The director of the program is pretty out there; the things he has us do in therapy is odd to say the least. And when my family finally comes to visit, I find myself embarrassed and hoping my dad doesn’t think this guy is a whack job. He’s already spending so much money on me being here; I don’t need him to think the money is being wasted.
I don’t have much time to fill my dad in before family therapy starts. To break everybody in, the director tells us we are to pick someone from our family to do a connection exercise with. The kicker? We have to sit and stare at our partner in the eyes for the entire duration of one (usually depressing) song.
My anxiety automatically shoots through the roof; sitting silently with a group of people you don’t know is awkard enough, but to have to look into someone’s eyes on top of it? No way.
I immediately turn to my cousin and say she’s going to be my partner. But my aunt intervenes and makes me do it with my dad.
At this point in my life, I don’t get along with him at all, and he’s the last person on the face of the planet I want to do this with.
The director starts the song and my Dad and I start the exercise.
I can’t go 60 seconds before I just feel totally and completely awkard and start crying. I see my dad is trying, and the fact that I can’t look him in the eye breaks my heart. All the fights we’ve had, all the arguments, all the disagreements, all the miscommunication…all of it is right in the center of my brain and I want so badly to be able to do this, but I just can’t. I feel stupid and silly and angry all at the same time, and I can see I’m hurting my dad because I can’t look at him.
When the exercise is over I’m relieved yet filled with guilt; my cousin and her mom were able to pass the exercise with flying colors and my dad and I couldn’t doing it at all.
The family therapy continues: my dad, aunt, and cousin all sitting around with other people’s families, all silently judging each other and criticizing. When it’s our turn to process things, I put on the typical “woe-is-me” show by curling up into a ball on my chair, letting my hair hang down in my face, and telling everyone how hard it is to have a dad who is dating his dead wife’s sister and who doesn’t even try to understand my eating disorder. They get flamed by the other girls in the group and I secretly feel good that they are tearing him apart. I want him to feel bad. I want him to feel guilty. I want him to cry, which he does. I want my aunt, who came dressed in a mini-skirt and heels, to wipe the “my shit doesn’t stink” grin off her face. I want them to know how much pain I am in, because for so long they used each other to ignore everyone else after my mother died.
After it’s all over, my dad says some sacrastic remark and we end up arguing in front of everyone as they say goodbye to their loved ones. The family therapy was a waste of fuckin’ time, and I don’t even hug him when he leaves.
Later another girl says she thought it was amazing how after the intense family therapy session my father and I still couldn’t put aside our differences.
And for months and months I go on believing it was all his fault, that he was the one who was to blame, that he was the one who needed to fucking change. But in time I was able to finally see my part in things, and that I had to take responsiblity for feeling the way I did. And how freeing it was.