If you’ve read my blog in any detail, then you know by now that I have a mother who expresses her emotions and general psychology through a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. If I were to follow Christine Lawson’s archetypes, then I would classify my mother as the Queen/Witch with a sprinkling of Medean Witch thrown in for good measure.
No one in my family knows my mother. Not the way I do. Well, my former stepsisters know her in a very distinct way. We spent our late childhoods and adolescence together under her reign of terror. I don’t say that to be dramatic. It was seven years of a ceaseless nightmare. When I was a child, I used to watch “Mommy Dearest” over and over again because it felt…familiar. The exacting nature of Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of Joan Crawford. The obsession with the wire hangers. My mother insisted that my sock and underwear drawer was organized perfectly lest she dump it out onto the floor and make me refold every item again and await her exacting inspection. My closet was to be organized by color and season. That made no sense to me. Every Saturday was cleaning day, and my room was to be military clean to the point of a literal white glove test and a perfect quarter bounce off my bed complete with hospital corners. If I failed any part of her inspection, I had to clean my entire room again. Drawers were turned out onto the floor. Invective was launched at me like live grenades. I was, at times, violently dragged around my room, my face shoved down into perceived imperfections from streaks on windows to visible footsteps in previously vacuumed carpet.
Everything had to be perfect. All the time.
My stepsister defied my mother once. She was beaten so harshly for saying ‘no’ to her that a few of her ribs were broken. She was so bruised that she could not sustain physical touch for at least a week.
These are just small details in a sea of stories about my mother. I watched my mother lose herself to her own talionic rage on one Christmas Eve morning. She tried to kill my stepsister. She assaulted the other one.
My mother remembers nothing. To her, this is all just water under the bridge. I am characterized as an unforgiving person because I remember. I am bad because I carry the marks of trauma. She might say, “Well, you know, I have struggled with anger over the years.” That’s one way to put it, I guess. Strangling the life out of a person is just a normal thing to do then during the holidays when you feel angry because there are crumbs on the counter. Guests are coming! Chop, chop! Never mind. I’ll just kill you over it. Merry Christmas, one and all.
This normalized response is crazymaking. There is absolutely nothing normal about a childhood like that. There is nothing normal about witnessing another human being do that to someone. Being made to feel like a bad person for saying so is…fucking nuts.
Why say this?
My mother wrote me a letter last Christmas as she always does. It’s the Merry-Christmas-You-Are-A-Bad-Person-For-Not-Letting-Me-In-Your-Life-and-You-Have-Robbed-Me-of-Happiness letter. I’ve received one every year for the last five years. Her pathology is on full display in each and every letter. I would compare it to a fruitcake full of nuts, but perhaps that’s too crass. Suffice it to say, I’ve noticed the calendar. I’m due for another demeaning and judgmental letter. This year, I launched a pre-emptive strike and wrote her instead. I mailed it this morning.
In reality, I actually only replied to her last letter–almost a year later. I have been working on a response for almost a year. There are a few people (i.e. almost everyone I know) who will all but scold me “Airplane” style for contacting her in any way, “Get a hold of yourself, MJ!”:
But, I feel rather like the pilot blazing a trail through the terminal. I don’t want to sit here and passively take it for another year, dreading every December trip to the mailbox. I’ve worked too hard to get where I am. I wanted to speak up rather than ignore her. No, it won’t change her. It won’t change anything, but speaking up might continue to change and empower me. That’s a good reason to respond to her, I think.
I don’t experience my life, memories, and even my own personality as I once did. Everything has evolved, and that’s a good thing. I don’t feel as I once did where my mother is concerned either although I know enough to be cautious by now. What I have learned on this long and winding path called ‘recovery’ is that telling the truth is important. Speaking up is valuable, and it’s important that we do so. It’s important because we are changed when we hear our own voices in the midst of the din of naysaying, accusations, and other nonsense. We may be talked down to, accused, disbelieved, and rejected. I’ve experienced all of this, but your healing is catalyzed when you feel the resonant power of your own voice as you say, “No, that happened, and that was wrong. I am truthful, and I am good. And whether or not anyone believes me or supports me, I can say that I know what is real, and I am stronger for having said so.”
Ultimately, this is why I responded to my mother, and this is why I feel peaceful. I’m not scared of her, but I do feel slightly vulnerable. Between her and my father, I have witnessed the absolute worst in humanity. Hands down. For those who prefer the light, the darkness holds little appeal.
So, speak your truth. Be brave even if you’re afraid. You are in good company, my friends.