I am going to attempt to talk about something that really only my family and my husband’s family know about. Talking about my relationship with my mom is a particularly tough subject for me, mostly because I’ve worked really hard to get past some of these things. The problem is? I don’t think I’ve fully gotten over it. If someone mentions something that reminds me of her, I immediately feel anger. My first thought is, “what the hell? I thought I was over it”. The problem with traumatic experiences is that they never really fully go away. We can try to minimize the impacts that it has on us, but our brains are really great at remembering things. Even for people who block out very traumatic experiences, like that of a sexual assault, or severe abuse, flashbacks can and usually do still happen. Remember, our brain functions automatically, without much conscious effort from us. Sounds, sights, smells, any of our senses really, can trigger emotions we thought were long gone.
I look just like her
For example, a few weeks ago I was getting ready in the morning, and I looked at myself in the mirror and realized my mouth moved in the same way hers does. That one little action set off a series of emotions in me, all leading me to one thought. Oh. My. God. I look just like her. In an instant, it stirred up so many emotions in me and I couldn’t help but feel depressed. I had spent so much of my life trying not to be like her, and no matter what, I still look like her. Even though I knew deep-down that I’m nothing like her as a person, the simple act of looking like her set off a bunch of unwanted emotions. It proved to me that even though we might be healing, we may never fully be healed or it might take way longer than we want it to because some of the experiences in our lives are either so extreme, complex, or continuous, and the way our bodies react to that trauma gets stored potentially for years. It takes time to heal from those experiences. For me, I started this journey about 12 years ago, but I’ve really been working on my healing for the past 5 years when I was able to cut ties with my mother for good. That was super hard. She has spent so much time making me seem like such a terrible person to friends and family. I almost lost everyone from my life just because my boundaries weren’t respected and I realized, I needed to just remove her from my life altogether. I finally decided that if people believed everything she said, then those were the people that I didn’t want in my life anyway because those people didn’t care about my story, they just blindly believed everything she told them. My husband and I decided to go to therapy because it really did impact both of us and was starting to impact our relationship. I will say that out of all the times I had gone to therapy in my life, that time was the most eye-opening. I learned so much about myself, my mom, and what I needed to do to be happy.
Difficulties getting people to understand
A lot of people have asked me about the situation with my mom, and when I describe my past, it’s hard to explain everything in one conversation. Some people don’t understand how I could just stop having a relationship with her so easily. Well, it definitely wasn’t easy. I try to explain, but I never want to speak badly about my mom because I know that there are many reasons she is who she is. She’s had a traumatic past too, from what she’s described. The problem is, I don’t know what is fact or fiction. I know that some things probably did happen, and knowing what I do about what trauma does to our body, I can understand why my mom suffers from mental illness. I even understand that the type of mental illness she has is one that really prevents her from seeking care. So can I really blame her for not getting help? No. I can’t. But it doesn’t mean that I have to be a part of her life, or allow her to be a part of mine.
What if she dies?
I’ve also heard, “well, what if your mom dies? Wouldn’t you be upset?” Of course I would be upset. She’s still my mother. She gave me life. She raised me the best way she knew how. But I wouldn’t blame myself, and I wouldn’t be upset about the fact that I’ve “missed the past however many years because of my stubbornness”. I don’t believe I’m being stubborn. Having an estranged parent is tough because it feels very similar to losing someone close to you already. I’ve lost people, and will say that I have grieved for my mom the same way I grieved when someone died. It was such a difficult time in my life, and I really have a hard time describing it to people who have never experienced it. But again, I had to do it. I had to set boundaries and keep them iron-clad, because without them, some people will take advantage of you over and over again. Learning how to set boundaries has been the most useful tool I’ve learned in this process, and I will not allow someone to overstep what I know is best for myself, my husband, or my kids. When someone oversteps again, and again, and again, and you’ve tried everything you can to work with that person, there really isn’t much else you can do but walk away. And that’s what I had to do to protect my children. I know there are people out there in my same situation. I’m in some groups regarding children of parents with “xyz mental illness” and have found that their situation is so similar and they are currently in the process of not allowing their mothers in their lives either. Being a part of these groups has opened my mind so much to just how many people have mothers and fathers with mental illness with such similar situations to me, that as much as it hurts to see that they are also going through something so horrible, I finally didn’t feel alone. I felt so much support and that’s why I wanted to start writing this blog. Hopefully someone will see it and understand that you aren’t alone.
