I had a very productive and good session with my new therapist yesterday.
But she called me out on something: my reversion to the anorexic habits of my youth. Because she knows that I’m much more therapy-literate than the average client, she asked me to explore who or what I was angry about (since eating disorders—especially anorexia—are known to usually be covers for suppressed rage.)
At first, my most obvious answer was my mother-in-law. And that anger was and is very justified. In my opinion, the horrible ways she treated J are a big part of why (I believe) he couldn’t fight off the cancer.
She had so mistreated him—in the biggest way by allowing him to be beaten. Not only was he beaten, his mom encouraged it. Even worse than that, she made him into a scapegoat. Sometimes he got beaten for things that he didn’t even do; sometimes his beatings were for things his parents *thought* he might do. Sometimes his beatings were for things his sister actually did (and his parents KNEW that she did them but he got beaten instead.)
So that leads to the second realization: I have a whole lot of very long-buried, down-deep anger at him that I suppressed over the years. He could never deal with any anger at all because ANY expression of anger triggered memories of how he grew up.
He really, really needed therapy to process how he grew up and he refused to get it. He had so much suppressed rage that he just buried down deeper and deeper into himself, refusing to acknowledge that it was there. On the surface, he was the most peaceful and loving man there ever was; “Christ-like” is not an inaccurate comparison.
But I knew what was buried underneath. Sometimes, he could vent a little frustration to me about someone at work, for example. But I could never, ever express any of my own anger. He would always say there was an “appropriate” way to express anger but there really wasn’t. It was an extremely dangerous emotion to him in every way.
On the one hand, however, I have to give him so much credit for never becoming what he most feared—his abusive stepdad. He was always an extremely gentle and sweet father and husband—although he had the porn escape in his head that he hid from me for 22 years as a coping mechanism, too.
When he came clean about that, it’s when our relationship started to change, greatly for the better. But I wonder at what cost? He got diagnosed with stage IV cancer two years later.
I don’t think anyone can ever convince me that all the deeply-suppressed anger is not the reason he got cancer and died before he even turned 50.
Then I have to turn the lens on myself, too. Specifically, a lot of the decisions both that I made and ones that were thrust upon us (like our extreme difficulty finding transportation for the kids to and from school) ALSO put more pressure on him.
Even my sleep disorder put more pressure on him because my health falls apart very quickly if I have to wake up for work at 6 am.
He must have resented me so, so much, though he never let it show. He was the perfect model of a good husband and father, providing sacrificially for his family. But that’s not really what he wanted to do. He always wanted a career woman as his wife, largely because he was raised with his mom’s mantra of “I’ll never be dependent on a man for anything” (though the fact that she actually was seems to escape her.)
Honestly, being home and largely out of work for so long wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, either. But I didn’t feel like I had a choice; I looked for numerous alternative options. And I recognize that he didn’t have a choice either.
So ultimately I really blame myself for not being able to save him. And I have so, so much guilt.
If only he could have hung on for a few more years, I could have become a therapist and he wouldn’t have had to shoulder so much alone.
But the fact is that he was already so damaged from how he grew up and adding the responsibility for providing for me and the kids was just too much. His soul and body were completely worn out.
Sadly I think I’m just as much at fault as his mother was, the only difference is that I’m not still defending what I did.
I just don’t know how to untangle this or my responsibility in it. I so wish he could be back here now (for so many reasons) but most of all so that I could apologize for not making his life easier.