I had a conversation at a holiday party with a fellow blogger about how most blogs make life look picture perfect when it’s not always that way. It is lovely to put a good face out there and pretend that’s all there is to it. But in reality, it’s not. I’m actually quite skilled at making people think I’m something I’m not, that all is well and picture perfect in my life.
On one hand, I do have a spoiled pretty little princess life. And it’s quite lovely and I appreciate it to the tiniest detail. I also know I’ve earned every last one of those details. I’m not exactly sure how or why all of this landed in my lap, but it has. I’m very grateful for all it.
Every family has their issues. Every family has a touch of dysfunction to it. Mine is pretty hard to beat. I don’t just say that either. For years, I didn’t talk about it. I tried to put a happy face and a pretty picture on it and alot of people bought it. My closest friends for instance. When that little stomach tumor was discovered August of 2009, I realized I needed to make some serious changes in my life. I started opening up to people, REALLY opening up. Like, coming clean to one of my closest friends from college why I never went home to visit. It’s actually quite easy to pinpoint the exact moment my family went from merely screwed up to completely dysfunctional.
My parents had always had a little bit of a rocky relationship. There were separations and reunions, ups and downs. My father was a binge drinker brand of alcoholic. He didn’t drink every day, but when he started, he didn’t know when to stop. And he was not always a good drunk. He had multiple DUI’s, but in the days before MADD, that didn’t take away your license permanently.
As the oldest of 4 with a wide age range between us (I was a freshman in high school when the youngest child was born), I was expected to take on a good bit of responsibility. I got a car when I turned 16 so that I could help cart kids around. None of this really seemed that out of the ordinary at the time, but I’ve had friends tell me looking back, I had way more responsibilities than anyone else they knew.
My senior year in high school, my parents split for good. My responsibilities around the house increased even more.
I went off to college the following year, but due to a number of circumstances, found myself living at home a year later. I helped out with the younger kids quite a bit, in between working 2 jobs and trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. A friend suggested I look at Auburn University. I had never heard of it before – it was way down in Alabama, a 14 hour drive from my hometown in Pennsylvania. There were some things that appealed to me abut it, so I decided to give it a look. The biggest deciding factor, I have always admitted, was when I left my mom’s that day in mid-March, there was snow on the ground. All the way down I-81 through the mountains of Virginia there was snow on the ground. When I finally arrived in Auburn, it was full on dogwoods in bloom spring. And it was beautiful. I was sold.
So there I was, finally getting my 19 year old act together. Out of the blue one fine May morning, just before I was scheduled to leave, my father dropped dead of a heart attack. He was 44. I was 19.
My parents were officially divorced, so legally, he was single. There was no will and so by law, that made me the next of kin and the one responsible.
Right there, in the Emergency Room of the hospital, my family imploded. My dad’s parents were livid that I was the one with the so-called power. My father and I had not always had the best relationship. Looking back, I realize that both my parents took my teen rebellion personally and made me out to be about the worst person in the world for what I now understand is quite normal teenage behavior. There was no room for that in their deteriorating marriage with all their other children, so when they split, the blame firmly landed in my lap, because I was ‘difficult’. A straight A honor student, who volunteered weekly at the local hospital, held down a job and was responsible for not only my own, but my father’s laundry as well as numerous other household chores. I was considered unmanageable. I was a smart ass and had some issues, sure. But come on……
In the months before he passed away though, my father and I had turned a corner and had actually started a new phase in our relationship. But my grandparents didn’t know this and certainly didn’t want to hear this in the emergency room at the hospital as my father’s body laid in the next room and they weren’t allowed access to it until I allowed it.
The power struggle between my grandparents and my mother started right there in the ER. I had to be the one to ID the body and sign the death certificate. I was 19. And it was held against me by BOTH parties. I ended up having to retain a lawyer and file motions in order to get a key to my father’s apartment to get clothes to bury him in. Not only was I living the nightmare of losing my father so unexpectedly so young, I was having to be the responsible adult in the whole situation. After I picked out the suit to bury my father in (and noticing my grandparents had gone through his apartment, making sure they left no valuables for his children), I got to take my then 5 year old brother shopping for a suit in which to bury our father.
And yet, this is not even the worst of it.
My mother had been dating this man of whom I can say absolutely nothing good. The best man in our wedding declared that if his name was milk, we’d all be lactose intolerant. So, to be nice, we’ll refer to him as milk.
Months before, when they had started dating, this man had started coming into the department store where I worked and harassed me. My coworkers learned to call security when they saw him come in the store. It was that bad. I approached my father, who said my sister closest to me in age had also complained about this man. Next thing I know, he had talked to my mother and milk was out of our lives. Until the day my father dropped dead. Guess who my mother called first?
