It was hard for me to admit that there was a problem. For years I had been enveloped in fear of who I was and ashamed of what I stood for. I had been belittled, laughed at, disrespected and – on occasion – been told that everything would’ve been better if I’d have just killed myself. For the first near 30 years of my life, I struggled with the two versions of myself – who I knew I was, deep-down, and who I was dictated to have been.
The reason for the hardship? The problem was my Mother.
Growing up, I believed that certain things were normal; being told I was fat one minute and then a ‘model’ or a ‘gorgeous clothes horse!’ the next. I was told repeatedly that I was a burden whether via physical repulsion at my presence, ignoring me for days on end or flat out telling me that she couldn’t wait until I was gone and ‘hated’ when I came home. To everyone else, she was ‘so proud’ of me, yet at home I was physically and mentally assaulted. It was the norm for me. The first time I remember this ‘normalcy’ was when I was 7 or 8 years old.
My Mother always seemed to have a temper. There were certain things that you knew would piss her off so you just didn’t go there. You lived in fear of the many-faced Mother or at least I did. Her temper would become vitriolic as she would descend further and further into her rage. She would name-call. Slap. Punch. Kick. Scream and slam doors and walk away, ignoring me thereafter an ‘episode’ for sometimes days on end. I would often walk myself to Primary school and home again. When I would leave she was in bed. When I came home, she was in bed. On the bad days, all I got was dinner thrown on the counter and she’d disappear onto the computer and that’d be that.
It is not wholly bad, however:
I have very vague memories of being washed in the bath or shower but mostly I remember spending hours, on my own, playing in my own world. Here and there I was read to but mostly I did that by myself with a nightlight that shone from my electric blanket. I remember laying in her lap when I was little as everyone watched TV in the living room, listening to the sounds of her belly and her breathing in and then out, smoking as she did then and drifting off to sleep. I remember being walked upstairs to bed. I had birthday parties. We would sometimes walk arm in arm and hum a tune as we played a game to try and get out of step with one another and back again. I remember Christmas where all the presents were lovingly wrapped and, especially, the time when there was no money and she sobbed for having bought me a pencil case, pencils and a ruler. I remember the love and dedication which, to this day, I wish endured more than the heartache, anxiety and despair caused.
But that isn’t the case. Here I am, a Mother now. I have post-natal depression/anxiety/rage (that no one dare talk about!) and have been blessed to receive therapy. Working with my therapist and being honest – for the first time in my life – I have realised that what I went through (and am still going through) has harmed me more than I ever thought possible. For decades I wrote off what happened as being MY fault when in reality, my Mother has, most definitely, a personality disorder which shaped my life for the first near 30 years in a way in which I wish I could undo.
The hardest part of my depression / anxiety / rage was to admit that I did NOT want my children feeling how I did when my Mother would say and do those awful things to me. There was one occasion in which I shouted so mercilessly at my eldest (18 months) that it stopped me in my tracks – all I heard coming from my mouth was my Mother and what made the situation worse was that the look in her eyes must’ve been the exact same as mine. I had chipped away at her love for me. Her trust of me. Instead of loving her unconditionally and accepting who she is as a child, I placed stringent, awful, perfectionist goals upon her and lost my absolute shit when she messed up. When I realised that I didn’t want to be like my Mother, I started unfolding all the hurt that I had received and then it dawned on me…
My Mother has a Personality Disorder.
My therapist, wholeheartedly, agreed.
At first I was still trying to pass it all off as a nonsense but the more I would reveal, the more my therapists eyebrows went skyward and she’d furiously write things on her notepad. What I experienced wasn’t normal. More frustrating is the fact that I KNOW it wasn’t. There have been times in my life where I have challenged my Mother about her behaviour in the years past and she flat-out denies all knowledge of any wrong doing (psychosis / not living in reality). My Mother absolutely believes that she and my Father never had an argument in their entire marriage (a fact that he refutes vehemently – a fact that I know was completely untrue). My Mother cut ties with nearly every friend, family member and even her own children, because they ‘did me wrong’. I am the last one left. The only one that genuinely wants to give a shit. Why? Well, I guess we’ll get to that later down the line…
The heartache that I feel in all of this is that I genuinely love my Mother. She can be my best friend and confidant. She will be there when no one else is willing. I know that in my hour of need she will be there. I remember wonderful times with her. But on the other hand, I know that everything I tell her is relayed to everyone else – there is no privacy. I know that when she helps me, she will throw it in my face sometime in the future. I know that the loving times we shared were and are few and far between and to this day, I don’t hear “I love you”, there is no hugging or a kiss on the cheek, no tactility that denotes we are Mother and Daughter.
So why do I feel awful for this admission when I clearly feel awkward to love her?
