When Those Who Should Help You Instead Make Everything Worse: My Dad

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

July 20th, 2011 • Patient AdvocacyPrint Print

I have a family that abuses in what, as far as I am aware, is a highly unusual way: They do it in the name of love, so that you don’t just have to deal with the abuse that’s at the core of the behavior, but you have to deal with the layers of justification and storytelling and guilt trips. And so that when you are the most vulnerable and in need, everything becomes all about them.

My dad sexually abused me in the name of being affectionate. It was always couched in something else, so that I felt like a total shit for being creeped out and having sexual feelings when he touched me. When I was 11 – ELEVEN, mind you! – I confronted both my parents about this issue. I remember sitting at the edge of my bed — the one with the Scratch & Sniff stickers over it – rocking back and forth, feeling/thinking, “Something is not right. Something is not right.”

I also clearly remember the GINORMOUS amount of courage it took to jump off the cliff – to get off that bed, walk into that den, sit my shaking little girl ass down, and tell my parents that when my dad touched me, I experienced sexual feelings. I felt so lucky that my parents didn’t hate me or banish me, but rather, that they explained it was my yeser harah (which according to Judaism is the evil inclination that everyone is born with), but that it was ok, and they loved me. I think they also threw in something about the Oedipal Complex. (More on that later.)

I walked away feeling like a horrible icky shameful child who was so lucky that her parents loved her despite the fact that she was so awful. I spent the rest of my childhood and teenage years cringing every cell in my body and/or feeling physical sensations of being penetrated by a penis, whenever my dad touched me, was in the room, or even drove his car up to the house. No surprise that I was totally checked out of my body and numb by the time I was 16.

From the vantage point of where I stand now, I hold true that everything in life is about energy. I had this awareness and understanding throughout my life but didn’t have the experience behind me to enable me to speak about it with a sense of power and authority — unintimidated by the goons who I knew stood ready to invalidate my experience and shoot me down.

After all, experience is defined by men, sex and therefore rape are defined by a penis (ie, if there was no penis in the vagina, “nothing” happened), and sexual abuse is defined as involving “sexual” parts – because, hey, we all know it is patently impossible for sexual energy to flow through anything but the vagina, breasts, or penis, right? Maaaaybe the ass. Maybe.

In reality, any body part can be imbued with any energy. Take a moment to reflect on the sensation of being touched — by a business acquaintance, a child, a friend, a lover, or an adversary. In each situation, the physical touch may be exactly the same, like a hand resting on your arm, but chances are the sensation will feel very different. That difference is energy. We may not be able to see or touch it, but we all can feel it.

The problem with sneaky sexual abuse is that when you can’t point to a body part and say, “Hey! That’s not supposed to be here doing that!” then it’s really tough to get validation for having experienced the violence, much less to elicit accountability for the behavior.

So when sexual abuse is energetic, there is an additional layer of the mind-fuck, the psychological abuse: The victim can end up feeling crazy and evil – especially if that abuse is couched in behaviors that are supposed to be affectionate, like hugs, hair-petting, or kisses on the neck, as in my case. I was patently not allowed to say I did not want those things, so I suffered through them. When I was 14 and finally had the courage to refuse a hug (nicely), my father punished me: He withdrew all affection and refused to speak to me or interact with me in any way for three full days, and he moped around the house like a wounded animal. I felt horrible.

Not only was I never allowed to not want, much less refuse these things, but I specifically was supposed to be grateful for them. After all, my esteemed father was bestowing affection on me!

The sexual abuse also manifested in being forbidden any privacy whatsoever: I was not allowed to lock the door to any room, including the bathroom, because doing so would be considered an affront against my dad. I could not even close a door when my father was passing, for the same reason. My dad had carte blanche to walk into whatever room he wanted, whenever he wanted — whether I was on the toilet, getting dressed in my room, whatever.

I took my parents to therapy from the time I was 16-21, and I remember my father having an over-the-top shit fit when I said I wanted him to knock before coming into my room or the bathroom. Imagine my audacity! All hell broke loose.

But still, even the therapist claimed that my sexual feelings were the result of the Oedipal Complex. Little did I know then that the Oedipal Complex was developed in the interest of protecting wealthy men who sought Freud’s services: Originally, Freud reported that there were rampant incidents of incest going on. But when that honest reporting threatened his practice, he altered his findings to indicate that in fact the little girls were having sexual fantasies of their fathers — a perfectly normal occurrence, as evidenced by the Greek mythology (emphasis on “myth”) of Oedpius.

