(I apologize for the length, but it wouldn’t have made as much sense if I’d left any out.)
Today, while everyone stuffs themselves full of “turkey gravy dressing pies” (a sign from a local barbecue place), and says all the things and the people and the blessings for which they are thankful, I have a slightly less shiny Thankfulness apple with which to grace the day.
Today, I am incredibly grateful for my therapist. Week after week, she listens to me whine in circles, as I go over the same things, again and again. Every once in a while, I actually get it. We celebrate, she validates me, and we move on to the next thing to whine over. It is because of my therapist that I can write this today, without feeling too much pain, anger, and resentment.
It has taken me a really long time, and thousands of dollars in therapy, to accept that the family I was born into will never, ever be the family that every child deserves. I have no relationship with my sister, who is quite literally insane. My biological father died before I ever got to meet him, although I am beyond grateful for the family that he left me; my brothers and their children, and THEIR children are a constant joy in my life. My adopted father…well, that’s a post for another time. This post is about my mother.
When I was growing up, full of pain, miserable, lonely, sad, and abused, I had never heard the word narcissistic, and had no idea what it meant. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I finally started to have some insight into my childhood. Although not the perfect answer to my question of why, I was able to find some glimpse of recognition that my mother would never be whom I needed her to be. She was never going to be supportive, or encouraging. She was NEVER going to put me first. Parental sacrifice was as foreign to her as parental support was to me.
The few people who know the entire story of my childhood know I have every reason to be angry with my adopted dad and they almost always wonder why I am angrier at my mother. The fact is, no matter how awful, damaging, and destructive my father was, my mother was worse. My mother did the worst thing imaginable: she didn’t protect me. She didn’t protect me from him, and she most certainly didn’t protect me from her. The screaming, beatings, “teasing,” psychological torture, and did I mention the screaming and beatings? All of those things added up to more awful than what my dad did. Don’t you dare try to defend her by saying that maybe she didn’t know about it. She knew. She always knew. I could give you example after example as proof that she knew how awful he was. But she looked the other way, because HER needs were being met. Mine didn’t matter. Even when police became involved (on more than one occasion), I was made to lie, threatened with what I perceived at the time as a bad thing…being separated from my family.
Thanks to strong paternal genetics, I am smart. Throughout my school years, I received many recognitions, and had countless opportunities to shine. The only time my mother would ever say anything positive towards me was if someone else was around, and even then, it was nothing more than a, “This is my daughter, she’s so smart!” kind of comment. If there were a school event, more often than not, my mother would drop me off, and come back when it was over. I came to expect it, and eventually stopped asking her to attend.
Don’t get me wrong…my mother did a lot of things for me. She is a whiz with a sewing machine, and I had numerous couture dresses, a new one for every dance. But was it because she loved me and wanted me to look beautiful? Uhm, no. It was one of many opportunities for her to be able to point at me and say, “I slaved over that dress. Isn’t it great? Aren’t I wonderful and talented?” I was nothing but an artist’s canvas, and got just as much attention from her. Anything done for me was for her own glorification, and if she wasn’t going to get center stage, she wanted nothing to do with it. But the one thing I NEEDED her to do, the one thing that she could have done that would have made a phenomenal shift in my life, one simple little thing…she did not do. She never got me help. I didn’t see a therapist until I was 21, and by then, I was quite the mess. And those thousands and thousands of dollars in therapy bills? She’s never paid one penny.
Several times, I cut her from my life completely. The last time was because she threw me out of her house for throwing away a newspaper…that was a month old…that was still in the wrapper…that was surrounded by about thirty other newspapers also in their wrappers. My mother is a hoarder. When I was a child, things weren’t so bad, but when it became just her and my dad, it really took off. I remember one afternoon going over to check on my dad, and he was sitting in his chair, watching tv, while roaches crawled all over him. Why didn’t I call adult protective services? Because he wasn’t infirm, or unable to take care of himself. He chose to live that way, and I knew from experience that trying to get involved was useless, and would only hurt me.
She was out of my life from November, 2002, until sometime early 2009. For over six years, she made no effort to contact me. At one point during that time, she had to have bypass surgery. My dad begged me to call her. He said she was scared she was going to die, and that she really wanted to talk to me. They were no longer even married at that point (which is fodder for another post someday), but my dad still kept trying to get me to talk to her.
After much thought, prayer, and counsel, I decided that if I were on my deathbed, I would want a chance to say my piece, to make peace, to find forgiveness. Not even my heartless self could deny her that. So I called. It was my fault for having expectations, I know. It was my fault for thinking she wanted to apologize, to ask me to forgive her, to tell me that she loved me and was proud of me. She did none of those things. She had remarried to a very financially comfortable gentleman, which I knew. What she said to me, after several years of not a word between us…what she said, as she lay on what she believed was her deathbed…what she said was, “Do you remember that pearl that I got out of that oyster at the Zuider Zee (a restaurant that my parents used to love)? My /new husband/ had it made into a ring for me, just like I always wanted, and if anything happens, I want Aubrey to have it. She’s my only June grandbaby, and it’s her birthstone, too.” At which point, she started crying, and I was left angry, hurt, and speechless. I said (quite honestly), “You’ll be in my thoughts,” then hung up the phone. I knew I would be thinking about this for a long time, so it was not a lie.
I remember at the time that I was SOOOO angry. I was livid. I threw things, I screamed, I cried. I was inconsolable. Her last possible words to me, and that’s what she chose to say??
