seen many more of them as a sort of confession.
Not of wrongdoing, necessarily, but of the truth.
Truth is sometimes hard to give to the people closest to us.
We may not want their judgment, but just as often we don’t want them to burden them with having to feel bad for us, or to worry about us.
So stories -- these little pieces of a person’s life -- end up in my inbox as a kind of offering. And if you subscribe to my emails, I often put in the end of them that you can reply, and I will read and hold your secret, or your pain, and I will release it and offer up my own little non-denominational prayer for you, or punch a pillow for you, or whatever feels right.
We made an episode called “The Grudge Book” full of your grudges, and the feedback was so strong -- people felt validated, they laughed, they connected -- and I thought, do we need one of these that also gives you a place to share the other things that are hard to say? Your regrets? Your almosts?
Do we need a space for people to tell a truth they haven’t told before, or don’t feel like they can tell?
So here we are. Everything in this episode was shared with permissions and for the ones I’ve read I’ve omitted or changed certain identifying details out of respect.
TTFA Listener 1: A year and a half ago, I was in an indoor rock climbing accident and had a mental lapse and forgot to clip into the auto belay and made it to the top of the route cause I'm a badass. And I slipped on the last hold. I fell backward. And broke my back and my left foot, and my 2020 was off to a horrible start back in January. So it's been a little over a year and a half now, and I still live with reminders of the accident. I live with incontinence and so much change because of my mistake. It's really hard to forgive myself for that and, you know, the life I have now is because of the mistake I made.
TTFA Listener 2: I grew up in the evangelical Christian world. I was very deep in it. It was all I knew. And that's not an excuse so much as it's context. It's a fact. And I worked as a youth worker starting from when I was 18. I don't know why they hired me when I was a youth at the time. But I taught a lot of young students about sexuality through the view that I knew at the time, which was: abstinence, purity, and heteronormity. And as someone who has now reckoned with my sexuality and the fact that I'm bisexual, I look back on the times I told students that they couldn't be themselves, and that they were dirty and ... you know, I didn't use that language, but you you know what you're hearing when you're a teenager at a youth event. You know what they're saying. And you can put it nicely. You can word it however, but the core message is that there's something wrong with you. And I told a lot of young women a lot of bullshit. And I myself am working through the damage that those things have caused myself, and it's really horrifying to me that I also put this damage on others.
TTFA Listener 3: I've been on quite the path of self-discovery, lately. I am almost eight months sober. My sober date is January 10th of 2021. But in that process, I've really come to some truth about why I drink and what I'm hiding from. About five months into my sobriety, I remembered a traumatic experience that I had had when I was 19, when I was raped by my boyfriend at the time. And I didn't consider it rape for- I honestly like chalked it up to a bad sexual experience. He and I, you know, I broke up with him. He insisted that I like, call the cops and tell on him, but I just wanted to completely put it behind me and ever think about it again. So that was nine years ago. And in ways that I didn't even understand until I got sober and I've been in therapy, it completely altered my relationship with myself in so many ways and in ways that I can't even describe. And it really hasn't been until recently that I've been able to really determine and put a name to some of these feelings that I have surrounding the experience that I had in the nine years of my life, in which I've had disordered eating, in which I've been using massive amounts of alcohol in which I engage in really troublesome sex, and just really negative, toxic things. You know? I really trashed my body. I trashed relationships. I trashed familial relationships. I mean, I ruined things in my life. And the sense of betrayal... that I felt. Betraying myself in that moment when I was 19. Betraying myself in every moment since then. I have a really hard time being able to forgive myself for- for turning my back on myself. Um. And for wasting the quote unquote best years of my life, in trying to deal with- with all the things that we deal with.
TTFA Listener 4: I just feel like I'm really struggling to forgive myself for being human and dealing with mental illness. And particularly lately, I've been struggling with the cultural perceptions of borderline personality disorder, which I have, and I'm very apprehensive to share with people, because often it's perceived as manipulative and desperate for love. And yes, there's some tumultuousness in that experience, but I find that even now, I was listening to the OC podcast the other day and they flippantly said, “Oh, he is borderline.” And it really makes me distrust my own perception. And I hold space and feel such compassion for people fighting and people struggling with mental illness, and yet I struggle to make space and forgive myself for that.
TTFA Listener 5: The thing that I'm having a hard time forgiving myself for is for being happy. And I know that it sounds really crazy when I say that, because if I start describing this moment in my life, where I'm so grateful for so many things, I will also have to say that although I've been working really, really hard all my life to get to where I'm at right now and I’ve had to go through a lot of pain, part of it is because the father of my kids and my ex-husband committed suicide two years ago, and that allowed us to be where we're at right now. My boys and myself. And I know that one of the reasons why he left us is because he was certain that I would do what I did, which is provide the best that I could, but the best that I can to our kids. So I'm having a hard time allowing myself to feel this happy because it also comes from so much pain.
