Seeing estranged parent at sibling's wedding - not sure how to cope
June 6, 2017 3:43 AM   Subscribe

I haven't spoken to my dad in a long time and just the thought of being face-to-face with him upsets me. But my brother is getting married and now I need to be in the same room with him. I don't know how I am going to be ok with this as only the thought of it makes me cry and feel upset.

I haven't talked to my dad in almost 10 years. This backstory may not be pertinent here but: I was really close to him as a kid and I was 12 when he cheated on my mom and basically left us -- and I had no warning, which I think made it hurt worse. I didn't talk to him for a while and then, through therapy, I reached a point where I was trying to build my relationship back up with him for a while. But then he and his wife pushed the boundaries of what I was comfortable with in terms of letting her into my life and he didn't seem to care that it upset me, so that kind of re-opened all my wounds and ended everything and we've never spoken since.

All of this is to say, I wish I could just "not care" and wasn't so angry toward him and didn't let him affect me, but I tried that, and now I'm back to hating him and there is no reasonable expectation for me to get over how I feel about him between now and my brother's wedding (which is soon). I can't feel one way and act another -- I've never been good at suppressing or hiding my emotions.

So I've successfully avoided him for years by not going to Christmas or family gatherings he is at. But now my brother is getting married and I have to go for my brother and for my mom -- they would be really upset if I didn't go. But even just the thought of needing to see my dad or stand in the same room with him and/or his wife fills me hurt and rage. Just thinking about it and talking about the logistics of it with my sister makes me full-on cry. (For what it's worth, my brother and sister do have relationships with him, and my mom does attend things he and his wife are at, but I've never been able to.)

I don't know how to be ok with this for my brother's wedding. I feel like when I see him, I will start crying or become fuming mad and need to get out there. But that's hard - the ceremony is at a vineyard, so it's a little remote, and my only escape are shuttles going back at forth, which I'm not sure how reliable they will be. Apparently cell reception isn't good either. He's also staying at the same Hyatt I'll be at because this is a destination wedding. I'm already skipping a rehearsal dinner for immediate family and joining my extended family for other activities then. I'm not sure what else I can realistically avoid, or how I can be ok with this.

My sister has already communicated to him that I do not want to talk to him. I sent him an email (my first contact to him in like a decade) to tell him I am there for my brother and to ask him to respect my boundaries of not trying to connect with me in any way. He sends me cards on my birthday, which I hate, and I have no doubt he would try to talk to me unless I (and others) set clear boundaries -- as selfish as he is and as much as I don't trust him, I am hoping he listens.

I don't know what else to do. If I thought I could skip the wedding, I absolutely would, but I think it would upset my brother and my mom too much. I've skipped many things over the years, but this feels different. What is the best way for me to navigate this? Any advice? Anything I should ask them to do in the logistics for the wedding? Can I skip the wedding reception after the ceremony if I'm not comfortable? Or just leave after dinner? I don't want to be a pain for everyone to deal with, but I also don't want to ruin the wedding because I told my dad off or started openly sobbing in front of everyone, so I need to think about the logistics of avoiding a scene. I'd rather just go cry in my hotel room than upset everyone else and make them babysit my emotions.

I'd appreciate any advice on coping or avoiding. I feel dread about the whole thing. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure it's realistic for you to go. You're full on crying just talking about it, I can't imagine being in a heightened emotional state (weddings always are) AND dealing with all of this baggage. I think the time for a viable solution has passed as more therapy was/is the answer but it's clear that you don't have time for that.

I think you should sit down with your brother and explain that you don't want to make a scene but you're afraid that you won't be able to maintain control over your emotions and you are not sure if you should go. If brother is not understanding, then you should arrive at the last minute by taxi/Uber and sit in the back, as the couple walks out you should embrace them and take the taxi back to the hotel. You may have to skip photos if you're not able to keep it together. Do not go to the reception. For god's sake, change your reservation to a different hotel. Yes, this all will cost $$$ but it's the only solution that I can see that puts you at the least risk for spoiling bro's wedding.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 3:53 AM on June 6, 2017 [13 favorites]

You are at risk of making your brother's wedding about you. Weddings are extremely stressful to plan and take part in and adding a bunch of stress to your brother isn't really fair to him, imo.

