Confronting Abuse: Reaching the Fifth Stage of Grief by Will Kenneth

But I know i'll have to content with more balloons in my future illustration by Jay Insult

When I was a young adult, I used to laugh with friends as we shared stories of our abuse growing up. Empathizing with each other’s struggles was cathartic, and laughter was the healthiest outlet I had compared to quietly raging when I was alone.

While writing for Razorcake, I’ve tried to use humor as a bridge between being entertaining and being informative, but lately I haven’t felt like laughing. Writing and counseling are helping, and I have to give credit to my wife Rachel for supporting me when I know my journey hasn’t been easy for her either.

Over the past two years I’ve been moving through The Five Stages of Grief, and I was bound to reach the final stage: Acceptance. Recently, Rachel reminded me of my dad’s behavior when last we visited his home, and his actions were so callous, I can’t help but laugh about it today. If I was ever going to get a sign that I’m beginning to heal, that was the one.

The Balloon

My brother’s oldest son was turning six. His birthday was the day after Thanksgiving, which allowed our entire family to celebrate together. So for two nights, my brother and I crammed our families into our mom’s house in Delray Beach. And out of fairness to my dad so he would feel included, my mom agreed to host the birthday party at his house in east Boca Raton.

My mom wanted to give her oldest grandchild a themed party featuring his hometown football team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and she soon learned that finding Bucs gear in Palm Beach County wasn’t easy. After all, Palm Beach County has long been Miami Dolphins’ territory.

(Florida geography lesson: Tampa Bay is on the West Coast, and Palm Beach County is on the East Coast. Separating them is roughly a four-hour drive on highways that cut through swamps, suburbs, and tourist traps.)

We had Buccaneers plates, napkins, cups, and decorations. We were still eating cake when my mom realized she couldn’t find the balloon she ordered online.

She walked over to my dad in the living room and said, “I just remembered. Where’s the balloon I gave you?”

My dad said in a joking way, “It tried to kill me, so I got rid of it.”

“What?”

“Yeah, I was driving home, and the balloon kept jumping in front of me while I was driving, so I let it out the window.”

Without arguing or lashing out at my dad, my mom who was visibly frustrated and in disbelief, walked over to Rachel and me in the dining room, and spoke to us quietly so my dad couldn’t hear.

“Did you hear what your dad said?”

“Yep,” I replied, acknowledging what he had done.

“The balloon wasn’t a big deal, but you would not believe what I had to go through to get that balloon. I looked all over, and then I had to order one online, and I still had to have it filled with helium, which took me an hour at the store. And he just let it out his car window.”

This might seem harmless, but Rachel pointed out that my dad’s reaction to the balloon captures his narcissism perfectly.

A helium balloon would have brought joy to my nephew. And because this joyous thing inconvenienced my dad, he destroyed it.
Let me lay it out: My mom made an effort to plan a small party, and as insignificant as a helium balloon might seem, including one would have brought joy to my nephew. And because this joyous thing inconvenienced my dad, he destroyed it. He was flippant about doing this and he had no awareness about how his actions would affect others.

Today I can laugh about the balloon that allegedly tried to murder my dad, but the journey to get here wasn’t easy.

The Fifth Stage of Grief

During Thanksgiving, I didn’t know I was already moving through the stages of grief. I was in the middle of Stage Two: Anger. I was far too tuned into my father’s narcissism to find any humor in his callousness.

I cut my father off while working through my grief, and I spent an entire year avoiding him. After making plans to visit my mom again for Christmas, I knew I couldn’t reasonably avoid him in South Florida.

For some people, avoiding their abuser is a matter of life and death, and I could never expect anyone to put themselves in a position where they could be in danger. I spent my youth afraid of my father, and though he intentionally weaponized his anger as a way to control my family, he never attacked anyone (that I can remember). The only thing preventing me from seeing him was my own fear and lack of confidence.

I was terrified to become the person I used to be: the person unable to work through emotions and unaware of their own independence and power. And once I reconnect with my father, how do I protect myself going forward?

My counselor coached me through reopening communication, and she assured me going to see him wouldn’t force me to forfeit my own growth.

She shared with me that when reconnecting, you can emphasize that you needed time to yourself, and the narcissist you cut off will be so overjoyed to speak with you again that they won’t belabor why you cut them off.

the grey rock method. The idea is that you should make yourself seem as boring and uninteresting as a rock on the ground.
For maintaining the relationship, my counselor and I agreed that I should use the grey rock method. The idea is that you should make yourself seem as boring and uninteresting as a rock on the ground. Narcissists thrive off drama and attention, and if you make yourself boring to them, then they should lose interest. This is ideal when you have a narcissist in your life who you’re unable to avoid.

When you grey rock, that means keeping personal details of your life to yourself, giving one or two word replies to questions, and keeping conversation mundane. You’ll need to keep your social life off limits, and you won’t be able to go to them for advice or help—not that you were probably able to before, but doing that would feed their narcissism.

Before driving back to Palm Beach, I planned to reconnect with my father beforehand so we could clear the air, and our talk went pretty much as my counselor said. He tried to press me for more information why I broke off contact, and I said that I didn’t want to get into specifics. After he pressed further, I divulged that I was angry with the way he treats people and that I’m no longer angry, but I said I didn’t believe getting into details would be productive. For the most part, that has satisfied him. He says he’s making an effort to change, but of course, I don’t expect him to stick to this new routine for long. The rest of my family seems satisfied.

Our visit was a short dinner getting Chinese food. He was most interested in spending time with my daughter, and I used the grey rock method to keep myself from being the center of attention. Since then I’ve made an effort to call him every two weeks and to limit conversation on my end to how my daughter was doing. Using grey rock seems to be working, though I’ve had to remind some other family members to not let my dad know what I’m up to.

Narcissists thrive off drama and attention, and if you make yourself boring to them, then they should lose interest.
I’m not sure how long this new normal will hold, but for now I’ve bought myself some peace of mind. Reconnecting with him lifted a veil of stress that came from wondering when or if I’d see him again. I don’t believe this is the end of my story with confronting abuse, but for now this does feel like a bookend to my journey the last few years.

If my dad does fall back into his abusive habits, I’ll still have the skills I’ve learned to deal with him and his selfishness. I hope that I won’t have any new stories to share about surviving his abuse, but I know I’ll have to contend with more balloons in my future.

Will Kenneth lives in Jacksonville, Fla. ALL > Descendents. (Facebook | Instagram | w o l f m a n w i l l [@] g m a i l)