My homesick college kid woke me this morning just before 6am. The phone rang and all I heard was crying on the other end with the words, “Mom, it’s me.” I sat up in bed, not fully awake, but aware that it was my homesick kid calling way too early in the morning. Immediately my spidey senses were on alert because we hadn’t talked yesterday.
“Honey, what’s going on? Are you ok?”
Through the sobs he told me that he hadn’t slept all night. He’s got anxiety and waited until just before 6am to call me because he didn’t want to wake me in the middle of the night. He was sitting outside of his dorm in the dark because he didn’t want to wake his roommate.
What unfolded over the next 1.5 hours, painfully slowly with much fishing from me and with breaks because many times he couldn’t stop crying, was that he hadn’t slept because he has what he calls anxiety. Or what the therapist at university called anxiety. Which I had a tough time accepting for a kid who hadn’t had anxiety before going to college, but I’m just a mom and not a professional.
Piece by piece with patience and his willingness to finally express what he meant by anxiety, (because he’s maybe hit rock bottom) I think we finally found the kernel of truth and maybe the source. I’ll admit it was a slow process and I kept praying that I was asking him the right questions and not putting words in his mouth that he’d just parrot back to me in order to be done with my questioning.
He’s been telling me he’s having a hard time adjusting to college because even though he wants to trust people, he feels like it’s hard to make friends. So we worked with that for a bit until finally, four years after his father left, the kid sobbingly said the words:
“I hate Dad. I hate what he did and I don’t think I can ever forgive him.”
What he’s referring to is that when he was 14 years old, his dad (my former husband) told the kids that he wanted a divorce and was moving out in a few weeks. While he said that he loved them, they never heard it because all they heard was divorce. I clearly remember both kids being shocked and sad, but this one sobbed uncontrollably for the longest time because he was younger and hadn’t been aware (or didn’t want to see the changes). Oh hell, who am I kidding? My kids and I cried. We were all shocked that he was leaving (I knew a month beforehand). It was the sudden end to our family life. It was unthinkable. It was the rug being pulled out from under you – where everything you thought you knew for certain is now not and maybe it’s even been a lie. It’s the broken trust and it sent us all, in varying degrees, into a tailspin of emotion.
It was the first time he had said those words out-loud and as much as it grieved me to hear how he felt, I understood. And as quietly as I could, I cried along with him. Because that’s never what I wanted for my kids and their dad. But, it is also, completely understandable how he feels about his absent dad.
And it is most likely, the key to his anxiety at school, his lack of making friends, his not eating, his interminable playing of video games. All ways in which he avoids those feelings, and therefore the festering continues.
“I don’t want to hate him Mom, but I can’t forgive him.”
I wanted to climb through the phone and just hold him in my lap as if he were a little child again. Because I know how that feels myself as the former wife and I can only imagine how it feels as the son. Because here’s the blessing…
I know in his heart, he still loves his Dad, but he’s incredibly hurt. He’s having trust issues and anxiety because he’s never allowed himself to verbalize how he feels. Deep down my kids are sensitive like me (their dad was that way long ago too). They love with their whole hearts and when their hearts break to the core, they don’t want to hate. They want to love. They want to forgive, but they can’t figure out a way to accept what happened with the divorce and all the disconnected behavior from their dad because they’re hurt beyond words. They’ve been suffering for so long and it’s manifested into this anxiety, homesickness and depression.
He’s gone back to sleep for now which is good. He’s not suicidal for which I’m grateful. When he wakes up in a bit, he’s off to the health center to meet with his counselor and to be excused from classes today.
We’ve agreed that we are in this together to heal him. I’m saddened by his reveal and I know how hard it was for him to say it. But I’m really proud of him. I wish I had the relationship with his dad where I could ask him to relate more with his sons, but I do not. So we will heal together. One step at a time.