Just go to the wedding and don't talk to your dad. The only thing I'd ask your brother to do is to try and seat you far apart.

It's like two or three hours out of of your life. Just endure the minor annoyance of having to be in the same room as your father and focus on your brother.
posted by empath at 3:54 AM on June 6, 2017 [49 favorites]

Memorize one line for your Dad. Something simple and dismissive. "Enjoy the wedding, Dad." And rehearse the heck out of it with every uncomfortable line your Dad can toss at you.

"Did you get my card?"
"Enjoy the wedding, Dad." (walk away)
"Why don't you answer my calls?"
"Enjoy the wedding, Dad." (walk away)
"You're acting like a child over something that happened 10 years ago."
"Enjoy the wedding, Dad." (walk away)

Let this line be your sword and shield - this is what's going to let you disconnect from the baggage and enjoy your brother's wedding. Stop letting the person who left your family chase you away from them.
posted by kimberussell at 4:10 AM on June 6, 2017 [18 favorites]

How long do you have until the wedding? Is there a chance you could get some emergency intensive therapy to help build some coping mechanisms for this situation ahead of time?

Alternatively, benzodiazepines. Go to the doctor, tell them you're afraid of flying but have to do some travel, and ask for a very small prescription for ativan (or similar). Take it as you're waiting for the shuttle to the wedding site. DO NOT DRINK AT THE WEDDING (benzos + alcohol = bad news). Float through.
posted by amelioration at 4:28 AM on June 6, 2017 [22 favorites]

Are you entirely sure that your brother and mother would be upset if you didn't go? I am not them of course, but if I were them I would appreciate a conversation something like this: "I am really afraid, and nearly certain, that if I go to your wedding I will act in a way that makes your wedding about my negative feelings. And I really don't want to do that. I imagine that you wish I were better at sucking it up, or that I had gotten over this. I actually wish that too. But I know that I am not, and I don't think I can before the wedding. So I think that in this real and imperfect situation, the way I can cause least negativity is by staying home. And I am going to use this experience as a kick in the ass to see if I can let go of this hatred."
posted by sheldman at 4:34 AM on June 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

It sounds like everyone knows your deal and how sensitive a situation this is for you, and I really don't think that it is going to be as difficult to attend as you are currently building it up in your head. You have your sister's support, yes? Your mom understands too it sounds like. What about that extended family you mentioned?

Weddings are weird because emotions are so high but for the most part everyone attending just wants to be happy for the couple, so you get people going out of their way to accommodate each other. I think you should ask your brother for a detailed itinerary and plan out who all you can spend time with who definitely won't be near your dad at any given moment. Be a social butterfly if need be. Ask also to be seated at the reception with other folks, maybe even serve as a family ambassador of sorts to a table of unrelated friends near your age bracket.

The other iffy situation is photos. Every wedding photographer I've met has been good at wrangling weird family entanglements. I bet the bride and groom will have mentioned it beforehand, but just also stop by quick to mention to the photographer that you will not be in any composed photos with the father of the groom. The rehearsal dinner is often the perfect time for this kind of thing but since you're skipping that (smartly so) you might be able to catch them in the hotel or get their contact through your brother to email them directly.

I think it is totally fine to leave a wedding reception for any reason at basically any time if you aren't in the wedding party. If you need to bring a book and scope out a place away from the party to chill until transportation arrives, do it. If you need to run off sobbing, do it. If you want to push yourself because the energy is positive and you feel safe but it is exhausting and you need to hang in a corner after ten minutes of dancing, do that too! Have a backup plan but try to be in the moment and don't let your anger consume you - if this goes well, maybe that can help you as you continue working on this issue in the future, so don't give up the opportunity ahead of time.

