is this the real life, is this just fantasy . . . caught in a landslide, no escape from reality

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have always been great favorites of mine.  I still have the copy my dad had when he was young, passed down to me at some point when I was young.  The version I have has both books in one volume, with the ink sketches that so define Alice for me.

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In both books, young Alice finds herself inside a world that is much different from her own, where what she believes to be true may or may not be.  Reality is altered in these strange worlds, to a point where Alice has to really question her own concept of what her true knowledge really is.  While this question is the central concept of epistemology, it can also be disconcerting, even frightening, to have one’s reality questioned, or to question one’s reality one’s self.  

An interesting phenomenon that began to appear in the 1990’s is one called “False Memory Syndrome”.  Research supports that it is possible to plant a memory in someone’s head that is actually not true.  In abuse cases, this concept of false memory surfaced most often in psychological patients who were in what is termed “Recovered Memory Therapy”, in which they were led through “rediscovering” things they had forgotten about their abuse.  In fact, many court cases have hinged on whether or not memories were actually true.

One thing that all false memories have in common is that someone suggests them to the victim.  These memories do not just pop into someone’s head and become reality for them, except in cases of truly delusional individuals.  Another thing that researchers have found is that false memories are generally very narrative in nature and tell a whole story, from start to finish, as is Loftus’s “Lost in a Shopping Mall” studies (1994), which have been said by many in the scientific community to be unethical.

That being said, research also shows that traumatic events may be remembered little by little, over time.  According to Vander Kolk & Fisler (1995), 

When people receive sensory input, they generally automatically synthesize this incoming information into narrative form, without conscious awareness of the processes that translate sensory impressions into a personal story . Our research shows that traumatic experiences initially are imprinted as sensations or feeling states that are not immediately transcribed into personal narratives, in contrast with the way people seem to process ordinary information. This failure of information processing on a symbolic level, in which it is categorized and integrated with other experiences, is at the very core of the pathology of PTSD (van der Kolk & Ducey, 1989).

I do not have full-blown narratives of my abuse that I could share with you or with my therapist.  My memories of the things that happened are flashes of insight, sparks of memory, such as my stepfather kicking my cat across the kitchen.  My memory of that moment is very detailed.  The kitchen had the stove and the refrigerator on one side, the sink at the far end and countertops and cabinets across from the appliances.  The dishwasher was on the same wall as the sink.  When he kicked my cat, she slid across the linoleum floor towards the closed door to the basement which was across the entry hallway from the front door.  I was thankful that the door was closed so she did not fall down the stairs.

I remember my mother crying and pleading for him to stop hurting her; I remember laying on top of her trying to shield her from him–I was face up and could see the rage in his blue eyes.  The bedspread was sort of patchworkish, in browns, and their bed had a wooden headboard.  The bathroom door was right next to where I was laying on top of my mother on her side of the bed.  Her dresser was to the left of the bathroom door.

I remember her taking his gun out of the closet where he kept it and threatening him with it once when they had a huge fight.  I remember how crazy she looked wielding it in front of her.  

I remember being almost completely flat chested and when my stepfather saw me naked, he pinched my nipples, laughing and saying, “Button Pinchers!”

I remember April 2, 1982, when I drank a huge bottle of wine after school with a friend.  I remember watching her take out the mailbox as she backed out of our driveway when she left and thinking of how upset my stepfather would be by that.  I was supposed to work in the coat check room at the country club that night.  I remember him coming home and finding me drunk.  He was so angry that he shoved me; I ended up falling down the stairs to the basement, breaking the middle knuckle of my index finger in the process.  I remember they dropped me off at the ER and told me to call when I was finished.

I remember him coming home from work one night in 1985 and being angry with me about something (I honestly do not remember what; I may have not folded the laundry as I was supposed to, or any of a million things I could have done wrong).  He came at me with those eyes so full of rage and something inside me snapped.  This time, I was NOT going to be the victim.  And so I fought back.  I fought back so hard that we ended up on the slightly-Middle Eastern themed ceramic tile foyer floor, me straddling him and holding him by the shoulders, slamming his head into the floor over and over, yelling, “YOU WILL NEVER TOUCH ME AGAIN!”  And he didn’t. (This is how most abuse ends, when the abused actually fights back)

And I remember the wooden handle on the small kitchen knife as I sawed at my wrists, trying hard to stand the pain of cutting myself open long enough to get to the vein.  I was sitting at the butcher block table in the kitchen, sawing away at myself, sobbing, until I finally gave up and wrapped my damaged wrists in paper towels and tape.