You know how when you finally get a black and white diagnosis for a mystery illness, you’re totally relieved, dare I say ecstatic, because although you may be informed that the disease is life-threatening, at least you finally know you’re not fucking crazy? Finally, finally¸ people will believe your sorry ass, right?

Similarly, when I was in my early 20s, I felt grateful that my dad straight-up molested me when I was 14 years old. Of course, my dad being my dad, the abuse was still couched in the guise of being a nurturing, loving father, but still, the behavior was more obvious in that incident. So I could point to it, hang on to it for dear life, say, see, I wasn’t crazy when I felt violated by his hugs. I could use it to resolve the distress of having the experience, feelings, and post-traumatic stress of an incest survivor but not having the textbook confirmation or validation that anything had happened.

As a child, I was denied nurturing in many ways. Among other things, I wasn’t dried off much after a bath or shower, back in the days when I wanted to be. Fast forward about a decade, and suddenly, out of nowhere, when I stepped out of the shower as a fully-developed 14 year old, dripping wet, my dad walked into the bathroom and, with weird energy and without looking in my eyes, quietly started drying off my naked body. I was paralyzed, acutely aware I was not allowed to move or protest.

And because it was so twisty – because I was so starved for healthy affection and attention as a child; because I didn’t get those things back then; and because my father was acting in the name of “love,” doing something that purportedly was an act of nurturance, I felt obligated to thank him after feeling utterly violated.

I was abjectly humiliated, and I felt I had to fucking thank him.

There were other things too, also more blatant than the hugs, hair-petting, and kisses —  like the time during Hanukkah when I was 16, and  my dad cornered me in the tiny hallway, telling me how he wanted to buy me lingerie, and repeating in different ways, with this really weird look on his face, how it would look so nice on me. I kept saying I didn’t want it. He kept insisting. I kept trying to get away from him. The door was locked, he was in front of it and right up in my face. It was absolutely horrible. I was shaking.

My dad also was abusive in ways other than sexual. Despite everything, I did absolutely everything in my power to heal my relationship with him. First, I went to therapy with him for five years, as indicated above. After the sessions, my dad would pull the car to the side of the road and rage at me. When I would cover my ears, because he was screaming into them, causing me horrible pain, he would yell at me to take my hands off my ears. Here I was taking him to therapy because I loved him and wanted to heal our relationship, and he responded not by thanking me, but by hurting me and forcing me to be an active participant in the pain and suffering.

Long story short, at the end of the five years, I came to understand that my dad was not going to change. Rather than taking three steps forward and two steps back, he would take a couple steps forward, a couple step back. It would always seem he was going somewhere, then he would revert back to exactly where he started.

When I was 21, I left home and cut off contact with my dad. I dove into emotional and spiritual healing with a gusto.

When I was 24, I wrote my father a letter that was nearly 50 pages, single spaced, typed, confronting him on all the abuse. For those of you who see confrontation as something negative, consider the fact that nothing can be healed unless and until it is first acknowledged and dealt with. I got back the following response in a 1-page letter: “I’m sorry you feel I sexually abused you, when in fact I did not.” Which was basically a regurgitation of the narrative I’d been fed throughout my childhood – ie, a spin on the all-in-my-head scenario.

After that, I cut off all contact with my dad until my late 20s. Then I spent the next decade trying to reconcile with my dad through letters. I even started calling him, trying to find safe ways of interacting, like singing holy day songs from Iraq. One thing my dad was stellar at was teaching me all the songs and prayers of the Iraqi Jewish tradition. I really missed being able to share that with him, and I was so happy to hear my dad sing again! And it felt like coming home to hear his accent. It’s weird having an exclusively Iraqi Jewish identity but no contact with the parent who is the only Iraqi Jew in the family.

But every time I would make an overture to my dad, he would pull twisty abusive shit. So the un-relationship kept hobbling along like that for years: I’d try to find a safe way of interacting; he would screw it up. I’d pull back and stop calling/emailing. I’d try again, he would screw it up again. I’d pull back again.

It was this gaping wound in my life that just would not heal.