Leaving the wedding ceremony is bad form though. Make sure where you're seated you don't have a view of your dad. Is anybody going to wear big hats? Cousins with big hair? Parents usually sit in the front row, so can you sit on the other end of the same row so you go down different sides to get out of your seats and facing forward you have a clear view? If you know any of the ushers have them hook you up. It is totally fine to buck tradition in seating for your comfort and ability to get through the ceremony.

Also honestly? If you have a healthy relationship with alcohol, drink a lot. Apart from the mellowness of a sustained bout of tipsiness, there is no better excuse for extracting yourself from a conversation you don't want to have than leaving to freshen your drink. If you get weepy or aggressive from alcohol though absolutely do not do that! Go sober. You can still do the gotta freshen your drink trick but it's less organic.

I think you will have a hard time at first but get through it, and that pushing yourself to try this out of your love for your brother is some solid motivation to give you a difficult but ultimately personally rewarding experience. All that being said, have you actually verbally asked your mom and brother if they require you to attend? Could you possibly skype into the ceremony? It sounds like you really need to work on this thing with your dad but if you are only attending because your family is forcing you and not because you personally believe you need to go then that isn't going to help.
posted by Mizu at 4:43 AM on June 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I agree with empath.I'm getting married in a few weeks. My parents are long divorced, don't get along, and have real rage issues with each other, and both of them plan on being really nice to each other during the rehearsal and the wedding. I'm not saying you need to do that, or that you should put aside your feelings, but the day isn't about you or your father.

Stay away from him. Go to the rehearsal dinner for your brother. Have your sister or your mother intervene if your dad tries to talk to you.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:04 AM on June 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

Here is one technique to help you; it's called thought blocking thought insertion. Everyone you think " I'm so angry at Dad" stop and say "I'm so happy for my brother". Every time you find yourself searching the crowd for where he is, say "I'm so happy for my brother." Etc... It really helps.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:08 AM on June 6, 2017 [22 favorites]

You've been very successful so far-- i.e. you still have relationships, good ones from the sound of it, with your other family members. There are so many questions on the green about how to maintain your other family relationships when you are estranged from one person, and a lot of the answers tend to be, "Don't even try." It's that hard. And you're doing it! You deserve to be really happy and pleased with yourself about that.

The destination aspect certainly increases the stress, and I would look for ways to get out early, but I think you can do it. Maybe think of it as a celebration of the fact that you have maintained all these other relationships. Find someone who's an ally that you can run to-- not someone who's a principal in the wedding. Tell them how you are feeling and enlist them for a walk in the vineyard when you need to get out.

I've been there, estranged from a parent and one uncle, and I confess that being able to be gracious and enjoy myself in their presence gave me a certain kind of satisfaction. Probably a little petty, but demonstrating that I've moved on with my life and am doing very well, thank you. If your mind doesn't work like that, you are a better person but I still think you can get through it.
posted by BibiRose at 5:15 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can you have someone to run interference for you? If you're going alone, perhaps there is a family member not directly involved in the wedding (cousin, other sibling, etc), who can step in if your dad does try to talk with you. Having a plan for what you'll do might make you feel better about it.

And nthing that you should check with your brother and mother to see if they really will be upset. Assuming they care for you, they won't want to put you in a situation that puts you at this much emotional risk. (Of course, perhaps you yourself feel like you would regret not going, and that's ok too if that's where you're at. Mostly just saying you should see if you're right about mother/brother feelings before you go "for them".)
posted by nat at 5:18 AM on June 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is it possible that you could get through at least some of it without breaking down into sobbing? Can you make plans to keep well away from him and take someone along as a support person who would be in charge of blocking your father if he tries to speak to you? Ideally this would be someone who isn't part of the family and has no part of their own in the history and who can be clear, firm and calm in enforcing your very reasonable boundaries. If you can do this and also change your hotel then it might be manageable.

I think under most circumstances the earliest "polite" time to leave a wedding would be after the dinner & speeches. However under these circumstances I think whatever you can get through as your best effort should be enough and I hope your brother & mother would understand that.

