Anxiety · Family · Relationships · Self reflection

Knowing when to let go

0. Prologue

It has been a week since I saw my mother for what might be the last time.

We met at the bank to finish up a business arrangement between us. She gave me the last of the $10,000 I had loaned her from my student loans—a final $1,500 payment—and I signed a quit claim deed to the cottage that has been in my name a little over a year.

I’ve been thinking about what to say about all of this for months now. I’ve been running down the events as they occurred stretching all the way back to my birth and the events of the last ten years. I’m twenty-eight after all and been an adult for a full decade now.

So, here’s the deal: I don’t want to have my mother in my life anymore. I don’t feel like I owe her anything. Not my time, my attention, or my presence. I feel as though, at this point, we are even, and we can finally be quit of one another.

But, additionally, I feel as though I have a final story to tell before I wash my hands of her. Because for so many years, though I’ve talked in metaphors and hinted, I have never really told the story about my mother and I’s sordid relationship. And I’m a little tired of her taking control of the narrative.

I do have pieces of proof. Snapshots of Facebook and scans of old letters and journal entries in her hand (all of the media can be found at the bottom of the post), but let’s be honest—at this point, it is her word against mine.

I’m not interested in a pissing contest.

All I’m interested in is telling my side of the story.

CAUTION: TRIGGER WARNING: PROCEED WITH CARE

The following account mentions many forms of abuse and neglect toward adults and children.

1.

One thing is inarguable: my mother had me too young. Seventeen is not an age in which I would have welcomed a pregnancy, and yet there she was, a teen mom-to-be. It was early 1988 when she realized what was happening in her body. And, unlike I would have, she welcomed the challenge.

But even if she was willing, she was still far too young to have understood parenthood. I’ve done research on this in recent years, and there are many studies that conclude that the brain is not fully formed until at least your early to mid-twenties. The prefrontal cortex, the region of our brain that is responsible for long-term decision making, has not fully matured at seventeen. One could argue that she was not even capable of making the monumental decision to keep me.

 

I am happy to be alive. Let’s get that out of the way. But I’m also an atheist, and so the alternative to my being alive would be nothing, in which case I would have never known—and, honestly, it would have prevented lots of suffering. On the one hand, I prefer to be alive, but on the other, a seventeen-year-old pregnant girl is not, typically, a good thing.

While I had a young mother, that in and of itself is not a recipe for disaster. At one point, when I was a pre-teen, she went to a  psychiatrist and was diagnosed with either bipolar disorder or manic depression—I cannot remember which. She took Prozac for a while. Those would have been peaceful years if they had not coincided with her marriage to her second husband, who molested me for the length of their union (starting when I was 9 and ending when I was 13 years old).

My mother eventually went off Prozac. She said that she felt like a zombie of a person or something like that. All I remember is that she was easier to talk to. It is hard to remember that time because of everything else that was happening around it–getting molested by her second husband and then being in the middle of the court battle and divorce that followed.

That is one area where my mother performed admirably, I must admit. She never second-guessed me. She believed me, instantly, when I told her about the molestation and then she fought to ensure that my abuser served the maximum time for his crimes.

However, I believe several things:

  • My mother was too young to have me.
  • My mother suffers from a mental illness such as Bipolar Disorder or Manic Depression
  • My mother also has Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The last is something I’ve come to the conclusion of after doing a lot of research. It is not a clinical diagnosis. I am going full armchair psychologist over here. However, I cannot dismiss the parallels between someone with NPD and the person my mother is and was.

2.

Some of my first memories and into my pre-teens, I remember thinking that everyone’s parents were like mine and, specifically, that our mothers were all cut from the same cloth. I considered it something of an open secret.

“Oh yeah, my mom is great—we even went out to ice cream last night.”

—but I don’t mention that the ice cream came after she screamed at me for forty minutes and told me that I was a worthless human being and she should have aborted me, and you don’t mention whatever it is yours did to you.

But we both know, don’t we? Wink, wink.

I don’t remember when I realized that many mothers were kind and involved with their children. My mom always played lip service to motherhood—talking about how much she loved me and bragging about all of my accomplishments. Only these days do I recognize that the consequences of bad behavior were severe, whereas my accomplishments were absorbed as hers.

Passed over and ignored when I was good.

Belittled, beaten, and emotionally abused when I did badly.

If I needed or wanted attention, there were times when I was so violently rebuffed that my head felt like a struck bell from her words.

But if I denied her when she craved attention, I was told what a worthless human being I was. I was an ungrateful child because look at everything she did for me. Look at the sacrifices she had made for me.

And that’s all that I came to understand about our relationship.

I was a burden.

It was financially, emotionally, and physically exhausting to raise me.

