My childhood was a traumatic one. My parents were divorced when I was two, and I had lived in Binghamton, Buffalo, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan by the time I was seven, in multiple apartments in each area. We were often moving because of my mother’s romantic relationships or lack thereof. The moves created a lack of stability and anxiety for me at a very young age.
This constant feeling of being unsettled is attributed to my lack of connection and belonging within my peer groups.
After sixth grade, I thought we were finally settled and getting into a groove when my mother approached me to tell me that she was going to join a 12-step program to aid her in her recovery from drugs and alcohol. Because of her anticipated struggle in these beginning stages of recovery, she decided that I would be moving into a boarding school in Virginia.
It was a military boarding school, to boot, because, with such short notice, that was the only school that had room for me. To say I was devastated and terrified would be an understatement. But there we were, a week later, saying our goodbyes, an eight-hour car ride away, in a place I had never been before.
My mother always made me feel as though I was a burden in her life.
She had me at a young age (22) and needed to sow her oats. I was just in the way. I can recall being left alone in our apartment on 96th Street until the sun came up a few times every week, often calling down to the doorman to ask, “Is my Mommy on the elevator yet?” She would often show up with whoever she was bringing home from the club, putting herself and her small child in precarious positions.
I would bang on her door for breakfast or because I didn’t feel well, or just because I was a scared child to be yelled at, “Shut up, or I’ll take you to the orphanage!” and then the next morning, I would hold her hair while she threw up in our bathroom.
After two years in a military boarding school, I fought to return home. My mom and her boyfriend had moved back to Westchester and sent me to The Master’s School in Dobbs Ferry. I lived at the boarding school 15 minutes from home because it made my mother’s life easier.
She could live her life on her terms without me. Please make no mistake, those were some of the best years of my life. I forged some of the most valued friendships I’ve ever had within those walls. I learned to be independent. I gained a wonderful education and was set up for the best possible higher education experience because of it all. But I could’ve had much of that commuting the 15 minutes to school daily.
When my mother would get angry at me during my high school years, she would be harsh in her definition of punishment. I would go weeks without hearing from her. I remember going home on a weekend, two weeks after an argument, and walking into a room with everything that mattered to me smashed into pieces. Figurines, my framed baby photo, and other trinkets I had collected throughout my life were all broken and left for me to clean up.
She would rage and have no consideration for the effect it would have on me to walk in and literally pick up the pieces of her destruction. It was traumatizing.
Whenever I did anything out of what she assumed should fall into her little box of acceptable behavior, she would either shame me or rage at me. If I overate at dinner, she would oink. She would ignore me for days if I didn’t do exactly as she asked. I know now that she is not mentally stable. Still, during such an impressionable time when I was seeking her love and approval, she actively worked against helping to build my confidence, self-esteem, and any chance I had at self-love.
I naturally began to act out with any behaviors that would get me attention in any way I could, even if it was negative. When I started dating my husband, she commented about how she could have him if she wanted him or other odd sexually explicit commentary. My husband would say she seemed jealous of me, but I thought that seemed ridiculous. In the lead-up to our wedding, it became clear that she was actively working to sabotage and control many things surrounding the day. It started becoming clear that she had a pattern of narcissistic behavior and that she was intentionally trying to steal my joy.
My body was sounding its alarm. I was becoming physically uncomfortable when I had to be around her. Over the next few years, her behaviors became increasingly erratic. Clearly, she was incapable of celebrating my success and the moments in life that took the focus off of her and put the spotlight on me.
She found ways to take moments that should be joyful, like my pregnancies, celebrations, and milestones, and sucked the life out of them.
I tried so hard to come to a mea culpa with her. I begged and pleaded. I would send written communication since speaking always seemed to escalate, and she always seemed to assume negative intentions on my side. I met with a therapist. I talked it out with close friends who had seen the years of repetitive abuse. I meditated. I prayed. I worked on myself to see where I could shift my behavior or thinking to try to come to a resolution.
After years of going back and forth and some pretty extreme incidents surrounding my grandmother’s illness, where my mother decided to incite violence within my family as well as spread some vicious lies about me, I decided with a heavy heart that it was time to protect my own peace and cut her off once and for all.
This small piece of unsolicited advice that would creep in throughout our various ebbs and flows started to become a recurring offering from people when they would ask about her. I would respond that we were no longer communicating, “But she’s still your mother. You only get one.”
This “advice” leads me to a place riddled with guilt and shame. A place where I am so angry I could scream, asking said advice givers if they think they could walk a day in the shoes of a child so unloved by their own parent that they are at this point. It has led me to do more work on myself, to be even more confident that the boundary of my own self-respect and protection of myself and my family is what comes first, always, and above all else.
So, if you are one of those people who has ever offered me this advice, I am here to say that I forgive you. Stop and think about all the situations in which there is a relationship between an abuser and the abused and in which situations you would ever put the burden on the abused. Should the woman who was assaulted have worn different clothes? Should the person who was hit by their spouse not have spoken back? Should the child emotionally abandoned by their parent not have been born?