I haven’t spoken to either my mother or my father since December of 2018.
Family is important and valuable to most people.
Family is incredibly important to me as well. I have two young children, a partner, and a very close set of friends.
But I can choose whether to have a relationship with my parents or not, and today I have chosen not to.
My connection to my family has always been deeply complicated.
Throughout my life, my mother was egotistical with little to no empathy. She was cruel and mean, manipulative and controlling, and very violent. She very much has an untreated mental illness. A few of my therapists have tried to diagnose her through just my descriptions of her behavior, but they’ve each had a different opinion: Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar, Narcissism. She could even have multiple.
One of my earliest memories of my mother involves her slapping me across the face when I was 3 or 4. She was wearing a purple unitard over black tights. She was either going to the gym or we’d just returned from it, and I don’t know what I did, but she smacked me straight across the face. I started crying, and she leaned down, told me she was sorry and hugged me. That was one of the only times, in my entire life, I ever remember her apologizing for hurting me.
I lived in constant fear that she might pull my hair, slap me, kick me, or otherwise hurt me because I’d done something as innocuous as load the forks into the dishwasher pointy-side down or say “yes” when I should have said “no” or say something — anything — in a tone she just “didn’t like.”
It was a guessing game, a dangerous and risky one, to see if I could jump through the hoops juuuussstttt right to avoid further violence.
I have a sister that is younger than me by six years. If any violence was directed at her, I’d act out so I would get it instead. My little sister was also the reason why I hid what was happening from teachers and doctors. I felt personally responsible for “keeping my family together” as early as nine years old.
At fourteen, my mother trapped me in a corner of the apartment we were living in then and beat me with a metal mop. It looked like she was being filled with something that would run over. Her lips stretched tight, and whenever the mop struck, she laughed. It hurt to hold a pencil, to touch my fingertips to my palms. I learned how the muscles in my arms ran to my hands. I wore long sleeves for a month in late spring.
I could do nothing until she was done, and it felt like it would never end. It sometimes feels like it may still be going on. Like I still may be trapped in a corner being beaten in those soft spots that never heal.
When I’ve told people about the extent of my childhood physical abuse, everyone always asks where my father was. I think the implication is that if he were present, things would have gone differently.
For much of my childhood, my father traveled for work, 80–90% of the year.
My mother has told me that, when I was a toddler, whenever I heard or saw an airplane, I’d point at it and say, “Dada!” That was my father for me when I was growing up, an object always in the distance.
But even when my father was home, he didn’t do well being present. I don’t think he ever wanted to know what was really going on.
I’ve tried to tell him before. I would tell him after it had happened when I was a child and then teenager, but he rarely believed me. My mother always made me out to be the instigator. “Tara the Terrorist,” I was often called. My mother would always spin it somehow that she had only acted in self-defense.
And, to be fair, when I got big enough, I fought back. I instigated. I tried to punish her for what she’d done to me when I was helpless. But for many of those events, when I was little, when I was helpless, like the time she pulled my hair and slammed my head into a wall when I was ten years old because I’d gotten a B on my report card, I was innocent.
When my father was present for some events, he sometimes would whisk me away to a hotel for a night and tell me he was going to leave her, but he never did. They are still married. This year they will celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary.
I picked a college eight hours away and left as soon as I turned eighteen. But in just two years, I was back, living at home, commuting every weekday to a local college.
In my two years away, the drug addiction I’d started when I was 13 had escalated along with anxiety, depression, and an insistent feeling of homesickness. I couldn’t handle my life eight hours away anymore, so I returned to what I knew, and in the familiarity found some comfort.
But my drug addiction didn’t go away just because I’d moved back home. I bottomed out two years later, started attending meetings in a twelve-step fellowship, and got and stayed clean.
When I had less than six months clean, I refused to engage with my mother in an argument. We were in her car and the fact that I wouldn’t respond angered her so much that she kept getting louder and louder. She finally snapped and grabbed the TomTom GPS system she had on her dash and chucked it at me. It left a bruise the size of two of my fists on my leg.
