On this Mother’s Day; Surviving an Abusive Mother.
I’m abuse survivor. I made it through over twenty years of physical, mental, and emotional abuse. There are times when I don’t know how I’ve come through as unscathed as I have and other times when I can’t believe I’m as emotionally fucked as I am. It can be an exhausting personal journey.
To this point, it is difficult to speak about my abuse. For me, it’s not so much the embarrassment of being abused because the abuser was my parent and society seems to afford abused children more empathy than abused partners or spouses, but it’s challenging to discuss because my memories are mixed up, tumultuous, scrambled, intertwined and hard to examine. It’s like trying to explain a dream, in which in your mind all the details are clear but as you speak them they start to float away from you. The mind’s coping mechanism is amazing and also exasperatingly frustrating at the same time.
I believe my Mom has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/basics/definition/con-20025568, and while she’s never been officially diagnosed in my presence, she has a lot of the qualifiers for it. I think my Mom suffered through a lifetime of mental illness of her own and I know that my Grandmother was the silent suffering Catholic type that didn’t buy into mental health awareness. I love my grandmother but she truly believed that if you’re strong in faith, strong in mind, and just focus on the positive, your mental illness will just, poof, disappear. Due to this, I struggled so long with holding anger long enough to care for myself. I found it sometimes impossible to stay mad long enough to remove myself from a situation, even when I could. Does that make sense? I have a hard time remaining angry at people long enough to remove them from me if they are toxic. I’ve always been that way. I don’t know if it’s a personality tic or if it’s from the patterns of abuse. The abuse-abuser feels guilty- abuser behaves in a healthy manner-back to abuse cycle that I grew up with.
Because of this childhood I’ve grown up feeling like I raised myself. It’s not that I feel like I don’t have a mother, per se, because I certainly had older femme representations in my life and I learned from them as much as I could but I didn’t have my Mother. I don’t know what it is that she did to raise me. It’s all just tangled up in the mess of my childhood. I don’t even know sometimes, who I am, or what I would be? Where would my life have taken me, if I hadn’t dealt with what I did? And as someone that hates not knowing it frustrates me that I can’t be visited by the ghost of Christmas past and be shown the different outcomes in my life, had my mother not been sick and I had abused me, as she did.
Due to this, my long time method of coping with the abuse was to see the good. And I’m very much an optimistic type of person that has always tried to see the good but often I get very frustrated when I see the real. I chose for a long time to say that these experiences are where I am today. But where am I? Do I even have the life I was meant to live? I’m happy, don’t get me wrong but I had dreams and goals that I wanted to fulfill and I never did it because I never believed I could. Why would I believe when my own Mother, my biological Mother, whose body was my first residence, didn’t care enough about me to stop tearing down my self-esteem on any given day for any given reason at all.
This isn’t to say that I don’t adore my husband. I absolutely do, it’s just that I had to work through a lot of “salvation thinking” that I forced upon him when we met. For so long I felt as if he saved me and in some ways, he did, if only because was witness to the abuse, to the games, to my Mother. I was an only child and gaslighting me was ridiculously easy. “What are you going to believe, what I say, or your own two eyes?” You’ve heard that saying I’m sure. And that’s how I grew up, always questioning if I was to blame for my Mother abusing me like she did. Like a classic all Narcissists she knew how to turn on the charm when other people were around so no one ever really knew how bad it was. It was really bad that there are period of my life that I don’t remember, and at the same token there are periods that I remember all too well. It’s a strange dichotomy and time never feels linear but always linear and moments are defined by when something ended and when something else started.
I am an abuse survivor and now I’m in my 40’s and I’m reflecting on my life and choices I could have made but didn’t and I’m trying not to blame my Mother because after all, it’s not her direct fault regarding the decisions I made and paths that I chose, but it’s still so hard when you just don’t know who you really are outside of the abuse. Like, who am I? And this isn’t a rhetorical question. It’s a real question. I had to put on so many shows growing up. I had to be super funny (it was a way to get my mom to stop beating me) so I became funny outside my home too and thought that maybe I would go into show business. I was voted most likely to be on SNL when I was in a traveling theater group and since it was something positive, it was something to hang on to in all the chaos of abuse and self-hatred. I took it to mean that was just what I was destined to do. But I didn’t do it because I didn’t have the confidence and support to even try. Then I question if it was every anything I really wanted to do in the first place. Also my talent was a source of pride to my Mom too, which is another example of Narcissism, because it made her look good as well so pursuing it also made her treat me better, even if only for that moment.
But now I sit here, as my own child is making her own way in the world, I’m left with all this extra time to think. And I think a lot. And I wonder even more. Who would I be had I not been abused my whole life? These are tough questions that those of us that are raised in abusive homes struggle to answer.
Because of this, Mother’s Day is always hard for me. Last year I was filled with seething rage and anger. This year it’s sadness. It’s hard to break old-patterns and feeling guilty is the one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with, both with my Mother and with people in general. I feel guilty on days like these, when there is no anger to push me away, that I don’t reach out to my Mother on this Mother’s Day. But I know that I can’t. She took a whole lifetime from me, and I had to build it with what was left in the aftermath. And I’ve already dragged enough damage from that life into this life, but thankfully not so much damage that I was able to break the cycle of abuse. And I have to continue to keep the cycle broken and that means that on this Mother’s Day I can’t take my Mom to brunch or gift her something really amazing. All I can do is hope she has some sort of peace while I go out and search for some peace of my own.