Wednesday, July 7, 2010

déjà vu

This is going to be long because there is a lot of background, bear with me. Also – this blog has become my therapy so I apologize if things get too dark for some of my readers. It really helps me to put this out where I have a relatively anonymous audience. Free therapy!

I don’t think I have mentioned it much on here yet, but I had a very difficult childhood. My father was a “dry drunk”, which in AA speech is an alcoholic who isn’t drinking but has not sought any treatment and therefore still has all the behaviors of an alcoholic. My mother had a mental breakdown and became suicidal when her abusive mother died. I was 9 when she made her first of five suicide attempts. She spent most of 3 years in a mental institution and my sister and I were left with our abusive father and abusive older brother. My relationship with my mother was extremely combative until about the age of 16. I was always told that my behavior changed after having febrile seizures and being put on Phenobarbital at the age of 3. I was her “perfect, sweet little girl” before then. After, I was frequently out of control; hurting myself, damaging property, and getting into screaming and fighting matches with my parents. After a whole lot of therapy as an adult I finally realized that all my behaviors were the direct result of abusive and mentally unstable parents, not something wrong with me. I grew up knowing no one loved me for who I was (my father once accused me of causing my mother’s mental problems – I was 10) and always thought it was because I was being unlovable. So when I was old enough to realize how to play the game, I become what my mother wanted me to be. We became very close and I thought we had a great relationship because “I” was better. It took me many years to understand I was not actually better, I had just learned what was expected of me. I was so desperate to be loved that I went along with it. I again became her perfect, sweet little girl and for awhile I was happy.

After I had my daughter and my first bout with postpartum depression, I found the most amazing counselor. She wouldn’t let me make excuses for people like I always had. She wouldn’t let me say that something annoyed me; I had to say it made me angry. She was the first person to point out that how my mother treated me was very damaging. She helped me understand that no 3 year old can be held solely responsible for her own behavior. I am old enough, and healthy enough now to recognize where behaviors came from and change them. Once I started doing that I gained a vastly different perspective on my childhood, and a much different view of my mother. It’s not that I hate her now, although at times the memories make me want to scream at her, but let’s say that I am no longer looking through rose tinted glasses. She is a petty, spiteful woman who needs to be the eternal victim. Yes, she has had a hard, brutal life, but she has never taken any responsibility for her own actions or her own healing. Everything is always someone else’s fault.

I called her today to tell her my daughter was better (the fever broke yesterday – thank god). I have avoided talking to her much since Aiden died because I can’t stand listening to her complain now. Every single comment she makes is a complaint. Most of them are about what a terrible parent my sister in law is, and how awful her kids are. She lived with my brother until his wife had enough and kicked her out for getting in a fight with my 12 year old niece (seeing a pattern here?). She now lives near them and still visits often. I don’t much like my SIL, and I don’t think she is much of a parent, but my Mom is certainly one to talk. She has always been very critical of my brother’s kids. The girls don’t take any care in their appearance, they all run wild and won’t listen, and the oldest is a sociopath in the making, according to her. Today she said something that put me right back into the worst period of my childhood.

I must have run away a dozen times from the ages of 10 – 15. I usually got caught and brought back before the end of the day because I would get scared and go to a friend’s house. Their parents would call the cops and the cops would look at me, see no bruises, and cart me off home. One of these times my mother dropped me off at the mental hospital with only the clothes on my back and told the intake person that I was a runaway risk. That meant they put me in the high security area where there were video cameras in the bedrooms and no doors on the bathrooms. I was livid. She did that just to be mean. She knew I would only run away from home; that going to the mental hospital was a vacation from my life. She did that just to hurt me. The doctors even knew it. As soon as a psychiatrist saw me I was moved to the open ward. When she came to visit I was still angry and I refused to talk to her. In retaliation she told me I could not see my little sister anymore if I wasn’t going to be civil. I’m sure she phrased it so that she was protecting my sister. I loved my sister. We didn’t always get along but she was the only person in my family I loved and trusted. I broke. I begged her to come back and told her what she wanted to hear because I couldn’t lose my sister, I just couldn’t.

Today I was talking to my mother and she repeated this exact story, only this time it was my niece in the hospital. My niece was involuntarily committed 3 months ago after several violent episodes. I’m not living there, so I can’t say for sure, but I think my mom is responsible for a lot of the damage done to my niece. Every time my mom talks about her it is an eerie echo of my childhood. A (my niece) is never good enough, she is never clean enough, she is never nice enough, she never behaves, and she is unlovable. Judging from my childhood I’m sure my niece picked up quite well what my mother was dishing out.

Anyway, my niece is 17, locked in a residential facility where she has not progressed in treatment. This might mean that she will never be going home. Her mother brought her little brother to visit recently and has decided not to do that again. In the words of my mother, “A was so nasty that K (my SIL) decided not to bring B (my nephew) back when she visits, he doesn’t need to be exposed to that.” My niece dotes on her little brother, from what I understand. It may not be a perfectly healthy relationship, but it is a loving one. They are doing the exact same thing to her that my mother did to me. I guarantee that if I said something my mother would deny ever doing that to me and she would deny that is what is happening now. I don’t have the entire story – A reacted differently than I did to a troubled childhood, she could be a danger to her brother – but somehow I doubt it. I only get my mother’s side of the story. I hope my niece can find a way out of that toxic situation. I hope she can learn the things I did and take responsibility for her own happiness. And I hope to god my mother never gets a chance to ruin another child.