Why is all of this so important?  Why do I share all of these fragments of memory?  Because they are NOT false, they are 100% true.  I am no Alice to question my reality.  This are my real memories, not imagined.  The bruises, the treatment, the abuse, all were seen by my friends.  I’ve asked–they remember too.  And as my therapist tells me, “Why would I make this shit up?”

I had a message from my mother last night.  It came in about 9:35, so I am pretty sure it was bourbon enhanced (note capitalization and spelling errors–something a perfectionist like my mother would not normally tolerate).  Apparently she saw my blog about seeing her at the mall the other day.  Here is her message to me about that, about me, and about my reality.

Yes, I walked away… but first I had to walk TO you! Had our roles been reversed I doubt that you would have taken that walk TO me, but would have run like a mad woman to avoid confronting the woman about whom you have leveled so many false accusations. You would not have had the courage to confront me. But I did the right and courageous thing. You must have seen me, because you were not at all surprised to see me! You said to me ‘We both need help,’ and I responded ‘We don’t BOTH need help — I am not an alcoholic or any of the other things you have falsely accused me of — YOU need help.’ You sobbed. No I did not reach out to touch you — nor did you reach out to me. How would you have responded to a hug, a touch…? What was I do to if not walk away? Crawl on my knees? Rant and rave? if you are so sure that your accusations are correct why did you ‘dread’ seeing me — or why were you ‘afraid’ I would find you there? if you were so sure, you would have welcomed confronting me with even more lies and delusional memories. You will always be my daughter — your heart and mine beat in synchronicity for nine months and that will never ever be taken from me. I love you and cherish you, but I will no longer insinuate myself into your life. You have chosen to sever our relationship, and I will accept that. I am here if you need me, but I doubt that you would ever admit any need. it is interesting how different the perspective is when viewed from different sides of a coin! You write well — even though what you write is in accurate and biased with the animosity you hold toward me. I feel sorry for you — it is so hard on one’s emotions to hate.

How do I know for sure I am not delusional?  Here’s some good, hard evidence.  This is my left wrist, some 30+ years after I sawed into it there at the butcher block table.

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Scars fade over time, but they never fully disappear.

responding to my cousin’s gift

After watching the video link in my previous post, I was so touched, I had to send this message to my cousin.

My god, that was amazing.  She and I have both been living in closets, I just came out first.  And I can relate to EVERYTHING Ash says in this video.  The letter I sent to my mom was THE hardest thing I have ever done.  It was so painful and so frightening and I knew what the consequences might be.  I am dying to have a dialog with her–when she is ready.
 
Did you know I saw her yesterday?  We conversed like polite acquaintances.  When I tried to start the dialog that needs to be had, she cut me off, telling me how she is fine, how she is not an alcoholic.  She needs no help, she has a happy marriage and a busy fulfilling life and lots of friends.  She isn’t ready to have that dialog yet. 
 
Perhaps the biggest problem, perhaps the root of all if this is that in order to have that dialog, she needs to tell me I am telling the truth.  She cannot keep saying he never hit her or hit me or did any of the awful things that happened between 1975 and 1985.  Her inability (or unwillingness) to say, “Yes, that happened, you are not lying, and I wish things had been different” is what keeps the dialog from happening. 
 
Instead she is trying to turn my friends and my family against me, telling my father how horrible he looked at the wedding probably because of all the burdens and stress I have piled on him.  Sending my eldest emails gushing over the wedding and how beautiful she was while telling me in an email that my youngest was the prettiest girl there.  She even told my eldest that her new mother-in-law was clearly the third most beautiful woman at the wedding after the bridge and her sister.  She actually rolled her eyes and grimaced at me when I told her that my husband and I together are better than ever.
 