Removing toxic people from my life
The first time I stopped talking to my mom for an extended period of time was when I was dating someone and my family had pretty much written me off because my mom convinced everyone I was abandoning them, simply because I was spending time with him instead of every second with her. It was about 2 years of not talking when he told me how he really felt about the situation. I can’t remember exactly what he said because it was nearly 15 years ago, but it was something along the lines of how someone could stop talking to their family, and that I didn’t realize how terrible it was because his family lived in another state and mine was right around the corner. He said I was taking them for granted. Then he would tell me that I had anger issues, and I needed to just apologize to them and deal with it because they are my family. Being in my early 20’s at the time, and he was much older, I believed him. I thought that he was right. I needed to get help because I was the one who had problems. For years, my mom told me the same thing, and now I have this other person who I thought I loved telling me too. At the time, I thought it must be true. And hey, looking back, it was. I was super angry at my mom and because of my inability to trust people and control my reactions to people, I used to immediately react. So that’s when I read that book. I practiced everything it told me to do for an entire year, and after that, I felt ready to be around my mom again, or at least try. I loved my sisters so much and I just wanted to have a relationship with them, but I knew that I couldn’t do that unless I tried to make things work with my mom. So I apologized (for apparently abandoning my family) and said I wanted to start coming around again. At that time, I was practicing my new skills on my mom and sisters. I practiced setting boundaries. I practiced saying “no” to things. I learned how to say, “it’s okay if I don’t feel comfortable because I can leave”. I practiced recognizing what things my mom did that made me angry, and how to control that anger using the techniques from this book. I was pretty happy. For once in my life, I felt like I truly did have control over the relationship with my mom, and I was finally able to see my sisters again. Things really just picked up right where they left off. My sisters and I were close again. We had group chats where we’d all just talk about our day to each other when we didn’t see each other, we hung out together at home at night, I would go to my mom’s house almost every day to hang out with my sisters, and whenever my mom would say something that would start to make me angry, I started recognizing my emotions and I asked her to stop. If she didn’t, I left. And I told her that I would continue to do that if she continued to overstep the boundaries I had. I wasn’t doing it to piss her off, I was doing it to let her know that I have boundaries and it isn’t fair to talk to your children the way she felt completely comfortable talking to us. She didn’t like it when I left. She would sometimes cry, or complain to my sisters, or text me afterward telling me that I was being immature or something along those lines. I would just ignore it. I didn’t want to involve myself in an episode of hers so I learned how to turn it off. It’s the only thing I could do at that time.
It happened again
I didn’t know that a few years later, I’d have to do the same thing again, and yet again have my sisters turned against me, and everyone else turned against me too. This time though, it was my choice. It wasn’t my mom kicking me out, then telling me I am abandoning her, it was me removing myself from a toxic environment because I was protecting my family (my husband and future child). It’s been five years since I’ve spoken to my mom. Neither of my kids have met her. It took her about three years to stop trying to reach out to me. I got many threats through text messages, emails, calls from blocked numbers, you name it. I just kept ignoring because when I did reply, it only got worse. It was like throwing oil on a fire. She would just explode and be even more hurtful. I tried telling her that she can’t unsay the things she did and she needed to be mindful of how she treats people because what she was saying was extremely hurtful, but again, that just made it worse. I didn’t know what I was talking about. I was the child, she was the adult. In her mind, I just had to listen to her. So I just ignored everything… Then one day, it just stopped. I finally felt a breath of fresh air. I hadn’t heard from her in quite some time. Shortly after, two of my sisters had reached out to me because they also wanted to get away and because I had been through it, they wanted that support. I didn’t trust it at first, but ultimately, I realized that I needed to help my sisters. I knew what they were going through and the stress that came with it. If they really wanted to get away from that dysfunction, I wanted to help them do so. That’s when the emails from my mom started again. “Why are you turning your sisters against me?” “Why are you doing this to me, why are you making me feel this way, what have I ever done to you but put you on a pedestal and worship you?” I ultimately had to send any emails from her directly to my trash because it was a wound that was being ripped open over and over, and all I wanted to do was help my sisters get out of a bad situation. I never reached out to them, they asked me, but just like everything else in my mom’s eyes, it was always my fault. I was the one who was corrupting her children and making them hate her. Never once was she able to admit that she was the person people were trying to get away from, and this is because of her illness. I have spent so many years trying to help my mom get the help she needs and deserves, but once she goes into that room, I can’t control what is said to her therapist. I don’t know if she’s telling them the truth, or if she’s spinning a web of lies. Unfortunately, when someone doesn’t truly recognize they have a problem, and seek real help for it, it’s very hard to convince them.
On a positive note
The good side of all of this is that I have an amazing family, a husband that I am so in love with, two boys who are just the most amazing things I never knew I needed, and I am able to have a relationship with two of my sisters. I may not be able to have a relationship with my mother, but I have my husband’s mother. She has shown me what it’s like to have a mom who supports you, loves you unconditionally, and wants all the best for your future. I have an awesome dad who will always love me, and who is the most wonderful giving person I’ve ever met. I continue to work on my healing journey, and although I may have days where I struggle hard, I always come out on top because I have the best support system and I have learned to ask for help, no matter how hard it is. Sometimes we may not be dealt the best cards growing up, but that doesn’t mean we have to be stuck in that life forever. We can make changes by changing ourselves. When we learn what we want, we start to naturally pull those things into our lives, and usually it happens when we least expect it. So keep going. Keep growing and learning and reaching for that happiness. It will come.