My Borderline Mother

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.


8 thoughts on “My Borderline Mother

  1. I feel as though I should say something out of respect for your vulnerability with us or because it shuts off the horror projected in my mind as a result of what I read is unclear.
    Pain shared is pain lessened, I hope that is a true statement for you, I hope you experience as many days as possible with a mind free of the old tapes and voices and images.
    I have my past as well so thank you for letting me walk your road a while.
    No one can tell you what to write or say to your mother, your sanity, I assume, probably hinges at times on putting the anger and sadness on the right shoulders because you didn’t deserve it and you don’t deserve the weight of it now. We all just want to hear, “I love you and I am proud of you.”
    Thank you so much for sharing, you are amazing.

    • Thank you for your kindness! That’s a rare quality these days. I hope you weren’t too horrified. I actually feel sane and relatively calm these days which is why I probably could finally formulate a response to her. Unlike her, I am not looking to further the pain or usurp will and rights. I just wanted to make a declaration, if you will, and a counterargument. But, I think I just wanted others to know, and emphasize this for myself, that even if nothing circumstantially comes of our action, it doesn’t mean that nothing changed.

      Thank you for encouraging me. I really appreciated it. Best, MJ

  2. I’m so proud of you!! That’s awesome. So glad you took control and sent that.

    Btw, I saw The Accountant recently. If you haven’t seen it, I think you guys might really like it. Ben Affleck is the protagonist and he’s autistic. But he is a butt kicking hero. Really cool to see a lead in a movie like that. The girls might like it too.

    • I must be living under a rock! I have not even heard of this film! I’m shaking my head.’s all the driving everyone around. That’s it

  3. I never know what the protocol is on blog sites, i.e. respond once, like the thank you and then stop. So forgive me if I am out of line by responding a second time.
    I am glad you have some sanity and peace in your life.
    Being horrified by someone else’s story takes me out of my self-centered world so I probably needed the shock.
    You will grow by your “declaration,” that is most important, I think we all want our families psychologically healthy but we are not responsible for their acceptance or rejection of reality.

  4. I found your article with the help of google. I am going to change my phone number in order to completely cut ties with my own borderline mother, and I was wondering if I should speak my truth before. I don’t intend to be mean. But I want to stop being nice out of fear, and just tell her to leave me alone and stop expecting to be treated like a “real” mother that she never was.

    I found your article inspiring. You articulate very well what it feels like to be the child of an abusive borderline mother who will never admit that she did anything wrong.

    I am glad you felt liberated after expressing yourself.
    I wish you the best.

    • If you intend to cut ties with your mother, then I think it’s a perfect time to tell the truth. You have nothing to lose. The first time I told my mother the truth, I was traumatized because I had never told her ‘no’ or dared to speak up. It registered in my being and body, but it shifted something in me for the better. I was able to deal with other areas of my life that had previously been resistant to change. So, yes, I think that if it is on your mind to tell the truth, then move in that direction. I wish you all the best as you make these choices. Shalom to you, MJ

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