Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

chicken and stars soup

I’m getting sick. And frankly, I feel like a cranky 8 year old. I know cranky 8 year olds, because I my daughter is eight. 😉

I used to not be able to tell that I was getting sick until I was full blown sick. Just couldn’t recognize the subtle (or not so subtle) signs at all, but I had to wait to be “knocked flat on my back sick” before I knew that there was a problem. About 17 years ago, Mama Bear realized just how out of touch I was with my body and helped me to figure out my physical and emotional signals that illness was on the way, so I could slow down and try to take care of myself. What a revelation that was! Pay attention to what my body was telling me?!? And use that information to help care for myself and maybe even keep myself from getting really sick?!? Wow. Looking back, I can still remember that sense of wonder at discovering that the “knowing me” could connect with the “physical me” and work together. It’s almost as if they didn’t know that the other existed before that point. I almost feel as though I should be grateful for whatever series of illnesses that winter enabled Mama Bear to finally help me make that connection. 😉 One of the things that Mama Bear helped me to understand is that most people feel vulnerable when they feel under the weather and many people feel young.

Anyways, I’m getting sick today. I’m not super sick, just kind of sick and mostly cranky sick. I was chatting via Google with my husband a bit, telling him how I felt, and I admitted to him, “I feel like a whiny child right now, sad to say. I just want to curl up in bed and have Mommy bring me some Campbell’s chicken soup. With saltine crackers. How sad is that?” And I had this vivid memory of how my mother would bring me chicken soup with stars (not noodles) and crackers to me on a tray in bed. It was one of the nurturing acts that I could count on from her- she would take care of me when I was sick. I felt loved and taken care of. I had her attention. Being sick was something that she could understand and sympathize with. It’s no wonder that right now I have such a craving for Campbell’s chicken soup.

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I do have something that I can talk about… Mama Bear said the nicest thing to me today that I can remember her ever saying…

We were at the end of the session, when we just talk, but don’t do any real work, so I can have a chance to “tuck back in” any loose parts and ground before I leave her office. I couldn’t help but shake my head and say, “Oy, my family…”

“Are you talking about how much they harm and are harmed by each other?”

I snorted, “Yes.”

She looked intently at me and said, “You do realize just how thoroughly you broke the cycle, don’t you? The buck stopped with you and it will not continue with your daughter. Somehow, you did that and no one else did.”

I nodded my head, “I’ve been thinking about that recently. I know that I can’t protect her completely from being hurt at all though, because I am still hurt and that affects her.”

“No, you can’t prevent all harm.” She smiled gently, “But you have completely messed up your opportunity for her to be harmed anywhere nearly as much as you were. Can you see that?”

I started to tear up, “Yes, that’s something else that I have been thinking about. So many terrible things happened to me before I was 8. She has a secure base now that I never had a chance to develop and I’m not going to let anything destroy that base for her.” Just like nothing can rewrite history for me and give me the childhood that I desperately needed, history also can’t be rewritten for my daughter and nothing can take away the early childhood that gave her what she did need. She isn’t going to come out of this unscathed, but if I have anything to say about it, she is going to come out of it better than OK. “I am so glad that I waited to have her, so I had a hope of being a good mom.”

“I remember when you and your husband brought her in for a session as a baby. I was just so thrilled for so many reasons. You were such a cute little family and I loved seeing you together. You are a good mom, C. And I’m sure that G. has something to say about that. You have come a very long way and you did it yourself.”

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First of all, my apologies to those of you who commented on my last post. I really thought that I had responded to you, but I just realized that I hadn’t. Oops. In my defense, I have been sick and reeling a bit from the work that I am doing around my mother. I will respond, though… And please bear with me, if this post is disjointed- I am still sick and my brain definitely isn’t up to full speed.

On further reflection, I realized that it didn’t matter one bit whether what my intuition tells me happened with my mom leaving me in a crib when I would tantrum happened or not. What does matter here is that I am coming to accept that my mom was not the mom that I have always needed to see her as. She was flawed and had many deficits and because of those deficits, she acted in ways that hurt me. At the same time, while she probably acted out of anger or selfishness at times, I don’t think that she was malicious. I really do think that she strongly wanted to be a good mother to me.

