I saw a request for hopeful stories a while back and thought I could write a post. I’m in a pretty good spot lately. Holidays can be dicey for me emotionally, but I’ve largely reclaimed them and have enjoyed them in my own way the last several years. When I was a teen that was not the case.
My parents & step parents had all had their own issues, and holidays were not a joyful experience for many years. There was fighting, too much drinking, domestic violence, emotional abuse and lots of crap. So I really did not look forward to them at all. My stepfather had narcissistic personality disorder and when I was around, I was often the scapegoat. There was a lot of pressure to do things exactly “right” and that just didn’t go well for me (not that walking on eggshells goes well for anyone).
When things got really bad, my mom and I would go to a double feature at the movie theater & hope that he had calmed down by the time we got back home. My dad was often in manic episodes or hospitalized during the holidays and he spent a few years in prison, so, while he was by nature a very kind person, he just wasn’t there for me during those years.
Holidays got a lot better for me once I moved out on my own. I have tried really hard to make my home a safe, stable, and peaceful place to be. I’ve been through some bouts of depression, some great therapy, and many hard years of figuring out how I feel about stuff and how to set boundaries with my family. For me, things got a lot better when I decided to no longer have a relationship with my stepfather. There was a lot of guilt and hard feelings involved, and years of pressure from my mom, but I knew this was the right decision for me. I had an awesome therapist to help me see the guilt trips and gaslighting. Unfortunately, my decision made it hard to maintain a relationship with my mom. Some family members just thought I was making a big deal out of nothing (for the record, they never lived with him).
There were about five years when my relationship with my mom consisted of very brief meetings at restaurants after several hours’ drive and her trying to bully me into seeing him, saying he had changed and was doing better. I’d say I was happy for him but that I still did not want to see him. Part of me would have loved to reconcile, but a wiser part of me knew that he would never be able to change enough for me to have a healthy relationship with him. After 20 years of second chances, my heart could not take any more manipulation.
We did not talk on holidays, and sometimes she just wouldn’t show up at all and wouldn’t answer her phone. There was a time that I didn’t see her for two years and we don’t live that far apart. I understood that she was in a very challenging relationship, but I still felt rejected and heartbroken. My life was moving forward, but each time a new milestone passed, I felt that rejection come right back in. During this time I stumbled across Band Back Together, and I drew so much support from the posts and resources here.
These days, my relationship with my mom is in much better shape. My stepfather passed away almost three years ago. I am not saying that is a good thing, because I would never wish him or anyone harm, that is just what happened. It has been very hard on my mom, who is aging and now lives alone, but the silver lining for me is that I get to have a relationship with her again.
There are still lots of difficult feelings there, but she acknowledges that the way he treated me was not okay and he didn’t start to get his shit together at all until I was at least 30. I try not to talk about him.
Now she takes time to visit me (and other family members), and she isn’t worried that he is going to blow up on her for spending time with other people. We are still cautious about holidays. We’ve tried two Thanksgivings together and they went well. We may not be picture perfect, but we do enjoy each other’s company. I’m almost 40 and I still feel like I’m constantly working on boundaries. I still have challenges with anxiety/depression. Sometimes life makes me want to crawl into a blanket cave for a week.
I love that being an adult, I can choose how and who I will spend a holiday with. I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity to have a relationship with my mom. This one thing is going well and I am grateful for it.
A figure appeared in the darkness. In the gleam of the moonlight, I knew it was her, the woman who gave me life. She was small but managed to overwhelm the room with her haughty pride. Her words always cut. They were sharp. The wounds were deep.
Every time my mother saw me, she realized her mortality, her own demise. She hated me for my youth. She couldn’t stand that I was a specimen of beauty and each day it grew; it was going to outshine her.
She knew that. She couldn’t control it.
So she controlled how I felt about myself. She made sure I knew I was ugly.
She told me every day, “You’re so ugly!” She wished I was a boy. Boys were better.
She didn’t have to compete with boys; she could manipulate them more easily.
She didn’t place value on my academic achievements; to her, I was worthless and stupid.
She didn’t graduate high school. She hated me for having opportunities she never did. She tried desperately to hold me back from being successful at anything.
I was the Repunzel in this warped retelling of the story.
The mother (the witch) had fallen from the high tower and was blinded by the thorn brush she herself harvested. Now she’s an aimless spirit, wandering the halls of my home. She wrestles with an unknown assailant as Jacob wrestled with the angel. She’s asking me for something, but she can’t speak.
Is it forgiveness?
Is she asking me for my blessing?
If I do forgive her and let her go, does this mean I’m free?
But I realized I’m not an angry person – I’m just pissed off at everything that has happened.