If you really really are not going to be able to cope at all then I agree you should talk to your brother about not going. Perhaps you could suggest taking him and his wife out for a special dinner soon after the wedding? Or have a family celebration with your mum & sister?
posted by *becca* at 5:27 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

It seems like you are putting so many requirements on yourself and you are putting yourself in a situation in which you can’t possibly succeed…
1. You can’t be in the same space as your father – so much so that you are breaking down even thinking about it.
2. You can’t disappoint your mother and brother.
3. You are at a venue you can’t leave.
4. (Upspoken) You don’t want to make your brother’s wedding ‘all about you’

I think under these circumstances, you should explain to your brother that you love him, but that you are not well enough to handle the situation and that if you are there, you are highly certain you would cause a scene and that you don’t want to cause a scene at his wedding – it should be about him, not you. That you will invite him and his wife at the soonest time (when they have some energy) to a nice dinner to celebrate for him.
posted by jazh at 5:32 AM on June 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I give you permission not to go. But I agree it's a big deal, especially as abandonment is a Thing for you and your siblings.

For me, I would need a very strong viewpoint to brace against to go and be okay. In this situation mine would be, can your love for your brother be bigger than your anger at your father. If the answer is, not this year, that's okay. But if you can really dial into the fact that this is your brother's wedding then I think you will be able to get there and hug your brother and wish him well...and leave when you need to and go up to your hotel room, have a luxurious bath with a glass of whatever, read your favourite book, watch a movie, have a great sleep in.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:39 AM on June 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

the ceremony is at a vineyard, so it's a little remote, and my only escape are shuttles going back at forth, which I'm not sure how reliable they will be. Apparently cell reception isn't good either. He's also staying at the same Hyatt I'll be at because this is a destination wedding.

Sorry if this is an obvious thing that obviously occurred to you, but I mention it because often when I'm presented with pre-set logistics for an event I don't think to question them. But...have you explored other options? Most popular destinations, even if they don't have another hotel, have locals capitalizing on its popularity via AirBnB or VRBO. That + rent a car and you both minimize your odds of seeing him and give yourself an escape valve. Worth the possibly extra investment if possible, it sounds like.
posted by solotoro at 5:44 AM on June 6, 2017 [10 favorites]

Take a comrade who is fully-briefed, strong and up for being your chaperone if possible.

A dear friend of mine was in a similar situation except with a different family member, and the wedding was abroad. She leaned heavily on her partner, who knew the background. When he detected her reaching the limit of what she could cope with, he'd suggest they went back to their hotel room for a break. They purposefully stayed somewhere a little way off for the sanctuary. He was her buffer and her bodyguard during the gathering times.

It wouldn't have to be a partner - as a close family member of the groom, I'd say it's fully legit to bring a "date" who is a close friend. If you have one who can be a protector for you like this, it might help a lot.
posted by greenish at 5:56 AM on June 6, 2017 [13 favorites]

I think "drink a lot" is terrible advice for anyone, even those with a "healthy" relationship with alcohol. It's very unlikely to mellow you out, and infinitely more likely to make you more emotional with the added bonuses of reducing your judgment and increasing impulsivity. You need a clear mind for this.

I think you should go and stay away from dad. Don't talk about him or even look in his direction. Avert your eyes. If he tries to talk to you, say nothing and walk away. If he persists, then you can slip out and return to the hotel. Best case scenario where dad doesn't bother you, you attended the wedding and it was uncomfortable but you did a good thing for your brother. Worst case scenario where you have to sneak out partway through, you gave it your best shot and didn't make the wedding about you. If your brother is upset with you in this scenario then that's really on him.
posted by blackzinfandel at 6:09 AM on June 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would second that, if possible, having a plus-one whose goal is to protect you from your dad would be a great strategy. Half the stress in a situation like that is scanning the crowd knowing they might appear at any moment; having someone else doing that and knowing that you will be hustled away/run interference on if necessary will take a lot of the stress off.

I also second the "one prepared line" for if you're stuck with him. You know exactly what you're going to say, you can turn and walk away and go cry in the bathroom if you need to, but you have a plan to keep it from turning into a confrontation.