But she had no exposure to what being a “good mother” would look like. She had no role model to teach her what being a good mother would look like. She had not received the mothering that she needed, so she didn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with the demands of being a mother. From what I have seen, it seems that she still doesn’t have the emotional capacity to stay with me when I try to talk with her about anything related to the abuse. Threatening emotions seem to cause her to flee, whether that is physically or emotionally. I certainly know that in myself, when my daughter has had a long tantrum and I haven’t been able to get her to listen to me, I start to experience a strong need to escape the tensions that being with her brings up. I, too, have a desire to run away, but I have learned that as threatening as the combination of our strong feelings seem to be, I can tolerate being with her. We can work it out. But I have the benefit of many years of therapy and a safe place to currently go and learn how to tolerate being with seemingly intolerable emotions. My mother didn’t have that.

There is something about seeing that my mom just plain couldn’t have known how to be the mother that I wanted to think that she was that is freeing to me. She didn’t know how to satisfy all of my needs or fully nurture the complete me. I don’t need to feel disloyal by saying that she failed; I’m just being realistic and saying that she couldn’t have succeeded. I suspect that a lot of the time she didn’t even know enough to recognize that she failed or else she was so emotionally defended that she couldn’t tolerate seeing that she had failed.

So, the outside me has developed more of an understanding about my mom. This is good, but it’s only the first step, and I can see that taking what I am coming to understand and putting it together with the inside/feeling me is not going to be an easy process. Yesterday, in my session, there was a point when I was visibly struggling with something. Mama Bear asked me what was happening and I protested, “I don’t know! I just don’t know!” She gently responded to me, “It’s OK to have a variety of feelings about your mom.” And I am a bit confused about the order of what happened next… I know felt a this intense child anger just seem to emerge out of a little spot in me and envelope me. I know that at some point I felt like something took me, shook me, and just switched the anger off, but I think that might have been an adult anger. I remember Mama Bear realizing that I had dissociated and telling me that I needed to pull myself forward, so that my adult was holding my child and I was feeling the anger in the present and not confused about whether I was in the past. All of this intensity was around feeling just a bit of the anger that I have for my mom! This is going to be a process that takes time.

However, last night I did notice a change that is promising. I don’t know when it happened, although I’m sure that it has been a gradual shift that probably started a couple of months ago; it certainly wasn’t an overnight transformation. I am used to “hearing” young parts calling for my mother to comfort them, when they are feeling distressed, but last night I realized that these same young parts were instead looking to me for comfort and support. This is a very good sign, because my mom can’t provide to my vulnerable parts what I need in order to heal and feel safe and secure, but I have some hope of doing so.

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Trying to breathe here… Wow, I hurt. I put together some things together today and I don’t know that I put them together exactly right, but I think that I have it at least sort of right. It must be on track for it to hurt like hell when I’ve hardly even thought about it since it came together in my mind.

I don’t know very little about my mom’s childhood, really next to nothing and I don’t know all that much about when she was a teen. I do know that her older brother was physically and verbally abusive to her. I also know that my grandmother was physically abusive to him, because she would go into a rage and beat him with a wooden spoon or what was on hand until it broke. It also was a family with confused boundaries, because my grandmother sometimes bathed while my teenaged uncle stood in the bathroom doorway and watched her. I haven’t heard about my grandmother being physically abusive towards my mom, but I find it hard to believe that she never was, if she could be that violent towards my mom. I do know that my grandmother could unpredictably become cruel with her words and had been that way at least since my mom was in middle school.

My mom considered her mother to be a terrible role model as a mother. She has told me more than once that when trying to figure out what to do while raising me, she always did the opposite of what she thought that her mother would do. I believe that she really did want to do well by me, but she was coming from a terrible deficit in terms of having her own emotional needs satisfied and having any idea of how to deal with the emotional needs of a child.

Today, I was trying to puzzle something out in regards to my dad and fear and anger, and I felt as though I kept on being nudged with the thought that my mom could be angry with me, too. Finally, I stopped ignoring the thought and looked at it, and I suddenly thought that it was very likely that when I was little when I started to have a temper tantrum, my mom would stick me in my crib and walk away until I was quiet. My mother has told me that she doesn’t remember me ever having a tantrum, which I thought was really odd. Developmentally, kids go through tantrums as they learn various things. But if she always walked away and left me, it would make more sense. And if I learned fairly quickly to not upset my mother or else she would leave me all alone, then her statement makes even more sense.

