I lost my first tooth and was terrified to open my mouth for four days.
I was afraid I would get in trouble because my tooth was gone. I didn’t realize this happened to every kid.
I was afraid of my mother.
That’s really hard to write. My mother died eight years ago, and we hadn’t spoken for five years prior. I have no regrets, as I needed time to heal and move on.
When I had the phone call from my brother telling me my mother and her second husband wanted nothing more to do with me because of an email my husband sent them, I freaked out…to put it mildly. All I could think about was having to call and apologize for 1) something that wasn’t my fault, and 2) protecting my husband from their wrath.
I made an emergency call for a workplace therapist, someone to tell me I could ignore that call and get on with my life.
That’s when I realized how many years I had been living in fear of my mother.
For the following two years I was afraid of the phone call for the weekly check-ins — even though the calls had stopped. On a Saturday when the phone rang I would check caller ID while my heart raced.
Friends tried to alert me to the fact that my mother didn’t treat me well. My husband would try and intervene, but I wasn’t ready to face the truth. I was constantly made to feel inadequate, and when I would reflect on something my mother had said, the comment came immediately: “I never said that.” Turns out I was familiar with “gas-lighting” from a very early age.
My second ex-sister-in-law witnessed an incident that left her appalled and me on the verge of tears. My mother introduced Janie as “my wonderful daughter-in-law Janie from South Africa and my daughter Linda.”
It takes time to crawl out of the hole of emotional abuse. It starts so young with cruel comments about how my delivery tore her apart inside, that my brother’s birth was easy. She and my brother would find some of my writings and read them aloud in front of me and laugh.
When my dad died of a massive heart attack the day before Thanksgiving, I had to go to the airport to pick up my brother who was flying in for the holiday. My mother told me not to say anything to him until he got back to the house and she could tell him herself.
When I returned with him, she yelled at me in front of company for leaving this task to her.
That’s pretty cruel, as I adored my father and was the classic Daddy’s girl. I repeated to myself it was my fault they always argued. But nothing I did was ever enough. We played One-Upmanship for years. Anything I wanted to do and succeed at she had done first. All I wanted was some approval. I couldn’t understand why so many of my female friends said their mothers were their best friends. What was wrong with me?
About two years after all hell broke loose, I picked up a book called Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.
The book had a checklist of narcissistic behaviors to answer yes or no. Out of 30, I said yes to 29.
It wasn’t me; I wasn’t broken.
I stopped trying to “fix it.” I was an adult child of an alcoholic (my father) and so I was ripe for being the fixer in the family — and failing at it.
My integrative health doctor introduced me to meditation as a way of dealing with PTSD. I was stunned.
How could I have PTSD?
I wasn’t physically abused. There was no single severe trauma.
An episode last year with a shop-owner where I was teaching a quilting class showed me first-hand the PTSD. She criticized me for being upset that the class hadn’t been cancelled because only two had signed up (I wanted a minimum of three). Suddenly this was my fault, and I retreated into trying to make it better, working with only one student who actually showed, feeling resentment, hoping this wouldn’t keep me from being able to teach there again, feeling horrible that I had caused this problem…and finally realizing I was reacting to being chastised by an adult all over again. She was my mother in patchwork.
This was a turning point for me. It was the culmination of the years and recognition that verbal abuse is just as harmful as physical abuse. I was coping as best I could. Now it was time to heal myself.
McBride’s book is good to a point — I could understand my history, but her suggestions for healing with my mother wouldn’t work. For one, she was dead. For two, it would not have made any difference in our relationship. My mother was my mother, with all her warts. Now I was the important one in the relationship.
I hope this will be cathartic, getting it down on paper. It’s hard to write, even harder to talk about, but a few years ago I realized I finally could share with my husband many of the episodes without getting tongue-tied and crying. I can see how emotional abuse is as valid as physical abuse. I’ve said good-bye to many of the examples. Obviously I have a few that are still with me, but I can see how I’m healing.
I tell myself she did the best she could. I’m still not ready to believe it. Maybe one day….