I don't know if you have a therapist, but I do also recommend an emergency session if you can get one; a therapist might be able to help you find tools that will work for you in the moment (calming exercises, avoidance tactics, picking relatives who are "safe"), even in a short time frame.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:14 AM on June 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you've really built up your feelings of hurt in your mind, but you're just guessing at how you'll feel when you see him. Maybe it will be as awful as you imagine, or maybe he'll just be a dude you don't like. This does sound like he sort of thing that seems awful and insurmountable in one's head, but is not as terrible in reality.

I think benzodiazepines are a good idea. I take xanax to fly, and it is the difference between shaking and weeping during takeoff and sitting calmly in my seat. They also lack the unpredictability of alcohol.
posted by jeoc at 6:46 AM on June 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I feel for you. I have a lot of issues with my in laws and would be happy to never see them again. But this cuts me off from my husband's life too much for me to consider that as an option. I avoid when I want but then I attend when I feel it would benefit me and our daughter to mix with them at weddings or other family events. I know what the sisters are like and I don't expect them to ever apologize for their hateful and insensitive remarks and actions toward me. They are irrelevant! When they are around I totally focus on my daughter and husband and a handful of others who I find very easy to be with. I think in life we need to have ways of living among people we don't like and who have actively hurt us only because we would be 1) cheating ourselves of a joyful existence, and 2) why let them control your life so much? Screw them and be OK with being who you are. Your feelings are very understandable and warranted, there is no question about that, but don't let them get to the real you who is a happy, sensitive and joyful person in your own right. I like the kimberussell lines of "enjoy the wedding, dad" to any interaction he may initiate!
posted by waving at 6:50 AM on June 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

How much time do you have before the wedding?

I ask because ... it seems to me that this could be a good opportunity for you to work through some of your feelings about all this and come out feeling better on the other side, but not if the wedding is, like, this month.

The reason I suggest that is what you're describing is a lot of really big, strong feelings that you've mostly been able to avoid looking at too closely for a while, but that doesn't mean they're not there. You're hurting a lot, and that's so much to carry every day. My heart hurts for you just from reading about this. If you could move through the biggest of these feelings, I bet it would help with both the wedding and other parts of your life also. A good therapist could help with this, and I can share a couple of exercises that I've found helpful in dealing with my past traumas, too, if you're interested.

I'm so sorry for how your dad left your family when you were a kid, and that he was insensitive to your feelings and needs when you were trying to rebuild. That's super hurtful and sad. I hope you're able to find a way to have a good experience at your brother's wedding.
posted by spindrifter at 6:55 AM on June 6, 2017 [9 favorites]

You didn't mention a partner that I see -- do you have one? If you don't, can you bring a good friend? Having someone to talk to privately and having someone run interference for you would be a godsend, I think.

I agree with everyone who says that even though the wedding is remote and there appears to be just one hotel that you may really benefit from thinking outside the box and staying elsewhere and driving in or whatever else you can do to provide some separation/protection for yourself.
posted by kate blank at 7:02 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I get that this is a big deal for you but I think you're building it up in your head to be much worse than it actually needs to be. Go. Don't drink, and rent a car if you can. If you feel like there's going to be some kind of scene, leave. If you can't rent a car and the shuttle timing doesn't work out well, you can still go for a walk to calm down. Walking around a vineyard sounds lovely (wear/bring appropriate shoes). Nothing you've said makes it sound like your father is likely to force a conversation if you and the rest of the family make it clear that you don't want to (I mean maybe that just didn't make it into the post, but he's only sent your birthday cards for ten years, he doesn't sound like he's actively pursued a relationship with you).

You can realistically avoid almost all of it. Seriously, it is going to be so easy to avoid him. Even if you really have to stay at the same hotel as your father? You have a room with a door that locks and a TV with cable. Don't hang out in the bar, get room service breakfast or grab yourself some nice pastries from the grocery store or try out a diner in the next town over. Take the stairs if you're afraid of getting trapped in the elevator with him. Check out early or late. If you see him coming, turn around and walk the other way.

Long term it makes sense to dig into this stuff in therapy, not with an eye to rebuilding your relationship with your father but just in coming to terms with your feelings about him. Hopefully you can learn to be in the same room with him, aware that he's a shitty parent who did you wrong, but still not feel consumed by rage.