But I don’t have any definite memories of this, just a sense that there is something “right” about this idea. And how could I know but not really remember something from when I was so small? And how could I have gotten myself to calm down under those circumstances? I somehow doubt that I was being taught self soothing skills or how to use transitional objects in other situations. All I can guess is that I dissociated.

But there is a certain sense here… It fits with my fears of emotional abandonment if I put some sort of emotional “demands” on anyone. It fits with my feeling like it’s a life and death matter that I mustn’t upset my mom. It fits with my finding my anger to be so threatening. It even fits something I have seen her do with my daughter when my daughter was just being normal 6 year old obnoxious because she needed to eat- one second my mom was arguing with her, then suddenly my mom turned and without a word left the room and went to another floor of the house. My daughter was completely shocked, and she had me there to help her deal with what had happened. The oddest part of it was that my mother said nothing when she came back; she acted as if nothing had happened and if anything paid extra attention to my daughter.

I don’t think that my mom did this because she was callous or wanted to hurt me, in fact, I suspect that this was the way that she coped when my being upset pushed her to a point where she couldn’t bear to be with me because she was afraid that she would harm me, if she stayed there. I don’t think that she had any self soothing skills for herself, so she couldn’t even stick around, never mind try to teach some to me. I know that she made a rule for herself around that time to not spank me, because I was almost hurt badly in an accident caused by her swatting my behind because I was irritating her. So she really was trying to find ways to avoid harming me and she wanted to do well by me.

But turning and walking away from a distressed child, particularly when it is done as a pattern, is a terrible way to treat a child. What a way to treat the child that emotions are dangerous, that people cannot be trusted to be there for her, that she can expect to be abandoned when she most needs help, that there is something about the child that will drive people away, that if her mother finds her too awful to stay with, then everyone else will as well.

When I saw my mother treat my daughter that way, I thought to myself, “Well, that certainly would have been an effective way to control my behavior- seem to threaten abandonment if I don’t stay in line at all times.” My mom was my only source of safety and I would have done anything to remain connected to her. But I didn’t explore it very far at the time and it didn’t occur to me how such behavior would have affected me as a very young child, as opposed to a 6 year old.

I don’t like sitting here, realizing that my mom probably hurt me in ways that go beyond not protecting me. It is painful to look at how some of her actions might have harmed me.

It is so confusing, because I both can empathize with how young, unprepared, and lacking in support she was. From what she has said, I get that she felt overwhelmed and clueless so much of the time. I know from my own experience that being a parent is incredibly challenging and I took it on with a reasonably healthy spouse after more than a decade’s worth of therapy. But at the same time, she and my dad were what I had. My dad was so far from what I needed that it’s like he simply wasn’t an option, so really, she was it. I needed for her to find a way to take care of me emotionally, and not knowing how to do it isn’t an excuse for not doing it. She had the responsibility to find some way to learn how to do what she needed to do for me, not just fumble through as best she could, leaving a wreck behind her.

I’ve always conceptualized my family around the belief that my mom was the one person who did not harm me. She was my safe person. And I still don’t think that she intentionally hurt me, but I’m starting to see that some of this pain that I go around with may be from my mom. And it isn’t just incidental hurt that is secondary to the sexual abuse, this is real hurt that impacts me deep inside. My self was supposed to be able to develop around a core of safe experiences with my mom and I think that she failed me badly with them.

In so many ways, this shakes my entire world. Not so much the world of today, but definitely the world that I think that I came from. And now I am just numb because it’s all too much. That is my sign that I definitely need to stop writing and go to bed because it is late.

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Here in the USA, we are quickly approaching one of those dreaded “holidays”- Mother’s Day. I am always left struggling to figure out what can I do that will not insult or hurt my mom (which is not my intention) but also won’t leave me feeling false to myself. Your average Mother’s Day card is just plain not going to work. A phone call is out of the question right now. I refuse to give my mom the message that it is OK to pretend that everything is all OK, but I also do want for her to know that I love her, despite everything. We have a complicated relationship and are having a difficult time negotiating it, but I am grateful for the good that she has done for me.