After the trainwreck of my father’s funeral, I didn’t see the point in delaying my move to college. I continued with my plan. A few months later, I got a letter from my mother, explaining to me that she had moved on with her life and there wasn’t room for me in it. She had moved in with milk and her home was no longer open to me. I was welcome to visit, but I needed to be invited first. Just like that, my mother removed me from her family.
That first Christmas without my father was hell. I was invited to my mother’s and while it was clear us kids were all grieving, we were to not talk about my father. It was literally slapped across my face that his name was to never, ever be mentioned in milk’s home ever again.
Once upon a time, I considered my mother my closest friend. The amount of hurt, not to mention shame, on my part was astounding from all of this. I withdrew from all my friends back home. I didn’t know how to say my mother didn’t want me around any more. I thought it was me, and she had enough people back her up telling me how difficult I was and how I deserved this. Down in Auburn, I made up excuses as to why I only went home for a few days at Christmas. I became skilled at getting invites to other folk’s parents homes. I didn’t let anyone get too close to me, because I was terrified that if they found out my mother didn’t like me, they would realize they didn’t either. I really thought it was my fault. Already good at giving good face, I became a master of creating a happy facade. No one was to know how awful my family life really was.
For years, I tried to work on my relationship with my mother. As long as I was useful, she wanted me around. The minute I stopped having a purpose? Out the door with me. I spent a few years slightly estranged. And then I got pregnant with what turned out to be Edie. I wanted her to know her grandmother. I adored my Granny and I hoped my mother could have a decent relationship with my child. For a while, it was okay. My mother divorced milk, but yet, he still seemed to lurk. He was a father figure to my brother and youngest sister, who didn’t remember our father. I laid out serious boundaries, that under no circumstances did I want him near my child. That was a game ender. I blamed him for most of my mother’s treatment of me. He was a control freak, as well as an alcoholic, abusive and condescending to everyone around him. He seemed to want to remove everyone from my mother’s life that was there before him, and yes, that included her children, with the exception of my brother. My sisters were treated pretty shabbily as well, but then he would turn around and give them money, help pay their bills, and so they put up with this. But me? I was nothing but bad news. My wishes about having milk not near my child were not always respected. He dropped by once when we were visiting my mother, in a move that my mother said was all him, but I didn’t believe her. Pat picked Edie up and left until I called to tell him it was okay to bring her back. I told my mother, if you ever do that again, you will never see my daughter again. Pat assured me, I was not being unreasonable in not wanting my child to know him. He was as awful as I imagined.
The last few years my mother’s behavior became increasingly alarming. And detrimental to our relationship. It was hard to put my finger on it. I knew she blamed me for most of her problems, including both her marriages failing, but then she would turn around and deny she’d ever said and done a good number of things. My siblings almost always sided with my mother, so I started thinking that maybe I was crazy. This only happened around my family though, so I couldn’t understand what was wrong.
And then, after a series of events, I went back into therapy again. I’d been in therapy over the years since high school. At one point, I had realized that my mother’s problems weren’t my fault and had done some healing from that, but I still carried quite a bit of baggage around in me. So, I started therapy again and at about the same time, discovered the reason my stomach had hurt for months was because I had a tumor in the muscular wall of it, close to my pancreas.
I most definitely was not on good terms with my family and so didn’t mention it to them until after the initial biopsy. The official results were inconclusive, because the doctor couldn’t get a piece of it. It was small and hard and hard to get to, so she felt it was probably benign, but to be safe, I really should consider getting it removed sooner rather than later. Benign stomach tumors are rare and don’t stay that way for long. There is a strong family history of cancer in my mother’s family, combined with my looking at the age of 40, knowing my father dropped dead at 44 – in no way shape or form did I think I was special enough to have a happy ending to this.
It took 3 weeks for anyone of my family members to show any concern over this development at all after I shared my news with them. I realized once and for all, that my family is truly only there when I can do something for them and certainly not when I need anything from them. I was heartbroken and hurt and sick. I made the decision to cut all ties with all of them. As I worked through all this, my therapist threw out the notion that my mother was Narcissistic. I wasn’t quite ready to deal with that though. As I worked through my issues, I realized more and more how my mother’s behavior and treatment of me had affected me. I went to visit an old college friend, who was a therapist. For the first time, I really opened up to her and started telling her about all this. She pulled out her big textbook of diagnoses and we looked it up. I realized, that sounded like my mother. I went back to my therapist and discussed this. She encouraged me to look this up, read about it, find some on-line support groups.
People simply don’t understand when you choose to walk away from your mother. “But she’s your mother!” they say. Unless you have had your mother tell you how much she regrets giving birth to you, how she doesn’t love you, blames you for all her problems, tries to separate you from your family, you really cannot imagine it. I’ll admit, I have moments where I question it myself – moments where I wonder, what if Edie grows up and decides she wants nothing to do with me? I have to live with this decision. It’s not always easy. But putting up with the abuse isn’t easy either.