But for this wedding: avoid, avoid, avoid.
posted by mskyle at 7:06 AM on June 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

Speaking as a person who went to many family events over the years just not to upset my mother "Please Robert, just do it for me...", I say fuck it, don't go. It seems your choices are upset your mom and brother or upset you. I vote don't upset you.
posted by Rob Rockets at 7:09 AM on June 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have a lot to say about this, especially from experience, and so little time. Is there a kundalini yoga class in your area? Take it. Your post reminds me of a therapist/researcher someone recommended on Askme that specializes in trauma and the trauma response you are having - Peter A. Levine. You can find talks with him on Youtube. His techniques remind me of kundalini yoga, tbh, so watch a few of his vids and take a few inexpensive kundalini yoga classes.

Take the class(es). See how you feel. Bonus if the class includes a sound bath! These classes are very gentle, and you can go at your own pace anyway. Your eyes are closed for most of it and you might cry a lot during class, that's perfect if you do!!

I think you can go to the ceremony and skip the reception if you really need to. I understand that the trauma and dysfunction in your family is something you are holding on to, and I don't want you to feel weird or odd because you have expectations and standards and this hurt you seemingly deeper than anyons else. What your dad did was bullshit. That's not how adults conduct themselves, they don't cheat on their wife who gave them three children and his action at a really important juncture in your life probably shattered your faith in some serious ways. Fuck his selfishness, really. I get it. I also promise you that you can rise above this. Not today, but you can do enough self-work that you will feel entirely neutral towards your dad and other fears you have around trust and relationships will be in perspective. But not today, just be thankful this situation is forcing you to overcome this bullshit that got dropped on you when you were a kid. You don't have to carry this burden around anymore.

There are therapists that work with the Peter A. Levine technique, and you should see one. I hear EMDR is effective. Another shout out here for kundalini yoga. And if all else fails, just skip the reception. You'll be fine!
posted by jbenben at 7:18 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

If no one else here says it, I just want to tell you that you are 1000% right to have taken a stand against your dad when you did. Feel proud of yourself. You have healthy boundaries and advocated for yourself at a young age. That's pretty great.

And now it's like you're taking poison and waiting for the other guy to die, right? You can do better now because you are an adult and have access to better coping skills. Having compassion or forgiveness towards a difficulty doesn't mean it was OK or you approve, it just means you are letting the poison go out of your system. You can keep your boundaries and let the trauma go.

The little kid in you loves your dad, I bet, and the anger protects you from loving someone who did not protect your wellbeing. I get it. You are an adult now and you protect your own wellbeing. You can get over this and it can be neutral and you never have to love or trust anyone you don't want to. Just letting you know there is a way out. Peace.
posted by jbenben at 7:32 AM on June 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

Wow that sounds rough. Skipping the reception altogether is an option.

Here's a thought: wear sturdy shoes and buy a nice (but slim) notebook or journal with small number of pages and a bundle of cheap pens.

Make it your project to fill that entire book with stories and doodle drawings about you and your brother. Write or draw out all the silly things you and he did growing up. Put things in that the couple can read together. Leave dad out of this book: you have total control about what goes in it and you can edit out whatever you want. It's a perfect excuse to wander through the vineyard and disappear while remaining connected to the parts of your family and the event that you like and a great reason to avoid or end conversation. It's a time limited art project for the duration of the wedding day. Press a grape leaf or flower into the last few pages.

When you are ready to go slip the book to the best man and ask him to give it to the couple on their way out or to honeymoon.

Bonus if you want to include really private or embarrassing things tape a book of matches on the back page with instructions to burn after reading.