Interestingly, a bit of a crisis came up with Mama Bear this week. There are some scheduling changes and one of them has me concerned. I do have some legitimate here and now concerns about that change, but the reaction is so much more intense than those concerns warrant. After all, I should be able to trust that if the change causes problems, we will find a solution; up until now we always have and I have no indication that anything fundamental has changed in our relationship. But I experienced feelings of abandonment and a fear that I was being punished for recently asking for something that I thought would help me. These clearly were not here and now feelings, but were child feelings. I pushed myself to tell Mama Bear what was going on, so I know that we will discuss it in the next session, because I have a tendency to do everything that I can to bury and dismiss these sorts of feelings for as long as I can. But when I do that, the foundation of my trust in Mama Bear is compromised and things don’t go well for me in therapy until I finally come clean.

I am proud to say that realizing what I was doing and telling her within 24 hours was a huge step forward for me- this is a process that just last summer took weeks and required her coaxing and reassuring me that she wouldn’t get mad at me or abandon me for telling her that I had a problem with her about something. Like so many relational issues, this is something that I should have been able to learn how to do with my own parents. Instead, I learned that if I pushed too hard, I would distress my mom, and then she wouldn’t be there when I most needed her. She didn’t intend to abandon me, but she did.

This morning, I felt an overwhelming amount of grief and loss when I realized just how much I yearn to be the most important thing in a caretaker’s life. There is a part of me deep, deep inside, at my very core, who still desperately wants to be central and the one around whose needs everything is organized. It reminds me of the sort of care that I had to give my daughter as an infant and toddler when everything had to be organized around her sleep schedule in order for her to stay happy and healthy. That level of care needed happen when I was young and it just can’t happen now that I am an adult, no matter how much my insides cry for it. Adult relationships don’t happen that way. In some ways, the therapeutic relationship is the closest that I am going to get, because at least for that hour, my needs do come first. So being told that there were other needs that required a change that costs me something was a very difficult reminder of how while my relationship with Mama Bear is something that is special for me and I do believe that it is special for her, I am one of many people that she has responsibilities for. It is a fact of life that she has to juggle my needs among her own, her family’s, her other clients’, and so on.

And the adult me is grateful that she cares enough to juggle me in. And she really does care. Dare I say it? There even is love there. Because I am the person I am, that love is deeply valued and I think that it enables me to deepen the work that I do with Mama Bear. There have been times when parts of me have relaxed into it and chosen to believe what she is trying to help me learn because I can tell that the love is real. The scaffolding of the relationship is a bit of an artificial construct, but the feelings are real. Because they are real and because she does not back away, they enable me to experience myself as real.

So, this morning, I was crying out some of these raw feelings, and it dawned on me that to some extent I was crying for my mother. I was crying because I wanted to feel loved and special and cherished and worth doing anything to safe guard. It isn’t Mama Bear’s place to provide those things to me, but as a child, it was a part of my mother’s job to provide them. Unfortunately, she wasn’t shown how to do them by her mother, and so she was only partially successful with me. My mother does love me and she says that she thinks that I am special and I do know that she means those things, but I don’t trust her enough to allow me to connect with her sufficiently to be able to take in what she could give to me in the now. The love that she gave me and the value that she placed on me as a child and teen were essential to allowing me to form enough strengths so that I could get some things right in my life, but I have been so hurt the many times I have tried to turn to her for support and suddenly found her emotionally gone, so I am afraid to risk opening my heart to her again.

Sometimes I wonder whether I will ever fully be able to heal this deep, aching hole that should have been filled by my mother surrounding me with her loving protection? Or will this hole be one of those things that Mama Bear has warned me about? There may be wounds that can never fully heal and so places where I will always be vulnerable. She assures me that with work, time, and self compassion, those wounds won’t hurt quite so much and eventually they will be easier to soothe when they have been activated, but some injuries really do go that deep. The abuse and neglect happened and that ‘happening’ can never be undone.