This year, the holidays hit me hard. I really just couldn’t get into the spirit of them. For Edie’s sake, I went through the motions and baked and decorated, but I couldn’t pretend to be festive. I finally decided to take my therapist’s advice and started looking online for some support groups. I started reading. I found this and was blown away. The Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers, 25 items in all and I saw my mother in every last one. Some of the things I experienced were not as extreme as are listed, but to some degree, there was my whole relationship with my mother in a 25 item list. It occurred to me that some of this behavior had always been there, I had always wondered if maybe my father, never a saint, had actually been the better parent, if he had been able to keep my mother’s tendencies to put herself first in check. I now think that maybe their divorce and his death, combined with the influence of milk, is what caused her to have a break and become a full blown narcissist. I do think he kept her somewhat in check though. I have realized so many of my behaviors are a result of her condition. No wonder I couldn’t put my finger on it, that’s one of the traits.
I am slowing coming to terms with this. I realize that there’s no going back to any sort of healthy relationship with my mother, there hasn’t been one with her in a good 25 years anyway. I’m not sure if there’s any chance of reconciling with my siblings. I certainly don’t expect it while my mother is alive- she’d never allow it. (It’s in that list of 25 characteristics, that the Narcissist must be in the middle of every relationship between her children.). It saddens me in ways I cannot put into words. I’ve always known my family isn’t right, but to know WHAT it is isn’t as freeing as I thought it could be. I’m sure when I work my way out of this, it will be freeing. But right now, I’m just stuck. Right now, I feel fragile and I want to curl up by myself until I can make sense of this. But I can’t, because I have Pat and Edie. And I thank the universe for them.
Because I spent so much time when my brother and sister were infants and toddlers caring for them, I wasn’t sure about having kids of my own. When my friends from college starting getting married and looking forward to babies, all I could think was, they are inconvenient, messy, hard to deal with. They suck the fun out of everything. I really couldn’t imagine why anyone would WANT one. But Pat wanted kids. And he works with kids. He’s great with them, and all his friends pointed out, I can’t just be married to someone like him and NOT have a baby. We spent years talking about it. There was one particularly nasty episode with my mother where she checked herself into the local psych unit of the hospital, mostly to get back at her children. That put the baby conversation on hold for quite some time. I was terrified of turning into my mother. I didn’t want to bring a child into the world to turn around and make them feel alone and unloved. What if I didn’t love my own child the way my mother told me she didn’t love me? Motherhood scared the shit out of me quite honestly.
Which is why my being a decent mother has been such a surprise gift. When Edie was born, I realized in no way could I ever NOT love that face. No way could I ever blame her for my problems. And so, as she grew, I realized more and more there was something wrong with my mother. Edie’s at an age where I wish I had my own experiences with my mother to draw on, but I now realize, even at that age, my mother was setting me up to fail. I have no blueprint for this motherhood business, at least being a good mother, so I depend on my friends and my gut instinct to get us through. I make mistakes and I’m going to make them. But, she will never, ever doubt my love for her. I will never belittle her. I will never be jealous of her.
Pat says that the more I open up about all this, the stronger I become, the more I heal. I’ve debated putting all this out on this blog for a few weeks now. This is a big part of me and I think Pat’s right, I need to open up about it. I have a crappy family. I have a crappy mother. I don’t blame her, but I don’t want her in my life anymore. I’ve had a hard time accepting happiness in my life and I realize it’s because of my mother’s condition. It’s an illness really. A mental illness. I’m terrified it could happen to me down the road. My therapist says I don’t show signs of it, and that I put Edie first without even thinking about as a general rule of thumb and that right there says to her I’m not in any danger of inheriting my mother’s illness.
My new year’s resolution is to practice being open and honest more. To get a better handle on my roller coaster emotions – from what I’ve read, that’s pretty common among ACON (Adult Children of Narcissists). I’ve joined some on-line support groups, but I’m not sure about them. It’s wonderful to know there are others like me out there, but everyone is at different levels of healing. I might be new to the realization of my mother’s illness, but I already know I don’t want to go back and retread her every wrong towards me. I just want to move on and have a happy, healthy life. I want to better accept the happiness and love I have around me.
For years I thought that I really didn’t matter to anyone, even to Pat really. When Edie came along was the first time I thought I experienced unconditional love. That stomach tumor made me realize, I actually have alot more love around me than I knew, and that all I had to do was open up and accept it. Some days it’s excruciatingly hard to do that. But now I know why that is. Doesn’t make it easier, but at least I know, it’s only in my head.