Fast forward to January 2011. I received an email that my father was in the hospital with pneumonia. By then, I was living in the same city as he. True, I took some time to ground myself, before rushing to his side, but I showed up within a few hours of getting the email. I brought him all kinds of things I knew he would love, to brighten up the hospital room – my wood towlee (backgammon) set from Jerusalem; one of the rimonim (silver tassles) from the kis Eliyahu hanabee (Chair of Elijah), a poster of the Iraqi Jewish rabbis, a brightly-colored shadai (ceramic hand of Gd), and a couple of colorful scarves, along with homemade organic vegan food that I’d cooked for him before arriving.

I felt uncomfortable seeing my dad with all the people in his room, being that I hadn’t seen him for two decades (except twice accidentally, when I saw him but he didn’t see me, and once when my mom was in the hospital) so I kept going in and out until they left. Actually, my mom (who came with me for moral support) eventually requested that my dad’s girlfriend leave the room so that I have some time alone with him. The girlfriend just didn’t seem to take notice of what was going on, so she needed some direct instruction. Because of course, my dad could only partner with someone who would be equally clueless about people’s boundaries and space needs.

Anyhow, I was blown away by what happened next: My dad took my hand and said, “I am so sorry for what you’ve been through,” which is the closest it’s ever gotten to, “I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you.” He then told me that shortly before coming down with pneumonia, he did something for the first time: He took one of my letters to a therapist and read it with her. The therapist asked him, “What do you think she is saying here?” and, where my letter called my dad on his behaviors, the therapist asked him, “What did you do, and why did you do it?”

“I am so sorry I didn’t take your letters to a therapist before,” he said. “I was an idiot. You sent me letters full of love, and I can’t believe the things I wrote back to you. They were awful. I was stupid. I regret all the years we have lost as a result…You know, I nearly didn’t make it. I’ve been in the hospital for several days, and a few days ago, they could not get my blood pressure up to where it needed to be for me to live. And all I could think of was you and how I had lost you. If I make it out of here alive, I am going to go to the therapist and straighten myself out. I don’t care how much money it takes. I’m going to take all your letters and do it.”

I, of course, was bawling my eyes out.

“You are a genius,” my dad continued. “I didn’t ‘see’ you when you were a child, but you always have been a genius. You are a very unusual person. I want to get behind you, so that you can do your genius thing without worrying about surviving. I want to get you a house. I want to pay your bills. At least take the pressure off you.”

Five months before, my life had come crashing to the ground: I had poured all of my resources, every last dime, into the launch of Dancing with Pain. Just weeks after the company launch, I sustained a bad auditory injury that left me severely disabled in my hearing. I had to wear earplugs while cracking eggs. Every sound but the mildest sent bolts of nerve pain through my ears and head. I could barely function.

Just when my company had to sustain momentum, it came to a grinding halt. In addition, due to the circumstances surrounding the injury, I had to move from my apartment in LA. I chose an apartment in Sacramento which seemed amazingly quiet, but ended up having tenants who played basketball with their trash – meaning there were unpredictable loud bangs all day and night long, causing horrific pain. The landlord was unwilling to accommodate me with a simple sign asking people to dispose of trash more quietly, so within two months, I had to move again.

All the money I had gotten from the company launch was by then depleted. Meanwhile, Dancing with Pain was not making a dime. I had a very part time job, but it was far from enough to survive on. I was panicked. In addition, while the dumpster in the new apartment was not an issue, it proved to have other hidden noises – regular lawn mowing, carpet cleaning, leaf blowing, and tree pruning, not to mention the general maintenance banging for miscellaneous repairs. I was in hell. And utterly broke. And stuck in a seven month lease.

Then, two weeks after moving to that second apartment in Sacramento, I was informed I may have thyroid cancer. I opted to radically alter my diet – going hard core organic vegan and then some, overnight. In January I sustained an infection and was prescribed an antibiotic that caused a neurological episode where I nearly collapsed on the bike trail at dusk, could not communicate where I was, and could not even remember how to use a phone. I managed to force my brain to work by sheer willpower, and I made it home.

As it turned out, the nurse practitioner had failed to advise me that the antibiotic had side effects like meningitis. My brain was fucked up for two full weeks after – I kept feeling as if I went to access a folder that I knew had information, but the folder kept being empty. I also suffered from headaches, the sum total of which left me bedridden and unable to function.

One day after I felt well enough to leave my house, I got the email about my dad. Without blinking, I went to be by my father’s side.