So I tried to make myself as useful as possible. I tried to disappear into the background and be as unobtrusive as possible—difficult as that is for a girl who has outstripped her peers in height and weight since pre-K.

((This is a behavior that has haunted me in my adult life. It helped lead me into codependent relationships where I tried to take on more and more responsibilities and tasks for my lovers so that I would not be a burden.  It has been difficult to shake the habit, and I feel blessed every day that I share my life with a partner who not only knows all of my past but asks probing questions to ensure that I am doing something because I want to do it, not because I think he wants me to.))

But it never worked. Eventually, even if there were six months of relative peace, something would snap.

The examples of physical abuse are the easiest to share because even though they hurt at the moment, their presence doesn’t linger as insidiously as the words and the constant maligning and gaslighting (gaslighting: manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity).

When I was about eleven, my mother told me to go clean my room. At the time I shared it with my step-sister, but the majority of the mess was mine because I lived there 24/7. The room had a bunk bed, and I had this habit of shoving homework papers, art, etc., under my bed. So the first thing I did when I got into my room was to do exactly what my mother had always taught me to do–be thorough. I pulled everything out from under the bed and began sorting it and the rest of the mess into the three piles–keep, donate, trash.  My mother opened the door, saw what she perceived as a bigger mess, and promptly lost her shit.

I don’t remember what she said, but I remember trying to run. I scrambled off the floor and onto the bottom bunk. She grabbed me by the ankle and the arm and pulled me off, slamming me to the floor, and then proceeded to kick me in the ribs.

I was very stiff and in pain the next day, and some friends noticed. They took me to the school nurse, who didn’t see much bruising but called DFS (Department of Family Services) anyway. DFS was at my house shortly after I came home, and I was so utterly terrified that once they left–because they always left–my mother would round on me. She didn’t, but she never forgot that I told on her.

Another time, about two years before that incident, we were late getting to the before-school program. She worked directly after and was stressing out. When we pulled up to the side parking lot at the elementary school, my backpack had gotten tangled in my feet, and I was struggling to get everything unstuck. She started screaming at me which just made me nervous and fumble even more. By the time my backpack was in my hand, and my seatbelt was unbuckled, she had grabbed a fistful of my hair and was dragging me from the passenger seat across the center console, the driver’s seat, and slammed me onto the gravel parking lot.

This was the most embarrassing one for me because when I looked up past the bottom of the car door, I saw a line of faces pressed against the window of my school. I think my mother’s shouting had alerted people. I was so ashamed and embarrassed that I remember wanting to run away. This was supposed to be something that happened behind closed doors, and I remember feeling as though my mother had broken some unspoken code by doing it in front of my friends and teachers.

DFS was called on her at that point as well, but they didn’t do much. I don’t have a very high opinion of them.

The last time she tried to do something was when I was fourteen. She caught me cheating at Algebra and started screaming and cursing. When she got into my personal space, I stepped forward to meet her. I remember, at the time, thinking, “She’s going to try to hurt me, but I’m not going to let her.” Visions of putting my thumbs through her eye sockets and slamming her head into the wall until it was a bloody mess danced through my head. I was fully prepared to take it to that level. I thought, “How hard would prison be, really? I think it’d be worth it to be rid of her.”

Something must have shown in my eyes because she backed down, and she never tried to hit me again until the day she kicked me out. On that day, she didn’t try to hit me so much as throw a twenty-pound decorative rock through my windshield, but it was close enough.

3.

What sticks with a person more than the physical violence, however, is the feeling of abandonment. Betrayal. That you are worth nothing, that you are a burden. That you are crazy and never remember things correctly. That you’re an idiot, that you are beneath notice. That you are a waste of time.

It’s hard to even start talking about this. Part of me is so very fucking angry that her voice still rings in my head.

“You think you’re going to be a writer? Ha! Don’t waste your time. You’re just as worthless as your father. He never amounted to anything, and neither will you. You’ll never know how hard it was to raise you. All the money, all the expense. You better be worth it. I never did that, you don’t remember it right. Shut up. Stop talking. Don’t be stupid. Idiot. You’re crazy. What were you thinking? I don’t want to hear it. I can’t believe you did that. You’re so stupid. How could I have raised such a stupid child? I should send you back to your father. I should send you to military school. I should send you to an asylum. You’re fucking insane. I should send you away. I wish I could send you away. I want a do-over. I fucked up so bad with you. You’re such a fuck-up, Danielle.”

Stupid is my mother’s worst insult. She is intelligent, and anyone beneath her in intelligence or who stumbles in any way is immediately labeled as stupid. And this means that they can be dismissed. Her friends are all stupid. Her family is all stupid. The cashier, the lady at Time Warner, the plumber, the neighbor–they’re all stupid. It’s her way of dismissing anything anyone else goes through or anything they have to say.

