Sunday, April 20, 2014

divorcing my mom (working title)

I think most daughters have challenges in their relationship with their mom.  It's probably also true that most people struggle to identify and connect with their parents.  We all have things about growing up we wish we could change.

... and for a long time, I thought my life at home was just those things. My parents taught me I was a difficult child.  My mother wished I had never been born, and scolded me and hit me for so many things I lost track of all the wrongs I committed from when I was very young to the very present.

I don't know how many times I've said sorry but not really understood why, or felt I had to appease my mother because I'm so 'bad'.

The reality is, I grew up with a mom who is mentally ill.  Her sadness, depression and narcissism corroded anything good we could have had.. and now as a septuagenarian who's recovering from a stroke, it all seems different.  Worse, because I am made to feel obligated to accept her vitriol and apologize to her for her pain.

I keep kissing her ass, spending money I don't have on gifts, dinners and events, telling her she is beautiful and that I love her.... even though my words are met with, "You're fat" "I can't stand you" "Get out of my sight" "I prefer to surround myself with beautiful people, that makes me feel better. I wish you'd get out of my sight because you're so hideous"  "I'm embarrassed for my neighbors to set eyes on you" "You're ugly" "No one can stand you" ... sigh, or far more damaging words like, "I love your son the way I could never love you" or yesterday's, "No Elissa, I've never liked you and I never will," when I went to visit her with my son despite my preference not to.

Somehow, I believed her to be right so many times, I can't see anything else in the mirror but the hideous worthless monster she always says I am.

She broke her wrist mysteriously over a week ago, and refused to get treatment.  On the phone she'd call me and say it was my fault for annoying her so much, that somehow from 130 miles away, I broke her wrist and caused her that pain.

When my mom had her stroke two years ago, I was the first on the scene.  With my child under one arm and my phone in the other hand, I was juggling calls, speaking with doctors, ensuring she'd live and be safe.  I was the one who contacted my sister and father and made the initial arrangements to get my mother to the ER and to safety.  I made the tough calls, and did my best.

My mother was immobile ... and I stayed by her side, cleaned her, fed her and took care of her.  Even in this fragile state, so close to the possibility of death, I had to sit there and take her vitriol as though I deserved it.  Despite everything, I held her hand, made sure she ate, told her I loved her and did my best to give her whatever comfort she needed.  My son missed months of school, my job went south, I was unable to keep up my life and gave it up (again) to care for her.

It was during that time that I found her will where it was explicitly stated that I was to get nothing, that I was a 'threat' and a 'danger' to her.  Despite the fact that I cleaned her like a baby because she kept soiling herself and demanded she be cared for by the nurses, that I was ALWAYS the one to be there to get her to emergency rooms, nurse her after surgery and do my best to help her through one illness or another... I was a threat.  She had blogs and stories I had written over the years stapled to the document proving that my expressing my challenged relationship with her made me a horrible person and she was afraid for her life because I was writing such things.

(I'm pretty sure this blog will be the last nail in that disowned coffin)

You see, up until my mom's stroke, I really thought that I was a really bad person.  She had me believing I really was a challenging child to raise, and a difficult person to love.  Her abuse seemed justified and I somehow thought that I was truly unlovable.  This sort of scarred view of myself, this repugnant picture created for me ... has made it difficult for me to accept love the way I deserve, or realize that I'm not really the things she says.

My mom is depressed and mentally ill.  But as a kid, I thought this was just how moms who have difficult children behave.  That all of her upset was on me, I made her unhappy.  I never really understood or could realize that this had nothing to do with me. I was forced to go to therapy as a kid, and I hated it.  Each therapist wanted to 'dig deep' and figure out why I was such a horrible kid.  They tried to medicate me, scold me and treat me as though I were this miscreant they should all find a way to tame.

All this time I was put into programs, boarding school, therapy... my mom was the one who really needed to do lay down on the couch.

To be clear, around the time of my mom's stroke, I had a major life changing lightbulb moment.  When I came to the realization that she was clinically depressed and that she was really very sick, I was able to see that she did the best she could and that she didn't have the capacity to be the mom because she was so damaged.  I made a conscious decision to break the fetters of my constant pain by practicing acceptance and forgiveness.  It was an unbelievable breakthrough, to see my mother for the broken bird she is and be able to love her despite her inability to love me.

This forgiveness hasn't changed.  I rationally know that she did the best she could, and that was incapable of giving me the mother's love I craved and needed my whole life.

To be clear, no matter what has happened, I've always and still do Love my mother unconditionally.  Even now, in this moment of excruciating pain, I still see her as this beautiful woman and love her with this desire that she'd one day approve of me and love me back.

I've been told many times that I deserved to have a mom who loves me unconditionally... but I got a bum hand.  That it is ok to feel like this bad deal hurts and to wish I had more parental love in my life.  It's why I over compensate with my own son, treating him with extra love, hugging him so much it can drive him bonkers, telling him all day long I love him and that he is awesome just the way he is.  I get to love my son the way my mother never loved me, or something twisted like that.

In a dharma talk I heard at the beginning of my buddhist journey, the teacher talked about boundaries and taught me that they are necessary for our own survival.  I've gone extended periods of time not talking to my mom, or reluctantly screened a call from time to time to preserve a moment that is happy.  Right now, I'm going to create a different kind of boundary.  I'm divorcing my mom.  It's not out of hate, because I love my mother so much.  That may seem inane but... I'm a kid who wants my mother's approval.  I'm that kid who goes out of her way so much to obtain my mom's attention that I'll do anything for it, even if those choices have been unhealthy.  I wasn't difficult, I was a child starving for affection and love from a women incapable of loving me.  This quest has been very damaging to me, and it's time to stop searching for the holy grail of love and approval from the person who is supposed to love me ... It's time to end the pain of the seeking, and to break out of the prison of this pain.

I'm divorcing my mom.  It's not out of hate or spite ... but more like self preservation.  As my 45th birthday approaches, I need to reevaluate what my life looks like and the life I want to have.  I can't go another day craving love from a person who has chosen to resent me for being born.  It's unhealthy for my well-being to be blamed for every horrible happenstance even when I'm over a 100 miles away.  I can't keep looking in the mirror and hating the person I see because the tape I keep playing over and over is my mother's voice telling me I'm hideous.

On a holiday morning where everyone is having a dreamy breakfast, filled with laughter and fun, I'm realizing that I need to break free of the relationship that causes me the most harm... to preserve myself, I have to divorce my mother.

At this moment, I am mourning the potential to have a good relationship with my mother because any sort of spark or belief that my mom would be a 'mother' to me is a fantasy as fantastic as a furry creature leaving me gobs of chocolate in colored eggs today.


Lisa Lambert said...

Elissa, I am so proud of you for speaking your truth. I love you for it in fact. Indeed, sometimes we get dealt the "bum hand". There is no why me or how just IS. You will never be able to unlove your mom, it's a line that you can't really cross back over once you're born. I'm joyous that you can see your truth for what it is and give yourself some self care that will not only feed you, but feed your son, your friends and all the people that love you. What you do matters. And I'm so honored to call you my dharma sister. :)

Elissa Jane Mastel said...

I love YOU Lisa, my dharma sister, for really getting me when I need to be gotten xo