Oh – and the other reason I quickly got off the phone – my mother’s descriptions of what is “wrong” with my nephew, they bear an awful strong resemblance to how my daughter behaves. It sounds like my daughter and nephew are both strong willed, very active children. My mom can’t stand that apparently. She would crush their spirits if she had control of them. I can’t stand for her to complain about B’s behavior because it seems like she is criticizing my parenting also. After all, if my daughter acts like my nephew, who is so out of control, then I must also be doing something wrong. Damn her.

There is nothing wrong with my daughter. She has a beautiful spirit. Parenting her is challenging, but a complete joy. I won’t let my mother’s poison change that.


  1. Wow. I am truly in awe of your strength, girl.

    I wish I had something more profound to add, but anything I write sounds really trite. Your daughter is one lucky little chica to have you for a mother. It takes a strong and smart person to take control of her life in the way that you have, and to recognize exactly what is going on with your own mother.

    Hoping things turn around for your niece--hoping you can be a positive influence on her in some way.

    Keep channelling that mama bear in you to keep your daughter safe and strong. And I'm so glad she's better :)

  2. You are a survivor, there are no other words for it. few people would have gone through what you have and come out with your strength and compassion. Kyra is so blessed to have you as her momma. I wish you continued strenght and peace.

  3. First- I am so glad that Kira is feeling better! What a relief!

    Second- your childhood sounds very very difficult and damaging. I find myself nodding along to a lot of what you are writing, because I see a lot of my mom in your mom. My mom is not suicidal, but she is very domineering, critical, and complaining. And needless to say, I have never felt good enough. On the other hand, my mother was also very loving and nurturing in other ways, so it wasn't really all that bad and I won't try to compare my situation to yours other than to say that there are glimpses of it that I 'get'.

    I say keep Kira (and your next baby) the hell away from your mom! I know it's super complicated, but it sounds like the best thing for you is to distance yourself. As it sounds like you have, very successfully, with the help of some excellent therapists. I am very proud of you, and from everything you've said about your own daughter, I know you are a wonderful and understanding mom who won't repeat any of your own mother's mistakes.

    Ultimately, I am just so very very impressed by your ability to overcome such a challenging childhood.

  4. I have come a long way to be mentally healthy and like Leslie here, I nodded along here. My mom was actually nothing like this, but that same "victim" bullshit whereby life is hard is there. I live by the motto of "be responsible for your own experience." It's the profound thought that has changed me from someone who just sort of let things happen to someone who has the strength to move mountains (or survive six shitty incidents of false starts).

    The Mr. and I talk a lot about the days when we listened to lovelines when Dr. Drew was on. One thing he said that stuck for the Mr. was that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR PARENTS if that relationship is damaging in any way. Life is fucking hard enough without people around to blame you for all their faults.

    You sound like a very bright child with lots of really good qualities and I expect that Kira will get boundaries, responsibilities, and freedom to be her amazing self. The gift to give your girl the childhood and your future youngin's childhoods is worth it all. You deserved that childhood, too, and I'm really sorry for that, but it sounds like you are captain of your ship now and sailing better seas.

    Sorry it took so long to comment, but kept getting pulled away as I dove in. Thanks for sharing all this and realize that it's good therapy for us to listen as well.

  5. I've tried to comment a couple of times but everything I say just ends up sounding trite. So here goes with apologies in advance!

    I am so sorry that you had such a difficult childhood. I admire you no end for the way you have handled it and are able to see your parents' behaviour in remarkable perspective. Some people just never want to take any responsibility for themselves or for their own happiness.

    I can't imagine how painful it must be to see history repeating itself and I hope that your niece finds a way out of this awful situation.

    You don't need me to tell you this but don't listen to her. I think she's wrong about your nephew and she would be even more wrong if she attempted to use those same lines to criticize Kira. Just try and tune that poison out.

    Well this has still ended up sounding trite! I'm sorry, just wanted to let you know that I'd read this post and that your mother's behaviour saddened and angered me. x

  6. Hi. I'm new to your blog. I was really struck by this post. You are a warrior woman! I'm thankful you were able to work with an amazing therapist. I too have been fortunate to work with a skilled therapist (and am currently doing so to process this crazy-making of being a dead-baby-mommma).

    I'm also sorry to hear you've been feeling so sick. I hope you're feeling better soon.

    And it sounds like you're moving on to next steps with bringing another child into your life. I'll be thinking about ya as you work through and on this one.

    ((hugs)) to you!

  7. yes, a warrior woman, like the previous comment says. you are so strong.

    you have obviously done a lot of work and worked really hard to be where you are now. i'm really sorry about this, it's really scary, but the only thing that scares me is, have you got wills written that specify what happens to K if you and your husband were to die? because if you haven't could your mother claim access or even custody? that would be horrible.

    and like misfits says, you don't have to ever see or speak to your mother if you don't want to. D cut his whole family out of his life for 6 years, and it was an excellent decision for him. he is in touch with them now, but if they started doing the same things again he would have no hesitation of cutting them off again.

    i am in awe of your strength in being a normal decent human being after all this. well done jen and i send hugs. xxxxx