Because when it boils down to it, her opinion is the only one that matters.

And add to that that anything that she is doing is so much more important than anything you might be doing. I cannot even tell you the number of times I tried to come to her with a problem both as a child and an adult and felt only a third or a quarter of her attention. She was always doing something else, thinking of something else, or being someplace else. If you got frustrated, as I sometimes did, you have to brace yourself for a lecture on how important XYZ thing that she’s doing is, compared to your ABC which–come on–isn’t really that important, is it?

This is where the NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) comes into play.

Because deep down, I don’t think my mother understands anyone but herself. She even said that to me once when we were going over character motivations in a book of hers. She said, “I just don’t understand people. They do things, and I go, Why did you do that? I don’t get it. I don’t think I’ll ever get it.”

At the time I dismissed this as not enough research, but now I see it for the sign it really was. My mother is so wrapped up in her own self-worth, in her own feeling of importance and grandeur, that she cannot see another person as anything but what that person can do for her.

And that brings me to the conclusion that my mother does not truly see me.

I know that it is challenging for one person to fully understand another, but she does not even try. When she looks at me, I actually believe she only sees a representation of what she believes I am in her own narrative. I am not a three-dimensional human being. I am some two-dimensional creature that she slaps stickers onto. I am only what she believes and wants me to be, and no matter how often I bare my soul to her and show her the person inside, she has never truly absorbed me.

4.

Now let’s step back.

Because this is really important:

It wasn’t always bad.

We went to Disneyland.

We went on long drives and talked about weird, crazy, funny, amazing things.

She bought me art supplies and pushed me to do better.

I never wanted for clothes, food, or shelter.

She pushed a love of learning, reading, and writing onto me.

She told me she loved me.

She told me I was beautiful.

She told me I was unique, creative, beautiful, and the best thing that ever happened to her.

And for a long, long time, I held onto those above things as the reason why I would keep trying to have a relationship with her. Because the bad doesn’t erase the good.

After all, I’ve read stories about people who were abused in far worse ways than I was, so who was I to complain? At least I didn’t grow up in a slum, and even though I was molested at least I was not repeatedly raped. And even though my mother beat me at least she didn’t go after me with a knife or cigarettes.

And then I had this moment of clarity. It came about six months ago, after my mother left to go to Panama and pick up her sick father to bring him back home to the states. This is a man that I despise. He’s been extremely emotionally and verbally abusive to my mother, grandmother, step-father, and to me. I told him about a decade ago that I didn’t want anything to do with him, and I stand by that decision.

Now, at the time I was living with my mother. The bedrooms in the house had to be entirely re-arranged so that my grandfather had room. That, coupled with the fact that I was moving out in two weeks anyway, meant that I expedited some of my plans and rented a storage unit for a month so that I could get out of everyone’s way. Again, this is not new. I try to not be in the way. I don’t want to be a burden. This did not happen in a vacuum.

But, apparently, my mother took this as a slight. She automatically assumed, without asking, that I would be willing to stay up with my sick grandfather and take care of him–change his catheter and help him to the bathroom and monitor his glucose and whatever else it was that he needed. It was a big task. I don’t dismiss that taking care of an elderly, sick person is a big job that requires a lot of time and energy.

What bothered me is that she never asked. She assumed.

And it made me realize that she’s always done this. Assumed that I would forgive her. Assumed that I would do something. Assumed that I wouldn’t.

And I was tired of being taken for granted. I was tired of not being seen.

So I wrote her a letter. It was a month later, and despite overtures where I invited her over to see my house or invited my baby sister over to spend the night, I didn’t hear much from her or from that side of the family.

The letter is included below in the media portion of this blog post, as is her response. I feel as though I took the time to try and craft a careful and well-written explanation of my feelings toward the matter. And, while I was at it, I addressed a few other things that were bothering me. These were not subjects I had felt appropriate to bring up while living under her roof, but they were things that needed to be said.

Included amongst these was the issue of my baby sister. She’s ten years old. I lived with her, my mother, and my step-father for about a year and a half, and I saw some troubling things. Namely, while my mother did not physically attack my sister, she did yell, snap, and ignore her as she did to me. I saw in my sister many of the same characteristics I embodied to make myself small and out of the way.

My sister is a wonderful human being. She’s smart, she’s outgoing, creative, and funny. She has had some fantastic moments with my mother. Because, again, it can be terrific sometimes. It can be amazing, insanely good sometimes.

But I’ve also heard my ten-year-old sister tell me that she “wants to die” when our mother would scream at her. I’ve heard her crying and held her and hugged her when she shook because mom told her she was stupid or to go away.