What would I want to say on this Mother’s Day, if it felt safe enough for me to be frank with my mom? “I love you.” “I want so much more out of my relationship with you.” “I wish that you were strong enough for me to be honest with, so I could share my anger, pain, and grief with you and be certain that you would still be there when I was done.” “I am grateful that you love me and in particular am grateful that you really loved me as a child, because I would not be standing here in this place without that love.” “I am so angry at your own mother for being a lousy mother to you, so you started at such a handicap with me.” “Thank you for doing the best that you could with me when you were young. But I think that you are capable of more now, so please push yourself and find the courage to not hide so much. I deserve more, you deserve more, and your granddaughter deserves more, so please dig deep and find the strength somewhere.” But most of all, “I love you.”

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It’s funny sometimes the things that hit you from the past that suddenly seem so unjust and sad.  In comparison to so many other things, they aren’t that big of a deal, but I have found they can be a sort of a visible sign of the hidden dynamics of my childhood.

This evening, I was feeling a sense of loss, and for some reason I started to think about the animals from my childhood and I suddenly recognized a pattern that I hadn’t fully seen before.  My parents don’t make a life long commitment to their animals.

Going back over my life, I know about 11 animals that they have had.  They kept one dog for the dog’s full life span.   I am 45.

First there was the German Shepherd that I have seen pictures of from when I was 3 or 4.  I seem to remember being told that they gave the dog to someone else, because she was “too much for them to handle.”

Then there was the pet store mutt that my mom let me buy when I was 9 or so and my dad was on deployment.  By the time he came back, the cute puppy was an ugly adolescent and he said that she needed to go.

Then they found April, our Dalmatian.  This is one purchase that I had nothing to do with, she just showed up one day.  She was bought for my father’s birthday, although she was definitely the family dog, not just his.  This dog they did keep for the next 14 years or so, until she died of old age.

Then there was a kitten, Cassie, who my mother got for me while my dad was on deployment.  My dad came home and was not at all pleased about the cat.  I kept on having stomach problems and based on the conclusion that I was allergic to the cat, they got rid of the cat.  The interesting thing is that I have successfully owned 4 cats as an adult.  Maybe I outgrew the allergy, maybe I was only allergic to that cat.  Maybe it was a handy excuse.

Then there was Sheba.  Sheba was the Collie that I bought with my babysitting money and made the commitment to do all care, training, etc..  She was completely my dog and I adored her.  She also was a bit of a stubborn dog and, as a 16 year old, I didn’t fully understand dog training, so her training came along slowly.  I bought Sheba while my dad was on deployment with his knowledge and supposed approval, however Sheba was not as well behaved as he expected when he came home 6 months later.  After a month or two, I was told that I would have to sell Sheba because I would be going off to college in a couple of years and it wasn’t fair for my mother to have to take care of my dog.  I did find a good family for her and Sheba did well, but it was terribly difficult for me to give her up.   Interestingly, I remember feeling more frozen inside about it than heartbroken.

After that was Rowdy, a full grown lab mix that my parents adopted a year or so later.  This dog lived up to his name, jumped up and broke my mother’s nose, and moved on after only a couple of months.

Thankfully, my parents managed to refrain from acquiring any more animals for the next 8 years or so, until after April died.

Then there was a series of dogs while I was estranged from my parents which included a terrier and 2 Dalmatians that I know of.  All of whom last for a couple of years at the most, because they “got to be too much.”  However, they decided that, “It would be easier to keep a dog once one of us is retired.”

My father retired and about 4 years ago they got a mixed breed named Molly who lasted a couple of years or so.  But my dad discovered that he was allergic to her, so she then needed to go.

About a year ago they got a labradoodle, because this combination is supposed to by hypoallergenic.  I can’t help but wonder how long Annie will stay with them.

I’m trying to figure out what I think about all of this.  First, it was a lot of loss for a child/adolescent who adored animals.  I really could have used any extra bit of love and consistency in my life.  This was lesson after lesson that what I came to love could not be relied upon to stay with me, but was likely to be taken away.

I saw my parents demonstrating that they were unable to make a real commitment to creatures that they should have made life long commitments to.  They treated these animals as if the animals were expendable.  But at the same time, I wasn’t allowed to see how they were acting as being problematic.  It was another example of the crazy making behavior that I wasn’t allowed to name for what it was.