I really, really, really miss my mom.  But she never really was the mom I pretended she was.  And when I ripped that Band Aid off in my letter to her, I started a blood flow that shows no sign of letting up.
 
Thank you so much for sharing this with me and with her.  I hope she can see how this might apply to our situation, but I have to tell you truly, I won’t be holding my breath.
 
You are so awesome.  My life has always been better because you have been in it.
 
With much love and many hugs,
 

Cuz

coming out of the closet

http://www.upworthy.com/a-4-year-old-girl-asked-a-lesbian-if-shes-a-boy-she-responded-the-awesomest-way-possible?g=2

My cousin sent me this link last night. He also sent it to my mother. Watching it, I realized that what the speaker, Ash Beckham, talks about is EXACTLY what my mother and I are going through. We both have lived in closets, but in sending the letter I did back in August, I came out of mine. Sadly, she is still in hers.

from out of nowhere . . .

I ran into my mother today while I was at work.  I am temporarily working at a store in a mall where she shops; I have been very afraid of this happening, to be honest with myself.  The other day at another mall I thought I saw her, but it was not.  The sudden sight of this person put me completely off balance, and it wasn’t even her.  I reacted with a mild panic attack, but was luckily on the phone with my best friend who was able to quickly calm me down, especially once it turned out to be a complete stranger.

Today it actually was her.  The woman I have not seen nor spoken with or had any contact with since she stormed out of my daughter’s wedding in early August.  The mother who allowed her husband to abuse me; who denies it to this day, even though the first, most violent act I remember between us occurred when he was trying to hit her and the zipper on the back pocket of my jeans cut her leg badly while I was trying to protect her. 

She was surprised to see me;  I was of course surprised and yes, appalled, to see her.  But I was much calmer than I thought I would be in the situation.  I think that perhaps the dread of it and the “close call” the other day numbed my reaction a bit.

I told her I didn’t think she’d recognize me from the back with my new hair color.  She responded,”Well, I AM your mother.” She got a little choked up I think, when she said that, and I did too.  I said, “I know, Mom, but you need help.  I need help.”  She cut me off, saying, “I don’t need ANY help.  I am not an alchoholic.  I am happily married, I have a busy fulfilling life and I have a lot of friends.”  I said nothing.

She began asking about my children.  Of my eldest, she said, “How is San Diego going?”  She did not use my daughter’s name once.  She mentioned the younger two by name.  It is only the eldest that sent my mother a letter similar to mine, calling Mom out on her behavior, not only at the wedding, but also towards my daughter’s new husband, towards my husband and my other children.  She did not ask about my husband at all.

She asked how I was doing, and I told her things were going well.  I told her my husband and I have never been happier together and that these tough times have made our marriage stronger.  She rolled her eyes and grimaced.  I told her about  his new job, which she appeared pleased to hear about.  She asked about my job and I told her I was enjoying it, though it has been very stressful.  I spoke a little about my staffing problems, I believe.

She asked about my father, telling me how awful she thought he looked at the wedding.  She does not know that I know she sent  him a letter telling him he looked “like a broken man, because of all the burdens and stress” I have put upon him.  I told him how much  better he is doing with the adjustments to his medications. 

All in all it was a conversation that I could have had with anyone of slight acquaintance.  She made no move to touch me, to hug me, to even shake my  hand.  I am probably lucky she did not tell me how awful I look.  She stayed while I helped two customers, but finally left, headed back towards Barnes & Noble, where she had come from..  I felt sick to my stomach.  I felt like crying.  I thought of the many things I could have said, and in fact wish I had thought to.

“Glad you have so many friends, since you have ‘no close familial relationships’.” (referring to her recent “endorsement” on my friend’s LinkedIn page, where she spoke of his help in setting up “various charitable trusts to dispose of [their] assets upon [their] deaths, since [they} have no close familial relationships.”)

“It’s good to have friends, especially when you have alienated your only child and her family.”

