To most of my friends, their mother means comfort. These mothers give sound advice and warm hugs. They protect their babies, no matter how much the babies have grown.
For someone like me, watching those moments is tantamount to having salt poured in an open wound. This is the first time I’ve publicly talked about living with and without an abusive mother. Every inch of type is raw but I know I’m not the only one walking this path.
I won’t go into details, but I want to give you the best example I can of how my mother’s moods effected my life. Around age 5 or 6, I was sexually abused for the first time I remember. I recall walking into our living room afterward and something about my face sparked my mother’s intuition. She asked me what was wrong. I remember thinking that if I told her, she would explode and our family would not survive her anger. So, with brilliant intuition at that young age, I kept it to myself. And I would keep it to myself until I started seeing a psychologist.
My mother has always been the time bomb in my life. And this time bomb has an unstable stop watch. When this bomb explodes, all you can do is make yourself as small and quiet as possible. Most of the time, that still doesn’t save you.
I didn’t realize I was being abused until I was about 29-years-old. When I called my best friend to tell her my revelation, she was shocked I didn’t know. I was raised in a closed family system where what happened in the house, stays in the house. I can only ever remember having one slumber party as a child and the fear I felt when my mother came to the living room to tell us to stop talking and go to sleep. I remember her fingernails biting into my arm and being hissed at in a grocery store because I asked for cookies in front of her co-worker. I remember being held by the throat on my tiptoes because she thought I stole her pantyhose and she was late for work. I remember being hit in between the shoulder blades with a pot because she thought I was being mouthy. But, worst of all, I remember mixed feelings. It didn’t seem fair but it had to be my fault because she was the adult, right?
This kind of abuse propelled me into a fierce and deadly case of perfectionism. If it was perfect, I could fly under the radar. I got nearly straight A’s. I won awards. I did extra-curricular activities and played sports. I got into college in a pre-med program. It was my coping mechanism. It sort of worked but it made my two older brothers hate me.
To this day, holidays give me anxiety. My mother, who was consistently volatile in her moods, only escalated under stress. The onus of putting on the perfect meal was too much. She would start the day out of bed impossibly early and force me to help. My father and brothers escaped helping, presumably because they had penises. So, I would witness the slide downward from elation to dangerous anger. Often I would get the brunt being told I was lazy or taunting my skills in the kitchen. At some point, my father would enter the picture and flip the switch sending her into a full fury. There would be screaming and always a stomp to her bedroom where she would slam the door with all her might. It was much more frightening when she emerged. Quietly, with danger brimming just below the surface, she would get back to work and direct me to do the same. I would make myself as transparent as possible.
Days, sometimes weeks, before holidays I start getting anxiety. At my age, I know I could always just stand up and leave any holiday gathering that posed me physical or emotional harm. But Intellectual knowledge doesn’t always inform the emotional mind. I’m lucky to have been gathered into a family where holidays are actually about enjoying each other’s company. And, although it took a few years, I really do feel comfortable.
My mother sounds like the only bad guy in this chipper family film. My father is a good man. A kind man. He raised three difficult children, not his by birth but as if they were his very own. As a parent guiding my partner in how to stepparent, I can fully appreciate the parenting and financial challenges he faced. But when I started addressing my abuse in therapy, I got a disturbing, nagging feeling. This man, who I have put on a pedestal my entire life, saw emotional and occasionally physical abuse going on in our home. I can’t remember a single instance where he stopped it. More than my mother’s mistakes, that breaks my heart. I could make excuses and say that he was as abused too, maybe worse than the children. But that doesn’t ring true to me. He was an adult. He made the choice to be a parent. It was his job to keep us safe.
Five years ago I made the decision to completely disown my family. I’d tried just not talking to my mother but still everyone else. But it turned out that they were simply feeding information back to her. And all that information came back at me during abusive rages. At one time, she called my phone every single hour for a day. I had sixteen voicemails the next morning, all telling me that I was fat, lazy, and an awful person. So I made the decision to never speak to any member of my family again. At first, I felt alone in the world without a safety net. The first year of holidays was miserable.
Eventually, I also decided that, to make my decision truly final, I would change my middle (a family name) and last names. I went through the legal process rather smoothly even earning a compliment on my pretty new name from the judge.
Even though I’ve made a permanent break from my family, I wonder about them. I have a niece who is just about a year older than Mini-me and my nephew turned 16 this summer. I’ll never get the chance to meet them again. I’ll never know if they go to college or when they have children. They’ll never know that even though I’m not there, I still love them and I think about them.
A few years ago, my biological father (I’m half-adopted) died. I only found out a month later because I have a habit, typically when I’m depressed, of going through the obituaries from my hometown newspaper. Even though I didn’t have a relationship with him, it rocked me. In some small way, I’d hoped that he would want me and I’d have a family again. I look through the obituaries for a few reasons. First, because there are aging members of my family and I want to know if they pass away. The other is that I want to know if my mother dies.
I’m not hoping for her death. If anything I wish her a long, healthy life. Her Karmic punishment is never again having an intelligent, talented, and kind daughter. But I still have nightmares where she shows up on my doorstep. I think my psyche needs to know that it isn’t possible ever again. That she can’t hurt me. The door is closed.