Also, there is something here that is very troubling to me about my dad that I am having trouble identifying.  I think it has to do with the fact that over and over, the theme was that he decided that he didn’t want an animal for some reason and then that animal had to go.  The cost to the animal and me didn’t seem to enter into the equation.  I’m not sure where my mother stood- it’s like she gave up her voice in the matter.  She would bring the animal into the house, but then not fight to keep it there.

I know that I have a deeply ingrained message of, “Don’t be difficult.  Don’t cause problems.  Don’t make anyone angry.  If you do, you are likely to be abandoned.”  The pattern that I am talking about couldn’t be the sole “cause” of such a deeply ingrained message, but I think that it is a symptom of the dynamics that existed day in and day out that left me feeling deeply uncertain of my security with my parents.

Over the last couple of months, I have slowly come to accept that there are parts of me that believed that my father did not want me.  I have long recognized that he competed for my mother’s attention (although I couldn’t see it as such when I lived with them.)  It is clear that he wanted me out of the picture for extended periods of time; why else would I have been sent off to stay with Grandparents with acknowledged histories of physical and emotional abuse?  And it seems that deep inside, deeply buried where I never thought about it, I believed as a child that when it came down to it, he would rather that I was not a part of their lives.

I don’t know whether he did or not.  I know that he is proud of me and that he believes that he loves me.  But I also know that it isn’t a love that warms me, but instead feels like it traps me.

I see my husband with my daughter and I see a fierce love where he very much wants to be a part of her life.  I see a healthy love where they give to each other every day keeping their relationship alive and strong.  I see a love where he is willing to put her needs before his and where her welfare automatically enters the equation when we make life decisions.  I see a love where he finds joy in her joy.  Sometimes I envy my daughter her relationship with her father and the sorrow and pain that comes from the knowledge that I knew none of that with my father feels overwhelming.  I never, ever had the belief that there was even a chance that I was the most important thing in the world to my father.  Our daughter knows that she is the most important thing to her father- not the only important thing, but if he ever had to make the decision to save one of us, she is the one that he would save.  And that is the way that it should be.

There is so much about my relationship with my father that I do not understand.  There is so much pain there.  There is no trust.  There is immense grief.  There is fear.  And there is anger.  Eventually I will need to come to terms with it all.  Not today, not tomorrow, not next week.  The emotions are so intense where he is involved that it will be something that I take on a bit here and a bit there.  But I can do that.  Bit by bit, step by step, and eventually I will get there.  As Mama Bear has said, it isn’t a race, there is no rush.  This will still be there next month and I can take all of the time that I need.

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For the past while, I have been struggling with something that I am very frightened to do: talk with my mother directly and honestly about the abuse.

I told my parents that I had been sexually abused almost exactly 20 years ago.  More precisely, I told my mother, knowing that she would tell my father.  Her response was that she couldn’t see how I had been abused: “But I was always so close to you, I can’t see how that could have happened without my knowing.”  She never outright told me that she didn’t believe me, but she always acted like it was unbelievable.  Even when I hospitalized myself, I felt like I was fighting against her disbelief.  And I have never received any unequivocal support from my mother in regards to dealing with the abuse.

At the time when all of this first came up, I was so overwhelmed by the PTSD symptoms and I felt like I was fighting for my life.  I couldn’t deal with my parents as well as take care of myself, so I cut off contact with them.  I had to take care of myself, because no one else could do it, if I didn’t.  This resulted in about a 12 year long estrangement.  After my daughter was born, I decided that I wanted for my mother to be involved in my daughter’s life, if at all possible, and so I invited my parents back into my life.

But we never talked about all of those years of not being in contact.  We never talked about why I felt that it was so necessary.  We never, ever talked about the fact that I had been abused.  We never talked about what I needed from them in support.  We followed the pattern of my family and ignored that there was something terribly important that wasn’t being addressed.  We stepped around it and acted like it wasn’t there.

By that time, I had stopped doing trauma therapy, because I was at a point where I just wanted to live life and raise my daughter for awhile.  I don’t think that I could have gone along with this way of doing things, if I had been actively dealing with the abuse.  And for a bit more than 6 years, I managed to do things according to the family “rules.”  Of course, I only saw them a few times a year.  If the visits had been more regular, it might have become intolerable to ignore the elephant in the middle of the room.