Given the financial devastation I was going through at the time, my father’s assurance of support was tantamount to someone throwing me a life raft. And given that my dad’s use of money had been a big wound over the years – he used it to control, manipulate, and dominate people – it felt so amazing that he just wanted to fork it over with no demands except that I would do what I was made to do in this world.

I was walking on air. My mom, however, advised caution. And for good reason, it turned out.

Just a couple of weeks after being in the hospital, my dad became my dad again. I could not just say I needed a certain amount of money and get a clean answer about whether or not he had it. I was required to itemize every amount, with the promise of all of it being paid. Then I was told that he only had $100. Then he wanted to take me out for coffee. And kept trying to buy me things I did not need – a glass cup set with a tray, a French Press coffee maker. And then when we talked, he discussed how he would continue seeing this therapist “as long as he could, depending on Medicare,” whereas before he was adamant about how he was going to go every week, no matter what it cost, so that we could have a healthy relationship.

Then my dad asked how much gas was in my car and convinced me to go with him to the gas station. (I’d been driving around with the gauge on empty, praying to make it to each destination, because I did not have the money to fill it even a bit). After his cajoling, I agreed. But when we got to the station, he pulled over to the side of the road, motioned for me to do the same, informed me that there was a cheaper station down the road, and insisted that I follow him to it. I really did not want to, and I was like, fuck this, but felt I was already “in it,” so I would just ride it out to the end. Turned out the gas station was clear across town. My dad saved $0.50. Which apparently, at the end of the day, is what our relationship is worth to him, becuase he lost me again as a result.

I grew up with my dad saying he didn’t have money for a blow dryer, but then suddenly having hundreds or thousands of dollars for what he wanted to buy. I, meanwhile, with my long thick hair, always had to sit in front of the heater for an hour after showering, in the attempt to dry my hair. I was constantly sick, both because my hair was not properly dried and because we supposedly didn’t have money to heat the house. So we used space heaters in some rooms, while others were freezing. I was constantly running through different temperature zones. And I had flimsy clothing bought from thrift stores, when meanwhile we lived in a mansion.

Long story short, my dad always acted like he was impoverished, when it turns out he may have been a millionaire. To this day I’m not sure what he did or did not have. When he was crying “broke” about four years ago, he subsequently bought a $350,000 house, then lost $750,000 in the bank crash. You know, with two houses and who knows how many additional assets to spare.

After my dad started jerking me around again with his money control issues, I pulled back. It happened after the night I was preparing him a care package. He still was struggling with pneumonia. I made him fresh organic food and gathered together all my books on healing. I was going to bring them to him as a gift. I also had been sending him via email lots of information about natural methods for healing.

So there I was, wrapping everything up, when I was like, wait a minute. What the fuck! I just got an eviction notice; my phone was turned off three times; the energy company is threatening to turn off my power; I may have cancer; and I’m handing over books that my father easily can afford (but I knew would never get for himself) – books that I need for my own fucking healing? I felt exasperated.

I chose a couple of books and CDs that I didn’t really need, kept the dinner for myself, and left the moderated care package on my father’s doorstep. Then I emailed my father a four page letter about his behaviors around money and how hurtful they are. “You are not ready for a relationship with me,” I concluded. “You just hurt me and hurt me and hurt me.” I asked him to take the letter to his therapist. I don’t know if he ever did, or if he ever responded. I know he didn’t respond for a few weeks, but after that, I had to create a filter to delete all my father’s emails without my reading them. Because even seeing his name show up in my inbox was sending me down the rabbit hole.

Meanwhile, over the coming weeks, there were a few incidents where I had a bad feeling; I checked in with myself about what it might be; and, feeling it might be my dad, I called my mom to see if he was OK. Each time, something either had just happened or happened right after I called. Each time, my dad had some emergency but refused to properly take care of himself (which is apparently how he ended up in the hospital with pneumonia – he had been coughing badly for two weeks straight but had refused to see a doctor.)

As part of my second intervention, I insisted that my father get his medical followup sooner than scheduled. He still had fluid in his lungs, and he was not being seen for another month. As it turned out, my dad was terrified of the pain involved in removing fluids. I told him that there were all kinds of pharma for pain and anxiety, and expressed that it might be life-or-death for him to be seen sooner. I also offered to call the doctor on his behalf, because at this point in my life, I’m a pro at bossing doctors around when they misbehave. After a few rounds of offering to call the doctors for him, my dad had me convinced that he was fine doing it himself. “OK,” I said, “But let me know if you change your mind. I’m happy to help.”

