It’s easy for me to sit on this side of the post. I get to write about what I’ve learned on the path to Enlightenment as it were as if I’ve arrived at some sort of higher consciousness. I get to talk about telling the truth, recognizing denial, being honest, and recognizing our untruths so that we can begin to shake off the shackles that are hindering us. I get to talk about 12 Steps. The truth is, today the truth hurts. The truth is, today I am back at Step One. I have not come up with an entire program with a complete set of steps to follow and work…yet. I have come up with two steps, and yesterday I found myself back at Step One.
I’ve talked about my mother in previous posts. Never in great detail. I still feel the need to respect her, and laying out the very long list of her crimes against me and others will not change anything. What I will say is that she suffers from extreme self-hatred, and she has reasons to hate herself. Borderline Personality Disorder and self-loathing seem to go hand-in-hand, and while self-loathing is often unfounded, in her case, it is legitimate. It is also all-consuming, and it is preventing her from seeking help. And, I am helpless.
Why do I want this woman in my life? This woman who has hurt me and others so deeply? This woman who is incapable of saying one nice or complimentary thing to me? This woman who only finds fault with me? This woman who bears a large part of the responsibility for my abduction? This woman who knew about my childhood sexual abuse and did nothing? Why? Because I love her. Because I know how much she has suffered in her own life, and I feel compassion for her. Because I miss my mom. Because I remember what she was like when she was at her best–not raging, not dissociative, not cold, not mean. She was lively. She was happy. She was adventurous and fun. She was generous and supportive. At her best, she was exuberant and vivacious. Borderline Personality Disorder when left untreated ravages a person. Today, my mother is in darkness, isolation, and despair. I don’t even see a glimmer of light in her anymore, and she sees me as the enemy.
And yet I still feel responsible for her and for our relationship. This is one of my default settings–“I am responsible for my mother’s well-being and happiness.” My mother parentified me when I was very young. When I was 6 years-old, my father convinced me that I should live with him. I was terrified of my father, but I thought that if I chose my father over my mother, if I made him happy, then maybe he would be kind to me. Maybe he would stop hurting me. So, I agreed to this idea. In retrospect, my father was using me to hurt my mother. Their divorce was fresh, and he hated her. Children are used as pawns in divorces all the time. My father delighted in telling my mother that I wanted to live with him. I remember how his eyes sparkled as he slowly told her that I had chosen him over her. Then, she screamed. She ran up the stairs, locked herself in her bedroom, and screamed. In my memory, she seemed to scream for hours. In reality, it could have been only minutes, but, in that span of time, I believed in my 6 year-old heart that her pain was my fault. Her screams, her wails, her words–“How could you leave me?!”–it was all my fault. I curled myself up by the locked door. I cried out to her that I would not leave her. I begged her to unlock the door. I begged her to let me in. I promised to stay with her no matter what.
This scenario played itself out again and again. How many times has she locked herself in a bathroom, a closet, or a bedroom with a gun and a vile of narcotics vowing to kill herself this time? She’s done that too many times to count. And, there I was, on the other side, promising to stay, promising to be there, if she would only open up the door and stop crying.
This woman is not a safe person. She has refused counseling. She makes promises to get better. She always says, “I’m working on it”, but I don’t know what that means because she doesn’t even have friends. She won’t even speak to me. So, why am I the one who continues to push for a relationship? Why do I feel responsible for her? I’ve done my work. I know why I respond in these ways, but it does not change the fact that I feel pain.
Abuse comes in many forms–sexual, physical, emotional, verbal, and even spiritual. Many of us who have been abused have become compliant pleasers. We long to please and “make things right”, and I long to make this situation right; but, I can’t. Yesterday, I finally “got” it. I don’t know why I made the connection yesterday, but I did. I imagined that my mother was an alcoholic. I used to volunteer with an organization that helped alcoholics and addicts; hence, I’m familiar with AA, Al-Anon, and the concept of codependency. Objectifying my mother’s behavior through a different filter, one that involved substance abuse rather than something more nebulous like BPD or DID, clarified the situation. If my mother used drugs or alcohol and this addiction fueled rages, blackouts, unemployment, unsafe behavior, unpredictability, homicidal tendencies, physical, emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse as well as suicidal tendencies would I pursue an active relationship with her? Hell, no!!! None of the aforementioned behaviors would be acceptable in any kind of healthy relationship. So, why would any of this behavior be acceptable just because it is fueled by mental illness? It isn’t.
And, the light went on. Finally, I see. If my mother were an alcoholic or an addict, I would require certain assurances before we could even begin to have a relationship particularly if any of the aforementioned behavior had been a problem. The fact that I require certain assurances from her today does not mean that I am bad, mean, wrong, demanding, insensitive, bitter, unforgiving, resentful, using her past against her, or cruel. I have been accused of all these things. I require assurances that she is safe because historically she never has been, and after years of being treated as if I have no worth, I have finally realized that I do. My choices in how I proceed then must follow that belief.
Perpetrators of abuse, even if they are our mothers, count on our believing that we have no power so that they do not have to change their behaviors. In my mother’s case, she is hoping that I will never leave her. One of my default settings is “I have no choice.” That is a lie. I do have a choice. I may not have had a choice 20 years ago, but I do today. I can choose to require accountability from my mother. I can choose to require assurances that she is a safe person. These assurances take the form of 1)going to a trained and certified psychotherapist at least twice a month, 2)staying on her medications, and 3)developing a relationship with me on the phone before we visit in person. At this point in time, she has chosen only to take her medications as far as I know. She refuses therapy, and she refuses to speak to me. The child in me that was forced to be her parent feels enormous rejection. Essentially, my mother is rejecting me because she perceives that I am rejecting her. This is very typical BPD behavior. Intellectually, I know this. Emotionally, I am deeply grieved, but you know what? Grief is healthy. When we lose something we mourn. That is how we recover, grow, and thrive. Grief means that I am not in denial. It also means that I am not willing to give up the ground I have gained in these past five years.
Thriving is a funny thing. I always thought it meant feeling happy or serene. I don’t think so. If you can grieve, then you are thriving. You can’t grieve, ask hard questions, stand your ground, look inward, reassess your choices, or do deep work when you are surviving. Surviving is about not dying. While this work with my mother is hard, and in some respects I hate it, it also means that I am thriving. After years of kowtowing to her toxicity, believing every word she said, and believing that I couldn’t live without her, I know better today. And, I am better today. So, where are you thriving? Where are you able to ask some hard questions? Where have you won a victory? Where have you been able to grieve? What ground have you defended lately? Pat yourself on the back because you aren’t surviving anymore. You’re thriving even if it doesn’t feel like it. You are. Even if it’s only in one small spot of your inner space, you are. And, if you aren’t, then don’t worry. You will.