TTFA Listener 6: Something that I haven't forgiven myself for yet or maybe ever is: Almost three years ago, my older brother Paul was living in Pennsylvania, and he had struggled with addiction for most of his life. And his boss had called me because he didn't show up to work. So we were worried that he overdosed. I was in New Hampshire, he was living in Pennsylvania, and we dealt with that. Turns out he was using, but he just overslept and everything was fine. But obviously, I was a wreck, and I used that trauma to text my ex-boyfriend, I guess so that he would feel bad for me and reach out. Even though he had another concern, so that was stupid. And two days later, my brother did overdose and die. And I think that if I didn't put that energy out in the universe, and I wasn't looking for sympathy to get my stupid ex-boyfriend back, that maybe my brother would still be alive. Obviously, it didn't work out with the ex-boyfriend either. And my brother's dead and I'm 35 and living with my parents. But I feel like it's karma, that I wanted someone to feel bad for me in that moment, and now everyone feels bad for me.
TTFA Listener 7: One thing that I struggle with forgiving myself for is placing my daughter for adoption nearly 24 years ago. I was not educated about adoption. In fact, I was pretty ignorant about it. And just believed kind of what I saw in the media. Fast forward to the present where I can see how even though I'm in reunion with her and have a relationship that I'm so grateful for, ways that have possibly impacted her life but as well as other adoptees — such as, you know, she doesn't have access to her original birth certificate. She doesn't know her paternal side of her family. And so I'm just still- find myself struggling with the choices that I made for her that I thought were the best at that time, but now struggling on how that has impacted her life. And there's some days I just don't know if I can forgive myself for doing that.
We’ll be right back.
We’ve said before that death makes a relationship … a bit one-sided. There’s a lot to hold on to when you’ve lost a person. When all the memories you have are all the memories you’ll ever have. When there are things left unresolved, things left unsaid, or things you can’t unsay.
TTFA Listener 8: There are a few things that I can't forgive myself for, all having to do with my mom, who passed away unexpectedly when I was 24 and she was 44. Totally unexpected. When she died, she was unmarried, and I was her only living child. I had called 911 when I found her. She died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and they asked me if I wanted to see her body. And then immediately after they asked me, and put the decision on me, if I wanted her to have an autopsy. And I was so emotionally fucked from just receiving the information that my best friend had died that I said no. “An autopsy is not going to bring her back. So what good is that going to do me?” And it wasn't long after that I regretted that decision. I feel like I totally just robbed myself and everyone who loved her of knowing the exact reason of why she died. Her death certificate said cardiopulmonary arrest, which is very vague and doesn't say why that happened or anything. But the only thing that we do know is that she had a blood clot before she died. And now I assume that the blood clot may have traveled from her leg into her heart or her lungs. But I don't know for sure, because I selfishly did not have the autopsy done, because it wouldn't bring back my mom. But I think that her doctor's office failed to properly treat her, and that her death could have been prevented. And I didn't get the autopsy, so I will always regret that.
TTFA Listener 9: When I was growing up, my mom was a full-time kindergarten teacher and a part time EMT. But because teachers make shit, she ended up working more hours as an EMT. And that meant that she was home sort of never. And when she did get to come home, I was always playing whatever sport, doing band things, whatever it may have been. And I just remember, I'd be at my games, and I would look over and she'd be there, and three or four minutes later, I'd look over again and she'd be gone. And I didn't have to ask. I didn't have to have anyone tell me. I knew what happened. She had gotten a call. And duty calls. And off she went. Because, you know, who can say no to saving the world? And I got so angry at her one night that she left and I just begged her, I said, “Please just stop coming. Just stop coming. I don't like it when you're there, I don't want you to come anymore. I don't want you to be in my games anymore.” And I think she knew that it wasn't that I didn't want it there, I just didn't want her to leave. She still came, but not as much. If she thought that there was even a small chance she might have to leave to go to work, she wouldn't come at all. I think about all the games that were three or four hours away that I had to ride home on the bus when I could have been riding in the passenger seat with my mom, scream-singing Shania Twain. And I'll never forgive myself for all of those memories that I didn't get to have. Before she was sick, I only got her for 17 years. So much of that, she was at work, so I missed everything.