I’ve also realized I am not guilty or responsible for her demons.
I have my ways to beat the monster, to tame it. But ignoring is not one of them; neither is feeding it.
Quick wit can get you far, as will patience, but you can’t be tolerant because with tolerance comes more abuse. You have to show it that you won’t be broken down, that you won’t stay passive to everything it does.
Giving into the victimizing is as big a deal not as engaging in a screaming fit.
How can you deal with it?
The formula is simple: you don’t give it what it wants. It confuses the monster, and it puts it down.
This is a survival game; every day you’re on defense.
Every day, you need to examine the opponent, and every moment you have to be ready.
It can drag you down or make you stronger, whichever you choose.
As a child of a covert narcissist, who spent every day breaking down any self-esteem I might accidentally grow, I was a prime target for my malignant narcissist of an ex-husband.
Keep in mind that there never has been and never will be an actual diagnosis for either my mother or my ex. Both fought like hell against any hint of therapy because there was nothing wrong with them, everything was my fault.
There are many stories, some I have already told, and this one, which I never thought would see the light of day.
I don’t even want to think about it, never mind discuss it with anyone. But people need to know that it exists, that it happens, and that it’s not OK.
I married my “high school sweetheart” AKA, a predator who targeted someone vulnerable 3 years his junior. Now, the age difference wouldn’t matter if we had been grown, mature adults. As a matter of fact, my current wonderful husband is 7 years older than me. But then, my ex was my first real boyfriend, and as I said earlier, I was raised in a dysfunctional family in which the normal was not normal.
I was taught to serve, to ignore my own needs in favour of other’s wants. I learned that I didn’t matter. I had no choices, no opinions of my own. I was a mirror.
And that continued throughout my marriage. I was perfectly broken and ready to be used.
From the beginning, he taught me that it was my fault if he was in pain. Physical, mental, financial, it was all my responsibility.
That continued into the bedroom.
Sex was not a loving act between two cherished partners, it was a power play. If he had a need, I was to fulfill it. If he had a desire, I was to play the part. Women were his enemies and only to be used. His porn addiction was out of control, and this was before the internet, so our bedroom was filled with falling down piles of the most degrading magazines he could get his hands on. I was only the receptacle, not the object of desire. I was too fat, too ugly and nothing about me was good enough.
He groomed me to be meek and accepting that he was the only one in the world who would ever put up with me and I needed to be grateful that I had him, because otherwise I would die alone. I was only acceptable as long as I did what I was told.
I was expected to be “ready and willing” at any time, any place, because you see, blue balls are fatal.
I bet you didn’t know that.
My sex education was brief at best, back in 1980ish and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t covered. As the years dragged on, I was barely even worth being a receptacle.
The worst part was when he…couldn’t.
That would bring the rage. That was when the worst times happened. If he couldn’t do it himself, he used whatever was at hand, including a police issued nightstick. He bought this illegally, as normal citizens aren’t allowed to have these in my country. This added to the thrill, I guess.
What it has done to me over the years has led to a deep fear of police. It’s not a straight line, there are many other stories involved, but that’s a biggie.
As a boring, law abiding middle-aged white woman, I actually have very few encounters with police officers. (Yeah, white privilege at work, sigh).
In the past few years, my PTSD has made me absolutely terrified of even the briefest encounter. Why it waited 20 years to fuck with my head like this, I have no idea, but my therapist does. I’ve been working on my fragile mental health for about 10 years now, one thing at a time, and she tells me that my brain will withhold things that I am not prepared to deal with yet. As I have gotten other things somewhat under control, my suicidal thoughts, my OCD, my anxiety, and depression have a little less hold on me. And then, slowly, over a few years, I found myself avoiding anyone in a uniform that might remind me. Whether a soldier, a police officer, or even a security guard if he has a nightstick or a gun, I will freeze and go into a panic attack.
This is interfering with my life dammit!
I am so angry at my stupid brain. I am absolutely terrified of getting stopped by the police, even for something benign.
What would I do?
My big fear is that I will bolt and not be able to communicate why I am acting erratically and get arrested. I fear my heart would stop, like a terrified rabbit caught in a trap. I
fear that I will have another nervous breakdown. I fear I would never recover.
But I’m working on it. I am going to beat it, I swear.
This particular mind-dragon is a powerful one, but not invincible. I have proven that over and over again in my recovery. I am worth the work, I deserve peace.
Session by session with my trauma therapist, day by day with my husband, we are all fighting for me. If you are reading this and you have experienced marital rape, you are worth it too! It’s not right, it’s not OK and it’s not your fault. Please use the resources here at The Band, and know that there are people who care and who can help.
I’ve been debating joining Band Back Together since the day it opened. I was leery, because good goodness do I have a lot to say. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. And hard to let yourself. Some things are hard to pull out of the box under the bed. It’s not easy to give them attention or light, even if sometimes that is necessary.
So I’m here. And fuck it all. I’m healing. I’m better. I’m stable and mostly happy. I got shit to say.
My mom once showed me a song by Lucinda Williams called Sweet Side. She said it reminded her of me. Which is sort of bullshit. I’ve been pretty emotionally fucked up but never quite to that extent. In any case, I found it sort of ironic that my mom should point it out to me. She mistakenly believes my internal wounds were created when I was molested.
They were her made by her alone. I’m honestly not affected by the molestation. I have been, but that pain has long since been banished.
Having one of the most insane stick up for you at the least expected moment. Finding shelter in his rage. Seeing the correlation. Black sheep meet black lamb. Those surreal moments that buffer you from the storm.
It’s being kicked out of your bedroom and moved into the corner of the living room, so your mother’s boyfriend can have an office. Or moving into the spider-infested, insulation-free shed outside. Because they are tired of you inside. Or a 3AM, walk outside to get to the restroom, because you aren’t welcome to live IN the house with the good people.
And finding the front door locked.
It’s a birthday party alone, while your family went on vacation (again) to New Orleans without you. During Mardi Gras. It’s a sweet sixteen where they haul in a musty old pull-behind trailer and tell you, “Happy Birthday, now GTFO” and you find yourself with a ‘birthday’ basket of cleaning supplies and a rank, disgusting trailer parked in the back yard. Your new home. Have a paper umbrella, it’ll make it right.
It’s making the (sane) decision to not speak to your mother, ever again, at seventeen. And being talked out of it. Stupidly.
It’s having the power cord leading to that same trailer be pulled repeatedly in the middle of the night by your mother’s boyfriend. Leading to HOLY FUCK IT’S COLD IN HERE. Leading to ‘Stop lying! He didn’t do it!’
It’s trusting, against your better judgment, to go home when your life collapses and you are sick and losing your mind. And finding yourself taken advantage of, and then thrown out. Again.
Of trying to get your life back together, only to have your money depleted entirely. Of going back to school only to discover that every day seems to result in another, “I TOLD you I couldn’t watch the kids, I have an appointment”
Of visiting a friend in California to get away from the building stress and anxiety, to find yourself homeless and stranded and papers being filed in your absence claiming you abandoned your children. Of having to explain to your children that you didn’t. And that you meant it when you said you’d be gone a week.
Of living in a shitty motel in the middle of the Mojave desert, subsisting on ten dollars a week in food to make it back to get your kids. In waiting a year to see them again because of your mother’s treachery.
Of gearing up for an epic court battle only to have her mysteriously drop them off with ‘a secret, don’t tell your mother’ and have your beautiful, sensitive daughter burst into tears because the pressure is too much. In hearing her, through her sobbing, explain that she’s afraid Grandma would be back to take them again in a month, because that’s what she said.
Holidays are bullshit. They remind me of the family I don’t have.
They remind me of going to Thanksgiving to drop off my kids to spend time with their Uncle, and be entirely ignored by my family. They remind me of being asked how much a vacuum was at Home Depot without a ‘hello’ or a ‘Merry Christmas’ preceding it and without even so much as a ‘have a nice day’ on leaving.
I spent the last two years with just my partner during the holidays. It’s been years since I so much as got a birthday card or a Christmas card. I don’t expect them, and I don’t need them. But I kind of wish I got them. It felt odd. It still feels odd.
This year, I’m going to cook a turkey, we will all will sit down to it and be thankful for what we have. And I will continue to love my children fiercely every day, no matter how angry and hurt they are inside. No matter how long their own healing process takes. No matter what silly, childish things they do. Even if they break something I love, or snark at each other in a hormonal rage, no matter if they make horrible decisions or great ones. I’m going to be there and love them.
The fact is, that no matter how much she’s done to me, no matter how much she has injured my heart, no matter how many times she’s screwed my life through her manipulations, I love her. She’s my mother; I can’t help it. I miss the love a mother is supposed to provide. I miss the safe haven. I miss the support system.
I miss the person you call when you are at your wit’s end and need advice. I have nothing like that. I’m it. I’m my own self-contained support. If a kid does something baffling, I’m on my own. If I’m drying out the turkey, I’m on my own.
I haven’t spoken to my extended family in years. I haven’t spent more than five minutes in conversation with my mother for two. My life has NEVER been better. It’s stable, I’m back in school. My kids are healing, slowly and painfully, but they are healing. We have our finances in order and our life is generally upwardly mobile. But still…
I want a mother so desperately it hurts.
