I recently bought a pop-up camper. It is old and many things need fixing on it but it is big and has enough beds for our family. Last week I tried unsuccessfully to fix an electrical problem. When I turned on my right blinker every light on the camper lit up. I redid all the connections but it did not solve the problem. So I took it to an R.V. dealer to see about getting it fixed.
I pulled up and the guy asked if I felt comfortable backing it up into the garage. I said that I wasn't that great at it but I would try. As I drove it back I did a pretty good job. The guy said, "Wow, most people who say they aren't great at backing up try to take my doors off, you did great." I smiled and felt proud of my skills, but it didn't last long because I thought to myself, you have no idea how I acquired that skill.
Before I tell you how I learned to back a trailer up I want to make clear two things, one is that I am a human retelling to you an experience of mine. It is the truth as I remember it and therefore real to me. Second is that I have tried for years of my life to forget it, deny it, and not talk about it. It is painful and it is embarrassing and it is sometimes unbelievable to me, so I question it, it gets jumbled up in my mind at times, and it makes me so emotional. By telling this story I'm breaking one of the rules. The don't talk, don't feel, don't tell your business rule that is part of dysfunctional systems. It brings up shame for me. But I feel like sharing my story will give others hope, an experience to learn from, and a strength to know that you can heal. So here goes...
Right now it is 1 a.m. and I cannot sleep, scratch that, I don't want to sleep. I need to sleep because I have a big day tomorrow. We are going to meet the kids' new teacher and then I'm leaving to go camping for the weekend. I have to pack, drive, set up etc. So you would think that I would be getting to bed early tonight so I am rested for tomorrow. The problem is that I don't want to go to bed because I don't want the nightmares to come. I don't like to admit that I have nightmares so I say that I have sleep problems or that I have so much stuff to do. Since 10:00 p.m. I have made taco meat, chicken burgers, and banana bread. None of it was necessary for my camping trip but I did it anyway to keep busy and to keep from feeling and sleping. I've done it all week with busyness, eating, reading, doing laundry or watching television. I haven't been to bed before 2 a.m. all week and the latest I've stayed up is 4 a.m. I'm exhausted but cannot bring myself to go to bed.
The place where I'm going camping I haven't been to in fifteen years. It used to be a place that we camped at often with family in my late teen years into my early twenties. I had wonderful memories there and when I was married to my first husband, we would go there also. When our daughter was just three months old we took her there. It was the first time she put her feet in a lake and when she cut her first tooth. Great memories.
The next summer, my ex-husband would continue down a dark path of addiction. His drinking and drug use would increase and lead to a lot of confusion, hurt and pain. He had just gotten out of a rehab or detox (my memory is fuzzy around this) but I know that I was hopeful that he was newly sober and I thought a camping trip with the family was just what we needed. We loaded up our vehicle with a tent, fishing poles, food, a dog, two cats, and our toddler. We hitched our small little boat to the truck and headed up north.
We set up camp and then my husband took off in the truck to launch the boat. He said he didn't need any help so I stayed behind to play with our daughter. Well he took a long time getting back and when he did, I could tell he had been drinking. When I questioned him about it (I had almost no recovery in me and didn't know that this never goes well) he denied it. He acted angry that I was questioning his sobriety and stormed off on foot. I was upset but had a child to take care of so I tried to let it go and focus on her. I took her for a walk in her stroller and to the playground by the lake.
When I returned my husband was back at the camp, and had obviously had even more to drink. He could see my anger and upset and he ran into the tent and held the zipper. I yelled from outside the tent things like how could you? What are you thinking? You had some sobriety, why did you mess it up? Why are you doing this to us? (All the wrong things to say to an addict who has relapsed but like I said I didn't know) He said that he was ashamed and thought he could have just a few. I then started yelling about how alcoholics and addicts cannot have just a few, they can't have any and what was he stupid? Did he learn nothing at meetings, at rehab, at detox?
At this point he got very upset and said that he was all done disappointing me and our child and that he had a knife and was going to slit his wrists. End it all. I believed him. I went running to a nearby camp because I did not own a cell phone and begged someone to let me use theirs to call the cops. After I called I sat outside the tent with my child in my lap trying to console him and apologize believing that I could stop him from harming himself long enough for the police to get there.