TTFA Listener 10: Something I haven't forgiven myself for is: When I was 17, my dad told me he was diagnosed with melanoma, and he had had it for five years. And I was a 17-year-old girl that thought, “Well, it's cancer, but he's going to be fine.” And so I still didn't like, take the time to spend time with him, and got annoyed when he wouldn't answer my phone calls. And eventually learned that he wasn't answering my phone calls because he was in blood transfusions. And ultimately, he ended up dying four months after I found out he had cancer, even though he had had it for five years and kept that to himself for that long. So I will forever struggle to forgive myself for how I treated him during the last four months of his life, with me not knowing that it was the last four months of his life. If I could do it over, I would be able to spend that time with him and just know him the best that I possibly could, knowing that I wouldn't have him for the rest of my life.
TTFA Listener 11: I cannot forgive myself for my dad's struggles with addiction my whole life and was estranged in the last few years of his life. I had just given birth to my first child, and he was elated and asked to come see us and meet his grandchild. I said no, it was not a good time, and he died two months later.
TTFA Listener 12: I can't forgive myself and probably will never be able to forgive myself for not doing more for my son before he was diagnosed with cancer. Childhood cancer can be so tricky with the symptoms that happen. And even though I took him to the emergency room on several occasions, it was only at a very late stage that he was so sick and I just knew that something was so wrong. But I can't forgive myself. I feel like I did what I could, and at the same time, I feel like I didn't do enough. After he was diagnosed, I had placed little post-its around the house saying, you know, “You're not responsible.” And even though everyone has told me the same, it just still feels like I was responsible, and I was supposed to care for him and protect him. And I just feel like I let his disease spread in different areas of his body, and he was so sick and so frail and so little, and I just feel like I dropped the ball on him. And that's something that's very, very difficult for me to reconcile and come to terms with and forgive myself for.
TTFA Listener 13: The only self-grudge I've never been able to shake has to do with my dad's birthday in 1994. I was 19 years old and I was away at college in my sophomore year. I called one day to complain to my mother about something. My dad answered the phone. I talked to him for a few minutes and then I asked for my mom. He got kind of pissy with me and said, “Of course.” When I asked what his problem was in my most dramatic way, he said, “It's my birthday. I thought you were calling for that, but it seems like you forgot and you only want to talk to your mom.” I apologized immediately and told him how sorry I was and promised that it would never happen again. He died one month and three days later, when the car he was working on rolled on top of him, killing him instantly. I've kept my promise, and I've never forgotten his birthday. I eat a piece of chocolate cake for him every single year. But I've never had the chance for him to know it. And I've never been able to forgive myself for it.
TTFA Listener 14: Something I struggle to forgive myself for is not showing up for my boyfriend. Well, he's now my ex-boyfriend. Because I was too busy. He was struggling with just the most dumpster fire life situation and nursing early onset alcoholism, I guess. And I remember the weekend that I got a text from him saying that he forgot about me. And I mean, ouch, right? But we sat down for coffee about a month later and had a really hard conversation over coffee about how he had just wished that I had shown up. And I think about that all of the time, because I loved him, and I didn't show up. Why didn't I get in my car and drive to his house and check on him and make sure that he was OK, because I'm not that forgettable. But he was sick. He is sick. And nobody else was there for him. And I wasn't either. And it's just hard to know that I failed someone in such a real, tangible way.
TTFA Listener 15: Something I'm having trouble forgiving myself for is letting my daughter die at 28 weeks of gestation, because I got pre-eclampsia and didn't realize there was something wrong until it was too late. And that was in April of 2021. So it is a daily struggle to forgive myself for being a bad mom and not protecting her.
TTFA Listener 16: What I'm struggling to forgive myself for: I have been full of intense rage and resentment and blame. Most of my family and friends abandoned me when my husband died. And after four plus years, with a bunch of therapy and meditation and sobriety and all sorts of things, I've been really sitting with what is my role? Where do I need to take accountability for why was I so hard to support? Why do I push people away the way that I do? Why do I close myself up and then get angry for people not being able to enter? And why did I choose the friends that I chose? Why did I choose friends who partied and drank alcohol and did drugs and then expected to have – and I’m not saying that you can't party and also be a person of substance, but the kinds of lifestyles and relationships that I had, a very rock and roll lifestyle, it was quite naive of me to think that when tragedy hit my life, that this band of nomads and circus acts so to say were going to be able to show up with casseroles and hold my hand. And so as I look back and think about … I'm a white woman, a white person, who hasn't always had the most diverse group of friends, and I've realized how much whiteness plays into how I experience hardships, especially like grief. And so as my community has expanded to be more diverse, I've realized that my friends in marginalized communities have such a different understanding and grasp on grief and struggle and trauma, and how to move through it and not to just offer toxic positivity. So definitely taking a lot of hard looks on the choices that I've made that led to me winding up in my hell, my own personal hell. But you know what they say: When you're in hell, you just got to keep moving through hell, or whatever the hell they say.