I wouldn't worry too much about crying. Everyone cries at weddings they will think your rage is joy.
posted by sol at 7:41 AM on June 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthg everyone here about getting further therapy down the road since it sounds as if there may not be enough time to deal with such deep, painful issues before the wedding. Since you say you need to go to the wedding for your mom who has navigated these difficult encounters before, let her be your "plus one" if you don't have someone else going with you. Ask her what she does when she sees your father; it's probably minimal. (He got your e-mail, so he's probably not expecting some big turning point reconciliation. If you run into him, just say hello and keep moving.) If you can't do what your mother says she usually does, then stay on the sidelines for a bit. Smoothly rejoin her and share in her pleasure in your brother's big day, which is a big day for the whole family. You needn't stay for the entire event, so make arrangements to make an early-ish getaway.
posted by Elsie at 7:52 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Go talk to your/any doctor* about getting a little benzo prescription, or beta blockers. The crying and upset feelings you're having are anxiety, treat that symptom to get you through the day (and try whatever you're prescribed beforehand so you'll know if it's too strong or makes you nauseated or whatever).

Definitely arm yourself with a one-liner (I think the suggested, "Enjoy the wedding, dad" is perfect). Take a buddy. See if the area you'll be in is covered by Lyft or Uber so you have another way to get out if you need to.

In the grand scheme of things, the bride and groom won't get but a second with each guest at the reception, but I think you and they would feel it if you missed the ceremony.

*"I have to get through my brother's wedding with my estranged father. All my friends told me to come get some ativan or beta blockers or whatever you recommend so I don't explode or puke."
posted by Lyn Never at 7:56 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is the bride taking the shuttle? Is your hypothetical great-aunt-in-a-wheelchair taking the shuttle? Are the caterers taking the shuttle? There have to be parking spots someplace. Now is the time to talk about what is effectively a disability accommodation. Find out where you can park your car at the site; it sounds like your brother is mostly on board with helping you (even if he's not on-board enough to uninvite your father or his wife) so maybe he could get you a parking spot as a special request.
posted by aimedwander at 8:25 AM on June 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Just thinking about it and talking about the logistics of it with my sister makes me full-on cry.

You don't mention therapy. You might be surprised by how quickly therapy helps you work through these emotions and how much lighter it makes you in the rest of your life.

If not, then I'd say sit down every day and think about this to explore your feelings and let them out. Think about running into your dad. Find the thoughts or images that most makes you cry and let them make you cry. Get more comfortable with those thoughts and images. Over days of sitting with your most painful thoughts and feelings, notice how things shift. Maybe read a guide to meditation to shape how you relate to those thoughts and feelings as you do this. If you find yourself getting super overwhelmed, devote part of your brain to noticing that you are physically safe, that you have solid ground under your body, and that your breath still goes in and out. The goals could be to become more comfortable with this pain, more accustomed to the waves of feeling that your dad induces in you, and less blindsided by it. If you spend hours immersed in this pain alone, it may lose its edge, you may gain comfort with it and an ability to handle it, and you may find it not impossible to handle when you are in a situation with lots of joyous distractions.
posted by salvia at 9:37 AM on June 6, 2017

A common "Heavy Event" approach: ask your doctor for Ativan to get you through the day. My doctor prescribed me something like five Ativan, and advised me to take one a couple weeks before the event on a weekend to make sure I didn't have a paradoxical reaction to it. After that, I took one Ativan the morning of the Heavy Event. And that was that.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:14 AM on June 6, 2017

One of the frustrating things about avoiding somebody is that you have to keep looking for them to make sure they're not in the room. It would be awesome if you had an event buddy, someone who could keep an eye out for your dad so that you could try to relax a bit and not be in fight-or-flight mode the entire time. Having someone to talk to when you need to take a break could be good, and/or someone to vent to after the event. Is there a good friend who you could invite to come with you, or a good-friendly-cousin who you know will be there and could enlist their help ahead of time?
posted by aimedwander at 10:26 AM on June 6, 2017

My sister built up a major fear of my brother and his wife rejecting her (which they did, and often) but she was so scared of "what might happen" while being in the same room as they were, that she skipped a family event that was very, very important to me.

I got that this was self-care for her, but she really missed out on something very special that she would have been a major part of. Something that wasn't going to happen again. She skipped lots of things like that. But I would have been there to make it easier for her, had she come.

Bring someone with you as a buffer, if you can. Explore new therapy or medication, if you can. Skip it if you must. But know that having your own person to lean on and therapeutic techniques can really help get you through a limited-time event.
posted by 41swans at 10:31 AM on June 6, 2017

There's a lot of great advice here about how to make it easier on yourself when you go. I don't want to tell you what I proclaim that you should do about going or not going. You sound strong and smart to me and I think you know how to take care of yourself -- I don't mean that in the sense of "looking out for #1," as people use it loosely, but how to take real care.

I just want to point out that one of your goals is to not make your brother's day about you -- which is great! You are absolutely being successful at that so far while also setting your boundaries firmly. The thing is, if you tell your brother, at this point, that you can't make it because of your strong emotional reaction, that would be making it about you, no matter how much you try to cushion it.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:34 AM on June 6, 2017

So I'm going to echo most of the suggestions in this thread in the form of a to-do list. I've been in--and a guest at--weddings with a particular interpersonal dynamic like this and with care, you can handle it fine, although you'll need help from venue staff and other guests.

1. Check in with your doctor and request a lorazepam/Ativan or similar prescription for anxiety associated with the event (or for anxiety with flying if you think your doctor will be weird). The doctor should not be; it's a common, low-risk approach. DON'T DRINK at the wedding and take the pill instead. It's not like Sixteen Candles--it should be unnoticeable to everyone you speak to that you've taken something. I recommend taking one a week or so before the travel as a test run.

2. Check in with the venue and ask about driving yourself, parking, the shuttle schedule or taxis/Uber/Lyft. Ask if there is another room at the venue where you could wait for the next shuttle, rather than waiting at the reception or with other guests. Ask if there are grounds or a garden you can take walks in, if you need to leave the reception. You don't need to explain yourself to them, but you can frame it as you know you need a break from crowds.

3. When you arrive, approach the photographer. Introduce yourself, point out your father and indicate that you will not pose for photos with him, thank you. It's not the first time the photographer has been told that; it won't be the last. You're doing yourself and her a favor in pointing it out.

4. If you're not bringing a +1, I suggest you bring one. A friend will be really helpful in a lot of ways. If you can't bring one, enlist help at the reception to physically get between you and your father should he approach you and to share the burden of the vigilance. Retreat to whatever safe space is available (a lounge or whatever the venue manager has said is available for quiet time). Seriously consider going to the ceremony but not the reception. Talk with the hotel staff (ahead of time, like right now) about options for entertaining yourself if you make a last minute decision to skip the reception or leave it quite early.

5. Check in with your brother & his wife-to-be about your coping plans. Check in with your sister and mom about your coping plans. It may be that your brother already intends to ask the photographer to be sensitive. It may be that your sister is willing to run interference for you. It may be that suddenly everyone understands that you can't be there and though you want to be and you love your brother, you just are not in a position to be at a party with your father. Good luck and kind thoughts to you. I understand why you feel you need to go to the wedding and if you mentally prepare, it may go better than you expect and it may help you move on even more than you have.
posted by crush at 10:36 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm going to object to the characterization that OP's anxiety at seeing someone who did something awful in their past and having a serious emotional reaction is making the wedding all about them.

I think their dad's refusal to respect their boundaries and the knowledge that he's going to push that at the wedding in a situation where he knows they can't get away is him committing another act of abuse and making the wedding about him and what he wants. Pressing someone to talk to you in a situation where they can't escape and can't ask for help without people heaping blame on them is an abuser's tactic. The OP is trying very hard to NOT make a scene but knows 1) they can't control their reaction, and 2) their dad will not respect their requests to be left alone.

OP, if you think you can go with 1) a friend who you can trust to run interference and basically be an emotional bodyguard 2) anxiety meds 3) an escape route that isn't reliant on the shuttles, and 4) a separate hotel, then go. If not, get food poisoning mysteriously the day before. Your dad is a jerk and I'm sorry people are blaming you for having a reaction to that.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:28 PM on June 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Just don't go. It's not worth it. If your brother is a decent person he will understand .
posted by Violet Hour at 4:39 PM on June 6, 2017

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