When the police arrived, it is kind of a blur for me. They convinced him to come out and they sat him down to talk. The thing that I remember them asking him was did he really intend to kill himself or was he just messing with me trying to manipulate me. He admitted to them that he was just trying to make me feel bad so that I would forgive him for the drinking. I don't think he knew I could hear him. I felt so upset. (I'd like to point out that addicts do baffling things when drinking or drugging and this does not make them bad people, it makes them sick people but at the time I didn't know this and felt so beyond hurt)
The police finished talking to us and told us that we should probably leave the campground. We had caused a big commotion and my husband was too intoxicated to stay. I just looked at them and said "How do you expect me to get a boat loaded, a camp undone and packed with a man who cannot help me and a child I cannot leave with him?" They said that they would help me. One officer held my child and watched my husband while the other drove my boat to the launch. I had to back up the boat trailer which I had never done in my life to get it. There was no choice, there was no one to tell me how, just a cop waiting on me to get it done. I was so upset I could hardly think straight. I was in total survival mode.
After we loaded up the cops told my husband to sleep it off on the way home and we were off. Me, my young child, my beyond drunk husband, all our camping gear, and don't forget two cats in crates and a dog, pulling a boat (I had never done that before). We had a two hour drive ahead of us and I was terrified. To top it all off, we were almost out of gas.
While I was pumping gas, my husband managed to get out of the car and wander into the store. He used our ATM card to withdraw the max you can from an ATM and came back out to tell me he was taking all our money and running away. I chased him around until I got the money away from him and managed to wrestle him back into the car. My child was screaming and the dog going crazy. I wish I would have known that I didn't have to leave. I didn't have to get on that highway. I didn't have to deal with this level of insanity. But I didn't know. When a cop tells you to get your drunk husband home and you lose your place to stay for the night, you think you need to do what they say.
We got onto the highway heading south and my husband starts crying. He starts saying how horrible he feels and what a bad person and husband he is. I wanted him to calm down and go to sleep so I tried to reassure him as I drove. My words didn't do any good and he started saying that he didn't deserve us, he didn't deserve to live and opened the truck door a threatened to jump out. I started screaming at him and pulled off to the side of the road. He would do this several more times on the way home after passing out and waking up.
I finally arrived home after dark. I backed the boat up into my driveway with no help, no outside lights and no idea how. I just tried and tried and tried until I got it. I then proceeded to unload all of our stuff, our pets, our sleeping child who needed a diaper change and never got dinner, and my husband who could barely walk.
It was one of the more traumatic nights of my life, but more would follow, so many more. I would tell my mom and sister and few others what happened. I was worried my grandparents would find out or my great-aunt and uncle who camped at that campground all the time and knew all the rangers. I would not return there out of shame, out of fear and out of denial for the next fifteen years. I would divorce my then husband and he would later pass away. I would remarry and have two more children.
I'm going there tomorrow. I'm camping there with my children, my mother, my husband, my sister and her family. When my sister asked me I almost said no but decided that it was time. Time to stop giving the trauma of the past power over my life. To stop holding my breath when I travel past that gas station and the stretch of highway surrounding it. It is time to face what happened. It is time to feel the feelings I never allowed myself to feel that night. I wouldn't have survived it had I stopped to feel my feelings. It is time for me to forgive my ex-husband for his actions that night. He was under the influence and in his addiction and neither of us knew how to handle the situation. He was sick. He was doing the best he could, we both were. Enough time has passed. I have enough recovery, enough safety, enough love and support.
Am I afraid? Yes of course. Hence the not sleeping. Facing past traumatic events is triggering and often times causes me to have flashbacks and nightmares. I hate it. But I've reached a point in my life where I'm not willing for the story to end there. I'm not willing to have a place that meant so much to me and my family to be off limits anymore. It has taken me fifteen years of hard work to get here. I've thought about it before but was never strong enough to go back. I'm going to go there and face the pain and feel the feelings so that I can create new memories, good memories with my family, with my kids. I'm going there so I can resurrect those old memories that were so good of camping there with my grandparents and family as a child. I'm going there to heal myself.
Why now? Because I've learned some things. I've learned so much about addiction, about forgiveness, about healing. I've learned how to process trauma in my body and how to live through the feelings, feel them and then have a new experience. I've created a support network and a tribe of people around me that will love and comfort me through it without judgement. I've learned how to breathe and be present and how to take care of myself. I've grown up (for the most part) and I've learned boundaries and how to always take care me and never ever leave myself behind. I'm afraid but I'm doing it anyway. I believe that is called courage. I'm also taking chocolate, lots of chocolate.