TTFA Listener 17: Something that I cannot forgive myself for is not having been a better friend to my childhood best friend that passed away. One of the only thoughts that I have in regards to his death is the fact that I wasn't as close to him as I should have been right before he passed away. I was supposed to see him the night before. But I was annoyed or pissed off or something, and I chickened out last minute and didn't go and hang out with him. And now the only memories I really have left with him revolve kind of around our childhood in elementary school, through high school. So the memories are already blurry enough.
We’ll be right back.
Some things are so hard to say out loud, it’s better to have someone else say them for you. So I will. These are emails I got, shared with permission, and anonymously…
I’ll be 30 soon, and that means I’ve known my parents as divorced for longer then I knew them as married. My parents’ marriage was terrible — I think it was best for them to get divorced. But they could have behaved much, much better. In fact, the manner in which they got divorced has irrevocably scarred my two siblings and I.
My mom engaged in parental alienation, beginning right when she alone told us (on Good Friday) that they were separating. I found out later that she told my 10-year-old sister before she told my father, “Because she asked!” This culminated in a screaming match on Easter Monday that will forever play on loop in my head. My parents screamed about their sex lives and about the crumbling foundation of the life they tried to build together. They both said awful things. Both of them are to blame for that fight, yet my mother has never taken ownership about her role in any of it.
As the oldest, I was the only one who saw my dad and had any kind of relationship with him, but it was fraught. I was constantly in the middle of a battlefield, alone. My dad was on one side and my mom and siblings on the other. In fact, as it stands now, my siblings haven’t really seen my dad since they were 10 and 8. Now they’re in their 20s.
My mother often said we had a “choice” in whether or not we wanted to see my dad, but that’s not really true. She belittled him and made fun of him to my siblings and I. (He was too goofy, he was bad in bed, she never loved him.) And my parents didn’t communicate about anything involving their children. Because of this, I never felt like it was “okay” to see my dad. My mom used to demand to know why I would see him, would threaten to send us to live with him if we were misbehaving. As a result, my relationship with my dad was incredibly strained when I was in high school. We saw each other frequently, but since my parents didn’t communicate and it was “my” decision, I constantly felt like I was disappointing someone. I don’t think I stayed at my dad’s house overnight until I was in college.
Here’s the part where I have to say this: My dad did not behave perfectly in their marriage or their divorce. He was often angry and I think he acquiesced to my mom’s demands too frequently. He is, after all, human. But he was and is a good dad. He read to us almost every night and spent his weekends playing with us in the sand or snow (depending on the season). Now, my dad and I talk all the time. I visit him frequently, and we have a loving relationship, but that does not change what happened during my high school years. It doesn’t change the abandonment I carry with me.
I am grateful for the relationship I have with my dad, but at a certain point I do feel like he gave up. As an adult, I get that. He tried very hard to see us, and I know he still writes my siblings letters for every birthday and holiday. I know that continuing to try harder would probably have killed him. But I’m so mad he didn’t fight the divorce agreement. I’m mad we weren’t forced to go see my dad every other weekend and on certain holidays like “normal” kids. I’m mad that I had to face all of this alone at the tender age of 13.
When I was 15, he met someone else and moved into her house with her three kids. It’s only now, as I’m attending all of their weddings, that I’m realizing how abandoned that made me feel—how that exacerbated the carnage on the battlefield of their divorce. It felt like my siblings and I were bleeding in the middle of a field, and my parents only cared about hurting each other or moving on to rectify the ugliness that had transpired.
All my life, my mom and my siblings have persisted in telling me that I’m dramatic and that all of this is in my head. I am (obviously) in therapy, and that has helped me immensely in finding comfort in my own beliefs and thoughts, but I’m still not okay. Every day I grieve my siblings’ loss of a father and my loss at having a ‘normal’ divorce set-up. I grieve the loss of my siblings and my mother, as my relationships with them are forever altered by this.
As for me, I’m okay. I have a good job and an apartment I love, and I feel mentally healthy (thank you, therapy). But I have baggage. I’ve never really dated anyone, I’ve never had sex. I’ve never done any of the things a nearly-30-year-old is “supposed” to do because I am still grieving this immense wound and dealing with the fallout of living through this schism. I want those things: a partner, a good sex life, love, but it all feels impossible. I feel like I had to become an adult at 13, and that’s fucked me up. I learned too much about what happens when relationships disintegrate, and it’s hard to unlearn that. It’s hard to understand that there’s another way to be.
