I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships in general and my relationship with my mother in particular. I’ve also seen similar themes come up for other bloggers who were also abused while their mothers failed to protect them and I hear them talking about wounds that leave me nodding my head in recognition, “Yes, oh, yes. I hear you and have felt feelings so much like what you describe.”
I don’t know the pain of the intentionally abusive mother and am eternally grateful that I had at least one parent who clearly did love me. What I deal with is more confusing though; my mother loved me, but she failed to protect me from people who harmed me. I know that she loves me now, but when I said that she, but not my father, would be welcome to come and visit me and my family while she was traveling through the area and only an hour and a half away, she never responded.
I know that she came from an abusive background, although I’m not sure how abusive. She married at 19 and had me the week before her 21st birthday. She lacked a support system and says that her mother was a terrible example on how to mother. She tried to “always do the opposite” of what her mother would have done.
I understand that she and my father were terribly dependent upon each other. When I was little, they were crushingly poor, struggling to put food on the table while my dad went to school and finished his college degree. There probably was so much that made her cling to the bit of seeming security that she had- my father.
But my father was hurting me from age 2 or 3, I believe. His father was hurting me, too, and I was so young, so it is hard to be clear on who did what and at what age. The abuse by the different men seems to have had different qualities, though. What my grandfather did was much more intentionally cruel- the goal seemed to be to harm me emotionally and psychologically. A child knows when someone gets pleasure out of hurting them. My father wanted to to what he wanted to do; harm to me seems to have been incidental, rather than the central purpose.
I was a child who knew what it felt like to be violated from an early age. Who knew that she had to stay still and quiet and accept whatever was done. Who desperately wanted to be rescued by her mother, but who never was.
I knew safety when I was in my mother’s arms and I knew that I was loved, but when I was alone with my abusers, I knew terror, pain, shame, horror, and complete helplessness. I couldn’t deal with those overwhelming feelings on my own and I wasn’t getting any help to deal with them. I don’t know when the dissociation started, but I know that I have young parts. There are different theories as to how and why the dissociative mind develops; I don’t know which is correct, but I do know that it currently cushions me from the horrors that I reexperience flashes of. I struggle to find ways to “tie myself together” that work for me. That don’t overwhelm me with relentlessly reliving the abuse, but also that don’t deny my own story. That enable me to live a life that I find satisfying.
Relationships matter to me. I yearn for deep and satisfying relationships, but I’m also terrified to let people in too close. Most of all, I’m terrified to really rely on people to be there for me if I reveal the me that I keep hidden from almost everyone. The relationship damage would be bad enough, needing to learn how discern who is safe, growing up with a father whom almost everyone thought was a wonderful person, but who harmed me so badly. I think that it is far worse from my mother and her failure to protect, though. She taught me that even if people have good intentions, I can’t rely on anyone to be there when I really need them. They will always let me down when it matters most and I will pay in blood.
So I am left in the quandary of craving emotional intimacy and expecting devastation if I start to achieve it. That has made my work with Mama Bear all the more challenging as we have gone through layer after layer of relational work. It’s a relief to be in one of the phases when I can see her more clearly and see that I can rely on her to never judge me, no matter what happened. To know in my gut that she isn’t going to desert me when I most need her, even if the nature of the relationship means that she can’t always put my needs first the way that I yearn for. She does when we are together and if I am in sincere distress, she finds ways to support me between sessions. And while the adult me doesn’t need or want for her to do any more, there are terribly hurt child parts from the times when I desperately needed for my mother to see my distress and decide that nothing else mattered as much as making sure that I was ok. I needed for my wellbeing to matter more than her need to protect herself from whatever past she was protecting herself from. I needed to matter more than her not making waves with my father. I needed for her to dig until she understood what would make me cry every day for months on end. I needed for her to not just love me, I needed for her to be willing to deal with her own demons so she could make me safe.
My heart yearns for my mother. I love her. I hate the distance between us, but I got to a point where I could no longer pretend that things were ok. I finally reached the day when I had to say, “I will not see my father.” It was imperative that I finally say, “No!” Actually, what I really want to say is, “Stay the fuck away from me and my family, you bastard!” I can live with sticking to the polite version in my communications with my parents though, as long as I can say whatever is really on my mind in session. The important thing is that I have realized that my stability and wellbeing depends on my knowing that I can establish a safe place for me and my daughter here. I need to demonstrate to myself that I am no longer the helpless child who to has to adjust to whatever her father wants. I don’t have to be a “good girl” any longer.
And now I struggle over how to deal with my mother. I don’t want to hurt her by cutting off all contact, but I’ve also realized that this in between is driving me crazy. I hate the sporadic communication from her as if all is well when all is not well. In our last session, MB reminded me that I have given my mother the option to come and see me and she was the one who chose not create stress with my dad and to not come to see me. I’ve avoided looking too closely at that choice, because it’s pretty heartbreaking. On so many levels it’s indicative of so much of what is wrong. 1) She acknowledged that text, but never gave me a yes or no answer to the invitation. Ignoring the elephant in the middle of the room is a real family skill. 2) Keeping my dad happy came before me- again. 3) It feels like another, “Please don’t tell me what I can’t bear to hear! I’m too fragile to take it.” 4) I feel like I am the one who has to bear the burden of what happened all alone, without any support from my mother at all.
I wish that I had some clever insight that gave me a real hope of connecting in a real way with my mother again. But I don’t. I think that the path forward is going to involve learning to feel the sorrow and rage over losing my mother. And slowly, painfully taking baby steps at trusting people to not abandon me if I let them get close enough to touch my heart.