And I can’t make that feeling go away, no matter how much I want to.
My views regarding my mother have changed in recent years.
Presently, she is someone who exists as part of a story in my life, catalyzing a significant examination of myself and those who surround me. I often contemplate whether that was her purpose, but intertwined in those thoughts; there is guilt. Parents make sacrifices for their children, and perhaps hers was the loss of our relationship, forcing me to embark on a new path.
However, I don’t think she’ll ever be cognizant of that.
I have fond memories of her, times when she was a picturesque, doting mother, ferrying my friends and me to practice, taking us to the mall, and covering for me when I exceeded my curfew.
Those untainted recollections haunt me because I’ve realized that for every good deed there was a price tag. The cost was never evident, as though you had found a one of a kind item at the store. You stand alone in the aisle, puzzled while turning the object over and back again in an attempt to locate that small, sticky, square sliver of paper that gives something its value. You approach the register, convincing yourself it isn’t a lavish novelty—until the cashier regrettably informs you that the item exceeds your price range. After an internal battle, you purchase it anyway because you falsely believe that you need it. That’s how it was with her. She’d give, I’d take, and then I would later have buyer’s remorse. I felt liable during those exchanges on many occasions, but they’ve taught me that I shouldn’t give more than I’m willing to lose–whether that be time, money, or respect.
I did and said things throughout our strained relationship that weren’t fair, correct, or appropriate. There were times my behavior was unquestionably harsh. In other moments, I yelled too much, was self-absorbed, and at times wrongly manipulative.
Even as a child, I innately sensed that she was not capable of truly loving anyone. Her affections were an unmarked, dead-end road; I never knew where the pavement faded into the dirt until I found myself in the mud. She tirelessly helped people (and probably still does), but would then complain when her efforts didn’t garner adequate appreciation or her deeds weren’t reciprocated.
Through watching her perform this soliloquy of martyrdom and the innumerable encore performances, I uncovered another meaningful piece of knowledge: If you’re giving to fill a void within yourself, stop giving and fix yourself because no one else will. And to me, that is her downfall—she never fixed herself. Perhaps she didn’t know how—or was unable to recognize that she needed mending. It was always easier for her to blame her short-comings on others. Usually, it was my dad, the man who worked seven days every week to provide for his family and allow her to do as she pleased.
He was flawed, but not any more than the rest of us. My dad had a temper, was overly strict, and could be perceived as controlling at times, but he expressed an abundant amount of love and dedication to his family. Yet somehow, my mother always found a reason to make him not good enough for her, or for us. She would shout from the proverbial rooftops to whatever audience was present: family, church people, or her friends—it didn’t matter. If they had ears and minute of time, she would begin Act I of her tragic play. Her behavior reminded me of the game in elementary school, aptly named telephone.
The story at the end was never the story at the beginning, but no one was able to decipher what that ever was because true to her victim mentality, “She would never say that!” And so it went throughout my teenage years, her speaking half-truths, my dad getting mad, and her tear-soaked, half-hearted apologies.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
I’ve surmised that’s where my lesson on people began—with those years of trusting, then not, and the gray area twisted between the confusion.
It’s strange to look back on it now, coldly removed from it, emotionless. Or perhaps it’s still anger; I’m not sure.
I vividly recall frequent conversations with my dad and his constant reminders to, “Not be like your mom.” At that specific point in time, I always thought he meant weak because that’s how I perceived her: sad, depressed, and angry. She attended a private masquerade, a façade tuned so finely that she is still unaware that she’s wandering through a false reality.
During those times, I didn’t know that life was preparing me for something I would never see approaching—the Trojan horse of life’s fuckery right in front of me. I was oblivious to the depth of her wounds and subsequent actions, until one day I could no longer deny the existence of her illness.
For many people, the term mother is synonymous with love, compassion, and devotion. An upstanding matriarch fiercely defends her children from harm and zealously supports their endeavors. I have spent countless nights awake thinking about the perfect incarnation of a mom, and I’ve concluded that my mother will never embody those characteristics.
The greatest, albeit most difficult thing about life, is that it imparts everything you need to know if you pause momentarily, pay attention, and don’t allow your ego to get the best of you. If you’re repeatedly finding yourself in the same situation, it’s because you haven’t mastered the lesson those particular circumstances are supposed to teach you, or maybe you have, and you’re too stubborn or stupid to recognize them.
I fell into the latter category because that’s just who I was then, optimistic and dumb enough to believe I could right any wrong.