I wish we talked more about adult children of divorce. I wish we talked about this shit, because I feel so alone in this space. All of my friends with divorced parents never dealt with this bullshit, and it makes me feel like everything is fucked up beyond repair.
I think maybe it's partly because I'm a woman and partly because of the backlash against self-promotion on social media, but I feel awkward guilt anytime I talk about my experience with cancer. I'm a survivor (a term I'm not on excellent terms with). Two-time survivor, actually. And even typing it quietly, anonymously here in this text box, it feels ... Shameful? Indulgent? Inappropriate? It feels like my experience will be met with the same hostility and annoyance that so many vegans experience. "Yeah, she's a vegan. And she talks about it ALL the time!" (I'm also vegan and try really hard to bring it up as little as possible because of this perception even though I do love being vegan.)
I mentioned my cancer experience recently and was asked, "Do you think of that experience often?" And, though the person was probably just curious, I immediately thought, "Oh shit. Am I bringing it up too much? Do they think I'm dwelling on it?" I felt panicked and totally embarrassed. About an experience that, yes, does cross my mind from time to time. Because it was cancer — osteosarcoma, a bad kind. And I survived it. Twice! In a four year span. And had a baby in between! And I am right now trying to rationalize to myself the fact that I'm even thinking about this monumental event let alone telling a stranger who didn't ask about it.
Oh, and let's not ignore the fact that I'm saying this to YOU of all people. What the hell is wrong me with me even uttering the C word to you? I feel a bit disgusting for that. But I think maybe you'll understand some of this. Some of how holding space for ourselves and believing the validity of our own experiences is near impossible sometimes. It's like we're given a choice to either be loud advocates for cancer research or to shrink away and never ever mention it again. But the thing is, I can't ignore it. I can't never mention it because as long as I am blessed to live (and I know that I am!) I will be a cancer patient. I will have scans and scanxiety. I will keep a will and try to leave subtle clues of my existence with my 5-year-old, just in case. I will have a brave face and do a pretty tremendous job pretending it isn't a big deal and enjoy my naps in the MRI and (thankfully ever-decreasing) self-care days at the cancer center.
And I'll keep being grateful for every second of it in a way that many people will never ever understand. Because I know in my actual bones how precious my life is, what a gift it is to live. And I will try not to be an annoying cancer survivor.
My 19-year-old cousin (who was raised as my sister) died in a car crash several years ago. It's the worst thing that's ever happened to me. What hurt the most was that she was eulogized by someone who didn't know her and buried just the same. I reached out to my pastor via email to tell him that she died and hoped that I could ask him to officiate her burial, but he didn't email me back for over a month. When he finally did he admitted that he received my email right after I sent it and that he was sorry he didn't respond sooner. I've always tried to let go of that but it still really bothers me. The whole experience actually changed my belief system, and now I am a very skeptical agnostic. Oddly enough, years before this happened, another pastor told me that children who aren't baptized go to hell. My aforementioned cousin just happened to be unbaptized.
I have a difficult mom, full stop. My therapist asked me this week what I, right now, want from my mom and what she could do that would make me feel less horrible about everything and so I'm writing this to you because I need to write it somewhere anyway!
She could stop commenting on my weight or the food I eat. I am sized now like an average person, but I used to struggle with disordered eating and food restriction and have been unhealthily thin in the past. I have finally gotten to a place where I don't skip meals if the meal I had before was too large or don't feel insanely guilty if I eat pasta for lunch. I weigh about 30 more pounds than I did at my smallest, but even the mild discomfort I have with being in a bigger body is nothing compared to the liberation I feel from my newfound eating habits and my view on exercise and movement. I eat what I want when I want. I eat healthy, nutritious meals and nourish my body with vegetables and proteins and fruits. And I no longer see exercise as a punishment or a compulsion, but something I do when my body feels good and I want to make it healthier. And her commenting, "You look thinner," or "I'm so proud of you for only taking one slice of pizza" isn't helpful. She even suggested asking my doctor for diet pills once.
My mom has always been naturally skinny and has severe food aversions, skips meals often, and rarely eats full meals or nutritious foods. I know how I am choosing to treat my body is the right thing, but I wish she didn't feel the need to say anything about it at all.
I wish my mom would acknowledge my sexual assault. My mom was violently, brutally raped in her home when she was in her 20s, and that experience has defined her. I didn't tell her about the boy who had sex with me when I was too drunk to consent/couldn't stay awake during the encounter in college, because I knew that I "just wouldn't have been raped enough" for her to consider it.