About my father, I should have said, “Contrary to your belief, he is not a ‘broken man’ because of tjhe ‘burdens and stress’ I put upon him.  Not only has his health improved, but he is incredibly supportive and proud of me despite my flaws and problems.”

I should have said, “If you’re not an alcoholic, then why do you run through a third of a bottle of bourbon a night?” 

“If you don’t need help, why do you think you are estranged from me and my family?”

“Did you actually READ my  letter?  Do you still deny that any of that happened?”

But perhaps most of all, I wish I had said, “Mom, I love you, but I need you to love me differently than you have these 49 years.  I need you to love me unconditionally, to believe me, to hear me, and to stop writing off or complaining about everyone I love.”

“Mom, I really want to have a relationship with you again, but I can’t until you are willing to be the mother I have always needed and never really had.”

Instead we wished each other a happy holiday and she walked away.  She just  . . . walked away.

 

 

The Letter

It’s been six and a half weeks since I fired my first and best round, declaring my freedom from the abuse that has held me captive for almost 30 years.  After my mother’s childish behavior at our daughter’s wedding, I had to take a stand.  You can mess with me all you want (and they did) but you CANNOT and WILL NOT mess with my children.  She crossed that line, and I decided  was done.  Here is what I sent.

Dear Mom,

I have been looking at this sealed envelope for 19 days now trying to figure out how I feel about it. On the one hand, it is kind of you to acknowledge our anniversary, however, on the other hand, I am still trying to wrap my head around your behavior at [our daughter]’s  wedding and your emails since then. I’m having a great deal of difficulty reconciling the concepts of you giving us a card for our anniversary when you want me to divorce [my husband] because you think he is not pulling his weight, of you being so selfish that you would put your own desire to say something publicly ahead of your granddaughter’s wishes and of you telling me so often how much you love me and then telling me that your behavior at the wedding is somehow my fault.

 

Mom, I have been getting mixed messages from you for years. You (and your husband) tell me often how much you love me while still criticizing my hairstyle, my hair color, my opinions, my weight and my children. I have to ask you a very painful question: if you love me so much, why did you put up with [your husband] abusing both you and me? I tried talking with the two of you together about my adolescence over 20 years ago, and you both denied that anything ever happened. I should think you would still have a scar on your thigh from the time the zipper on the back pocket of my jeans badly cut your leg while I was lying on top of you trying to protect you from his fists.

 

Do you really not remember any of the times he beat me or touched me inappropriately? Because I do, and my friends do as well. They saw the bruises, they knew something was wrong, but back then, people just didn’t talk about things like that. When you told me that you would help me financially if I divorced [my husband], did you really think I would not tell him? Did you really think I would just shrug it off? He is my husband, Mom, the center of my world. Regardless of what you think of him, he DOES carry his share of the burdens here, perhaps more than his share because he takes care of me when the fears and anxieties that were caused by the 10 years of abuse I suffered at the hands of your husband. Being told how much you are hated and how great it will be when you are gone does not garner great self-esteem in a child. Being beaten by a man in a drunken rage does not make a person feel safe in her world. And I don’t understand why you allowed it to happen.

 

Not that he ever would, but the minute my husband raised a hand to our children or to me in anger, that would have been the minute I left and never came back. What happened to you, Mom, that while you have always been so successful and so confident in your professional and public life, yet so weak and unable to assert yourself in your personal life? Why did you not walk out when he started hitting us? Does he still hit you? Is that why you retreat to bourbon every night? To escape that? I worry about you, Mom. Neither one of us is getting any younger, but I after what you did at [our daughter]s wedding and the childish, selfish responses you sent me afterwards, I am not yet able to forgive you. Not for what you did to me, but for what you did to [our daughter], and what you did to yourself. You had one chance to celebrate and dance at your eldest grandchild’s wedding and you blew it, just because your wishes were not allowed to supersede those of the bride.