Over the remainder of the weekend, I decided that I would offer to take my dad to the procedure and hold his hand through it (and give him energy healing, though I would not tell him that), despite the angst my dad had put me through. But then on Monday, I got an email from my dad indicating that he would like me to call his doctor for him as a paid service. He went on and on for a full paragraph about how he would insist on the rate I charged my clients – how he absolutely would refuse any special discounts.

I felt sick. Yet again, my dad clearly had the money to help me but was refusing to just fucking offer it to me like a normal caring person. Instead, everything had to be weird and twisty and somehow making him out to be a hero and sucking me into some dysfunctional dynamic he created. So I wrote back a very terse reply, advising my father of the different drugs he could take to manage the pain and anxiety of the procedure, and completely ignoring the rest of his email.

Some time after that, I had a bad feeling about my dad again and called my mom to check in. As it turned out, my dad had symptoms that scared him, so he called his doctor – who advised my dad that he may be having a stroke and needed to go to the emergency room immediately. Instead of following the doctor’s advice, my dad emailed everyone in his circle, telling them that he might be having a stroke but that he was staying home. This is totally in character with my dad. Play victim, make everyone else do the rescue work, while being a pain in the ass.

I asked my mom to call my dad and make him go to the emergency room. She tried. It didn’t work. I then asked her to make him call the ambulance. No dice. Then I called him myself. I didn’t have his address (my cell phone had disappeared, and it had his information in it.) So I sweetly and innocently asked him, “Hi Daddy, what’s your address?” He gave it to me. “Good,” I said, switching tones once I got the information. “I’m calling the ambulance now.” He protested. I spelled out for him that he might be about to croak and informed him the matter was not up for discussion. I called the ambulance. Fortunately, as it turned out, he was not having a stroke.

That was the last I interacted with my dad until last month. I was desperate to get rid of my storage in Israel, but still living hand to mouth, not always making it to the mouth, so I couldn’t afford the $1000 or so it would cost to ship internationally the few boxes I wanted to keep. There were some additional complications – some items needed to be sifted through, and my friends didn’t want to do it in the storage unit, because it was crazy stuffy and hot in there. So, cringing, I emailed my dad and asked if I could have the boxes taken to his Tel Aviv apartment for just a couple of days, so that my friends could go through it.

Of course, the simple request ended up becoming a means for manipulating me, and became super complicated. So I said thanks but no thanks. Meanwhile, my dad had offered to pay the costs of shipping, through one of my aunts in Israel, and to also cover the cost of the additional months it would take to arrange everything, given the complications. I thanked him for that.

But the day before my biopsy, I got a call from my aunt informing me that she was going to sell her gold to pay for the cost of the shipping. She is a widow living on fixed income. Apparently my dad had changed his tune again. While the arrangement was that she would cover the costs, and he would pay her back, apparently the deal is now off. I’m assuming it’s punishment for my not being in touch with him over the past few months. In other words, my father is now punishing me for traumatizing me and for me, as a result, needing to pull back to save my very life.

Healing requires mind-body-spirit alignment and elimination of stress wherever possible. It has been devastating to me not to be able to have a healthy relationship with my dad. I cannot, however, engage in the sick and twisted mind-fuck of trying to have a relationship with him, when I am fighting for my life. I was simply postponing being in touch with him until the cancer issue was under control. Not only has it been confirmed, today, that the nodule is most likely cancerous and in need of urgent surgery, but I also have come to feel – what the fuck?!

Why do I want a relationship with a man who made me miserable for much of my life, and who continues to manipulate and attempt to control me at every twist and turn? Who has three houses and lord knows how many assets, when I am fighting to keep a roof over my head? The second thought I had after being told the biopsy results was, “How am I going to survive if I have the setback of surgery?”

Throughout this time of struggle, I have been poignantly aware that there has been someone who could have – and should have – supported me. Someone who promised me that support, nonetheless. Someone I would have supported in a heartbeat if I had the funds and if he needed it, despite all the trauma he had inflicted on me.

And that knowledge – that there is that person who can help but won’t unless I play his games of domination and humiliation, who furthermore uses whatever power and influence he has to fuck with me and make my struggle that much more difficult, with me all the while heartbroken because I want nothing more in the world than to have a healthy relationship with him…Well, that is not love.


Farrell July 21st, 2011

Thank you for writing this. Its helpful to me. We have a lot in common.

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