I posted a poem I wrote about it a few years later on social media, and she reached out after to ask, "Did this happen to you?" and then said, "So sorry that happened to you. Is (name of my partner) okay with you posting that?" If my child had been raped, and the first I'd heard about it was through social media, I would first be asking myself why my child didn't feel they could confide in me about it, and why the first time I was hearing about it was through social media. I couldn't fathom the second question about my partner and the way HE felt about me sharing what happened to me. I was so hurt by my mom's inability to speak with me about what happened and to diminish my experience by immediately putting my partner before me and continuing to question if I really wanted to share that on social media.
She has not spoken a word about it to me since.
I wish she would act like a mom and not like we're friends. Growing up an only child with my mom, who has security and attachment issues after her rape, means she never let me go and considered us besties. She never censored what she told me and constantly dumped her adult drama on me. I was her friend when it was convenient for her, and she only wanted to be a mom when she felt like it. She constantly pitted me against my dad and involved me in their marriage and their fights. I never got to be a kid because I was exposed to too much too soon and had to be my mom's "sidekick" first.
Now that I'm older, she considers me her friend more than ever, constantly trying to dump her personal things and her issues with my dad on me through text. She has not had a deep or personal conversation with me in years, where my experience or something I was going through was the main focus and she helped me through it or just let me talk. She often refuses to acknowledge any of my problems at all, saying things like "Oh, it's not that bad!" or she belittles the things I want to talk to a mom figure about, for example, if I say "I have to clean today!" when she asks what I’m doing she says "Just be grateful you have someone who helps you!" (a dig at my dad). Or if I say I am budgeting or trying to strategize money, she just says, "Just be grateful you have money to spend! We don't!"
I feel like I don't have a mom that moms me, and is just there for comfort and for love and acceptance, and so I've just stopped sharing things about my life because in her eyes, it's perfect, and I have no right to complain while HER life is so hard. Sometimes I wish she would just not talk about herself or her problems and just be a mom so I can be a kid.
I wish she would stop venting to me about my dad. I love my dad. He isn't perfect by any means, but I can't fathom ever trying to dump my problems with my partner on a literal child or to turn them against their father. That is not a child's burden to bear. The way my mom demonized my dad at times has led me to have a negative attitude towards men and has also led me to try to solve my issues with my partner through spite and retaliation, something I am working on undoing. I don't want to be the person my mom goes to to talk about her relationship problems. I've tried to ask her not to speak negatively about my dad to me recently, and now when she does anyway, I just respond with positive things about him. If she complains he is messy, I just say it's because he's a genius and he's too busy thinking to clean. I can tell this frustrates her, but I want to be firm that I am not the person she should be venting to about these things, because it's not appropriate.
I wish she would acknowledge how terrible she was when I was younger. My mom was moody, often storming around the house and screaming at me or insulting me. I was often scared to sit in the common area when she was in one of her moods, for fear she would say hurtful things or speak sharply at me. I wasn't allowed to wake her up from naps without her getting angry at me. I was afraid to ask for things like sleepovers with friends because she would get mad at me for asking, and I spent a lot of time in my room just to avoid her moods.
She got especially worse after her dad died. I have visceral memories of her screaming at me and throwing clothes out of my laundry hamper at me while I laid in bed because I hadn't put my clothes away. She burned me with a cigarette once. And she just slept so much that she genuinely wasn't around. When I was in high school, she got sick for almost two years and was entirely absent from my life. I suppose she couldn't control it, but she was absent for the most formative years of my upbringing, and I could've really used a mom at that time.
I wish she would quit drinking and smoking. She drank until I was about 8 or 9 heavily until she quit because she realized it made her mean and abusive to me and my dad. I have a memory of us driving home after an event where she'd been drinking and her hurling abuse at me, telling me I was stupid and things like that, and my dad telling her to stop. I think that might've been the catalyst for her stopping the drinking. She picked it up again when I was 17 and our family was on a cruise ship, just having a pina colada here and there. It devolved quickly into her drinking more, and now every night she drinks cheap wine and Milwaukee's Best until she's slurring.
She's still very mean to me when she's been drinking. One time she got pretty drunk at a family event where everyone was just sitting around the TV in the family room and she made Alexa keep playing the same song over and over while she danced and kept saying "I LOVE THIS SONG!" and everyone just stared at her, mortified. She kept bugging me to get up and dance with her, and I said no, and she said I was no fun and lame. Things like that.
She has also smoked my whole life, and that sincerely just enrages me. I've asked her to quit over and over, got sent to school reeking of smoke for years, felt embarrassed to have people over to my house because it smelled like smoke, and it was genuinely just horrible to be around having to have her chain smoke in the car on vacations and having it blow back on me in the backseat, having to break at least every hour at Disneyworld on vacation to stop so she could smoke in the provided sections, things like that. I got diagnosed with asthma my senior year of high school and asked that she no longer smoke in the house because of it. I also mentioned it may be because of secondhand smoke, which she scoffed at, but I was serious.