 

Yes, the sentiments you wanted to express were lovely, but after 7 planned toasts, more would have been superfluous, and [our daughter & son-in-law] did not want an open microphone. Had you spoken, then the opportunity would have needed to be afforded to the three other sets of grandparents in the room. None of them left in anger because they weren’t given a chance to speak. For you to storm out because you were not one of those asked to speak and then blame me for your actions is ridiculous. I’m really not sure what is going on with you and your husband but in the past couple of years you have publicly disapproved of [our married children]’s choices of spouse, you have expressed your disdain for mine, and you have even managed to hurt [our youngest]. Your husband did not even acknowledge her existence when she came to say hello and talk to him at the family birthday party back in March. At the wedding he did nothing but glare at me.

 

Do you know that he sent me the email he sent you talking about how much I am like the people that supposed 21-year-old ranter in Texas wrote about? He probably didn’t tell you; he told me to keep it “personal, just between us”. Well, I am tired of the lies and the secrets. I am tired of asking my family to do things just the way you two want them, just to keep the peace. I’m tired of not knowing whom you will pounce on next, and I am tired of your disapproval. Yes, I have made a lot of bad choices financially. You know why? You and your husband both said you were excellent financial role models for me, but really, you weren’t. I always thought we were too broke to do any of the fun things my friends got to do, too broke to get clothing that wasn’t from Sears, too broke for you to take an interest in or support the things I was really interested in. I thought you wrote my allowance in a steno pad and only allowed me to save up and buy things you approved of because you really couldn’t afford to actually give me spending money. When I was really, really good, I was allowed to have the same “good” cut of meat that you guys ate. Most of the time, I got the cheaper cut. I thought it was because we could not afford for us all to have the same good cuts all the time. I also thought I was not worthy of spending money on. What I learned was that if you really loved someone, you spent money on that person.

 

I am very happy for you that you two have amassed so much wealth. I hope it makes you very happy as well. As for me, I am very happy that we were able to take the children to Disneyworld, that the children were supported and encouraged to get involved in hobbies that interested them, that no one ever laughed at them for their unfashionable clothing. You’re 100% right, we should have been planning all along for a rainy day, which we did not. Yes we are facing complete and utter financial ruin, but to me it is not the worst thing that could happen. Our children had happy childhoods and knew we supported them in all that they did. If the price of that is our financial security, then so be it.Ideally, none of this would ever have happened, or if it did, not until [our youngest] was in college, but that is not how it played out. But she is learning that whether we have money or not, how much we love her is not tied to how much we spend on her.

 

All that being said, Mom, I am returning this envelope to you unopened, because I just cannot open it. Until you figure out why you are so quick to judge my family, so quick to insult my choice of spouse and the choices of my children, until you acknowledge that your marriage is as dysfunctional as my adolescence was, I am not sure what kind of relationship I want to have with you. I love you very much, Mom, but I cannot stand the way you treat my husband and my children. And for your husband to kick me when I’m down by sending his hateful email and then do nothing but glare at me at the wedding, that was just too much.

 

You need help, Mom. You drink too much and it changes how you act. Generally I know not to read emails from you sent after 6:30 PM because you might get nasty. It’s always after a lot of bourbon that your husband calls me because you’ve gotten into a ridiculous argument and he wants me to help calm you down. Given your mother’s history, this worries me a great deal. I have no idea what demons are in your past, Mom, but you need to come to grips with them. Therapy has given me great strength to deal with mine; it can do the same for you. I urge you to find help and soon, before it is too late. I am very sorry to be sending this back, because I know it will hurt you, but it is the right thing for me to do, as accepting it would be hypocritical and the contents may even upset me. I’ve worked way too hard to get to the level of mental health I have achieved; I don’t want to slide back down a slippery slope.

 

When you’ve gotten help, when you are on your way to recovery, when you are ready to talk about what is really going on in your life, let me know. But until you can accept my family and me unconditionally, I need to put some distance between us. I am here for you, Mom, when you have gotten the help you so badly need. If there is anything I can do to assist you in getting that help, please let me know. I will do whatever I can to help you get better. I do love you, but our relationship has changed irrevocably, and now it is up to you to decide what happens next.

 

This was the hardest letter I have ever written, yet in some ways it was the easiest, as the words poured out of my fingers and onto the paper. I finally said so many of the things I have always wanted to say, exposed my feelings honestly, and really allowed myself to feel the hurt, pain and betrayal that have been part of my life for so very long.