Unfortunately, I believe that one of the ways that I dealt with never talking about the abuse was to start to re-erect the wall of denial.  I wasn’t ever completely in denial, but I began to have very strong doubts as to whether any of it had happened and I feared that I had made it all up.

But then I moved back to New York and eventually I started to do therapy with Mama Bear again.  This very rapidly became intense trauma work and I had to struggle to take down that wall of denial.  With the pain and struggle of dealing with the abuse so present in my life, it became impossible for me to remain completely quiet about what had happened and how it was affecting me.  My mother came to visit about two months after I started working with Mama Bear again.  Over the course of a few different conversations, I told her that I was doing therapy around the abuse again, it was very painful, and I was essentially dealing with all of the stuff that I hadn’t been strong enough to deal with before.  Each time, I got a non-committal response from her and she changed the subject.

Over the course of the last seven months or so, as things became increasingly difficult for me, I told her multiple times that I was having a very hard time, although I didn’t give any details.  Sometimes she would completely ignore what I said and others she would barely acknowledge what I had said.  At one point she did say that knowing that I was having a hard time made her feel helpless and she wished that there was something that she could do to help.  When she made that offer, I was barely keeping my head above water, and I couldn’t figure out how to take advantage of it.

And that brings us to now.  Over the last couple of months, it has become clear that one of my main tasks in this round of therapy is to learn how to be fully me.  I have been learning that I don’t have to try to guess at what other people “need” for me to be and to fit myself to that mold in order to be loved.  I am not going to be abandoned if the me that I am has facets and needs that are annoying or inconvenient.  I can take the risk of fully being real in relationships with other people.  Part fully of being me is owning the fact that I was sexually abused and it was very traumatizing for me.  That is, I am learning it in all of my current relationships other than the one with my parents.

To my chagrin, I am coming to realize that if I am going to be fully me, I am also going to have to be me with my mother.  It tears me up too much trying to keep myself in the mold of what I believe that she wants/needs from me.  In fact, it is particularly important that I be true to myself with her, because I carry so many wounds around our relationship that will never be healed, if I keep on doing the same things that I have always done.  I can no longer ignore two painful truths: 1) I am not sure whether she believes that I was abused or not and 2) I have never received any clear support from her while dealing with the abuse.

But talking with her about painful material that she obviously would rather ignore will mean breaking a life time worth of training.

Up until now, I have remained so wrapped up in not doing anything that would hurt my mother.  And I don’t see how telling her that I am afraid that she doesn’t believe me and that I don’t feel like I have her understanding and support can do anything but cause her pain and leave her feeling guilty, because my mother very much wants to be a “good” mother.  I cannot remember ever saying anything critical to her; the rule has been that I have to work to help her maintain the image of the perfect mother.  So now I feel like I am being forced to make a choice between my mother’s well being and my well being.

But this isn’t as simple as me causing her pain.  After all, my actions aren’t the real source of the pain.  I am just talking about no longer protecting her from the painful realities that surround the abuse.  Frankly, I am sick and tired of being the only one who is dealing with those realities.  I’m not the source of all of this pain!  In fact, I couldn’t do anything to prevent the abuse when I was a child, but she could have.  Any pain and guilt that she feels will be the result of her own actions and lack of action and the actions of my abusers.  I am not going to twist myself into knots anymore to protect her.

After all, my well being isn’t only important for me.  I have my whole family to think about.  Recently, Mama Bear pointed out to me that my daughter, “needs a mother who is whole and healthy and can fully be there for her more than just about anything else.” My mother is clearly acting out of her own hurt and has been since before I was born.  I can’t save her from what harmed her that badly decades ago.  If she is going to be saved, it is going to have to come from her.  But I can fight to heal myself enough that my daughter can grow up to be whole and healthy herself.  I can’t save the woman who should have saved me, but I can save my daughter.

But if I am going to do that, I have to save myself.  And that is going to mean finally finding a voice where my mother is involved.  It is going to mean that I have to accept that my well being matters more than protecting my mother does.  And it is going to mean being clear and confident in what my reality is.  By daring to be fully me in what may be the most challenging setting for me, with my mother, I will help to heal the full me.  All I have to do is to find the strength and courage.

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