The last 15 months or so have been hard. Hard like the rest of the world that has endured a pandemic hard. Hard in even more ways than I ever could have fathomed for my “strongest man I know, capable of anything” husband. September 2020 we found ourselves in a hospital with him in stage 4 heart failure. Not pneumonia like he kept saying it must be for over a month. Not COVID, like I feared. Heart. Failure. As in probably won’t come home, will likely die. Heart failure. But the hospital staff didn’t ever say that. They talked around it. I visited in the “COVID-safe visiting hours” every day. He literally listened to people dying in his ward every night while simultaneously Googling the acronyms he heard the nurses say at shift turnover. Heart. Failure.
You don’t really come back from that. And people don’t really understand that. He’s here. And I am so fucking grateful that he is still here. He’s my person. My human. My world. But heart failure. It changed him. Changed me. It changed my brain. It shifted my reality in a dark, “Well if that can happen, then…”
I used to just be the girl that was a little OCD and liked to know the plan. Now I can barely handle a drive an hour away to Costco. Because it was in Costco when he almost collapsed the day before he was hospitalized. I used to be the girl who could travel internationally and go explore a new land, and now the mere idea of us moving cross country in two weeks has me paralyzed.
I’m a military spouse. I’ve been through deployments. I’ve been through moves across the literal globe with him. I’ve always felt safe.
Heart failure. Heart. Failure.
That breaks everything. My brain is still trying to cope.
He retires with 20 years served this week. And I’m so fucking scared. And proud. And this last 15 months has been by far the hardest we’ve ever endured.
I’m angry. This was supposed to be our moment. His moment. Untainted. I’m not sure what that should have looked like. But I’m angry that heart failure is the star of the show and continues to be the unwanted guest in everything we do. Especially after how hard he worked to be the strongest/fastest/best at everything. Genetic heart failure. It’s a bitch. And I hate it. And I love him so much it hurts.
So. When he says I don’t see joy anymore. He’s right. Because my brain has been rewired to protect itself from the, “well what if that bad thing is true?” Because that really bad thing was true. and I sit here and judge myself that I should just be happy he is here and didn’t die. And believe me I am. So fucking grateful that he is. But. He also isn’t still here. Heart failure takes so much. And I’m so conflicted because I still have my human. I’m so grateful to have my human. But it’s so different. And the world is so much scarier now.
I want to rediscover joy. That phrase also makes me want to vomit, because it sounds like an MLM scheme.
I miss who I was before heart failure and a pandemic. And I”m petrified to be a n longer military spouse, post heart failure and a pnademic who can no longer even go to target without crushing anxiety and fear that everything and anything will go wrong because apparently heart failure is a thing and it’s preetty fucking awful. But I still have my person so I should be grateful.
That’s my stream of thought. I am grateful. And terrified. And glad he’s still here.
My parents died before my youngest sibling graduated high school, and I resent that the gentle, protective love I gave to guide them is now expected and abused. I’m tired of the lack of concern for what their needs do to me. Overall, I’m angry and I don’t even really know where to put it. We’ve all suffered. We’ve all lost. But asking for a little reciprocal consideration is like pulling teeth, and I hate that. It has made me retreat, and I hate that too.
My husband raped my best friend, when I was going to bed in our bedroom and they were just one room over in the living room. She was falling asleep on the couch and woke up mid-assault.
And jeezy creezy is that difficult enough on its own, but
1) It utterly annihilated that decade-long closer-than-any-other best friendship I’ve ever had, and we haven’t spoken since it happened;
and 2) I realized the assault and abuse he was acting out on me;
and 3) the idiot monster who committed the assault has had to deal with a divorce and moving out, but other than that has experienced no real fallout from his actions.
But most of all, I need to get out how devastating it’s been to lose my best friend.
We knew what the other was thinking when we’d lock eyes across the room. We’ve been more up close and personal with each other in ways you can’t with a romantic partner — taping up my DD boobs for a backless bridesmaid dress, looking for ticks, checking out a weird as fuck oozy cyst thingy in the most inopportune of places, falling asleep in bed mid-ice cream eating and waking up so grossly sticky. And we could share the most shameful, embarrassing, vulnerable, intimate of secrets with each other.
She was the only person I’d text about anything and everything without first thinking to myself, “Why would she care about this?” because I knew she cared. Because I cared.
And I’m fudging mad.