A ten-year-olds problems are always going to seem a little ridiculous to an adult. This is true.

But for fuck’s sake, if you’re an adult you need to realize, to that ten-year-old, that their problem is monumentally important. You have to understand that yelling often just frightens children and only teaches them to be afraid of you.

My mother and step-father have since used my sister’s presence in my life as something of a weapon. I’m not getting along with my mother; therefore my visitation rights are revoked. I was promised that she could come by and spend the night, but I haven’t seen her since February.

My mother did the same thing with my father and me when they were going through their divorce. I was used as a weapon. I will not take part in a narrative that will use my sister as one as well.

After the exchange of letters and e-mails, my stepfather stepped in and came by to talk to me about the situation. I recorded the conversation, because Missouri is a one-party consent state in regards to recordings, and because my step-father has been known to outright lie about situations. From what I understand, he gave off the impression that I had suffered a mental breakdown, and despite repeated assurances that he would be in contact and that we would all find a way to keep my sister in my life, I only spoke to him once since everything went down, and I have not seen my sister.

5. Conclusion.

When it comes down to it, you’re faced with two distinct possibilities (with minor variances in between):

Either I have created an elaborate fantasy about what my relationship with my mother has comprised of.

Or, my mother suffers from a mental illness compounded by narcissistic personality traits and/or disorder.

Consider what we know of mental illness. Consider also that she’s from a generation that tends to lean toward the side of “therapists are witch doctors.” A generation which has made fun of and stigmatized mental disorders in many forms of entertainment and literature.

I know what I’ve been through.

And I no longer believe that I am crazy, or was delusional. These things happened to me, and the scars are there to prove it. Emotional scars, primarily, but ask to feel my skull one day. You’ll find the indent where she slammed my head against the edge of a countertop when I was very young. I don’t even remember why. It’s the only hard, bodily scar I have left. She was always careful to pull back just enough so as not to permanently damage me. Except for that once. She is brilliant, as I’ve said.

I avoid small, dark spaces. Is it because of that time when I was around four years old, and she locked me in a closet with no food, water, or way to relieve myself? She left me alone there in the apartment before she went off and tried to commit suicide. I don’t remember her roommate, but I’m thankful that she came home, discovered me, and reached out to my father.

I still jump and over-explain when I perceive that I’ve done something wrong. My fiancé often tells me, “Honey, you don’t need to explain yourself. You’re all right.”

I know that these scars remain. I know that I’m doing everything that I can to heal and move on with my life and that removing her is a big step toward that goal.

I’m seeing a therapist, I consult with a psychiatrist for psychiatric meds to control my depression and anxiety, and I make plans for the future. I don’t look back as often anymore. I don’t dwell as much as I used to.

But I knew that I had to tell my story. I knew I had to face it.

And now I proudly say:

I am who I am in spite of what happened to me, not because of what happened to me.

I am not my abuse. I am not my past.

I am me.

6. Media

There were many things that I could not or did not mention in this post due to length. Below are snippets of media from my life with my mother, most of it written by her own hand. To see the full size, just click on any of the images.

My mother wrote many letters to me when I was in utero. I feel that this example well illustrates her youth at the time.

These are letters from my mother to my father back in 1993 stating that she was going to kidnap me and why. I believe this to be an unsuccessful attempt, but it does–in my opinion–show evidence of the NPD as well as potential Bipolar and Manic Depressive. 

Pages from one of her mentions of taking Prozac in 1999. This is from a book of letters that she used to write to me in.

Entry from a few months after my mother kicked me out. 

This is the letter that my mother sent to me shortly after kicking me out of the house when I was 17. For full disclosure: she believes “I left.” I maintain that she kicked me out. She tried to throw a rock at my car, told me not to come back, and later that evening I had my house key confiscated. I apologize for the notations in pencil, and the orange highlights–those were from my friend at the time despite my asking him not to mark up the pages. 

I feel that this letter demonstrates a lot of the gaslighting–her telling me that I’m overreacting, or that I wasn’t mature or thinking things through. This was somewhat typical of our interactions. 

My letter to my mother at the end of January, this year (2017) regarding her father and some of the things I’d been holding back since living with her.

My mother’s e-mail reply to the above letter–in two parts. 

01

This is a screenshot of one of the posts my mother put up on Facebook about four months ago, after the exchange of e-mails. This is how she sees her abuses toward me over the years.

 

To my sister: I love you. If you see this, reach out to me whenever you wish. I will always be here for you. Just click on the contact links above. ❤

3 thoughts on “Knowing when to let go

  1. Oh my god. I really appreciate you doing this, and giving us both the sides, instead if yiur own. What the heartbreaking part is that she seemed to love you so much in the earlier letters. Anyway, more power to you!

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