I think that gives you enough of a background, so I’ll skip all the stuff in between and get to the point.
A few years ago, after much drama, since my sister grew up to be exactly like my mother, my mom got custody of five of my sister’s children (because child protective services is relatively useless). My oldest niece is three months younger than Aubrey, but a grade lower in school because her birthday is in September. Did I mention my sister is seven and a half years younger than I am, and I was 24 when my daughter was born? That is really meaningless, because it wouldn’t have mattered how old my sister was when she had my niece.
My niece suffered severe trauma from my sister, and continued trauma from my mother. She has never gotten help; help that she desperately needs if she is ever going to have a happy, normal life, and break the cycle of abuse that runs deep through our family. Recently, she began to post things on facebook that I found extremely concerning. I reached out to her several times, but unfortunately, we are not as close as I wish we were. Aubrey has her own life to deal with, and at 18, her cousin’s mental health is not her concern, nor does she have the tools to deal with it properly.
I called my mother last week, after a particularly scary post, and told her that my niece needs help. My mother gave multiple excuses why she couldn’t do it, and I countered every one. She finally agreed that if I could find someone who took their insurance, then my niece could go. I found someone who came highly recommended by my own therapist, and made an appointment for my niece. When I called to tell my mom, she refused to speak to me, and told my stepdad, “You talk to her.” He is a kind and caring person, and extremely logical, although he is pathologically codependent with my mother. I laid out my very rational argument, being extremely careful to not mention that my mother is as much the problem as my sister ever was. I swayed him to my side. I found out later from Aubrey, whom my niece texted when all the screaming started, that my mother was livid that he dared not agree with her. After much yelling, storming out, storming back in, and more yelling, the argument was dropped, and my mother won, as she always does. It is not I who lost…it is my niece, and her future self that are the true losers in this fight.
Although I am not a religious person, I do have a strong sense of spirituality, and I believe that the Universe puts things in my path just when I need them. Last week, it happened to be a book called, “The Narcissistic Family” by Stephanie and Robert Pressman. For the first time ever, I finally understand why my mother sacrificed me to a man because she didn’t want to be alone. I understand why no one stood up to my mother for me. No one protected me. Everyone looked the other way. I understand why my stepdad puts my mother before my nieces (oh, but never before my nephew, which pisses my mother off NO end). Because in a narcissistic family, the parental needs take precedence over the needs of the child. If there are two parents, often one parent spends all their time and energy catering to the needs of the other, and no one cares about the needs of the child(ren).
At the same time I was reading the book, my blog was growing. I was getting international readers. I began getting mail from people who told me I made them think, or laugh, or smile. I began to have followers (not in a cult way…that will be much later). My very first follower, the woman who does celebrate me, is proud of me, gives me encouragement, and is always willing to lend an electronic ear, was my mother-in-law. I have a couple of friends, and the other six are total strangers. I have had this blog since February, 2010 (and my mother-in-law has been along for the ride since the beginning!). In almost two years, my mother has read four of my posts. When I commented on facebook that none of my family reads my blog (and I was talking about my husband and children), my mother chimed in with, “I read it at the beginning and have read it over and over again. Then my laptop bit the dust and good-bye to all my favorites.” I guess the links on my facebook page weren’t enough??? And exactly how has she read it over and over again if she lost her favorites? And if she’s had access to facebook all this time (because she has posted since her laptop blew up), she’d have access to my blog, too, right???
I ranted and raved at my best friend, my husband, the taco guy down the street, my other best friend, and anyone else who would hold still long enough, about how mad I was at the lack of support from my mom, and her attempt to save face in front of my facebook friends by pretending that she cares. Then I ranted and raved at my therapist at my latest session; she calmed me down, I took a deep breath, remembered that my mother is the way she is, and it didn’t matter.
Then I told my therapist how my mother isn’t speaking to me, explained about what happened with my niece, and found myself getting all riled up again. And I realized something. All my ranting and raving over the last few days about my mom not reading my blog? That was displaced anger. My being upset about her not letting my niece get help? Also displaced anger. I was beyond angry. I was on fire, bursting at the seams with frustration…but not simply because of my niece or my blog…I was angry, on fire, and bursting at the seams with frustration at my mother not getting help for ME. For not being there for ME. For not considering ME important enough to get a fucking job and get me out of the situation she put me in. For not saving ME. For not protecting ME. I was angry at my mother…well, for not being my mother, but instead, for being herself.
Today is Thankgsiving. A day for families to be together. A day for people to celebrate each other, and all the joyful things in their lives. A day that my mother did not speak to me, because doing those things is less important to her than her being pissed off about my concern for my niece.
So today, I am thankful for peace and understanding. I am thankful that I did not have to hear anyone screaming about how unappreciated THEY are. I am thankful for my hilarious and talented son. I am thankful for my husband who loves to get me riled up, like a toy car that you wind and let go on the floor, by pretending he disagrees with me. I am thankful for my daughter who, along with her brother, give me a reason to celebrate them and be proud of them every day. I am thankful for my wonderful friends…the new ones I have now, and the ones I had back then…they helped me survive, and they had no idea they were even doing so. And I am thankful for those of you who take the time to read my posts. You don’t have to. You’re not my mom. You CHOOSE to, and that makes it all the more special.
“And when I talk about therapy, I know what people think; that it only makes you crazy and in love with your shrink. But oh how I loved everybody else, when I finally got to talk so much about myself…”