It is my belief that children are somewhat programmed to love their parents. Lets be honest, it’s whom we (mostly) spend our time with growing up. It’s who we trust to guide us in the world and tell us right from wrong. With my Mother, she could make you feel so special and so loved one minute and then so full of shame and denigration the next. You never knew where you stood with her from one minute to next. THAT is (in a nutshell) trauma bonding. As a small child I didn’t know whether I would be loved or hated. This manifested itself in my having to steal items of hers and hide them because I believed that without them, she couldn’t leave me behind. I was crippled with fear, had regular nightmares of abandonment and her leaving me for one reason or another. But then, I would wake from a nightmare and go to her room and be allowed into her bed for a cuddle. This was soon cut short and I remember taking to sleeping on her floor next to the radiator which was very close to her side of the bed. It was shortly after this ‘desperate attention seeking’ as she called it, that she screamed at me from the top of the stairs that she ‘love[s] it when you go to school and hate[s] it when you come home again. I was too fucking old to have you’. I began to cry. She walked away into her bedroom and slammed the door. She didn’t talk to me for three days. I was 8.
From this age I remember trying to ‘evaporate’ into the walls or trying to make myself as small as possible so as to not cause my Mother to be angry with me or disappointed. My sister (whom I now believe to have similar mental issues as my Mother) didn’t help. She would taunt me, all the time, to tell Mother things that I didn’t want to say; ‘Go on, tell her that you didn’t want to be born!”, which I did. It made her cry. She drank a lot of red wine that night. The next day she didn’t get out of bed. When I came home from school she asked us both why I said that. I explained my sister told me to say it. My sister denied it. She never believed me. She always believed her. I was always the loser. A fact they reminded me of, always.
Around ten years ago, I asked my Mother some questions about her upbringing. My Mother rarely speaks of her past (probably because of all the people she now doesn’t associate with or talk to). I was horrified and amazed at what I learned. Her Mother (my Grandmother whom I never met; passed before I was born) told her that she was ‘too old’ to have her. Her Mother teased her and forced her into relationships so as to not ‘burden’ her anymore. Throughout this questioning, I wanted to shout out, ‘OH MY GOD DO YOU NOT SEE THE SIMILARITY?!’… but it was lost on her. She believes she is a saint to a degree, even a martyr for her children. Self-sacrificing, selfless and all loving.
Oh how wonderful that would be if it were true.
The truth – or admission – as I see now, is that my Mother does not see reality for what it really is. She is never in the wrong. She will never apologise to anyone for anything she has said or done. She would rather be without friends and family than dint her own pride. She can charm the pants off anyone to become their friend, but if you so much as question her motives she’ll cut you to ribbons. She’ll help you but like Satan with a contract will wait for the prime moment to strike and cut you down to win an argument. She will pretend that she loves you but in reality only does so to seem ‘normal’ to others. She will write all over Facebook to people that she doesn’t even know that she loves her children and grandchildren, but never tell them face to face. Everyone else has to make a big deal for her with special occasions but she can’t even be bothered to pick up the phone for other people. Everyone has to kowtow to her will or face the consequences. Everyone has to accept who she is and how she behaves because somehow she has us all under this spell – fearing for being cut off but also feeling sorry for her as she plays the victim role to a T. For my own part, I knew very few people in my family because of the negative way she spoke about them. When I dropped out of favour with my Mother she ‘poisoned the well’ against me with the small amount of family I did have and they didn’t speak to me for nearly 15 years. Thankfully, now that I’m older, a Mother and a Wife and a LOT braver than I used to be, I have reconnected with some family who have told me of their sadness for us drifting apart. But, sadly, time was lost for my only Grandparent whom I never really knew due to the ‘family drama’.
I realise now, thanks to therapy, that I am somewhat stuck between loving a Mother and a Tyrant. I cannot look my Mother in the eye. She knows I’m in therapy now and all of a sudden she’s telling me how much she loves me (to my face), reaching out for hugs and kisses, telling me I’m a great Mother and person… but it feels weird. As if, you know I’m therapy and you know I’ll talk about you, so you’re doing your best to negate all those years of telling me how shit I was. Telling others that I was their burden because you didn’t want to ‘deal’ with me anymore. It’s almost as if she remembers what she has done and is seeking repentance. But I’m stuck. Unwilling to forgive. Unwilling to let go. She is my Mother and I love her, but I also cannot bear the crushing emotional weight that brings sometimes; the fear of inadequacy, the hope of absolution and the wish that I could go back in time and be a ‘better’ child for her to love.
What I am willing to do is break the chains of history. I am willing to now forgo protecting the perfect image of my Mother in my mind because I need to move on and heal; I need to be the best mother I can be for my own children and by doing that I have to be ok with admitting:
My Mother has a Personality Disorder…