I have heard nothing from her since.Image

 

Parenting?

ImageI’ve never believed that parents should do everything for their children.  You have to let them make mistakes in order for them to learn from them.  If you see a child making the same mistake over and over, it is appropriate, in my opinion, to discuss their actions with them, even as adults, and help them understand what the long-term consequences of their actions may be.  But you still have to let them make their own decisions and live by them.

That said, what about if your child ends up in a horrible situation, even one caused by him or her, and has no way to get out of it.  If you are able to do so, should you, as a parent, help that child?  Would you, as a parent, help that child?  Or would you sit by and let him or her drown in the problem?

I have recently been shown that my parents would not help me, even though they could certainly do so, in a huge hairy problem.  This does not surprise me; they never helped me with small problems.  Or pretty major ones–my mother never stopped her husband from abusing me, for example.  So why when our home is being foreclosed on, why would I expect help from them?  What’s funny about this is that the concept here makes perfect sense to me, but no one I know, including my husband, my best friend or my therapist, understands this.  If my parents were broke, it would make sense.  But they are not, they are very, very comfortable financially.  

Where I am having a problem here is reconciling my vision or idea of what parenting should be to the parenting I received.  And it breaks my heart.  God willing, I would help my children with anything they needed, if I were in a position to do so.  I never expected to be in this position, but here it is.  And the one person I should be able to count on most, my mother, is just letting me drown.

God help me.

mother’s day

Sunday is Mother’s Day here in the U.S.  I am not only a daughter but a mother.  This year, this day is fraught with angst for me.  On the one hand, I am thrilled that I will be celebrating with all of my children for the first time in (and probably the last time for) years, but I am also coming to grips with what my mother allowed to happen to me.  And I am scared. And sad.

On one episode of Grey’s Anatomy (my favorite show), a young girl is involved in a boating accident in which the propeller cut off her arms and one leg.  Her arms were recovered and reattached, but while in the hospital, she refused to allow her mother to be contacted.  She cites what her mother always told her, that she had been “made from scratch”.  As a mother, I was responsible for my children throughout gestation and while growing up.  I made them all “from scratch”.  I had the ability to form them as I wanted them to be, I was responsible for protecting them from danger, I molded them to be the wonderful people they are today.  Of course this was all done with the help of my beloved husband.  But I did make them “from scratch” and it was a hell of a lot of work.  So why on earth would I do anything or allow anything to jeopardize their lives?  Why would I put up with anything that would harm them?

My mother also made me “from scratch”.  With my father, I was conceived, she bore me, she raised me, yet she allowed my stepfather to physically, emotionally and sexually abuse me once they were married.  N.K. Jemisin said, “There is no greater warrior than a mother protecting her child.”  Naturalists can share with you thousands of stories about animal mothers doing incredible things to save their children from harm.  I know the wrath I felt when my children were hurt by others, even innocently, as one child hurting another on the playground.  So why, why, WHY, did my mother not protect me?

Therapy is forcing me to ask this question, again and again and again.  I keep thinking, “What did I do, what mistake did I make, that my mother did not feel compelled to protect me from harm?”  My rational self knows that it was nothing I did, but rather, that which she did not do, but my inner child, wounded, hurting still, still asks, “What did I do?”

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I came across this prayer tonight when searching for prayers for a mother.  It came up under the heading of prayers for a deceased mother.  It got me thinking . . .

O God, who hast commanded us to honor our father and our mother; in Thy mercy have pity on the soul of my mother, and forgive her her trespasses; and make me to see her again in the joy of everlasting brightness. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Maybe I need to think of my mother as dead.  Not literally of course, but I think I need to mentally bury the image of what I think my mother should have been. what she should have done.  She is not “dead to me” as we think of when we cut off all ties and repudiate someone in our family, but perhaps I need to acknowledge that my idea of what my mother should have been is no longer alive.  The “dream mom” I envisioned not only is not alive, she was never born.  Maybe if I let the dream go, I can better come to grips with my reality.

I think my idea of “mother” died a long time ago, when I was about eleven.