I’m so fudging mad that the idiotmonster gets out of this basically unscathed. She didn’t want to press charges and is a very private person, so the most our friends know is that I divorced him. Our mutual friends are still friends with a rapist. He could be dating someone who will never know he raped someone.
I want him to have to wear a scarlet letter for the rest of time, branded into his skin, a warning to anyone who glances at him, a warning of what he’s capable of doing.
And I’m mad because I feel abandoned.
I can both recognize and respect that the assault happened to her and that her boundaries around relationships need to be prioritized over anything else. And I can recognize and respect that I’m mad because I feel abandoned by the most important person in my life during my most destructive, difficult trial of all my tribulations.
And I’m mad that I can’t tell her how important she is / was to me and how much I unconditionally (platonically) love her.
And I’m mad that the swift traumatic ending to our friendship feels more like a death than a breakup, yet I know she’s not dead to anyone else. She still lives 5 minutes away, she’s a living not-ghost who randomly shows up in my friends’ social posts.
And I’m mad that I know she is able to find joy and laughter and good times and friendship and trust and loyalty with other people, but that she can’t find those things with me — hasn’t tried to, and isn’t interested in trying to.
And I’m mad that I really truly understand and respect her choices and wishes in this situation, but that I have these not-so-pretty feelings that I feel like I have to stifle.
And I’m mad because I know this anger comes from fear. What if we aren't friends now, and she doesn’t care? What if she doesn’t notice the me-shaped hole in her life? What if she was just along for the ride and our friendship never really meant much to her?
I tell myself that it doesn’t matter if she didn’t experience our friendship as deeply as I did, because overall our friendship was really incredible and taught me so much about how to love someone else and how I want to be loved. And I truly can believe all that.
But saying and believing those words don’t make those questions go away, and it doesn’t make the icy cold pit of fear in my stomach that I never mattered to her feel any less icy, any less painful.
It’s been a year and a half since the Big Bad Thing happened, since I last spoke to my best friend, and I don’t know how to keep going forward.
Most all my other friendships feel like they’re on hold. I can communicate via social and text, but I don’t know how to be me when I socialize, and it’s so exhausting to socialize.
The Bad Thing accelerated my need for mental health work and progress, which means I’ve come to recognize the abuse I suffered in my childhood, and that means I’m currently no-contact with my parents, and my sister and I have been estranged for years.
After all that, it really feels like I’m alone in the world, and that feels kind of scary.
When I think about not having a long-term romantic sexual relationship again I am truly indifferent. But when I think about not having someone who knows me and I know them, I’m terrified.
And I have no idea where to start. How does a mid-30s, neurodivergent, socially anxious, counter-culture empath find and cultivate a new best friendship?
I've had a shit year. I've done a lot of personal work and I've realized how unhealthy my relationship was in the beginning and how that's carried going forward and set so many precedents. I am a reforming people pleaser. I have a hard time saying what I need, recognizing my own emotions, advocating for myself. There's a pretty big age gap between my husband and me, and I was young and dumb enough to think it was no big deal. I'm angry that I have been so complacent and haven't stood up for myself sooner. I'm angry my parents didn't help me realize this could be a much bigger deal than I was realizing. I'm mad at my partner. And I am the most mad that sometimes I feel like I've "messed up" my life by making a family with the wrong person. I sometimes wish I could leave, but we have three kids together, and I really don't think leaving would be much better. I don't work. I have no skills, as I haven't worked since I was 22. I haven't completed school. I don't have my own money. My partner isn't awful, but is he right for me? It doesn't always feel like it. I feel a lot more like roommates most days. I'm so envious of couples I see who laugh, flirt, are weird together, are obviously completely themselves and totally into one another. I feel out of control of my life most of the time.
So there it all is. The truth.
A reminder that whatever you’re feeling — the burn of shame, the sharp, sharp sting of regret, the anger, the clarity, the longing — it’s not just you.
Somewhere out there, someone is feeling the same things, in a different story, a different skin, a different set of circumstances.
I sometimes think that on my best days, someone else is having a baby at this SAME MINUTE! Or, someone else is also hitting every green light and generally feeling happy!
And I feel it on my worst days, too. Someone else is crying in their car. Someone else feels lost. Someone else feels all alone.
We aren’t. You aren’t.
And if today you are indeed terrible, well, I’m glad I asked. And I’m glad you told the truth.
This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I’m Nora McInerny. Our team is Marcel Makelebu, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Jordan Turgeon, and often Megan Palmer. “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” is a production of APM Studios at American Public Media. Executive producer and editor Beth Pearlman. Executives in charge Lily Kim, Alex Shaffert, Joanne Griffith.