Writing that now is ridiculous, but that’s how it started—the relationship with a price tag so high, it almost destroyed my credit, and me. He was charismatic. Funny. Handsome. He said all of the right things at exactly the right time. Looking back, I guess he had to, or someone would peel back the thin layers that encased his dysfunction and see a hollow vessel, devoid of empathy or compassion unless it was for selfish gain.
My mother, however, adored him. She thought he was fantastic. The words of praise for him gushed from her mouth like a broken faucet. She insisted he was perfect for me. I initially agreed until I saw through the shroud to what was underneath.
It was like my internal GPS had lost signal on life’s journey and now it was too late to turn back. The scenery was beautiful at times. There were days filled with sunshine, laughter, and hope. Those times were my favorite because most days were dark and tumultuous. It seemed as though I was trying to outrun the rain, but I never knew when lightning would strike. The storm always seemed to clear at the exact moment that I was ready to relocate to a better climate.
And of course, there was my mother, clearing wreckage, and negotiating an insurance policy—or so I thought. What I failed to realize is that insurance agents love disasters. Disasters wreak havoc and chaos while convincing policyholders that they require more insurance so that they are better prepared for the next catastrophe. I purchased an abundance of insurance from my mother. I talked and confided in her, while she manipulated the weather to her liking. In return, the weather repaid the debt by providing her with a temperate climate.
From my mother’s perspective, it was a fair exchange. She was never one to forgo a “diamond of a deal.” She received the attention and adoration she was so desperately seeking, and he received another layer of protection.
Together, they were a perfect storm and were moving toward the coast at an alarming rate.
He and I found ourselves at the beach on that road trip from hell.
By that point, I was preparing to change routes and terminate my insurance because I could no longer afford the premium; however, the best-laid plans always go awry when the atmosphere becomes unstable. That day began calmly and seemingly beautiful, but the bright sunlight obscured the horizon as it beamed through the car windows that morning. We were exploring on that trip. Laughter and conversation filled the air like particles of pollen—invisible and damaging. I thought that maybe, just maybe, the sky was going to remain clear.
If I only I hoped enough, had enough insurance, I falsely believed everything would be okay.
I was absolutely wrong. He—the weather, became erratic and violent; I was stranded in the current, drowning while trapped in a car until I suddenly saw the eye of the hurricane approaching. Those few moments of relief granted me the clarity to see daylight. I suddenly became aware that I couldn’t regulate the weather, but I could control my reaction to it. There was an open road, but it had been hidden by the debris from the frequent storms. That day I began driving. I drove away from the downpours, evaded the lightning strikes, and put miles between the constant uncertainty of whether I had purchased enough insurance.
When I called my mother, the insurance agent, to discontinue my policy, she didn’t answer.
She wasn’t available that night or the next day.
She was too busy attempting to manage the self-made disaster that she didn’t care about me—her daughter. S
he turned away the child she had known for 32 years. She abandoned me, the daughter that she was supposed to unfailingly love and support.
I don’t know what he promised her exactly, but whatever it was, it was enough for them both to attempt to pursue me down that new, secret road I had discovered.
They attempted to detour my journey through phone calls, texts, and at times, unnerving threats and yet, I kept driving farther and farther away.
She revived the soliloquy that had served her well and performed it for a multitude of audiences. The new version had added a few additional scenes, and they served to convey how terrible I was. She was heartbroken that her child could just walk away from her.
It was then, that my dad’s words from over a decade ago reverberated in my mind, “Don’t be like your mom.”
The statement had been a clear warning that I was unable to comprehend at the time because I didn’t understand that she was mentally ill. I was too naïve to fully perceive the environment that tarnished my childhood and too self-centered to evaluate my contribution. She and I were and always will remain remarkably different people.
She will forever be the insurance agent feeding and creating disasters for her own personal gain. I hope that someday her catastrophic business will close and she will have placed a vacant sign in the window. Although, I think the absence of orchestrating calamities would force introspection, and the disasters we harbor on the inside are usually far worse than those we create.
My lessons in this life are far from over, and I hope that they’re never complete because if I stop learning, I cease to evolve into a better person.
The chapter about my mother has been painful, dangerous, yet exceedingly valuable. I’m grateful for the destruction and nearly being swept away because I was compelled to change routes. I began a migration to a new destination that I plotted and chose on my own. My mother and I will forever be traveling in opposite directions, but we were at the same starting point for a brief time. She may never fully grasp the reason or the outcome of our sudden departure in life, but I hope that one day her course becomes calm and clear instead of winding and uncertain.
Despite the pain she has caused, she unknowingly and unwillingly sacrificed her happiness for her child’s—and that’s the worst punishment of all.