I attempted to press charges, but my dad bargained with me: “If I give you $100, can we just leave it at that?”
I took his money. I was broke and in my final semester at college. I swallowed my rage and accepted that this was the kind of family I lived in, and once I found another place to stay, I moved out and have never lived with them again.
Have I ever forgiven my mother or my father? No.
Should I? No.
Dr. David Allen writes in “Does One Need to Forgive Abusive Parents to Heal?”
…if the offending family members are still…acting as if the abuse never even happened, or are in some other way invalidating you if you even bring it up, how can you possibly forgive them? If they blame you for their past misdeeds, how on earth can you possibly forgive them?…Forgiveness in these situations is impossible.
My mother doesn’t acknowledge that she ever was abusive. Whenever I’ve attempted to bring it up, she simply responded with, “I did the best I could.”
We all know this is utter bullshit. It’s something we say to let ourselves or others off the hook. Everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — can always do better. If you beat your kid with a metal mop, you didn’t do your best; you fucked up.
I’ve also tried to tell my father what it was like for me growing up. It was like I was telling him something that had happened to other people, some story about someone he didn’t know or really care about. I could see only confusion pass over his face. Denial can be extremely strong, and I know believing what I told him would also mean believing he’d also been responsible in what happened.
After I moved out, I didn’t speak to either one of them for over a year. I took care of myself. I worked a solid recovery program. I met and began dating the man I would go onto marry.
So many people in twelve-step rooms talk about how grateful they are that their family relationships have been restored to them, and I felt plagued by guilt that I’d chosen not to have anything to do with mine.
I worked extensively on evaluating my own part (like when I was abusive as well as the effect of my own drug addiction on them). I made amends. I worked on controlling the only thing I could: my own behavior. I worked on being a good daughter.
And then I got married. And then I had children. And then I discovered the man that I’d married, the man that I’d met in a twelve-step fellowship, had actually been secretly using drugs for nearly our entire relationship. In typical addict fashion, he couldn’t stop acting out after he’d been discovered. In a few short months, he racked up $20k in credit card debt and then embezzled another $10k from his employer.
I filed for divorce, but my parents didn’t support it. Looking back, I think the fact that my ex-husband had done terrible things and I’d left him struck too close to home for them. If I left him, then my father should have probably left her.
During the divorce proceedings, my mother actually texted my ex-husband untrue things about me that his lawyer then tried to use to bully me into not revealing his embezzlement. Since he had yet to be caught, entering the evidence I had into public record would ensure he would be.
My parents even continued a relationship with my ex-husband, going with him and my children to events when he had them, while we tried to work through a contentious divorce. I asked them not to, to wait until the divorce was finalized. They just did it without telling me.
I kept trying to have a relationship with my parents. I was a single mother of twin toddlers. I needed help as I was adjusting to my new role, and they were willing to.
But I set very clear boundaries for myself after my divorce. One of my most important ones is that I never talk badly about my children’s father or his family in front of them and I never allow anyone else to do that either.
Sometime after Thanksgiving, my mother was around my children and me. She began ranting against my children’s father and his family. I told her to stop. She wouldn’t, so I asked her to leave.
That was the last time we spoke.
My father made a couple of efforts, like asking what we were doing for Christmas, but I told him I wouldn’t be participating.
On New Year’s Day, my father sent me this:
I didn’t respond.
It’s only been a couple of months since I last communicated with my parents, but I’ve found it freeing in a way I didn’t know possible. I’m happy. I feel capable and powerful. I’ve said “yes” to trying new things and taking advantage of new opportunities (like writing here on Medium). All of my relationships have grown stronger. Before I struggled feeling like I couldn’t handle being a parent on my own, but I’ve done wonderfully. My kids are thriving. I am thriving.
Where for years I felt obligated to have a relationship with toxic people because “family is important,” I now know who my real family is: people who love and support me unconditionally.
I also know today that I can be okay if my life doesn’t look like what other people think it should. At the end of the day, I am the only one living my life, and I want to live the best possible one I can.
Read a follow-up to this article here: