DEAR AMY: I'm a 60-year-old woman. A few years ago, I moved back to the mid-sized city where I grew up in order to take care of my aging father. When I was in high school, I got involved with a young man who was controlling and abusive. The relationship lasted into my early 20s, when I ended it. I moved on, and he moved away after college. Fast-forward to now, and I have recently learned from an old friend that this person has moved back to our home city. Amy, I am finding that I have not fully dealt with the trauma of this abusive relationship, and my feelings of anger toward this person have surfaced once again. While our town is quite large, I am worried that I might encounter this person in a store or restaurant. How might I react? Can you help me so that this ghost from the past has no power over me?
Afraid of the Past
DEAR AFRAID: I hope you understand that your fear of someone who abused you — even though it was years ago — is reasonable and rational. This sort of fear response likely helped you to leave the relationship in the first place. It is your brain and body's reaction to a real (or perceived) threat.
You should not try to override or ignore this fear, but instead use it to develop reasonable strategies for coping with the possibility of seeing this person.
Some options are: escape, avoidance, and confrontation. Running out various scenarios might be helpful, to desensitize you to the possibility of encountering your ex.
My instinct is that if you did run into him — or see him from a distance — the first thing you would notice is how "old" he is. Abusers loom large and powerful in our minds' eye. An abuser can continue to frighten and intimidate well into their own frailty, and that's the impact and consequence of earlier trauma.
A therapist would be very helpful here; at your age and stage of life, you are encountering many transitions and challenges. You deserve to reclaim your strength.
DEAR AMY: I joined a popular DNA testing site a couple of years ago to further my genealogical research. My family is relatively small — just my sisters and three first cousins. This past week, much to my astonishment, a half-sister was identified. This sibling was born and lives in another country. She is a year younger than my middle sister. After pursuing this further, I have confirmed the relationship. Not only that, but I discovered that this half-sibling actually met my parents about 20 years ago. My parents are now deceased and chose to take this secret to their grave. My sisters and I are all senior citizens. My husband is the only family member who knows about this. I don't know whether to share this information with my other sisters. My husband thinks I should tell my children. Any advice/insight would be appreciated.
DEAR SECRET KEEPER: Your folks might have taken this secret to their grave, but you should not.
From your narrative, it sounds as if — by meeting her together — your parents acknowledged (and perhaps accepted) this half-sibling. I hope this might make things easier for you as you ponder making this disclosure.
The truth is the truth. Your genealogy is a chart of your family, through time. Genealogy doesn't impose value judgments.
Yes, this knowledge may pose lots of unanswerable personal questions for you and your family, but you and your sisters should accept the burden of not having answers, and find a way to cope with it.
Please understand that, as human beings, we are complicated and full of contradictions. We are flawed and frail. But the truth is the truth, and you should not be afraid of it.
DEAR AMY: "Doggone" had started dating a woman who let her dog sleep in the bed — disturbing both of them. This is why I refuse to date people with dogs or cats. I find they have coping issues, which is why they have pets. "Doggone" should just leave. He could be happier with a non-dog gal.
DEAR FLORIDA: I completely disagree that having a pet indicates that a human has "coping issues."
However, I completely agree that people who don't like (or don't want to live in proximity to) animals should not be with people who have them. Pets — like people — need and deserve attention and affection.